Pick Connection Over Convenience

There’s a lot of things I’ve experienced in my 33 years of existence. I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world to exotic and remote locations. I’ve worked in a variety of industries from superyachts to office work, through to holding my own workshops. Throughout it all I’ve made a lot of amazing connections and not necessarily in the most convenience circumstances. Most recently I’ve found myself making those in depth connections in the most subtle of moments. From a passing smile exchanged with a stranger that turns into a drink, then a friendly local tour guide. All the way through to a an open first chat with someone which has then created a foundation for a friendship much stronger. All these situations have caught me slightly off guard and if I’m honest I was looking for these friendships, but not in the right places. I’d actually been working in quite a toxic situation at the time where the people around me were guarded, aggressive and became defensive whenever I tried to connect. This left me feeling disheartened until I’ve recognised what I already knew – good connections aren’t born through convenience situations, they’re born through connecting authentically with someone in a moment. They’re strengthened by both parties honouring that connection with respect, honesty and an equal time and energy commitment.

What I mean by this is that just because you spend a lot of time with someone at school, or work, etc it doesn’t mean that you can create an authentic friendship. Likewise a random conversation with a stranger can sometimes turn into a deep friendship very quickly if we’re open to it and it’s this that I’ve been practising now that I’m immersing myself back in the ‘real world’. It’s the openness to smile at a stranger, even though the PTSD part of me is telling me to look away. The openness to offer up the real version of myself and the values that I hold dear, regardless of the fear of rejection that makes me want to keep them locked up tightly. Sometimes I don’t find this so easy and of course anyone who has any kind of emotional wound can relate to this – once bitten twice shy right?

What I’m finding though, is that those moments when I’m open and true to myself are the moments when I’m connecting with the world again and that’s when I’m bringing the right people to me at exactly the right moment. I’ve literally found comfort and friendship in the most random moments when I’ve otherwise been in work/living situations where I’ve felt isolated and alone. What I’ve also realised is when I reflect on my current authentic friendships, the ones which have held strong through the most turbulent moments, I’ve recognised that almost every single connection was made through open and honest first conversations. Interactions where we speak our truth, become vulnerable and share that part of us that connects with another.

While I sit and reflect on this, I wonder how many of us honour the conventional connections which might not serve us? The ones built on old loyalties, empty promises and ease of situation, that deep down don’t feel good but we continue to keep them anyway. Rather than investing in the connections that feel good, challenge us to be the best versions of ourselves but might take a little but more effort to maintain? I’ll take connection over convenience every time thanks.

I’m on a mission to create a greater sense wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. To teach others how to connect authentically with themselves, so they can connect authentically with others. It starts with learning self-awareness, maintaining a strong value system that serves us, and having the emotional intelligence to move through a whole spectrum of emotions so we can connect without attachment. 

If you want  the EQ tools to connect authentically with your values and the values of your fellow humans, then contact me directly to see how I can help you. Find out more about workshops, training and tailored coaching packages at www.shereensoliman.com. 

Shereen x

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

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Three Life Lessons From Growing Out of Trauma

  1. Life is precious.

One day you are going to die.

I am going to die.

It could be tomorrow by getting hit by a bus, it could be in 20 years time with a horrible illness but the truth of the matter is that one day I will be a lifeless, cold, corpse and everything will be over.

Yes, this is pretty morbid, especially as most of my posts are bringing messages of ‘yes you can conquer anything, love life to the full etc’ but that joyful message doesn’t hit home as hard as the realisation that we are all going to die someday, life is short. Embrace it.

While thinking about that, ask yourself these questions:

  1. If you dropped dead right now would you be happy with how you’ve spent your life?
  2. Did you chase your dreams?
  3. Did you tell the people you love often enough?
  4. Were you happy with what you achieved?

If the answer to any of these questions is no then I seriously insist that you explore these questions more and ask yourself what the hell are you doing with your life?

We can often get wrapped up in the nitty gritty of life, and I get it, we’ve all got our things to do, got to pay the bills right? When you’ve come through a life threatening situation though, you see things a little differently and it’s as though you really see what matters.

