Why Not Be Your Own Hero?

A good friend once said to me “You’re alone in this world. You come in alone and you go out alone”. While I agree with that to some extent (because physically it’s true). I also think that the fabric of our happiness lies in the connections we make and how strong we make them. I think the point my friend was trying to make is that it’s our personal responsibility to live the life we want to live. Not our parent’s responsibility. Not our spouses. Not any leader of any kind. Only our personal responsibility.

Throughout my travels I’ve noticed that this sentiment seems to have got lost in the cult element of the wellbeing/healing circuit. It’s like what has happened with religion over recent years too. Not to mention capitalism and most hierarchical structures. There seems to be this blind faith in trusting anyone who speaks with insight and offers others guidance. This results in the insightful person floating up into ‘hero’ status as their followers exchange their own moral guidance for that of their hero. While I appreciate that people with insight have a valued voice, I believe (like Deepak Chopra in this video) that we all have the ability to tune into our own guidance system . I also think that heros should be challenged if something they say doesn’t sit right with us. It might not sit right with us because of our own fear which once aired we can identify and address. Or, it might be that what they’ve said doesn’t fit with our personal moral values for whatever reason, either way this questioning creates discourse which is valuable for all.

The problem with this type of questioning (and the reason I believe many avoid it) is that if we question our heros then suddenly we become accountable for the moral code of actions, and for some this responsibility can be a daunting prospect.

This recently came to light for me when I met with someone who had recently left an Osho community. This person was telling me about their childhood heros and how they all turned out to be ‘immoral’ – the Catholic Church, their parents, various sporting and also spiritual leaders – and how Osho was their new hero. Now, I respect Osho’s teachings (I’m currently reading Courage and highly recommend it), but there’s also a few things about his way of life that don’t sit right with me. Because of this, I choose to learn from what I admire and leave what I don’t – isn’t it great that we all have this thing called choice – awesome. Anyway, the question that I posed to this person who was reeling off their list of hero’s was… “Why not be your own hero?”

In return I got a silent, yet startled and suspicious look. So I continued. “Why not be the person you admire, so you can say to yourself every day ‘I’m proud of you’?” This concept left this person a little bamboozled. Probably because, this concept brings us to a question of personal values and how we live by them. Whereas, if we follow a hero then we can detach from our set of values as we blindly live by theirs. This detachment from our own value system is a problem because it means that we give over the power of our moral compass to someone else rather than stopping and checking in to our gut feelings.

Can you see how this could be a potential opportunity for abuse if this hero doesn’t keep their ego in check? And if no one questions them, and let’s say, they commit to and also encourage immoral behaviour they have a whole community of people detached from their own moral compass who validate this negative behaviour of their hero and then within themselves. It’s almost as if there’s a trade off here of ‘Well I’m in the Osho/Catholic/Management community so of course I wouldn’t do anything bad’, whereas the community club badge isn’t actually a representation of our values, our actions are.

The thing is, nobody’s perfect and when you’ve gone through something painful like a trauma it’s challenging to control those negative behaviours. There is however, always the opportunity to reflect, question your actions and rectify a situation. This is why emotional intelligence is so important when it comes to negative feelings as they are our signposts of what we need to work on to become better people. It’s also important for us to surround ourselves with people who question our negative behaviour so we can become aware of it and work no it.

I’m not saying that this is easy, because for some it’s not and we grow up in a society that has many hierarchical structures where we’re taught to give our power over. However, maybe we could at least start with being our own hero and living by a strong set of values that any hero would be proud of?

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

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

A Call To Re-Brand ‘Mental Health’

I’m all up for ‘frazzled cafes’, talking openly about our emotions and any intervention available to help people process their emotions in an open, authentic and non-judgemental fashion. However, this is when the marketing personality inside me intervenes and points out an obvious flaw that a lot of support groups (with great intentions) seems to overlook: the words ‘mental health’ are so shameful in our western society that many of these support services don’t reach the people who need their services the most.

To talk openly about mental health means first acknowledging that we need help and in our society this is one of the most shameful things you can admit.

