Validate Good Behaviour Over Bad Behaviour

Another corner feels like it’s been turned recently, as I find myself working back on the boats, starting to feel like my old self again. For bad or for worse, this person I’m getting back to is cheeky, speaks her truth and acts out her free will with conviction. I’ve always been told that I’m a strong character. ‘Intense’ is a word that’s often used to describe me. Mostly with a negative connotation, as though to be fully expressive is a bad thing. However, as I feel more and more confident becoming the person that I truly am, I realise that these comments say more about another person’s fear than it does about my personality. I remember that I didn’t used to see it this way. I used to feel ashamed for being ‘too much’, for speaking ‘too honestly’ and especially for acting with integrity in a world where it seems so uncommon.

I’m not alone in this, and I find myself constantly reminding my friends, colleagues and good people in my life to embrace their unique differences completely. To be the best, fullest, strongest version of themselves that they can be. No matter what judgements they face. The thing is that in a world full of systems where most of us have been moulded into conformity, it’s difficult to break free from this. To do so creates a fear in others because it highlights the change that they are avoiding in themselves. This fear is what creates the judgements, the negative connotations, the knockdowns and then the shame.

After years of listening to these comments, we can take them on as our own internal voice, and use them to beat our self-worth into a pulp with the stick we were so often handed. As I finally stop doing this myself, I see the effects of this action all around me. I see colleagues who create the most exquisite and dynamic food you’ve ever seen, yet beat themselves down with words of ‘it can be better’. I see friends who continue to hit impossible sales targets, against all odds, yet tell themselves that it wasn’t good enough, and stay in situations where they’re not valued. I see family members who shine out creative talents, yet tell themselves that they’ll never make it because that’s what they’re being led to believe by others who didn’t have the courage to follow their own dreams.

To all of these people, I’ve found myself stopping them in their tracks and asking them to have a look at what they’ve created. To value their effort, their creativity, their grit and determination. To congratulate themselves, and bask in the glory of their achievement. To add credit to a self-worth that is so often starved of this positive feedback in a world where judgements outweigh compliments at a rate of  10 to 1.

I’ve also found myself putting in firm boundaries when I’m called to validate the worst behaviour in those around me. The drink drivers who off load their problems on strangers. The ‘friends’ who act without integrity and consume friendships with drama. The acquaintances in my life who act without accountability and in a way that is disrespectful towards others because they’re not willing to own the pain that they hold within. Firm boundaries because I don’t want to keep quiet and pretend like I’m okay with that kind of destructive behaviour. I’m not. So I won’t validate it with a silent smile while it continues on, spreading out further waves of negativity while a lack of personal responsibility takes place.

It’s not as though there is a group of ‘good’ people beaten down, and a group of ‘bad’ people beating them. There is no ‘them vs us’, and to see it that way only engages you in the internal battle that you keep firing up within yourself. The ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ lies in every one of us, and it’s up to us to decide in every moment which one we choose to fuel our behaviour.

For me, this whole journey has been about that and I haven’t found this easy. It’s been a constant exercise of stop, reflect and question. It’s been exercises of feeling into my body senses and my intuition to feel what feels good and what doesn’t. To reflect and ask myself, do my actions serve my values right now? To create the honesty in my friendships for feedback that isn’t nice to receive but will help me become the best version of myself. To tell people what I value about them, even if it makes me feel vulnerable. To call them out authentically, even if it means that I get caught up in the cross fire.

I wonder how the world would change if all of us tried to do this, or even if we do it just once, today. To ask a friend not to beat themselves up, and instead to tell them the value that you see in them and ask them to see it too? Or to call out a friend when they’re acting in a way which is hurting others? Isn’t it about time we started validating the best of each other and calling out our worst behaviour so we can all get on our way to being the best versions of ourselves?

Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash

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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

Why You Should Question Your Motives Often

I’ve never agreed with the answer “I don’t know” to explain our own actions. Maybe it’s my drive to try and figure the world out or maybe it’s because I was brought up to think about what I had done if I had misbehaved and then was expected to reflect and fully apologise for it. I remember that my Dad would emphasise that there was a lesson in everything. Like the time I was 15 and wrote “Mr Brown is Gay” in the middle of my exercise book. And Mr Brown found it. He spent the whole lesson giving us a shouty lecture on the three meanings of ‘gay’ (homosexual, happy and the plain old offensive use of the word) then demanded from me which one I meant. “Happy gay, Sir” I replied with a smirk. At which he barked for me to get out of his class. I was a fairly rebellious teenager and usually spoke my mind which got me into trouble often, especially with Mr Brown. The offensive pages from my exercise book were ripped out and given to my father at the next parents evening. and I remember it like it was yesterday. The heavy lump drop from my throat into my stomach as I felt so ashamed that my proud Dad had to hear about how much of a little brat his princess daughter was. He took the paper and later on when we stopped at a pub for dinner he took it out of his pocket, unfolded it and put it on the table in between us.

