As I am struggling to record the video of quality I have been working on, I thought I could share two synthetic visuals at least, because this is a topic that matters a lot.
Often, what makes the anxiety or fear appear to be irrational is that the present experiences have evolved away from the past lived experiences that created the anxiety, but the embedded and embodied emotional triggers, responses, behaviours and internalised beliefs at play haven’t changed.Read More
There are times where the most meaningful and essential conversations to have and work on to create a better world are hidden in the most unexpected places. When you think of the combo Netflix and stand up comedy, you might think of relaxing, light and joyful entertainment. Well, Hannah Gadsby may shake all of your pre-conceived ideas and your expectations with her now available on Netflix show called Nanette.
As she says “laughter connects us all” and she had made a career out of the art of “creating and releasing tension”. In Nanette, she explains with a real didactic talent the art of comedy, creativity and the stigma of the tortured artist.
But what she explains with an even more wonderful verve is how this was a deceptive art with a high mental health cost. For decades, she had externalised bits of her story and her identity, offering them to the public in a ‘stand up comedised’ way. She had done it with excellence, - being “really good at [her] job” as she says -, because she learnt early on in life and through repetitive traumas that humour could be her survival, her escape. But she came to realise that it was a survival made of internalised shame, misogyny, homophobia and mental illness.
She was violently taught that she wasn’t physically and mentally the woman she needed to be. She also learnt she was a sin for being a Lesbian. Those learnings are false and perverse dogmas, but taught virulently during anyone’s upbringing, they leave the marks of self-deprecation and self-hatred. And in those marks the survival tactic of self-deprecating humour became a trap where Hannah’s legitimate hurt and anger were repressed. She wanted to escape her traumas and she only managed to escape her truth and the strength of telling her story.
“Broken and rebuilt but who will never flourish”, Nanette is the scream of her soul that said “Enough!”. She will no longer self-harm through comedy and she will no longer mute her story. This is a #MeToo moment and so much more. To me, it is a powerful ‘J’accuse’ to the patriarchy, to White cisgender and heterosexual men.
Throughout her poignant story but also a brilliant art history class and using recent worldwide events, she denounces a society highly misogynistic and homophobic. She denounces the heteronormative and heterosexist constructs of gender and body types. She denounces a society where women only have the “choice to be a virgin or a whore”. A society where all sexual abusers like Weinstein, Trump or Kavanaugh “are not the exceptions but the rule”. A society that encourages to punish anyone who isn’t one of the two pre-conceived, restrictive and oppressive version of a human being. A society that legislates how women can be and behave. A society where men don’t have to ask for consent or be respectful of women being just girls.
Hannah Gadsby talks about the arts and how they reveal what is wrong with our world. In poetry and painting, older men taking what they want out of minors has been romanticised and idealised for so long. Hollywood did the same. The Weinstein story was only the very beginning of challenging a system that is highly guilty of creating the rape culture. That same system that tells women to be abnormally skinny and pushes them (and men and non-binary or genderfluid individuals) to anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders and/or body dysmorphia. That same system that allows companies to pay women less than men. That same system that is clinging on its unacceptable and unfair privilege of not respecting, accepting and treating women equals with men, non-straight individuals equals with straight individuals, non-White individuals equals with White individuals, transgender individuals with cisgender individuals, autistic individuals with neurotypicals etc. A world where gender is a binary power force, a war of oppression and discrimination. A world of violence and abuse.
This is the #MeToo movement effect that lead to so many voices finally daring to speak their legitimate wounding, their legitimate anger. I say daring because they have too often been criminally dismissed when they managed to find the strength to tell their story and seek help and justice. Movements and voices like #WhyIdidntReport or #1in5 which aim to end the stigmas the abused have to suffer on top of what was inflicted to them, to end a culture that is allowing those horrors to happen constantly without punishing most of the tormentors.
But that’s not it. Hannah Gadsby manages to be funny, touching, inspiring and truthful with a brilliant talent and intelligence that she uses to combine the strength of a #MeToo movement with the strength of mental health movements like #1in4 or #WorldMentalHealthDay.
Because she doesn’t only tackles issues about gender norms, sexism, homophobia, sexual assault, rape and abuse. That is already a massive accomplishment to be able to do so in one hour with so much intelligence, perspicacity and insights. But she goes further than that. She also tackles issues about mental health and mental illnesses, revealing the damages of muting our wounds, our sensitivity and our vulnerability. This has the flair and the force of a Brené Brown Ted Talk.
And to all of this pervasive system and those issues, she says “NO MORE!”. A no more that includes no more self-harming escape, because she realised she had a story to tell “properly”, a story worth sharing, and for me a must be heard story. Hannah Gadsby wants with her last show to connect with all of us beyond the connection of laughter, in a place where lives a more authentic meaning.
Like her, I believe that sharing our stories is a gateway to work on purging the world of archaic carcinogenic views and dynamics that are consuming and harming all of us. And because she has the eloquence of being so inspiring, I took on me to write this recommendation. Because Nanette isn’t just a show, isn’t just a talk. Nanette is a commitment we can all make to check our internalised discriminations and our restrictive ideas of what a woman or a man can be, and to challenge the mistaken binary conception of gender.
Nanette is a resolution to no longer mute victims and for victims to be so much more than that. Nanette is the voice of victims becoming Teachers who have lessons so valuable. Valuable lessons we all need to learn and practice. Yes, we need to learn and practice leaving behind our restrictive views. Yes, we need to learn and practice respect and acceptance of all individualities. Yes, we need to learn and practice real equality over all aspects of current inequalities. Yes, we need to learn and practice to be better human beings because it is long overdue to build a world of togetherness where diversity is not persecuted and are celebrated. Diversity is the most precious treasure humanity has. And we all have a responsibility and a role to play in letting it flourish.
I hope you will watch Nanette, because it sure is a Netflix so special.
*I wanted to call my article ‘The Great Hannah Gadsby’ but that formulation already existed.
I want to dedicate this article to my dear client who recommended Nanette to me. She will know who she is. Thank you!
