Category Archives: planning

Innocence, naivete and trust

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust lately.

In my last relationship I was naive and far too trusting. I believed my ex’s description of himself and his characteristics, and acted accordingly. I believed that he had a good insight into my personality, and wouldn’t say things without good cause. Unfortunately he wasn’t the way he had described himself, and my trust in him made me very vulnerable when he started behaving coldly and erratically. He didn’t intend to harm me, but simply wasn’t the person I trusted him to be.

A necessary part of growing up is developing protective mechanisms that stop us being too deeply affected by the judgement of strangers or people we do not trust or respect. My protections were perhaps weaker than they could have been, but still fairly effective in maintaining a good level of self confidence. The real problem was that my trust in him was strong enough to deactivate them. So I was wide open to the things he said, and believed them far too easily.

Ironically, one of his criticisms was that I didn’t trust him enough. And this and similar comments made the situation worse, because they made me try to ignore my fears and question my judgements. Without going into the details, I rapidly reached a point where his advice and judgements had seriously weakened my normally strong self-esteem. It was only after we split up that I began to see how much more his judgements had to do with his fears than with me. Our last conversation confirmed this, demonstrating just how bad the problem had become, and really kick-starting my recovery.

Now that I am well on the way to complete recovery, I am thinking about preparing for future relationships. I am vividly aware of the dangers of trusting too much – but I’m now at risk of falling into the other extreme of not trusting enough. I need to heal my ability to trust and to be open, without allowing myself to become so terribly vulnerable.

To retain my innocence and trust, but not my naivete.

To some extent it’s a question of finding someone who is trustworthy. Someone who is genuinely the way he claims to be, whose personality is secure and not subject to sudden crises of self-confidence. But in my old relationship, I saw the signs of trouble from an early stage – the problem was that I closed my eyes to them because I wanted to go on being happy in the belief that he was perfect.

So what really needs to change is in me – in my willingness to accept reality as it is. And to be open to what comes, with the knowledge that I will cope. I’ve made a lot of progress on these things over the last few months, and many of the mistakes I made have been seared into my memory deeply enough to be an effective deterrent!

Some vulnerability is inevitable in any relationship, of course. So I think I also need some sort of warning system that will alert me to take action to protect myself if needed. But at the same time I don’t want to be so alert and paranoid that I can’t relax into a relationship. Or am always wondering whether I should be with someone else.

I’ll need to experiment and explore a bit, but I think part of the answer lies in being open to what I am feeling at any one time.

To be alive to my experience of being in the relationship – enjoying the positive bits but not ignoring any fleeting moments of discomfort. Because if I’d paid attention to the moments of discomfort in my old relationship, I would have been alerted to the problems before they became serious issues between us, and much better able to protect myself. And then the second stage would be to act on what I see – to resolve the problem or step back to protect myself.

In that way I hope it will be possible to be open and yet protected, and at the same time fully present in the relationship. I’m sure it will be harder than that in practice, but it’s a nice idea to aspire to!

I’m sure many other people have taken this journey before me, and I’d love to know what your experience says!

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Relaxation or laziness?

sea-lion-at-sunset.jpg

There’s a fine line between taking much needed thinking/recovery time and just being lazy – and I’m not quite sure which side I’m on just now!

Towards the end of last year I was struggling to deal with the double whammy of a break up and a series of set-backs in taking forward singing professionally. And I made things much harder by pushing myself to recover quickly – I couldn’t mend the relationship but I hoped at least to be able to take forward the singing. But I underestimated just how deeply these blows had affected me, and how long I really needed to recover.

Having problems simultaneously in different parts of your life makes it so much harder to cope with each than it would be if they came along individually. The problems were also all compressed into such a short period of time that I had almost no time to process my emotions as they came up, so lots of the stored up emotion took time to really make itself felt. My ex’s sudden termination of communication left me with a lot of unanswered questions and unexpressed feelings. And all the time I heard in my head a drumbeat of “it’s almost too late, it may already be too late” to take forward my singing – which was tormenting me because at that time I was unable to practice, still less take forward my audition plans. It all added up to a really difficult time.

