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