An Invitation To Gentleness
Part 1 – The Shadow’s Triad Or The Struggles To Be Gentle
All my life, I have been reflecting so passionately on personal development that I became a Counsellor. Notably throughout lived and witnessed experiences, trainings, received and given therapy, books and TED Talks, I have been reflecting on why our struggles manifest. Beside what life throws at us, is there a determining factor common to all of us? Is there a key to unlock the struggles of existence? As a Counsellor, I personalise the therapy I provide to each client, because I strongly believe that everyone is and has a very individual and rich network of complexities. That being said, I found a constant: an attitude.
An attitude is always present. Our attitude toward ourselves, our thoughts, feelings and sensations, the ones of others. Our attitude toward who we are, what we do, who people are and what they do. Our attitude toward the world, events and situations in it and in our life; or toward a topic. Our attitude is pretty determinant in what we struggle with, and how long and how much we struggle. How could it not be when it is a constant factor, embedded in everything we are and do? We can’t always choose what happens in our life or in the world, what we think or feel, but I trust we always can try to reflect and work on what attitude we want to adopt toward them. So, I wondered: is there one attitude better than others?
Recently, as I was reflecting on my counselling practice, I realised that I keep on inviting my clients to adopt a certain attitude. One I came to believe is at the core of the therapeutic healing and growth: gentleness. Certainly, there are other attitudes to add up to create a healthy and dynamic life such as curiosity, enthusiasm, optimism and playfulness, but gentleness feels like a priority to me.
Google says gentleness is: “the quality of being kind, tender or mild-mannered; the softness of action or effect; lightness”. It is fairly obvious to me, - and it takes one to know one -, that most of us tend to lack gentleness toward what we think, feel, do and haven’t done. A lack of gentleness toward who we are and where we are in our journey.
As I was trying to write an article about the rules of gentleness, I realised two things. Firstly, where there are rules there is space for more gentleness; - hereby the title of this article being an ‘invitation’. Secondly, before reflecting on how to adopt and practice gentleness, I needed to explore what may prevent us from being gentle with ourselves. Once again, though there is a multitude of specific reasons and consequences for each individual, I tried to find some archetypal reasons for this general lack of gentleness.
Working with a widely diverse range of clients, I certainly verified what I was taught during my training. The first source of self-loathing and harshness toward one self is our primal wound1. In our early years, we all experience many forms of fractures with our surrounding, where we are treated more as objects than as beings, where we experience conditional love, and many variations of neglect and abuse. Firman and Gila1 notably explain that those fractures create disruptions in our connection to our self, and from those traumatic disruptions result feelings of emptiness, loneliness and isolation. We are not seen and loved adequately. This is the first wounding to which we react unconsciously by throwing ourselves “into addictions of all sorts, - from sex, romance and drugs to wealth, power and violence”1.
Our primal wounding extends to our entire upbringing, where implicit and explicit values are transmitted, - such as the infamous catholic guilt. We are taught how to consider and treat ourselves. Harshly, poorly, dismissively… This becomes our attitude toward ourselves. Our fundamental truth, - that our being is good enough to be and to be loved unconditionally as it is -, is denied. We then deny our hurt and anger that we bury in the shadow of ourselves, from which are sourced all kinds of acting out and dysfunctional patterns.
That shadow has been continuously analysed and conceptualised, notably around Joung’s work on ‘The Shadow Self’2, - this unconscious field of so-called negative or dark urges, feelings, impulses and desires. Thinking psychosynthetically3 around subpersonalities, - those different parts within us -, I conceptualised a ‘Shadow’s Triad’ blocking us the access to gentleness, being its nemesis. A Triad composed by an Inner Critic, a Control Freak and a Perfectionist. Indeed, it seems to me that most of us have variations of those entities within ourselves and that they prevent us to access for ourselves that gentleness we may be able to provide to others. I would insist here for the last time that as per everything else, those parts differ from an individual to another. I also believe therapy is one of the only spaces where this can be explored, understood, unfolded and resolved, - and in consequence of which individuals can heal and grow.
Why is this Triad, - in my opinion -, preventing us from accessing and practicing gentleness with ourselves? I think it is all about misplaced and/or toxic energies and messages that overlap. We are lost in that self-depreciating Bermuda triangle of the psyche. The Inner Critic and The Perfectionist create a sea of ‘should’ we try to navigate without compass, seasick. We should do more, we should be less, we shouldn’t ask for what we want, we shouldn’t have done this, we should have done that. We don’t know why we are not good enough, but we sure know we aren’t, so we work at it, harder and harder.
The Inner Critic tells us “you’re rubbish” and The Perfectionist echoes with “you’re not and will never be good enough”. They are incarnations of conditional self-love, with conditions always out of reach. Self-love and self-esteem become something to deserve throughout unrealistic never-ending expectations. If I get this promotion or diploma, complete this project, buy a house or get married, then I will be able to be proud of who I am and what I have achieved. But as soon as one goal is reached, another takes its place with the same conditional on hold self-love. And how can self-respect, acceptance and self-compassion, - qualities of gentleness -, can occur if self-loathing is at play? Because be sure that as some attitude the energy of love is always there, and if not in its positive form, in the other side of its coin: loath.
Indeed, in Psychosynthesis, we believe in two coexisting energies that drive us continuously: love and will4. I trust gentleness to be one fundamental attitude of love. But when those energies of love and will are misused by our shadow, we come to carry ourselves in life with an underlying sense of self-loathing and worthlessness. How can we then find our salvation? I have witnessed that for many of us, the embodied belief of worthlessness pushes us to find our salvation in sacrifying ourselves for the sake of others. Isn’t it in the occidental world the main heritage of Christianity? We are good and humbled if we sacrify ourselves for others and punish ourselves for who we are. This is what we call in Psychosynthesis a distorted good will, where we ignore the detrimental impact on ourselves our good actions toward others can have. This isn’t goodness, and this sure isn’t health or sanity. Good will is about the wellness of everyone, including ourselves. Because what the Shadow’s Triad makes us forget is that our first duty, our first loyalty should be to ourselves. I strongly believe in “put the mask of oxygen on your face first”. I believe in a healthy selfishness, narcissism and self-indulgence, reminding ourselves to put self-love5 first, and then combining it with good will and a drive toward togetherness as a motto to practice a healthy happy relational life.
