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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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When it's best to say nothing

 

            Have you found yourself watching what you say for fear of an enraged and disproportionate backlash from a prickly family member or antagonistic twitter follower?

            Even the most innocuous of responses to public postings be it news, opinions ideas or ramblings brought me a number of irrational, ill-thought out attacks from  soap-boxes or darkened basements in 2017. At their core, I suspect they were deep expressions of their own unhappiness.

            I was brought up with the old adage,  If you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all. It’s what I’ve tried to do most of my life – to frame and reframe my responses to people in all manner of situations by considering the impact it has on them. Can I say the same thing without being hurtful or critical? Will my words pare them to the bone or undermine a wobbly sense of self. Do I care if they do?

            Well, yes I do care. What’s more I care deeply when responses to me are loaded with venom.  I appreciate constructive comments and criticism to something I’ve said but I see no point engaging in verbal battles when I’ve been personally attacked because my lifestyle or background is at odds with theirs.

             I’m sure many of you can relate to this especially of late. Maybe you’re made of tougher stuff than I am and you feel a discharge of positive energy when you destroy their arguments with harsh words to gain the upper hand. I don’t. It’s so much wasted energy which could be put to better use.

            We live in an unkind world. We’re saturated with articles and adverts about getting fitter, thinner, richer, more successful but when did you last read a feature about being nicer?

            I used to advise my trainees over the years when I taught the psychology of communication, not to use the word nice as it was weak and lacked description. Nice is a lazy word for when you can’t find something meaningful. I’ve changed my mind on that.  Niceness is like clean fuel to power new relationships based on being more patient, tolerant, less irritable, less dominant or critical. Being nice is about being polite, respectful and kind. It costs us nothing but might require swallowing down heaped tablespoons of righteous indignation. Let it go. In a year or two or on your death bed, whatever has caused the blood to curdle won’t matter anymore. Whenever I’ve succumbed to harsh language, I regret it within minutes.

            My 2018 favour to myself is to keep quiet and not express any opinion unless asked for, whether that’s within my own family, to friends or on social media. If I do feel the need to say something then it will be done with the utmost kindness and consideration for them as fellow humans. In the words sung by Ronan Keating, you say it best when you say nothing at all.

           

 

 

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The Villain in Your Life

             Even as a child, Christmas pantomimes with their exaggerated posturing, never appealed to me as a relaxing form of entertainment. I’d nibble on my finger nails at the appearance of the villain, an essential foil to the hero/heroine of the story, wishing the witch, demon or wicked stepmother would literally break a leg and be carted off the stage if only to give my jangling nerves a rest.

            Writing this blog in pantomime season, has made me think about the villains in our own lives. I’d be surprised if they included snow queens or giants but our minds are constantly seeking out a personal villain, a fall guy, on which to pin blame. This might be an individual or a group, a society or a government. The hot potato of self-blame burns the skin from our fingers so we are impelled to toss it into the ownership of “other.”

            Is this done consciously? In the main no. Through projection we seem to edit the truth in order to quell the uncomfortable disturbances in the psyche or sense of self.  When I first studied the ego’s defence mechanisms back in the early eighties, it took me a long time to get my head round the idea of this powerful defence mechanism.

Simply put, it’s seeing our traits reflected in another. As an example, telling someone they are too slow or they never stop moaning, is an unowned aspect of our own personality. In other words, we don’t want to own the negative traits so we pin them onto someone else.

           

Like Carl Jung, I have a deep interest in the shadow part of the personality. This is the unconscious mind, a repository for unspeakable tendencies and beliefs: prejudice, hatred, a desire to harm as well as positive traits and abilities which are denied or unknown. As this isn’t an essay on Jung or the incorporation of the shadow in therapy, I will point you to a readable article on this subject here. http://bit.ly/2C41XE4

            The villain in our lives makes its appearance through the projection of this shadow, usually the negative aspect, onto “the other.”  This makes it easy to blame and not take personal responsibility as it’s always someone else’s fault.

I must point out that I’m not referring to situations where clearly the villain is to blame; crime, adverse government policy, corrupt businesses and any other situation where we are left vulnerable and powerless to alter the course of events. I do get tired of hearing some professionals talking about choosing your reaction when you can’t choose outcome as if acknowledging a need to punch someone in the face is a sign of being out of control.