I remember when I experienced this mindset change quite vividly. There was a poignant moment during the attack that I seriously thought “I am going to be raped, murdered and then left here to rot”. This was the exact moment that I seemed to spring into life. As though something inside me said “No fucking way”. It was the moment that I pulled out all the stops to get out of that situation, and I did get out of it. I survived and I’m here writing about it today. That situation was the scariest thing that has happened to me in my entire life and it has brought me a whole load of uninvited emotions that I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. They weren’t pleasant and I would never wish for someone to go through something as horrific as having to literally fight for their survival or to experience the rickershay of emotions that pop up at every trigger in the aftermath – the panic, the fear, the depression, the shame, the guilt, I could go on. However, without this experience I wouldn’t have the perspective I do now, so I’m passing this message on to you. We only have one life, don’t take it for granted.

  1. Fear is a signpost for growth

Fear is a funny thing, sometimes I know it’s there and I can really feel the terror, the butterflies, the anxiety – like I’m going to physically vomit  because of it, and then sometimes I can’t feel it at all but it’s there lingering in the background controlling my thoughts and actions behind my subconscious state. The second type of fear is the most debilitating, it’s the unconscious state of fear that causes us to disengage in a relationship, cause arguments to create distance and generally provoke negative actions in a way to protect ourselves.

What I’ve come to realise as I unpick the triggers in my post trauma state is that every negative reaction we have usually comes from fear. That means any judgment or blame towards others, the avoidance of a particular subject/person, numbness, suppression or outright anger – all of these deflection techniques are the ego’s way of protecting us when we’re in a state of fear. When we become aware of this and we can see the ego’s behaviour it becomes easier to question it and find out why the fear is there in the first place and from my own experience I’ve found that underneath fear are almost always signposts for growth.

In a recent situation where I was starting to become vulnerable with a man I found myself judging, blaming and becoming angry with him, I didn’t even realise that I was doing it until a friend pointed this out to me. So I decided to address it like all my other triggers. When I did this, at first I found myself in tears. I was terrified. I was scared that if I let someone into that vulnerable emotional space that something awful was going to happen to me and that I would experience all the emotions from heartbreak, attempted rape and the death of someone close all over again. I desperately did not want to feel all those emotions in that intensity again and I was terrified that this situation was headed that way. Having got to know my triggers very well, I know that they create a whole world of illogical scenarios in my head based on a couple of situations in my life and during those moments of fear I remember what those scenarios feel like which causes me to back out fast. The reality though, is very different because the past doesn’t determine the future and the trick is to remind myself of this reality when I’m experiencing what feel like very real occurrences. Practising that continuously is what has allowed me to grow out of trauma in to a more authentic and stronger person than I was before. The next time you find yourself bearing way from something, as yourself why? If it comes down to fear then it could be an opportunity for growth too.

  1. Communicating that we don’t know how to feel is the first step to connecting

Anyone who knows about Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability will already know that vulnerability is where human connections thrive. I’ve watched her TED talks, I’d read the books but what I hadn’t done is really practiced what she preached when it came to vulnerability and to be honest it’s because I wasn’t aware that I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. To be completely honest, I thought I knew all about vulnerability before I experienced my traumas but in reality I was running away from all negative feelings in my very privileged and somewhat entitled life, without the awareness that I was running. So when I was faced with so many difficult situations I got to experience first-hand what she meant in The Power of Vulnerability, especially when she explains about those vulnerable moments:

  • Making that phone call to the relative who just lost someone, even though you have no idea what to say
  • Telling someone you love them, without knowing if they feel the same
  • Admitting to someone you care about that you did something wrong and that you’re sorry

What all these situations do is communicate our feelings at the times when it’s the hardest because those are the times when it matters the most. When I was on the receiving end of these situations I appreciated the friends who called me and said “I don’t know what to say”, over those who just avoided me altogether because we could at least converse over the fact that neither of us knew how to deal with the situation which meant we were in it together. I also did this with the vulnerable situation where I acted reactively with the guy I previously mentioned, after I had become vulnerable. I explained that I was terrified and that I didn’t know how to handle the situation and because of that I had pushed him away. In both these situations I found that communicating the very observation of the feeling led to me becoming a lot closer with these people and that is the start of practicing vulnerability.