But our Inner Critic and our Perfectionist can create a storm of self-loathing dynamics that fuel a continual feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness that our Control Freak comes to torture us with. We try to control our appearance, how we are perceived, how things happen at work, in our relationships and in all single aspects of our life. In our selfie FOMO6 make believe current society, we over-expose ourselves to the world with more pretending than ever before. We become distant from our own reality, our true self. So much energy spent, so much pressure and stress endured hoping to “fake it until we make it”. Anxiety confuses our judgements. We are no longer able to distinguish what matters to what doesn’t, or our priorities. We may no longer differentiate our needs from our wishes. We may even lose track of why we want what we want. We withhold our breath and forget to be who we are.
We misconnect to others with our false selves and our list of should, and continuously go back to feeling this primal emptiness and loneliness. We don’t understand why as we have people around us. So, we run away, escape, try harder, work harder, push ourselves into those “addictions of all sorts”1. We tell ourselves that everything is failing. The Triad make us believe it is because we are failures. “I am not good enough” or “I am a failure” are the most common and damaging self-limiting beliefs. We try to resist them. So, we push and push, crush and crush always furthermore who we are throughout intoxicating and desperate doings. We may even chaotically change again and again our work, our relationship or the city we live in, in an existential despairing attempt to find this mythical ‘greener grass’ elsewhere. And as any chaotic agitation of one in the water, one drowns; forgetting that they simply had to breathe and be mostly steady, grounded to survive.
It all sounds quite dramatic and as if I am catastrophising everything, doesn’t it? Consider though that it all happens over time, mostly unconsciously, and in many subtle ways. More and more researches and articles around the world describe the increase in people affected by anxiety, depression and mental illnesses. This is not coincidental. Decrypting how and why it happens, how to make it stop and create healthier behaviours is at the core of the therapeutic work and research. This is also what I thrive to do in my writings7.
This first part of my ‘Invitation To Gentleness’ might feel like a stodgy and obscure piece, leaving you with no clue yet on how to invite gentleness into your life. But if you think of any medical condition you might be affected by, you can’t start treating and curing something you haven’t examined the symptoms of. Simply putting a plaster on a bleeding wound will most likely be inefficient. Exploring and noticing the symptoms of a lack of gentleness and well-being is the starting point. This is the crucial power of awareness, one at the core foundation of Psychosynthesis8. Awareness is what gives a greater ability to choose how and where to direct our will to build up and nurture a healthier and happier life. Without awareness, we don’t have enough clarity to fully get in the driving seat of our life. Any growth process or change requires patience, practice and resilience, but firstly awareness.
What I tried to do here is to create some reflective awareness on our shadow, what blocks us the access to gentleness. Because if gentleness is about lightness, emptying our back pack from the rocks of worthlessness and powerlessness our shadow makes us carry seems like a good start. And in that start, we can already wonder what gentleness means to us, and what a gentle exploration and noticing of the dynamics in our life and within us could look like. Just wonder, gently.
THE WELL-BEING ALPHABET
I want to create here a non-exhaustive and evolutive alphabet of well-being.
Non-exhaustive because well-being is a limitless field and so can be the alphabet of it. I will quote, evoke or refer to some concepts, some books, some TEDs where so many more could be mentioned or explained. I will try to find a good balance between explanations short enough to be absorbed and long enough to invite more curiosity and exploration. I will also try to refer only to things I read or watched myself to be sure I actually support those references. Therefore I can only admit beforehand how incomplete this alphabet and its references will be.
Evolutive because this will be written and re-written on various occasions, and my reflection and knowledge are evolutive themselves.
Nonetheless, I want this alphabet to be like an encyclopaedia of mottos and concepts we can remind ourselves to practice on a daily basis or whenever we feel like it. I say whenever we feel like it because I often hear clients, friends or even myself being so harsh on ourselves for not practicing frequently enough meditation or mindfulness or sport etc. If what you do for your well-being become a ‘should’, then you are distorting its value and you are potentially harming yourself with the same tool meant to heal and comfort you. Be attentive to sensing what works for you at which time, and the attitude you adopt when practicing well-being.
I want this alphabet to be a space of inspiration, a space where we can ground ourselves, breathe and reflect. A reflection on how to better cope with adversity, how to better nurture what we need and what we want, and a reflection on how to integrate more love, joy and peace into our life.
I think of life in a multi-dimensional way. We live in a three-dimensions-world: our inner world and our intrapersonal relationships, others and our interpersonal relationships, and the world itself both as a multi-conceptualised societal phenomena and as nature with here again our relation to it.
Life is such a complex and rich world with so many elements, layers and perspectives. That richness can create overwhelm, overload & anxiety, especially since internet and the medias have been exposing us to more than we can process. That richness though, if taken with care and moderation, can create nurturing, meaning & fulfilment. I hope this alphabet to be an assisting tool to focus on benefiting from that richness instead of being consumed by it.
I also want this non-exhaustive and evolutive alphabet to be an invitation for all of you to create your own alphabet. I strongly believe in customising everything for ourselves. We are unique so why not creating a unique life for ourselves? As a Counsellor, this is in that spirit that I always try to customise my therapeutic interventions and suggestions for homework with my clients. I invite you as I always invite them to allow yourselves to be surprised by the ideas popping into your head. My suggestions, - though already customised for my clients -, are just suggestions. Nothing is mandatory. Nothing is set in stone. Same here.
No matter the advice or inspiring idea you read, hear or watch (here or elsewhere), please allow yourself to customise it for yourself if that is what emerges in and from you. Of course, if you sense that it is good for you as it is, just welcome and practice it as it is. As for everything, customisation is only healthy if it isn’t distorted by an extreme.
Because it is already such a heavy work to create a first draft with every letters, I will actually post my progress little by little. Maybe one letter at a time, maybe just one word of one letter at a time. I don’t see the perks of discouraging myself with trying to produce a final product about something I know to be limitless. Why would I submerge myself like that? One thing at a time… here is a good motto to start with and keep for the rest of it.