The term ‘mental health’ holds a strong association with being weak, broken or out right crazy. So with all that predetermined stigma are you really going to admit that you have a ‘mental health’ issue? I mean, are you freaking crazy?!??!? Of course you’re not.

The most common belief is that asking for help means admitting failure or a weakness – because through mass marketing we’ve been sold the idea that in order to be a ‘successful’ member of society we should be able to deal with everything life throws at us independently. Also, for any little problem we have, we are told we can buy a solution for it.

Thanks consumerism, big Pharma, and all the top dogs in corporations who are creaming the profits off this dysfunctional belief. I hope the Superyachts and sports cars fill the gaping void of thriving emotional connections. 

However, we’re starting to realise that this idea we were sold was an illusion. In fact, there isn’t a quick fix for emotional situations. We can take a pill to lessen the blow temporarily. We can avoid through substance abuse, temporarily. We can even project our pain out in ways to deflect attention from ourselves, until we are eventually held responsible for this. But the truth is that to resolve these emotional whirlwinds and be authentically happy we must validate, own and process our emotions. And guess what the real beauty in all this is – it’s a fundamental part of the beautiful human experience that we are all living. If this kind of personal development and emotional intelligence was marketed this way then we might not have the mental health, depression and suicide rates that we do.

If I’ve not yet won you over with my argument then let me give you some examples. Any one who is familiar with the work of Brene Brown, her TED talks and audio book will understand the concepts I’ve explained above but I wonder if you know why this knowledge reached you?

Brene Brown’s TED talk exploded over the internet (currently more than 6.5 million you tube hits). While her research is ground breaking, I believe much of the success was the way it was branded – authentically, vulnerable and in a way that aspires people to jump on board. Brene Brown’s work is all about emotions, specifically the emotion of shame, how we avoid it and that by doing so stifles our abilities to connect as humans. Brene Brown didn’t call her first talk ‘Shame – the emotion stifling our wholeheartedness’, instead she framed it in a way us marketeers are told to market: Sell the benefits, not the features. Instead her flagship talk was titled ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, and her whole approach draws you in and inspires you to live more openly and vulnerably, like she does.

Another brand that does this very well is motivational life coach Tony Robbins.

‘Want to be more successful in your personal and business life?‘ -Tony Robbins.

Well, yeah of course. Who doesn’t want that?

‘Want to come on a 5 day immersive course and face the demons you hide inside and expose them in a safe and none judgemental environment to overcome and develop as a fully authentic human being?’ – My interpretation of what happens from watching the Netflix documentary and lots of his YouTube videos (I haven’t yet gone to one of his workshops but will soon, I hope).

Urgh, no thank you. I’ll stay put pretending like I’m fine and everything in my life is as perfect as I’m led to believe it should be while I slowly crack under the pressure of this illusion.

The difference between this marketing and that of mental health awareness charities is that one lifts it’s market out of the shame and fear cloud without them realising, while the other one points it out for all to see. Not cool if you’re the person underneath it. This is why I believe so many mental health charities fall short of reaching their audience. I mean, they’re literally selling the opportunity to admit failure and weakness openly in a society which will judge and shame a person for ‘coming out’ and admitting that they have these normal human emotions. Or at least that’s how many of the market might see it. (If you don’t believe me, try suggesting counselling or therapy to any British person and see how you offering fairs – I’ve heard it’s different in the States but I’m writing from and for the UK so my observation is from here).

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be talking openly about difficult life situations or that help shouldn’t be advertised. I am however saying that there is a call for marketing these services in the language of the market listens to, and that is one of aspiration. The marketing these services needs to be done with the same psychological marketing approaches that many corporate companies have been using for years. In fact, it’s about time that we used these tools for good intentions, rather than solely that of quick fix consumerism. Maybe it’s time to start selling the authentic human experience rather than an illusion which only a few people benefit from. I don’t know, they’re my thoughts. I’ll leave the the conclusion for you to decide.

If you like it, please share it. Share the emotional intelligence!

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

Photo Credit Edu Lauton

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

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