I’ve experienced so many situations with clients who need to be angry, express their fear and anxiety and violent thoughts before they can even reach the point of choosing acceptance. Some of us can’t turn around that tank so quickly.

            So back to blame. It does serve a purpose. It protects self –esteem and ego since you don’t have to face your own imperfections and present as someone weak and inadequate. I hold an opposite view. It shows strength and honesty when we put up our hands and say “It was me. I’m sorry.”

           

As a long time specialist in behaviour (Transactional Analysis graduate) I define behaviour simply as everything we say and everything we do. If I say something offensive to you then I have chosen to do so. With that choice come consequences. You might not speak to me again or you may wish to defend yourself and hit back. Words might tumble out of my mouth unfiltered but I am still responsible for them.

            Only those lacking in emotional maturity will continue to say, “He made me do it.”  “It’s your fault I’m overweight. You stress me out.”  No. No. No. Unless you are being held to ransom with a gun at your head (or similar) then you make the majority of your choices. It’s only when they don’t work out that we need the villain – partner, parent, boss, fate and God. Choices are made within a context which I think influences how much responsibility we take for them. 

            As we go into 2018, maybe it’s time to hold the mirror up to ourselves and be honest as it’s so easy to lie.  Wasn’t me, Sir!  The villain in your life might not be anybody other than….. yourself.

                       

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Who are you? It's a very good question

A while ago I approached an independent bookshop and asked if it would be possible to organise an author event. In the middle of giving some background about the book and my authorial journey the woman on the end of the phone said… But are you somebody?  I could only conclude that she meant… somebody well known.

            I blustered a bit … I mean what do you say to that?  My family know me well, fellow writers, friends, clients, some bloggers and readers but if you’re asking me if I am a celeb then sorry to disappoint. Her reasoning seemed to be that they get so many requests from writers, and heaven help us, including self- published ones that they’ve had to draw up a criteria. Being a nobody isn’t on there.

            Shock was the dominant emotion when I hung up. I stared at the phone for a few seconds, hardly believing my ears. Oh how I wished I’d recorded the conversation but you don’t think such a measure is necessary do you? Not unless you’re working in a call centre where the level of abuse from customers is climbing. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to ask for her name or speak to the manager. Maybe she was the manager without being managerial.

            Where’s this preamble leading you ask?  There are times in life when we feel compelled to go deep inside and ask ourselves those searching questions. Who am I? What is my place in the world? How can I best serve?  

            When we ask ourselves this question, it’s an indication of an identity struggle- not necessarily a crisis – but the sense of me/I/myself has become fuzzy round the edges. It’s like looking at your reflection in a frosted mirror.

Questioning who we are is an ongoing process which requires a constant re-framing, a willingness to embrace the ever changing landscape that is our backdrop. The perception of who I was three years ago has shifted to a more comfortable sense of self today because I allowed the change to happen naturally with no pre-conceived ideas of who I should be. There lies the rub. The book-shop gatekeeper implied that in order to be offered an event slot, I should be someone who is worth it.  

            It seems to me that being somebody equates with YouTube stardom. If you can promote a super-duper way of applying mascara or reveal to the world that you a light-worker channelling the Pleiadians and have a million plus followers then star spangled doors of opportunity will automatically fling open and welcome you because you are A Somebody.  Forgive my cynicism here.

            But wait. There are benefits to being a nobody. It’s not our successes which mops up that fuzziness around the ego but our failures. We learn humility, the art of giving without expecting anything in return and we no longer have to jump up and down on our personal trampoline to be seen. We can simply be. The best thing is we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously. There’s no pretence, no need to perform or or lose our sense of authenticity just to tick someone else’s boxes.

            One thing I can share, being an oldie, is that the first half of life seems to be about becoming somebody important/famous/rich/successful and the second half is about divesting ourselves of that illusion. Without this pressure, we can become who we really are.

            So had my normally mercurial mind been activated during that conversation, I would have said this. ‘ I am someone who is generous with my time, a giver, an energiser, a motivator. Someone who is real, who engages, who co-operates and is a decent person. If I didn’t say so earlier, I happen to have written two original, well- reviewed books set in your city where I lived for twenty five years. That makes me the somebody you are really looking for, don’t you think? ’

I didn’t say any of those things. Instead, I did the very British thing of apologising.  ‘Sorry to have troubled you.’

           

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