An Open Letter to All Therapists

I originally wrote this article for the Good Men Project, but I wanted to post it on my blog because I think it highlights a few important issues that my generation face when it comes to therapy – that some of the most ‘experienced’ aren’t always the most connected, and in fast moving times like these that is a real hindrance to clients.

Dear Therapist,

The World is different these days. I am in an abundance of information and I have instant access to it at the drop of the hat. I am constantly bombarded with messages, day and night that drown out my inner voice. I’m in a state of emotional hypersensitivity and I am terrified about it. At best I am coping. Safeguarding, by locking out all depth of emotion so as not to show my true self, because I am different, I am the problem. Or so I believe.

But I am different. Inside me is my authentic voice which is stifled underneath the messages of marketing material, rules from outdated religions, and educational systems that consistently tell me that what I feel is wrong. For decades, they have told me that I am not good enough. That I’m a failure. That I should fit in the boxes and be perfect. It’s what they told my parents generation and some of them believed it. Some took the pills and numbed out. Some locked away their inner voice and the ‘crazy’ emotions that went with it. Some of them believed that they were the problem.

But I am different. Whilst there is the voice inside me that tells me I’m not good enough,. There is another voice inside me that is fighting to be heard. Fighting against the messages of the American dream and the scared egos of those who are killing themselves in the belief of it. The ones who shut down my voice, in fear of having their own exposed. The older generation that tell me I should take some anti-depressants, not wallow and not be so openly vulnerable. The younger generation that freeze in fear when I talk so openly, hoping that I don’t see the scars on their arms that expose the evidence that they’re fighting the same battle. My peer group when they become awkward, deciding whether or not they will confess that they too have these feelings and thoughts of injustice. That there is the faint light of an internal revolution ready to fire up and fight out against this gorilla warfare.

When I confess these ideas, thoughts and analyses to you, they may sound different. They may come from a source of information that wasn’t around during your studies of Psychology. They may be the silent voices that went unspoken in your peer group.  They may be the same words that you once heard but denied and now sit in the pit of your stomach, defeated.

Our World is different from when you studied Psychology. It’s different from 10 years ago. It’s different from 10 minutes ago and I am moving at the fast pace that it is changing. I am fighting the pull to numb out. I am fighting the temptation to lock away, but today I am tired of fighting and I am coming to you for sanction. I am coming to be heard and it is your job to listen. To hear my own voice through your fears and accept that you too, are different. That in this difference we stand together, but at difference paces because of the cultural times that have birthed us. Please accept that my journey may be moving faster than yours because of the access and speed of the propelling information that I am fighting against. That I may have sourced tools from toolboxes that weren’t readily available to you. I am different because the world is different and the tools that have worked so efficiently for other generations might not work for me, because trust me, I’ve already tried them. What I need is for you to help me find new tools and to join me on this path of discovery because I am exhausted from fighting alone.

I am in your chair today asking not to be judged by the differences that my path presents you. Or to be criticised when I fall down the hills that I am trying to climb. I am just asking that you accompany me on my journey and acknowledge that it exists. That it exists in a world of people that constantly tell me that it doesn’t, just because it rises so steep into the clouds that to simply acknowledge it, scares them. I need you accompany me on it, because I know that at the end of it, there is a reward and that the reward will be worth the journey, no matter how hard it gets. That is why I am in your chair today.

Regards,

The new generation of thinkers.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

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Introducing the BS card

After experiencing such raw and heavy emotions as anyone who has dealt with a major trauma in their life can empathise, I reached a point where being authentic became really important for me. It called for me to become brutally honest with myself and those around me in order for me to progress with my recovery journey and create the authenticity in the friendships so that a space was created where anything can be talked about.

This meant that there were some uncomfortable conversations to be had that I might not have otherwise invited into my life. Conversations that created challenges and opportunities and took courage to approach. It’s not easy being completely honest and when you’re as direct as I am, you don’t always get the most receptive response (delivery is a challenge that I am constantly working on). Regardless of the difficulty of having these conversations, it’s really important that difficult subjects are aired between people if we want to create honesty in our friendships because that’s the firm foundation that all deep relationships are based upon.

The lesson that I’ve had to learn is how to approach these conversations with compassion when I’m delivering honest feedback to a friend, because even though I can take direct feedback I know that this isn’t the norm. Instead I’ve learnt that feedback must be delivered from a standpoint of ‘I care about you and that is why I’m pointing this out’, rather than ‘you did x, y and z and I don’t think you should have done that’. Hopefully, you can see the difference between compassionate honesty and judgemental spotlighting in those two sentences.