All our life experiences give us a choice. The choice to deal with them, learn and grow from them or the choice to shut off, avoid and live in a life of safe guards. For me, the latter meant that I would give up the nomadic lifestyle which was the very thing that made me feel alive, so I had to find away to grow out of it or I knew that I faced a life locked in silent misery, clouded by apathy and an inability to connect with other people. Urgh, no thanks.

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

Are We Living in a State of International Apathy?

In a World where we are constantly told how we feel, how we should feel and that if we buy ‘x’ product then we’ll feel better, I fear that we’re starting to lose touch with how we really feel in replacement of how we think we feel. On the surface I guess it doesn’t appear to be too much of a problem, everyone seems quite happy, life is progressive and generally, all is ok, isn’t it? Or are we unconsciously in a state of apathy?

For example, when was the last time that you truly felt like you were alive? For me, it’s those moments dinghy sailing when I’ve caught the wind and my crew and I are heeling over balancing ourselves on the edge of the wind, carefully adjusting our movements to get the maximum speed we can without making the boat capsize. Even if we do capsize, it’s exhilarating to know that we found a boundary and pushed it. Without pushing it, we wouldn’t have known where it had ended. So even if we’re in the water, wet, and with a boat to right, we’d at least learnt something. The opposite of this approach is living in the fear of capsizing. This results in reactive thinking and quickly jumping about the boat without communicating to the other crew member what’s happening, resulting in no one being in control of the boat, inevitably causing it to capsize anyway. There is also a lesson to be learnt by the second capsize but it’s never as fun, in fact, it usually ends up in two stressed out crew members blaming each other. The thing is with sailing is that the wind changes and no one can control that, and sometimes that can be scary but we all have a choice as to whether we let the fear control us or not. To me, this situation is reflective of a lot of life scenarios, there’s the option to feel the fear and do it anyway, go through the experience whilst reacting to the fear or to not go through the experience at all because of the fear itself.

I wonder how many of us sit on the shore with certain activities, disengaging because of unconscious fear? Disengaging with relationships, jobs, even just speaking our own mind in fear of being judged, criticised and shamed? I know that I used to be one of those people and I would completely back out of any situation that would cause me to be vulnerable and I would do that by firing out judgments, criticisms and blame towards others because that is the ego’s way of defending us. Ironic isn’t it, that the very thing we fear the most is usually the thing we are unconsciously doing in order to protect ourselves.

I see this more often since I’ve practiced mindfulness and after having gone through so many difficult emotions in the last 18 months, so now I always try to put myself in other’s shoes and empathise with others situations rather than judge them. I do still slip up from time to time and it can take me a couple of days to get out of my ego and reflect upon a situation but I make a conscious effort to reflect and question my thoughts and behaviour and I ask why I did a certain thing. This reflection is the starting point of change because it always presents an opportunity for growth, but it’s this step that I see unconsciously avoided by most people. I guess it’s because if we ask ourselves why then we might find a difficult answer and then we have the dilemma of dealing with it or ignoring it and knowing that we’ve ignored it. When I ask myself why I’ve jumped to a conclusion or why I’ve judged someone without knowing the whole story or why I find myself backing away from something/someone, it always comes back to fear, usually the fear of being vulnerable. This isn’t surprising, considering that we live in a society where shame is so prevalent, the shame that creates the very fear that makes those judgments, and if we are unconsciously aware of this then we can start unconsciously shutting off, and this is when things start to get a little dangerous.