Please also note that I won’t necessarily respect the alphabetical order, because a creative order is more my style and offers more flexibility about what I want to talk about on a specific day. Finally, the flexibility will also be about allowing me various lengths from very short to very long posts. I need to practice and mirror here for you what it is to let go, to accept that nothing I will write will be complete and perfect.
I need to focus on my goal here: an invitation for reflection and exploration. An invitation doesn’t have to be a thesis…
So, today I will talk about…
A FOR AWARENESS
Everything starts with awareness! What we think, feel, sense, experience, desire/want/wish, need, act upon or react to can either come from the unconscious or our consciousness. Awareness is everywhere, whether it is lacking or not.
In Psychosynthesis and I would say in any other therapeutic model, we believe that awareness or self-awareness is the key of healing and empowerment. The key in itself and also the key in what awareness provides to us.
Paraphrasing largely Assagioli, we are dominated by everything we identity with and everything we are unaware of, but with awareness we can disidentify and take a relative control over those elements within and beyond us.
The first control I would say is about healing. With awareness of our wounds, dysfunctional patterns and other dynamics within us and with others, we can better process our healing and better avoid repeating the same mistakes and getting hurt again.
With awareness also comes the power of choice. If we are to make the best choices possible in our professional and personal life, we need the awareness of our drives, challenges and needs, and the awareness of what surround and compose the situation we want to make choices about. We can’t control in a healthy and productive way what we can’t perceive.
We also can’t become the best we can be without the awareness of what we may be.
Now, the question of ‘How to cultivate awareness/self-awareness?’ is a different topic in itself. As a Counsellor practicing counselling & psychotherapy, I definitely encourage the path of therapy because it gives you a space and an alliance to seek, explore, discover, understand, heal, decide and so much more. You don’t have to do it alone. A trained ally and guide within a safe and grounded space can allow you to support yourself with, through and toward anything important and/or relevant to you.
There are other paths than therapy as well, of course but I won’t discuss them here. If you choose therapy, it is crucial that you listen to your instinct and find the right Therapist for you. For some of you, maybe it will be me… Contact me if you want to find out..
1 Psychosynthesis, Roberto Assagioli
2 Life Choices, Life Changes, Dr Dina Glouberman
3 What we may be, Piero Ferrucci
On Becoming A Person, Carl R. Rogers
Unfolding Self, Molly Young Brown
THE WELL-BEING ALPHABET:
An Opportunity To Challenge My Inner Critic
I woke up this morning with an idea that popped into my mind on various occasions including before falling asleep last night: I would create an alphabet of well-being.
When I first came with the idea of this well-being alphabet, I got extremely excited and felt determined to write and complete it in a day.
Then I listed the words I wanted to talk about: awareness, attitude, acceptance, authenticity, adversity, being, bravery, beauty, congruence, care, compassion, connection, creativity, curiosity, communication, choices, determination, diversity, exploration, emergence, esteem, emotional intelligence (that one is cheating with two words when I first wanted to create a one-word alphabet), flexibility, fulfilment, fraternity, grounding, gestalt, grief, health, honesty, humility, hope, integrity, indulgence, intelligence, joy, judgements, jealousy, kindness, knowledge, love, loyalty, mindfulness, meditation, narcissism, novelty, neurodiversity, open-mindedness, ownership, playfulness, prudence, protection, quality, respect, rest, resilience, solidarity, survival, silence, strength, subpersonalities, thinking, togetherness, trust, uniqueness, understanding, vulnerability, values, will, welcoming, worth, x marking the unknown, y for you, z for zapping as letting go/moving on etc.
Writing that list awoke anxiety in me. Once more my imagination that is so rich and thinks and creates so fast wanted me to produce in a blink what would need a long hard work over time. I felt so discouraged, so overwhelmed. Why is my imagination so much richer than I can exploit and why does it always result in not exploiting it at all? This is so unfair. So much pain and emptiness where there could be so much creativity and excitement.
No. Not always. Not my imagination: my Inner Critic. It is my Inner Critic, - in the shadow of my consciousness -, that was creating my anxiety with that unreasonable expectation to complete in a day a fairly exhaustive alphabet about well-being with references to books and videos for more exploration. It could be the single project of a lifetime and my Critic wanted me to achieve it in a day, - in few hours if possible. Why am I so unreasonable with myself? Why do we crush ourselves like that?
It did crush me as it did so many times before. It crushed me with loud messages such as:
“You will never complete it. You don’t have the patience, the intelligence, the knowledge, the hard-working ethic and determination you need to complete that project. You are not intelligent enough. Who are you fooling when trying to create a dictionary of well-being? You are incapable. You are incompetent. You are a quitter. You are a failure. Give up! That’s what you do best, that’s all you know how to do! Stupid you!”
Then, I realised I had multiple and complementary choices. One was about rethinking that project. The other was about what to do with my Inner Critic.
I decided that I would use the experience of trying to write about this project to talk about my Inner Critic. By exposing it to you I want to encourage you to face this demon inside that crushes your self-esteem and gets in your way. By exposing it to you, I want to mirror many crucial elements I want to include in that well-being alphabet. Elements I want to invite you to reflect and explore about.
The awareness of my internal process. The attitude I can choose to have toward that process. An attitude made of acceptance, self-compassion, healthy indulgence, self-respect, gentleness and kindness. A for Awareness. A for Attitude. Awareness plus Attitude leads to C for Choices, and awareness and will (two major concepts of Psychosynthesis) are the pillars of E for Empowerment and F for Fulfilment. The Empowerment and Fulfilment of B for Being. Being Authentic. Authentic with my Inner Critic and its challenges. Mirroring to you what it is to take the time to breathe and G for Grounding yourself. R for Reflecting. I could go on like this a long time with the letters.
And maybe allowing myself to be congruent here, exposed and vulnerable1 is the best way to achieve what this well-being alphabet is all about. The best way to invite you to treat yourself better, to take the time to re-assess what is going on, the dynamics at play and the choices you may have. The best way to help you be inspired and empowered.
Maybe by exposing myself I will help you to listen to your inner voices and decide whether or not you let them control you, whether or not you decide to try taking back the driving seat of your mind and life.