A recent example is a good friend of mine who avoids conversations when she knows there’s going to be something that she doesn’t want to hear, even if she knows that she needs to hear it. However, that’s pretty difficult when you’re friends with me because as all of my friends know, I call them out on this kind of avoidance like I expect to be called out when I’m in my own avoidance. This friend of mine wasn’t being malicious and the avoidance wasn’t about me, it was about a lot of things going on in her life and she just didn’t need to know about another thing to work on at that time, so it was easier for her (subconsciously) to avoid those conversations all together. The frustrating thing for me was that it meant that I lost one of my best friends to have any kind conversation with, even just an easy chat on whatsapp. When we did finally chat I brought up the situation in the most compassionate way I could, by telling this friend I was upset that I was losing my friend but I needed to voice something that was going to be difficult to hear because I think it could be in her best interest to know. By putting it like this she was open to listening to what I said because it came from the heart. It was the same when I started feeling a certain way towards an ex-boyfriend of mine and considered that I might want to try and patch things up with him, when a friend bluntly pointed out that I was probably only feeling that way because I felt vulnerable and that I didn’t actually want to be with the guy in question. She went on to point out that when we were together and I had my chance to be with him, I wasn’t that bothered about being with him anyway. “Oh yeah,” I said. Funny how our emotions can cloud our thought patterns, which is why we need such honest friends to point out the obvious when we’re unable to see it!

As I was in my car a few days later, talking to another friend about these reflections I joked about how it would just be easier if we could shout out “BULLSH*T” when we thought someone was blindsided by their emotions. She laughed and asked “Then why don’t we?” as she picked up a handy business card that was lying around in the front of the car, only the psychologist Dr Jenn’s business card (how appropriate for my psychologist friend to be the BS card when she has called me out on multiple BS’s this year)! Thus the concept of the BS card was born.

The thing about using a card to call out someone’s BS is that it can be used really objectively, and is thus less likely to be taken personally. However delivery here is still key and with my friends, I request for the use of a BS card before delving into the reason for using it. I still find though, by actually using a card and by approaching the situation in this way that it creates an objective space where two people can observe and dicect a situation without getting too emotionally involved. This creates more honesty and an objective learning opportunity based on the feedback received, bypassing any pain received through pervied judgement or blame that may have otherwise surfaced.

Getting to this level of authenticity in my friendships has strengthened the bonds between us and I know that anything and everything, no matter how shameful or tragic, can be aired in this space. It’s also helping me create the kind of authentic compassion that I want my post trauma life to be centered around, and the kind that I want to spread out into the World.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

What Do You Need Right Now?

I remember as a kid, how my Dad would sometimes have a tear in his eye when talking about a situation at work. The difficulty of having to tell someone they’ve got cancer, listening to a patient’s last wish when they knew they were near the end, or speaking to the parents of a recently deceased child. That one was always the worst.

To experience the death of your child, before you rather than the other way around. I can’t Read More »

Stop Before You Shame!

Only Smiles Here

I really love TED talks, in fact, I probably have a little bit of an obsession with them but of all the addictions to have it’s actually quite a beneficial one. So, as I sit in my airport hotel, feeling pretty lonely whilst trying to work out the best way to promote my blog I’ve started flicking through some talks and I came across this one by Jon Ronson: When Online Shaming Spirals Out of Control.

Read More »

A Little Compassion Please

Dr Jenn and I have now parted ways. She’s on her way back to the UK and I’ve headed down to Penang, a small island on the coast of Malaysia. I’ve done this route once before on my own. In fact, I’m going to cross over much of the same path that I did two years ago when I was exploring South East Asia, but this time, it feels different. Obviously, a lot can change in two years and indeed, some of the places have, but the biggest difference of all, is me.

There are some great aspects of travelling alone – meeting new like minded people, having the flexibility to do what you want and generally being selfish with all your decisions. However, all that comes at a price, because you’ve got to fend for yourself in all the tricky situations you get yourself into. Last time I was here I was completely carefree (some might also say a little bit reckless), which I guess is one of the things that left me vulnerable to being attacked in the first place. These days not only am I more conscientious but my awareness and instinct are super tuned into everything around me. There’s also a much deeper sense of compassion and empathy that I carry around with me too.

The journey down from Surat Thani (mainland Thailand) to Penang wasn’t the most comfortable of rides. A 12-hour journey in a small mini bus squeezed full of passengers and backpacks stuffed into every square inch. When we arrived at the border, everyone had to vacate the bus to pass through security with their bags, to then hop back into their new Tetris style position on the other side. While we took the opportunity to stretch our legs on the Malaysian side, a young Western woman in her late 20’s approached. She asked if we were headed to Penang and if so, could she get a lift? This woman had got out of her bus at the border under the impression that she could get her Thai visa renewed, then hop on another bus going back into Thailand. It wasn’t until she was stranded on her own that she realised that not only was this not possible but that transport in general around the border is pretty scarce. She was still another 2 hours drive from Penang which is where she needed to go for the visa and it was getting dark. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no room in our bus and, however much our driver might have wanted to cash in on this opportunity, she would’ve literally had to sit on top of bags in the gang way which wasn’t going to be safe or legal (not that these bus journeys are legit anyway, as we found out later when we got stopped by the Malay police). We had to turn this poor woman away and I instantly felt for her. It was dark, she was somewhere unfamiliar and she’d made a couple of misjudgments that had caused her to be in a vulnerable situation.