If we constantly bear away from things that fear us and we never face them, then we never grow. What we do instead is safeguard. We safeguard from anything that could scare us, and ultimately by doing this we starve ourselves from life. We starve ourselves from the same intensity of positive emotions as we do negative ones because you cannot have the good without the bad simply because without one the other doesn’t exist. Instead what happens is that we numb out, eventually leaving us in a state of apathy; the lack of feeling anything much at all. This is when the connection between humans starts to breakdown, in relationships, in friendships and day to day occurrences. It’s where the compassion dissipates because we fear those feelings of pain so much that we can’t be there for others when they’re experiencing it, because the very acknowledgement of that vulnerability in others, means acknowledging it in ourselves. This would bring us back to the dilemma of deal with it or ignore it. So instead a road that many of us walk down is where we numb out and disengage. I know this because this was the reaction from some people when my Dad died and it resonated with me because when a friend of mine lost her sister when I was 19, I remembered that I had done exactly the same thing and I’m not proud of it, but I can have compassion for myself and my friends in knowing that we are products of the culture we live in and unfortunately at the moment that appears to be in a state of unconscious apathy.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though, and you certainly don’t need to go through the trauma of being in a life-threatening situation or losing someone close to you to snap out of it. You do however need to start paying attention to your actions because they hold the clue to your thoughts, and how you feel, and it’s only when you feel that fear that you can become aware of it.

So next time you find yourself distancing from a situation, judging someone’s actions or getting angry at the way a situation is unfolding, stop and ask yourself what is it that you’re scared of? Then why not go ahead and do it anyway? You might find that you learn something by facing that fear, or that voicing it might bring you that little bit closer to the person you voice it to. These emotions are part of our being and by denying them we deny part of ourselves, so whether good or bad I implore you to fully feel those emotions and challenge why they’re there.

If you like this blog post, check out my Therapy Reviews, my Sketches, and my Therapies.

Lean into the Discomfort

One of the most predominant themes of this trip so far has been leaning into the discomfort which is from Brené Brown’s book The Power of Vulnerability. It’s interesting because as my counsellor has previously pointed out to me, our natural human response when something is uncomfortable (with another human being) is to shy away from it. However, as Brené Brown points out – by doing this we stop ourselves from developing deeper bonds with the other people.

As far as the travels go, the three ‘Charlie’s angels’ (as we’d been so delicately called by a fellow traveller) moved from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and now Dr Jenn and I are in Koh Phangan while Kyrie has gone back home to Cambodia. Before we parted ways with Kyrie we’d approached this topic of what makes you feel uncomfortable and why? – then we decided that 2016 was the year that we’d make a special effort to embrace such discomforts to try and make them more comfortable. Coincidentally a few days later Jenn split her toe open on a kerb and had to overcome her ‘foot shame’ discomfort while Kyrie had to overcome the ‘nausea at the sight of blood’ discomfort while she tried to tend to the injured patient, developing a close bond between the two in the process. Meanwhile, I  was enjoying a very comfortable Thai massage on the other side of the city, unbeknown to what challenges my friends were facing – little did I know that my discomforts were on their way…

Whilst in Bangkok Kyrie put us in touch with her taxi driver friend who we hired for the whole day to take us to Ayutthaya (the old capital of Bangkok). Throughout this time, we got to know this man quite well as we openly talked about politics, religion, cultures and our own lives whilst driving around the historic site. We found out that this man had recently lost a parent and someone close to him was terminally ill. It was obvious that these situations upset him very much because he showed these emotions openly rather than shying away from expressing them in our presence. Having gone through these same emotions recently myself, I could especially relate to what he was talking about but what touched me the most was his courage to share this with two women that he had just met. To me, it highlighted how uncomfortable I feel when I show emotions in front of other people, especially emotions which show my vulnerabilities. It made me think about I may have acted in this situation or how I did act when I was around work colleagues straight after my Dad passed away – I didn’t show that I was hurting at all and just tried to get on with the job at hand, even though I was struggling inside. I did this, simply because it was so uncomfortable for me to cry in front of anyone in fear of what they might think of me if I showed them this ‘weakness’. It wasn’t just new work colleagues I shied away from though, I did this with my closest friends and family too. When I began to look into the past few years, I have actually shied away from most vulnerable situations, whether to do with my vulnerabilities or the vulnerabilities of others because I was so scared of how to deal with it. For example, with dating guys – I’ve usually had an escape route pre-planned via boat or plane so that I have an excuse to leave when the relationship develops to the point where I have to open up. With my friends, I’ve always hid away when I felt upset or angry because I didn’t want to show these weaknesses, because of this many of my friends had never seen me cry until my Dad passed away and that was only because I physically could not lock away these emotions any longer. The heartbreak I could deal with, the attack I could hide, but when my Dad died the combined emotions of all three events overcame me every time (never mind leaning into the discomfort – with the intensity of these situations it’s been more like basking in the anguish)!