I am taking back the driving seat by exposing my Inner Critic and admitting its power over me. I admit the shame and embarrassment I feel as a Counsellor to get stuck in self-depreciation and disappointing myself. The weight of experiencing myself as a failure for it. The challenge not to always know how to overcome my Inner Critic and how to achieve what I want to achieve. I am taking back my control. I am taking back my value, my worth as a human being.
I am feeling discouraged and being a failure for totally unreasonable and unrealistic expectations I put on myself. I say “I” put on myself because it comes a time where one needs to take ownership of the voices and deal with them. I am dealing with them transparently because how am I suppose to help you as my clients or readers empower yourselves out of shame and judgement if I can’t do it for myself? I am exposing myself to you as a gift, the gift we give in therapy2 as Counsellors: the allowance to be yourself, and to know that yourself is enough, yourself has no shame but pride to feel. Yourself is valuable, beautiful and worthy, even in the darkness.
What was before my Inner Critic took over and what does remain since?
My imagination. Rich, creative, exciting, joyful, playful and generous. My generosity, my heartedness and my kindness in the desire to write about something that could help some of you to feel better, to nurture your self-loving3 and your well-being. My care remains. The kindness and love in my heart remain. I genuinely want to do good. I genuinely want to help you as individuals to face and heal from your suffering and customise your life around your needs and desires, your identity and values. That’s why I became a Counsellor in the first place.
So what? Am I gonna let my Inner Critic convince me that I am a failure because I might not have the unrealistic productivity and endurance to create what my imagination gets excited about? Am I gonna let it tell me how to perceive myself? Someone not intelligent enough, lazy, procrastinating, not resilient, not hard working… Yes, sometimes I might be those things. Yes I admit that I would love to create in quality and quantity in the blink of an eye because it would be so much easier and because my imagination has more ideas than I could chew in a lifetime.
But if I have the humility to admit the impatience in my personality and the limitations of my intelligence and knowledge, I can also admit and recognise my intelligence and emotional intelligence as they are. Recognise the richness of my imagination, the generosity of my heart, and all the good in my intentions. Those are the things I want to build my self-esteem on. I don’t want to deny my flaws and my shadows. But I sure don’t want them to hide from me my qualities and my lights.
I may or may not come back to creating my well-being alphabet. Today, I realised and made a conscious choice that something else mattered more to me. Admitting my struggle to myself and to you. Listening to my struggle with compassion. Admitting my shame with gentleness and kindness. Mirroring to you what it is to accept my human hood and work through it.
I am not finishing this article unharmed by my Inner Critic. I am not finishing my article healed from my crushing shadow. I am finishing it in a space of ‘acceptance in progress’. Accepting the processes within me and that they take time. I am finishing with being proud of myself for letting go of an unreasonable expectation, for facing my demon and deciding to face it publicly. I am proud of honouring myself and my goal through all the well-being posts I can write by exposing my vulnerability and extracting strength from it.
I exposed myself today to honour my goal to allow myself to be who I am, to let my being shine, and to help some of you do the same whether it is within yourself, in your relationships with others, or in the world you navigate in. Be attentive to yourself, be kind, be gentle, be patient… You are more than your shadows. Be proud of your bravery, because very often the bravest thing we can do is B for Being.
1 The Power of Vulnerability, Brene Brown
2 The Gift of Therapy, Irvin D. Yallom
3 The Self-Love Challenge: Why Loving Ourselves Should Be Trendy, Lucas Voclere
Relationships come in many forms and models. One single model can not fit trillions of individuals forming even more trillions of relational entities.
I will most likely create at some point a page or pages dedicated to gender identity, sexual identity, relationships and sexuality.
For now, I wish to share some very insightful videos from experts in the field, which are a really good start for thoughts and education around relational models in partnerships. They also refer to very insightful bibliography written my other experts in the field.
[Attention: this is a first version. If you have any constructive feedback to help me rewrite it to make sure not to offend anyone nor to spread any misconception, please don't hesitate to let me know on my Facebook page! And if something is offending here, please be sure it wasn't my attention and I will gladly edit what needs to be edited. Many thanks.]
Nowadays, gender studies are gaining a growing wider place in mainstream conversations and debates. For a very long time, it was about men versus women, masculinity versus feminity. We were even told we came from different planets1. Our biological sex assigned at birth was meant to be the only way of defining our gender. Reality is, when we talk about gender, XY = Male versus XX = Female is only a piece of a very incomplete puzzle. My goal here is to evoke different ways of exploring gender. I don’t pretend to be exhaustive. I just want to briefly invite healthy curiosity and reflections.
WHAT WE ARE TOLD ABOUT GENDER
We live in a society that keeps on teaching us gender as a binary system based on biology supposed to determine our identity and our place in that society. There is not only a clear widespread confusion between sex and gender but also a very toxic hierarchisation of genders and what attributes they include. Depending on where we live and the era, the main recognised genders of male and female will be assigned different characteristics allowing to judge the identity and the abilities of individuals simply upon what is perceived to be their gender. I say perceived as we are taught to look at people’s physical traits and their look to assume their gender. Assuming is not knowing.
Here, I will debate neither on what is assigned to be male/masculine or female/feminine nor on how those assignments are used to distribute to each of us social, relationship, family, sexual and professional roles depending on our sex. I will not elaborate either on how society discriminates and punishes heavily individuals who refuse to conform with the absurdity of this entire system. I will invite you though to get curious about all of it, maybe starting with some references added here. I am mentioning this for you to keep in mind that there is much wider and complex dynamics at stake. Dynamics that lead to heterosexism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and many other forms of discriminations making the world we live in sick. For those who wonder, heterosexism is the system of discrimination, prejudice and stigma against non-straight people on the assumption that heterosexuality is superior and holds higher values that should be the norm for all (this is my own-made definition mixing various ones read). I believe at the origin of those dynamics we find the binary conception of gender I believe to be erroneous.
