Self-love is overrated 

How many times have you heard that you have to love yourself?

Worse, that you have to learn to love yourself first, as if without this magical substructure, little else is possible.

Some stretch the friendship further, demanding you love yourself unconditionally.

Unconditionally? Is that even possible, desirable?

For example, in the middle of a mess that I’ve made by not acting soon enough, which upends my world but also those who depend on me for whatever reasons (stability, security) – should I love myself? Not necessarily. I can resent myself. I can resent myself and care. I can resent myself and still rebuild.

What about the wo/man who deliberately deliberately setting up a friend? Or the psychopath slowly and deliberately executing a colleague’s fall? Should they love themselves? No. Get thee to a nunnery, they should admonish themselves. Get help. Go.

To those who love themselves I would like to say ‘wow how great’ but I don’t know if it is. I need more information.

I assume that a degree of self like, that includes reproof when needed, allows us to get on with things. But I’ve seen too many people walk away from the ruins without a backward glance, because they’ve convinced themselves it’s okay, they’re okay. And I think this is why self-love is on the nose for me.

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Don’t be too quick or too slow to forgive

We’re told that it’s compassionate to forgive ourselves and other people.

It’s a great principle, sorely lacking in detail.

When, for example, is the time to forgive? And how do we do it?

By rushing to forgive we risk pushing legitimate feelings underground. On the other hand refusing to forgive is a lost opportunity for deeper connection and means that we carry unnecessary pain.

People react along the continuum of fast to slow depending on who they are and the situation, some things have a greater impact than others.

But at the extremes are:

  • Those who never forgive.
  • Those who forgive instantaneously.

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The idea that venting anger helps is a myth

You may feel better after you’ve vented your anger but there’s little point –

  1. Venting does not diminish anger
  2. The feeling intensifies
  3. You create fresh damage to those you lash out at.

Why do we do it?

Anger is normal. But chronically angry people have a strong sense of entitlement about how the world should look and others should act. They are poor self-regulators who attribute discomfort they experience others. Poor self-regulation means they do not act in the long-term consistent with values.

Their bravado may appear as strength but it masks weak self-control. When things don’t go their way they lash out believing their anger is a justified reaction to an unfair world.

“If they hadn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be angry.” (They genuinely believe this.)

The surge of anger provides ‘a shot of adrenaline-driven energy’ that has amphetamine and analgesic effects, providing a sense of power that numbs pain. That sense of relief is called catharsis but it’s temporary.

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A strong personality is not the same as strength

People often mistake domineering personalities as strong. They can be, but sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes frighteningly opposite if doggedness masks an inability to cope with differences.

When someone disagrees with them – it’s a war.

Domineering personalities are not afraid to express a view – that is refreshing. What is less refreshing is to watch them unyieldingly hammer their point till others cave in or shut down.

They are not interesting in listening, nuance or having a discussion. They have a single goal – emerging triumphant at the other end.

It doesn’t matter if they take an opposite view the next day. It’s about winning, not logic.

These personalities play the wo/man and not the ball. Someone who disagrees with them is not just wrong they’re ‘an idiot’ (put in their preferred insult). There’s no give, no concession that someone might have an insight they don’t or even just a different way into the problem.

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‘Aloneness’

If you want to be more deeply connected, spend time alone.

That’s not a fact, underpinned by research. It’s a reflection. An anecdote. But it may have value.

If you came to me and said – I feel empty, or – as if something is missing – if you complained about feeling blocked or stagnant or that negative drama (gossip, shouting, pointing the finger) made you feel more alive – I would say: think about spending some more time alone.

That’s regardless of being an extravert, introvert, or even ambivert (think happy middle ground).

These are just personality types.

The value of being alone transcends categories. It’s a deliberate practice of not seeking someone (or something) other to fill you up. I believe it’s a deep human need, as vital as connection.

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Cynicism is a poison

I’m not a fan of the saccharinely positive with no off-button but cynicism – that can be a poison.

The kind of cynicism I am talking about here has little to do with discernment or healthy realism; the critical thinking required to analyze information or challenge norms, which leads to better outcomes.

I am talking about the kind of person who pans everything.

A hundred great things happen during the day and the only thing the cynic reports: the train was late.

The variations are endless:

  • The boss is stupid
  • The government useless
  • The incompetent supplier stuffed up again.

Perhaps all those things are true. But so are adjacent realities like the 93 percent of times the trains ran on time or many occasions the boss had a great idea.

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Moods as a controlling device

Have you noticed how some people control others without doing or saying anything?

These emotional dictators wield emotion like a sword and then step back from the consequences.

I am not talking here about low-level sulkiness; we all get moody from time to time.

A partner or colleague upsets us and rather than either sorting it out directly, or letting it go, we do neither. We say nothing but they know in no uncertain terms it is not forgotten. While not ideal, we are all human and it’s not a problem when it’s not a pattern.

Where it becomes a problem is when it becomes a pattern.

Emotional manipulators are different from those who don’t have the skills to be direct because of their upbringing, socio-political environment or just a difference in power or position (where directness can have serious consequences). People who get shot down may also retreat to indirectness as a defence.

What distinguishes them is that they thrive on drama; where it doesn’t exist they will create it. They love the fallout from their antics because it puts them slap bang at the centre of the universe where they feel powerful and in control, and that’s just the way they want it.

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Why being kind is more important than being right

 A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve. Joseph Joubert

This last week I have been reflecting on kindness and why there is not enough of it in the world.

While we are supposedly more open to softness and emotion, the reality is that we still privilege disconnection.

What do I mean by this?

Simply that the hard-nosed, cut off and detached can be perceived as more capable and grown up than their more sensitive peers.

Although they are rarely more capable and grown up or in fact even hard-nosed, the image is revered and therefore, reinforced.

But it’s a myth. Underneath, we are all vulnerable.

This doesn’t mean we can’t manage emotions appropriately or make difficult decisions. We navigate complexity daily.

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Should leaders make others happy?

Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult. Warren G. Bennis

I was recently part of a discussion where it was put that people perform better uplifted and leaders were responsible for the happiness of their teams.

The underpinning philosophy: positivity activates the heart.

This did not sit well with me.

While I believe we need to be emotionally aware, to be positive all the time is inauthentic.

We go up and down, veering from anger to joy and every emotion in between and that is natural.

What we do with those emotions though, is critical.

We need to be aware that our mood impacts others (although how they respond is largely up to them) and deal with our feelings rather than taking them out on the people around us.

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The myth that we have to ‘rise above’ emotion is corrosive

The myth that we have to ‘rise above’ emotion is corrosive. Where is emotion ‘kept’ such that we could disentangle from it?

Emotions are complex biochemical events triggered by and that trigger internal and external reactions. There’s some evidence that specific molecules regulate certain emotions – oxytocin with empathy, serotonin with happiness  – although this is an emerging field and we really don’t know enough.

But its a long outdated idea that thoughts and feelings float about separate from the body – they are embodied within it.

Many psychologies, philosophies and spiritualities teach that emotion is inferior to reason, but the idea of pure reason is a myth and not one I believe we should aspire to. The fetishisation of reason is damaging, people waste energy trying not to feel.

Being emotional doesn’t mean having unbridled outbursts. That’s childish. We can learn to control impulses and live respectfully amongst others.

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