Eventually, with the help of some wise friends, I started to give myself space to
recuperate, to accept just how much I needed space and time – to think, to feel deeply, to recover. And almost immediately I started to feel so much better!

That was several weeks ago, and I’m doing hugely better. So I wonder now if I’m getting too comfortable. There’s something addictive about having low expectations of yourself, and allowing yourself to do whatever you like, because you’re convalescing. Yes, I needed some down time. But there are also things I want to do, plans I want to take forward, and I don’t want to get stuck in an endless period of reflection!

My favourite of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is the last: always do your best (no more and no less) and recognise that this changes from day to day. It’s a good principle to try to live by!

Reliable signposts for personal growth

This way

How do you find reliable signposts to guide a journey of personal development? How do you decide which ways of thinking, or which activities, are conducive to the goals you’re trying to reach?

If you believe in a particular religion, then there’s normally some sort of path set out, and priests/teachers to guide you along it. If you accept the basis of that guidance (the holy book or equivalent), it gives you some structure. And most religions do seem to teach (even if their followers don’t practice) good principles – like compassion and community. But so many organised religions stress obedience and conformity, not to mention faith rather than enquiry, which I don’t see as conducive to personal growth. Some people may find it beneficial, but it fundamentally wouldn’t work for me.

Frustration by the options offered by the formal religions leads lots of people to turn to new-age approaches. These tend to offer a much less conformist view, but they’re haphazard and tend to promote belief in all sorts of weird things. As I’ve said earlier, attractive as it would be to be able to believe some of these claims, I find the arguments made for them fundamentally lacking in real critical scrutiny and regard for truth. Some of the claims new-agers make may be valid, but the crazier claims make it really difficult to trust that there’s any reliable guidance to be found here.

Alternatively you have self-help books, which seem to have expanded to cover even more bookshelf space each time I visit my local bookshop! I’ve found some useful suggestions there, but a lot more that is anecdotal and often not based on any serious evidence. (I came across a great article on Self help – shattering the myths). On what authority do the authors give their advice? Who has followed this advice, and did it work out well for everyone? Why did they write this advice? Again, I’m very wary of trusting myself to these sources unless I have good answers to these questions.

Beyond self-help books, some people turn to personal development courses in search of greater peace of mind and personal growth. But these are subject to many of the failings of self help books, and can often be far worse because they are much more intense. I was very interested to come across Louise Samways’ fascinating and frightening text dangerous persuaders which suggests that some personal development courses share a worrying number of features with religious cults. And sadly my own experience and that of friends confirms the negative effect that personal development courses can have on people, and on their relationships with friends and partners. I plan to steer well clear of these.

What else is there? Psychological research is throwing up some fascinating findings which provide some very interesting food for thought. The research often very challenging to our conceptions of who we are and how we think. It’s dizzying to realise the extent to which the mind and senses that appear so infallible are playing all sorts of tricks on us. But while this makes the mind boggle, I often find myself looking for something that goes a bit further. A lot of psychology seems to focus on poor mental health and functioning normally within society. Of course this is important and valuable. But at the same time I’m sure there are ways of growing as a person – becoming more confident, more honest, more open.

As I said in an earlier post, I believe life itself can teach us a lot – particularly if we seek interesting people and situations, and try to be open to what we can learn from them. It’s a great way to live, and a great way to grow. It’s tempting to look for shortcuts – but many of the shortcuts on offer take us away from the world – onto courses or into convents, rather than just confronting the challenges of now.

Not just our own lives of course – I think there’s a huge amount to learn from the stories that allow us to tap into what other people have learnt and done with their lives. Some autobiographical, some fictional. Some realistic, some dealing with archetypes that seem to have a powerful resonance (like Women who run with the Wolves, which I’ve mentioned in a few posts).

I suppose that gives at least three useful sources of guidance – psychological research, personal experience, and stories of others. A lot of food for thought!

Perhaps too much? Of course having multiple sources means that you always have to do your own sifting. And there’s always a risk that you choose the advice that challenges you least. But at the end of the day I’m the one who has to choose how I live my life and what paths I follow in pursuit of personal growth. Not having a clear path laid out can be confusing, and sometimes (especially in difficult times) demoralising, but mostly I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Opportunities and fears

It’s strange how new opportunities can sometimes feel really threatening.