SEX ISN’T BINARY
As per the discriminations against non-straight people, one of the main argument we hear to justify the binary cisgender heterosexist system we live in is the one of nature; - nature and biology. So let’s take a minute to talk about sex as “either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions”2. Beyond the fact that we are more than our reproductive functions, - hereby why gender transcends sex -, we can easily contest the mainstream definition of sex as being either male or female. Some more accurate definitions include another biological reality: sex is “a person’s biological makeup of sex organs and chromosomes that marks them as male, female or intersex”3.
“’Intersex’ is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”4.
Note that intersex individuals are not hermaphrodites. “ A hermaphrodite is an organism with both male and female genitalia”5. We find in nature various plants and animals, - notably some but not all species of snails -, which are hermaphrodites.
Intersex individuals used to be wrongly called hermaphrodites as they were considered to be both sexes, which was another way of asserting the binary system. Either or, or both. They are not both, though they can have some biological elements both of male and female.
It is also crucial to say that intersex and transgender are not the same thing and that being intersex doesn’t determine how they identify in terms of gender. As for everyone else, gender is not about our biology but about our identity.
So even if you want to deny that gender transcends biology or even exists, you can not assert that we all are either male or female. Biology is actually not that binary. And even if you deny the existence of gender and believe only in the binary conception, you have to admit that we all are a mix of masculinity and feminity (no matter what you consider to be one or the other) that our biology only can’t determine.
Then, it is important to understand that our gender identity and expression are even more rich and complex than our biology is.
GENDER – CONTEXT, IDENTIFICATION & EXPRESSION
Too often sex and gender are used interchangeably when gender is not about or not only about our biological sex.
“Often expressed in terms of masculinity and feminity, gender is largely culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth”6
Here “assigned” refers to doctors assigning for all of us at birth a publicly recognised gender that will then appear on any identifiable or administrative paperwork related to us. We are labelled either as male or female. Intersex are denied in their reality and assigned a chosen gender depending on the biological male or female characteristics judged dominant. In many cases, doctors can even practice barbaric surgical procedures to remove the other characteristics. The damaging journey of living in a binary world starts at birth.
The word “assumed” refer to what I said in the introduction about how we are taught to categorise people as male or female depending on what we suppose their genitals are from what we can see of their appearance.
“Culturally determined”: gender is about socio-cultural constructs. As previously mentioned, those evolve and differ depending on the place and era we live in. The facts that those do not provide any immutable truth about gender constitutes for me the highest proof of the binary conception to be flawed. It is especially flawed in its assignments of characteristics to male and female and how they are then exploited to create an imbalance and a rapport of force between the two recognised genders.
And gender is not only about socio-cultural constructs. It is about identity and expression. Note that no more than for our sexual orientation we don’t choose our gender identity. What we choose is the terms that describe the best who we are. Not to forget that those terms are defined by our socio-cultural context (which includes family, colleagues and entourage), which also influences how we relate to them. We can choose though to reflect on how we want to relate to those terms and how we want to express our gender throughout and beyond them; notably in how we present ourselves to the world (look and attitude).
Note as well that no matter your biology (male, female, intersex) and the sex assigned at birth (male or female), you can identify as a man or a woman without considering yourself binary. And for those of you who identify as binary, please consider that it doesn’t have to negate the different reality of many other people.
GENDER – CONTINUUMS & FLUIDITY
Gender is non-binary or more than binary, so what is it? I agree with the conception of gender as a continuum or a spectrum. For me gender consists in various layers of/a network of continuums. (Please consider my explanations to be simplified and non-exhaustive.)
The first continuum between male and female is not defined by the sex assigned at birth but how we identify in relation to this assignment. Again, we don’t choose our identity, we only choose how we define it, hence our identifications. We can identify with the sex assigned at birth (cisgender), with the other sex (transgender), or with none (agender). Note I say ‘the other sex’ because I believe ‘the opposite sex’ is another misleading and toxic misconception. We are not either or, and seeing genders as opposite necessarily creates disturbing power dynamics. No matter how we identify and how we express our gender, we all are a mix of masculine and feminine traits; - at least, of what we conceptualised to be masculine or feminine traits within our socio-cultural context.
This is the second main continuum at stake: the one between masculinity and feminity. Society teaches us all the time, in various extremes and subtilties, to categorise things as either masculine or feminine. It tells us which job, taste, emotion, way of thinking is more feminine or masculine. Those views keep on changing and keep on influencing the collective and individual unconscious. Even languages in many cases attribute a feminine or a masculine to objects and words that have no sex.
Languages show us that despite the misconception between sex and gender, one thing doesn’t need one to be assigned the other. If we take the time to reflect on how we are impacted by all of it, most of us might realise that we consider anything and everything at a certain level of masculinity and/or feminity. I think this piece of clothing is feminine. I see this behaviour as masculine. I feel feminine when I do this and masculine when I do that. We clearly need to be more aware and reconsider what we describe and experience as masculine or feminine. We might even need to move on from trying to describe what is either one or another, and consider to stop assigning a gender to all things. Neutrality is probably a more accurate, viable and reliable perception; at the minimum it is a needed conception to reflect on aside the gendered one.
There is a great fluidity in how we conceptualise, experience and express gender. And nothing stay still, neither the society’s views nor ours. I might do something I experience at a certain time in a masculine way, - whatever that means for me -, and later on experience the same thing as feminine or neutral. This is because of this multi-dimensional fluidity and the flawed categorisation of everything as male/masculine or female/feminine that more and more individuals identify differently.
They notably identify as non-binary, gender fluid and/or queer (there are many different ways of considering this latter term, about and not about gender and/or sexuality). Sometimes it is about a double identification or more: genderfluid man, non-binary woman7…
I spoke earlier about language. It is important to say that no matter the topic the human understanding keeps on growing in depth and complexity, so it is crucial for the language to evolve. This is what is happening in regard to gender and sexuality with the multitude of newly created terms. Most people who misunderstand gender and are pro-binary, use the argument that those terms didn’t exist before and so what they describe. But that is exactly the opposite: it is because things existed without recognition that new words are created to describe them when they are finally acknowledged. That’s how language works, evolving to describe a new discovery, knowledge or understanding.