“Why did you write this Shereen?” He asked me

“I don’t know” I said with a ‘please don’t hate me, I’m so sorry, I love you look on my face

“You must know” He said “You wrote it”. “Do you think he is gay?”

“I don’t think so. I think he’s got a wife” I replied in my ‘I don’t’ know what you want me to say’ voice

“And if he was, why do you need to write it on paper?” He challenged me

“I didn’t think he was going to see it. I wrote it when I was with my friends at the back” I confessed

“So you were showing off?” My dad asked, looking at me with a half but sympathetic smile

“Yeah.  I’m sorry I forgot to rip it out of my book” I pleaded

“Ok”. He said, taking the paper and folding it back up to put back in his pocket. “And what’s the lesson here Shereen?” He asked as he leant forward and stared into my adolescent eyes

“Next time rip it out of my book?” I questioned, again trying to say the right thing and not really knowing what that was

“Don’t write down bad things about people” He said “When you say something in the moment, you can apologise and take it back, but writing it on black and white is more permanent. And showing off is not a good characteristic to have Shereen”

I went silent at that point and then the memory fades. I know that what he said was so poignant that it made me think about my behaviour and why I’d decided to act that way.  I wasn’t homophobic, in fact my best friend at the time was homosexual but I hadn’t thought about the words I was using in the moment. I was just trying to be the funny kid who was showing off to impress my friends.

From an early age my parents started to get me thinking about my behaviour and expected me to self-police. When I messed up they would give me the time to think about why I did what I did and then evaluate whether or not I was proud of those values I was living by. Not only did this strengthen the moral compass of myself and my brother but it made me realise that if we question ourselves then we can find out why we behave the way we do, leaving “I don’t know” as an unacceptable answer. I realise that this is not a common parenting method these days and sometimes I wonder if my parents would find it amusing to play little experiments on my brother and I, in order to enforce critical thinking. We’re both well behaved citizens so it can’t have gone too wrong.

I used this skill when I had post traumatic stress and my hyperviligant ego would cause me to react in all sorts of crazy ways. Sometimes I couldn’t reflect and question straight away but over time I started to do this quicker and when I acted in a way which may have accidentally hurt someone I would dig deep to find out why. When we act upon our fears we can attack people, often blaming them for the way we feel when really that feeling is our own to be responsible for. The more we reflect and question our behaviour, the sooner we can get to the route of it, take responsibility for it and learn the lesson from the event. The final step is the apology. Not some half-arsed ‘I’m sorry’ in a whatsapp message after you’ve cheated on someone but a real apology that adds up to the weight of the action. One that expresses remorse and is honest. One that isn’t scared to feel the shame which identifies that our behaviour conflicted with our morals. One that acknowledges the action fully and accepts all the pain caused by it.

I’m 31 now but I recently got the chance to apologise to Mr Brown. It turns out that he owns the allotment across from my Mum’s and one day last summer we bumped into him. He didn’t remember my name but recognised me face and knew that he’d taught me somewhere in his 40 year career.

“I’m sorry for being a little shit and causing you so much grief in science class” I said

“I don’t really remember that” He said back with a bemused look on his face

“Well in case it comes back to you, I’m really sorry in advance” I told him

It goes to show that no-one’s perfect and as humans we’ve always got the potential to mess up in the moment. We also always have the potential to reflect, learn and apologise too.

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: Jonathan Simcoe

What Is Integrity And Why Should We Care?

The word integrity gets flashed around a lot these days, but I wonder how many of us understand what it means and really know what it means to practice it?
To me, it’s like a constant questioning of my intention. A questioning that gets increasingly harder to answer as I delve into the various layers of emotional depth. The stronger my fear is, the more it’s running the show and often it’s only after that I can reflect and say ‘that wasn’t the best version of myself and it’s not who I want to be’. That necessary reflection is usually kicked in by a feeling of shame. A necessary feeling. If you read my word often you’ll know that I’m a huge admirer of Brene Brown and her work on shame, vulnerability and emotions in general and something that I think that is often overlooked in her work is the necessity of shame and how important it is that we feel it. It’s literally our signpost to align us back with our moral, our integrity.
I feel like there’s a convoluted message in society these days, as though we’re all striving for perfection to be the best human that we ‘should’ be. Appear to have integrity. Look good. Make money. Say the right things to please people. But along the way have we forgotten that we’re human? That the trick isn’t to act how we ‘should’ constantly, and thus avoid ever feeling shame. But instead, to look out for that feeling of shame (or guilt which it sometimes can be), acknowledge what it that’s triggered that emotion and reconcile what wasn’t aligned with our values.
The thing is that this constant awareness is actually a daily struggle and it takes a whole lot of self policing to stay on top of it. Was that me or my ego? Am I sabotaging or acting intentionally? Am I happy with the person I am right now?
It’s difficult for me. I’m still very much run by fear somedays. The fear that I’ll get hurt emotionally or physically and the stronger the fear, the more conflicted my emotions. At least with the questioning and reflecting I can look back and decide which version of Shereen I like best and make reconsiliations if necessary. To me that’s the real meaning of integrity. But as always I’m open to comment, call outs and debate. After all, I’m still only learning.

