You can’t withstand your environment you’re a part of it

I am I plus my circumstances. Jose Ortega y Gasset

While it’s true that the way we perceive and interpret events impacts how we experience them, it’s only part of the story.

Too much emphasis has been placed on our ability to withstand the environment as if it were somehow separate from us.

Instead, we are a continuation of our environment, visible and invisible forces within it profoundly impact how we behave.

The self

Of course, how people see and construe things differs.

We know that perception is influenced by expectations and unconscious biases. Prejudices we may not be aware of profoundly impact what we pay attention to and recall.

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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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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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Don’t take it personally? (It’s personal)

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive. James Baldwin.

One of the great self-development leaps we make that catapults us out of childhood and into being adult is when we realize we should not take things personally.

Apparently.

We get a rejection letter in response to the submission we sent – not personal.

In the past we used to throw ourselves on the couch, weeping and leaping to all sorts of conclusions about our self-worth (and the lack of it).

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Why you should love your flaws

A friend told me about an exhibition she went to recently where the artist had created an installation by weaving together the responses of people to questions about their fears.

Freed by anonymity to express what they truly felt, the work was a poignant tale about a fragile species, compensating for its vulnerability with defenses and masks.

Not surprisingly old and young, women and men, corporates, labourers, poor, rich echoed the same moving narrative: we are afraid of being real.

Although we are all imperfect we live in a world that demands it be reigned in, tempered, hidden away.

Ironic that others ask us for perfection, which they cannot provide.

There are many reasons why we hide feelings.

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What masks do you wear and why?

We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin. Andre Berthiaume

We all wear masks, although the extent to which we layer ourselves varies greatly.

Masks are the personality layer, or persona, that we put on top of the ‘real thing’ (caveats assumed).

They are the edited and decorated versions we prefer to show the world, shielding what we don’t like or accept or that others ask (typically without words) us to hide. They’re a protective barrier.

At the extreme con wo/men construct a palatable false self to divert people from darker intentions. The compulsive liar who says they hate lies, the wo/maniser who prides themselves on fidelity.

With these types charm is a decoy. These mask-makers have no desire to lift the mask, they know very well why it is there. Seeing through them can be difficult, in particular when they are well practiced.

Masks exist on a continuum from the passive-aggressive friend to the sociopath. However for the most part, we don’t realise the masks are there.

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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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