GENDER IS AN ENDLESSLY COMPLEX MATTER
I will stop here. Again, I don’t pretend to have been exhaustive on the topic. Gender is way more complex and has unlimited material to explore about social constructs, personal perceptions, identifications, experiences and expressions; and about the continuums and fluidity involved. Not to mention that gender expression itself can be richer than gender identity because as much as we only choose the terms we identify with and not what/how we are, we also can choose how we express our gender identity and play with the fluidity of pre-conceived masculine & feminine traits.
There is also so much more to explore with the fluidity and continuums of sexual orientation and how sexual orientation, gender identity & expression, are only parts of our sexual identity.
1 Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, John Gray
- XY on Masculine Identity, Elisabeth Badinter
- Iron John, Robert Bly
- Intersex Society of America - http://www.isna.org/
- The myth that gender is binary is perpetuated by a flawed education system - https://qz.com/1007198/the-myth-that-gender-is-binary-is-perpetuated-by-a-flawed-education-system/
- Gender Figure - https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CI390BlUsAALMQP.jpg
- Gender Spectrum - http://scalar.usc.edu/works/index-2/media/the-gender-spectrum
- Every Sex & Gender term explained - https://youtu.be/V9QnnQN880o
- Men & Masculinities - https://wgac.colostate.edu/education/gender-and-identity/men-and-masculinities/
Nowadays social media tend to dictate trends. So-called challenges like the #IceBucketChallenge continuously fill the web. Sometimes, though created for a good cause, they put people’s health at risk. If we add to that a modern culture of alcohol, smoking, drugs, chemsex and of a toxic obsession about body image & weight, it seems to me neglecting or abusing our Health is unfortunately trendy. I write Health with a big ‘H’ as I see the wholeness of mental/psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual health to be the equation of Well-Being.
We live in a society praising more than ever unrealistic role models and lifestyles with unreachable body proportions and egomaniac stardoms of people who have no other talent than being self-absorbed. When you look online for health advice, the trend is to be a vegan gym addict obsessed by food and weight. Is this healthy? Isn’t it the other side of the same coin of those unrealistic role models? Doesn’t it create or reinforce shame, body image issues, eating disorders, lack of confidence and self-esteem for individuals who can’t or don’t relate to this modern archetype of health? I wish not to dismiss the perks of gym and veganism but to highlight a concern about associating health with body image, food and weight obsession. Like pretty much everything in life, Health is about quality & quantity, the quality being about attitude & perspective whereas the quantity is about regulation & balance. As a Counsellor, I believe self-love is a necessary focus for Health.
I already hear the critics about the danger of our society being already too selfish, narcissistic and that self-love is the focus of this toxic societal coin I just criticised. But self-absorption, unhealthy narcissism or unhealthy selfishness are nothing but distortions of self-love. I associate self-love with self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-respect and self-esteem which I like to perceive as an integrated whole called self-care:
How can we consider self-love without self-care? Can we love ourselves without caring for ourselves, and vice versa? And how can we love and care for ourselves if we don’t accept, respect and value who we are while being compassionate about our psychological & emotional experience, struggles, mistakes and failures?
I believe self-love is the key to self-realization (1). Self-realization is integrating consciously all our personality components as a whole, to come to terms with and accept who we are; acceptance being a component of self-love (2). On another hand, it is realising our soulful potential, our Higher Self (I mean that in a non-exclusively religious spiritual way). This might not be the only meaning of life but I share the belief of humanistic and existential psychologies that we all have ‘an inbuilt propensity toward self-realization’ (3) which represents a universal life meaning and purpose. As a Therapist, I consider facilitating self-realization for my clients as one of my core functions, helping them notably to become aware and remove obstacles (4). I don’t see how any self-realization would be possible without self-love, nor what could be healthier than realising our life meaning and purpose while and by loving ourselves.
With that in mind, I wish to challenge common conceptions about narcissism and selfishness. Through various contents and conversations, I noticed how narcissism and selfishness are strongly pathologized and only considered as negative toxic behaviours or personality types to avoid or “cure”. Though I wouldn’t contest that in some extreme cases they can become pathological, I think seeing them only in unhealthy extremes is a widespread misconception that focuses on distortions of self-love. I believe both narcissism and selfishness aren’t necessarily unhealthy and might even be desirable for our mental health. I would suggest that heathy narcissism represents the quality and healthy selfishness the quantity of self-love.
In my practice, I often invite my clients to reflect on, practice and nurture what I call healthy narcissism and healthy selfishness. It took me years of personal & professional process and witnessing others to articulate a non-definitive and evolving conceptualisation of those as spectrums, with at their core my model of ‘Self-Care equals Self-Love’. I need to empathise that those spectrums aren’t to be considered as a rigid way of perceiving someone’s identity but more as an invitation to reflect on the constantly evolving behaviours of one individual and how those behaviours are sourced by and impacting on their evolving identity and environment. Every human characteristics can be conceptualised into flexible and mutable spectrums within which it would be desirable to develop and nurture our unique healthy balance.
I believe well-being requires the healthy balance between the unhealthy ‘not enough’ and ‘too much’ self-love; hence my Narcissism Spectrum below.
Note I didn’t create the vulnerable and grandiose types of narcissism (5), qualified as narcissistic disorders by the DSM (6). I suggest to consider them as the two opposite extremes of the Narcissism Spectrum. Healthy Narcissism is self-consideration and humble confidence as the balance between the ‘not enough’ self-devaluation and the ‘too much’ self-idealisation.
Though quantity is involved, for me healthy narcissism is the quality of self-love because it is about learning how to love ourselves properly and to give ourselves the consideration we deserve. Partially caused by the inheritance of religious guilt, it appears to me that “I am a good person if I beat myself down” is a collective unconscious belief of what humility and self-esteem should look like. Auto-flagellation is self-hatred. Self-hatred isn’t humility. Owning everything we are, feel and do is. Healthy narcissism is owning both our strengths, weaknesses, qualities, flows, mistakes, struggles, failures and achievements, with the same ‘unconditional positive regard’7, empathy, respect, acceptance and compassion. Learning when to praise ourselves and when to face adversity with openness is real humility.