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: Massimo Mancini

3 Values to Live Your Life by. From my Father, a Good Man

Nothing can quite prepare you for the phone call you’ve always dreaded. The panicked voice from a parent, relaying direct information down the phone.

“There are three paramedics resuscitating your Dad”

It was all my Mum had to say.

I got up from the cafe I was sitting in and heading down the escalators with the phone to my ear.

“Ok. I’m leaving now. I’ll be home in 3 hours”

“Ok” She replied and hung up.

I called my brother, he was on his way home too. It would take him 1 and ½ hours to get to our family home and in the space in between my Mum would sit and wait. Luckily a neighbour and friend went round to comfort her. The ambulance outside giving something away.

It took me 3 and a ½ hours to get home. Straight up the motorway from the bottom of England to the middle. I have no recollection of the actual drive apart from the vague feeling of the rush I had within me to get there and get there fast.

As I pulled up, there was a silver van outside my house. There were two men sitting in the front seats wearing black suits. Men from the morgue. I knew. I’d known all along. I’d known he’d had died before I got in my car and drove, but I hadn’t allowed myself to entertain those thoughts in case they sent me off the road spinning.

The rest of the evening was a blur. Each one took our turn to say goodbye to him before the men from the morgue took him away. Some family friends came round, someone made us food, and then all of a sudden it was dark and it was just the three of us. My Mum, my brother and me. Standing outside the house in silence.

I remember the night clearly. The moon was a waxing crescent and the sky was clear, the stars shining through sharply.  We all paused there, outside the back door, my Mum lighting up a cigarette. We stood in silence at first, no one really knowing what to say about the loss of someone so great. Not just for us, but the world. To lose a man of such good values, a local hero. Before long we were talking about what my brother and I had learnt from him, values which had been installed in us to live through a legacy. Values demonstrated without words and through actions. Values that will stay with us forever.

  1. Have integrity. No matter what the circumstances, my Dad would always come through on his word. Even in the most difficult situations, and trust me if you’re a community Doctor there are many difficult situations. Integrity was something that was installed in him and he expected of those around him, his children included. It was practised daily in our family life, something that my brother and I thought was the norm of society. It’s only now, as adults that we realise that it’s somewhat of a rarity in the world these days.
  1. Be compassionate to others. I never truly understood what compassion was until my Dad passed away but looking back I know that he completely embodied it. There was the time that a grief stricken family tried to sue him for an error that wasn’t his, only for him to say that “People act in unusual ways because of grief”. There’s also the time when a patient with psychiatric problems waited in his surgery car park to attack him, by slapping him across the face with a belt. All he would say is that it wasn’t the patient’s fault, and that they just needed some help to get on back on the right track. At the time I felt puzzled with him and angry at the people trying to do him harm but I can hear his voice clearly respond to me “You never know what someone else has been through, and maybe if you did, you might see things differently”.
  1. Have courage to stand up for what you believe in. The most admirable thing about my father was that he always stood up for what he believed in, no matter who he was up against. Amongst many strong and positive beliefs, he believed in providing the best health care possible for his patients, a value that would often come up against boards of directors when discussing health care budgets. My Dad would never compromise his values and he wouldn’t sell out on his patients, even if it meant losing his job over it. It took a tremendous amount of courage for Muslim Egyptian man to exercise these values in predominantly White, Catholic, ‘old boys school’ type environments but my Dad didn’t see the differences on the surface that many of us do. He just focused on what was important at the time – ‘what’s the best for the patients?’ Then he stood by it and fought for it.

The death of a parent, a spouse or any family member is always a difficult part of life, but what got us through the darkest parts was the reflection that we had such a decent man in our lives. Of course I would have loved to have my Dad around for another 30 years, and I miss him every day. But in the 30 years that he shared with me he gave me some of the best gifts I could have ever wish for – good values, and for that I’m grateful.

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