Such a lack of open vulnerability meant that I’ve stopped deeper connections developing with people who have tried to get close to me – because I also discouraged people to openly show emotion to me as well. To be honest, I’m not sure what I would have done in the past if someone expressed vulnerable emotions to me, maybe I would have been supportive in some situations or maybe I would have completely disengaged and ran away because I couldn’t deal with the comfort, and I’m embarrassed to admit that it might have been the latter. Only now do I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of this and how the avoidance of my personal discomfort probably made other people feel rejected at a time when they needed me most. On the flip side of this I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the best response I had when telling someone about the attack – it was after a yoga class and it was probably my first big emotional ‘outburst’ and the yoga teacher who is also my friend suggested that we go for a drink and I tell her what’s on my mind. As we drunk our beers I told her everything that had happened, in detail, crying throughout. My friend sat there as cool as a cucumber, with cigar in hand while she nodded her head at the appropriate points and just said “uh huh” as she maintained clear eye contact with me. She didn’t try to offer any kind of sympathy or solution, she just acknowledged my words and let me tell my story. I’m not sure if this woman had been through a similar situation but I know that she is a very strong person and probably understood that any sympathising or problem solving might make me feel more helpless than I already did. Since becoming aware of my previous responses to discomfort and being on the receiving end of a variety of responses and remembering how each of them made me feel, I now make a conscious effort to sit through my own discomfort to support another person when they need it, friend, stranger or foe.

What made my own situation worse in the aftermath of these traumas was that whilst hiding these vulnerabilities so well, I have also made myself out to be indestructible because of the kind of life that I’ve led – a somewhat fearless one. With respect to my professional life I’ve been so confident in my ability to learn and earn that it doesn’t phase me to work freelance or contract to contract because I know that I can make it work, thus eradicating the normal safety net of the steady job with the steady income. When it comes to travelling, I’ve acted the same way by trusting in my ability to figure something out so I’ve become accustomed to rocking up at new places without anything planned, knowing that I’m comfortable dealing with any situation, even if it means sleeping in a bus stop (I’ve done this a fair few times). I’ve acted the same when it comes to physical challenges too, caving with huge spiders, hiking to Everest base camp or sailing the Bay of Biscay in a Force 9. Dealing with these experiences has given me a confidence to constantly overcome fear where others might not and it’s made me believe that I was indestructible, worst of all I’ve convinced others to believe this too. The trick here though is that I was kidding myself all along, because whilst doing all of these ‘fearless’ things I was constantly running away from personal situations that did make me feel vulnerable.

What’s happened now is that my personal security has been shaken up so much that things that wouldn’t have phased me before now make me feel vulnerable too, whether that’s applying for a new job contract, travelling to a new place on my own or even climbing a waterfall. So whereas I could quite easily get by before by avoiding situations that made me feel vulnerable it’s now the case that to shy away from my vulnerabilities means giving up the nomadic life that I worked so hard to build. It means no more sailing, travelling, freelancing and no more adventures. Too me that is too big a sacrifice, which is why I’ve decided lean into the discomfort and work towards overcoming these discomforts and fears to the point where I feel comfortable living my nomadic life again. I guess the opposite of running away from ‘hard’ emotions is exposing my own emotions publicly and what could be more terrifying that doing that on the internet? As well as that, one of the reasons for coming away is so that I can start to immerse myself in all these vulnerable situations and build up my confidence with regards to work, travel, activities and showing emotions openly – having a personal Psychologist for the first month of this journey is definitely a massive aid and I’m grateful to have such a special person dedicate this energy to me (thank you my treasured friend). On that note I’d like to encourage all who have read this post today to try and catch yourself when you shy away from something difficult and rather than take the easy route why not lean into that discomfort and explore what happens. It might just bring you a little closer to someone

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