Healthy narcissism is letting go of our fantasies about who we should or would like to be, and learning to love ourselves for who we truly are and could become. It is knowing when and how to look and focus inward, outward or both. A healthy narcissism allows empathy and selflessness, because it is about balance and because self-love isn’t exclusive but intricate with loving others.
I see healthy selfishness as the quantity of self-love because it is learning to know when and how much to give ourselves, others or both in terms of time, treats and efforts. Healthy selfishness is our existential freedom that stops where the freedom of others starts8. It is about healthy self-indulgence and interconnectedness. Here again, no healthiness without balance and regulation. If we constantly behave too selfishly, we might fuel egomaniac/narcissistic tendencies. We may push people away, not receive love and end up not loving ourselves. Like for many extremes, we might adopt them alternatively. And not enough selfishness is also harmful.
Healthy selfishness and good will9 are inextricable. Good will is about aiming the welfare of others and/or humanity without being detrimental to ourselves. Too often I see individuals putting their sense of self-esteem and self-worth into devotion and self-sacrifice. Note that helping others solely to value ourselves may demonstrate a misplaced ego and unhealthy narcissistic tendencies potentially inherited from guilt, religious or not.
Self-sacrifice, - no matter how pure one’s intentions can be -, is a distortion of good will and by extension a distortion of self-love through a lack of selfishness. This lack is the unhealthy selfishness I often work on with clients identifying with being ‘The Loyal Child’, ‘The Dedicated Parent, Partner or Friend’ etc. I try to help them learn to use the qualities of being responsible for and loyal to someone for their own benefit. I facilitate their reflection by questioning them. Don’t we need to be loyal to ourselves? Responsible for ourselves? Wouldn’t it be preferable or even necessary to be responsible for and loyal to ourselves before others? If we see ourselves as the tool helping others, how can we help them with a damaged tool and how will we help them if we come to break it? Would a Driver neglect their car? Would a Therapist neglecting their well-being be able to take care of their clients’ well-being? (That is a funny one.)
THE REGULATING ROLE OF OUR INNER CRITIC
Now, finding your healthy balance of narcissism and selfishness to develop and nurture a healthy self-love can be very difficult and challenging. As evoked, both narcissism and selfishness also require a certain quality and quantity to constitute the same traits for a healthy balanced self-love. It entails trying, experiencing, failing, finding a balance, evolving, losing that balance, and working on finding a new one. It necessitates a constant and renewable introspection, exploration and regulation.
A regulation that can be facilitated by communicating with our Inner Critic. A negative and controlling self-devaluating and self-sabotaging Inner Critic is incredibly common if not universal. By communicating adequately with them, we may reduce their negative impacts.
We need to learn to listen to our Inner Critic without considering they tell the truth, hear what they have to say, and through introspection and exploration get to understand them and the value their messages might hold. Sometimes what they hold is why and how fragmented our self-love still is. Listening to them with a compassionate and empathic dialogue may well be the key to restore our self-love. I say restore because we are born with it and it gets wounded even before we realised we had it. It is a very hard practice to listen to our Inner Critic without taking on board their negativity. I encourage my clients to listen to their Inner Critic, thank them for what they had to say, and tell them if and maybe even why they won’t be taking something on board.
When The Inner Critic is too loudly negative, refuses to be dismissed, I sometimes invite my clients to tell them to “F*** off”. My clients generally report how empowering the latter can be. Note that dismissing quietly or with the latter after an active listening is completely different from repressing or denying our Inner Critic. It is facing them, controlling what we do with them, whereas repression and denial are a good guarantee of being controlled by them; hereby the importance of dis-identifying from them through awareness10.
Hopefully, a healthy communication with our Inner Critic will allow us to grow, turning negativity into constructive feedback, but also discovering their positive side. Note that positive and healthy are interchangeable adjectives that we talk about Inner Critic, narcissism or selfishness. I hope by now positive narcissism or selfishness won’t feel like an oxymoron. As a Counsellor, I seek for my clients to become partners with their Positive Inner Critic in their quest for self-love and self-realization.
I have so much more to say about the stigmatising conception of self-love, narcissism and selfishness, and I am aware I haven’t given any practical tips on how to develop them in a healthy way, and develop this regulating and enriching partnership with our Inner Critic. I will say it is a personal journey, with or without a therapeutic support. I just wish here to make the challenge of self-love an everlasting health trend. Well-being through self-love and self-realization, wouldn’t it be the greatest challenge of all? Let’s practice self-love as our daily self-care hygiene. #TheSelfLoveChallenge.
1 A Psychology of the Spirit, by John Firman & Ann Gila.
2 Loveability, by Robert Holden.
3 & 4 The Gift of Therapy, by Irvin D. Yalom.
6 “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.” Definition by The American Psychiatric Association. [https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm/feedback-and-questions/frequently-asked-questions].
7 Psychosynthesis: Counselling in Action, by Diana Whitmore.
8 Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, by Walter Kaufman; lecture by Andy Blunden [https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm].
9 Unfolding Self: The Practice of Psychosynthesis, by Molly Young Brown.
10 Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings, by Roberto Assagioli.
Anxiety, depression, lack of self-care or self-esteem, relationship issues and other mental health matters concern all of us, but for LGBTQI+ individuals, it becomes even more tricky.
We live in a heterosexist world with an infinite variety of shapes and scales of LGBTphobias & stigmas affecting us on a daily basis and contributing to internalised discrimination, shame and mental health issues specifically related to the unfriendliness and lack of acceptance of the world we live in.
The struggle doesn’t stop here. As anyone else can face difficulties and doubts about seeking help, LGBTQI+ individuals often have the additional worry of getting assistance by someone who not only won’t reiterate some forms of discrimination but will also be educated and prepared to accept, respect, understand & nurture them in their gender and sexual identity as much as in their personal identity.
This is why I have decided to offer some concessions for LGBTQI+ individuals, either face to face in Bristol or online from anywhere, both in English & French.
Live your life like a song, like a dance, don't forget to sing, to dance, to play. Life is a playful time and that's the purpose of it!
#AlanWatts #DavidLinberg #LifeMeaning #LifePurpose #Playfulness #Music #Dance