Two years ago this could have quite easily have been me and being as brazen as I was back then, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, brushing it off with “I’m Shereen, I’ll manage”. This time though, all I could think was, What if something bad happens to her?…What if she gets raped?

I spoke to her for a little while about what she was going to do and she said that she’d just get a hotel for the night and work it out in the morning. She didn’t look too panicked about her situation and clearly trusted in her ability to work it out. So we left her, completing the last 2 hours of our journey, while she was left to walk on the side of the highway, in the dark, alone. That night I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman and I just hoped that she was safe, wherever she’d ended up.

The following day I had to take the ferry across to the mainland and I was astonished and delighted to see her walking out of the ferry port. I literally screamed “Hey, you’re the girl from the other night! You’re ok!” as I held back on the “Thank god you didn’t get killed/raped” line that was on the tip of my tongue. I stopped to have a chat with her and we exchanged numbers, initially she was quite surprised at my level of concern but seemed grateful when I explained what had happened to me, which had led to my concern. For me, I physically couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes and feel scared, alone and with that ‘I’ve messed up’ kind of feeling. So when I saw her I was instantly relieved, naturally I became compassionate because these feelings inside me had been triggered.

Then I got thinking about compassion. What it is, why it’s important and how much of it is about these days. I was pondering this subject as I sat in an open-air Indian ‘restaurant’ (it was more of a street cafe) in Little India waiting for my food to arrive. As I sat there on my own I watched all the other people in the restaurant. The Malaysian, the Indian, the Chinese and the scattering of foreigners, all sitting together peacefully regardless of race, religion or beliefs. This harmony among people is what I love most about Malaysia, each sect unquestionably respects the other and there doesn’t seem to be a judgment of each other’s choice of beliefs. Everyone just gets on with their life and they seem to treat every person like the human being that they are. At least, I thought so… check out the Little India/Mosque/Chinese Lantern pic below.

IMG_0972

As I people watched in the restaurant, I saw a middle-aged Indian man shuffle through the tables, stopping at each one to beg for money. He put his hand out at every table and stared at each person, one by one with his glaring eyes while he loudly asked for money in some language I didn’t understand. This man had erratic body language which was verging on aggressive, he leaned into every table, sometimes towering over people and then slammed his hand out. On rejection, he would jerk it back into his body and loudly slur some words out before moving to the next table to try the same tactic. To me it looked like he was quite emotionally driven and could have had some mental disability, he was most likely poor and quite obviously shunned by society. Hardly anyone gave this guy any money, most people acted like he didn’t even exist and a few gave him such a look of disgust that I felt embarrassed as a human to see them do it. By the time my food came he had resided to the alley way beside the restaurant and was screaming to an imaginary figure. He would viciously move his arms about like he was fending off an attacker and occasionally point up to the sky; I wondered if he was blaming someone up there for his situation.

Earlier that day I’d eaten in a similar street style cafe, in China town with the same diverse mix of culture. There was also a beggar at this cafe but the difference was that in this instance almost every single person gave her money. This woman was of a similar age, she looked Chinese and she subtly moved from table to table, going around completely unnoticed until she appeared at a person’s table. She carried a small bowl that she would quietly present as she made eye contact and smiled at every person she was asking from. Her body language wasn’t intrusive at all and she had warm feeling about her with a look of hope in her eyes. She smiled at every person regardless of whether or not she was given to, or even acknowledged. She gave every single person a smile and in return most handed over a small denomination of money.

I gave money to both of these beggars, of the same amount of too. If I hadn’t had the money on me I would have apologised but acknowledged that they’d asked rather than completely blank them like I’d seen that evening. The reason I gave to them was because firstly, I can afford to. Especially when I’m luckily enough to have a bank account in a currency as valuable as the GB pound. What seems insignificant to me can make quite a difference to someone else. Secondly, I decided that regardless of my judgement of their situation I figured that if they’re asking for money things must be pretty bad for them right now. They must have both felt a variety of challenging feelings which I’ve never had to even consider, so who am I to judge whether or not they deserve my pocket change? Third of all, they weren’t stealing money, they were asking. They were giving people the choice to decide if they wanted to give or not. Obviously one persons strategy was judged as more worthy than the others by the cafe patrons of Penang, probably resulting in more money. However, both of them had made a conscious choice to ask for money rather than take it through force and I respected that.

So regardless of that persons situation and what led them there, surely as human beings don’t each of them deserve the same amount of compassion? I mean wouldn’t you want someone to show you compassion if you were caught out in an unfortunate life situation? Wouldn’t the World just generally be a better place if we were more compassionate to each other?

I’m leaving this message with a video link called ‘Not just homeless’, it’s about homeless people in the UK which talks about the situation from perspectives that aren’t often heard. It’s a cause that is very dear to a friend of mine and I think it’s a good message to carry throughout life in general.

I hope I’ve inspired you to be more compassionate today.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x