My recent bout of confusion and low mood was triggered by finding out about a job opportunity. Something that would be interesting and almost certainly enjoyable. It would probably give me some of the challenge and responsibility that I’ve been feeling frustrated at not getting with my current employer. But it would keep me working for that same employer. I’d pretty much decided that I definitely need to move on, and seek out a different career altogether. So considering staying with my current employer opened up a few cans of worms I wasn’t expecting to have to look into again.

But of course it’s only an opportunity – how can that possibly feel threatening? Partly that it puts some pressure on me to decide in the next week or so whether I want to go for this new job. It also makes me look at my reasons for wanting to move on, and what I’m trying to move away from and towards. But actually I think the most daunting thing is that it opens up the possibilities that I need to choose between. I’m very prone to try to make the “perfect” decision, rather than just going for the option that seems best at the time. And having more options makes the decision process so much harder!

I’ve heard of a few pieces of research lately that suggest that too much choice can be really bad for us, because it forces us to make difficult decisions, and there’s a danger of feeling bad because of focussing on all the things we’re not choosing! Irrational on one level, but human moods are rarely that rational…

Lots more to think about, anyway. And, as often happens, starting to unpack the problem makes the low mood start to lift. On the upswing again.

Natural cycles of recovery

Mostly I feel strong and confident, but every now and again my strength deserts me.

Mostly I feel that I’m on a journey to exactly where I need to be, but right now I feel lost in an endless maze of choices I don’t know how to make.

The confident and energetic joy of the last few weeks has suddenly vanished, leaving me tired, afraid and sad – and lonely.

It’s not really the break-up or the damage his words did to my confidence that’s bothering me any more. It’s more the difficult choices and fears about what I want to do in the future. So many challenging, important questions that I need to answer, about who I am and what I want. But it’s about the future, not the past.

Still, I’ve noticed that when something starts to get to me, like my lack of answers is doing now, it makes all the other painful emotions of the last few months well up again. I suddenly find myself yearning for last summer when my confidence was high, both my life and my love life were going well, and the choices seemed obvious and easy.

Of course I wouldn’t actually choose to go back to that time, because I have learnt so many things since then – but I do miss that feeling of being in just the right place! I know am the only one who can face my fears and make my choices – but I sometimes long for someone at my side who can stand beside me and hold my hand in those times when my own strength falters.

Over time I’ve started to accept these occasional low periods as part of a natural cycle – recovering, faltering, grieving, dealing with a bit more pain and confusion, and then recovering again. As if the psyche somehow measures out the painful emotions we have to feel into manageable doses, and allows us a little respite time between each dose.

Feeling low is never pleasant, but I’m starting to accept that this is not a reversal of healing, but part and parcel of the healing process itself. And so I try to be gentle with myself, deal with what I have to without judging myself harshly, and wait for the cycle to come back to a more peaceful phase. And when I can do that, the pain is somehow more peaceful, and dissipates more quickly.

And sometimes you get unexpected gifts, as I did this morning. I’ve been looking for songs about healing a broken heart, and posted requests on a few groups for repertoire suggestions. And this morning a very kind stranger sent me this:

Far across the sea on this world so round
the sun is shining hot right now.
And even though the winter now surrounds this town,
I can still feel that sun somehow

And I know that my sun will shine,
Just as sure as the world can spin.
I can hold on fine, ’cause it’s almost time
for that sun to come round again

When the world seems cold
and your heart grows dark,
and loneliness falls on you,
think how seasons change
and don’t think it strange
if your life goes in circles, too.

(Love comes around, David Wilcox)

Doing what you love for a living

Singing will always be a part of my life. But does that mean I should try to make a career from singing? Part of me says that if I don’t at least try, I will always regret it. But another part of me says that I have very little chance of making a career in such a fiercely competitive world. And worse – if I try, and fail, I could end up losing a lot of my joy in singing.There is so much rejection to deal with in the world of professional singing – and often you don’t get to sing the music you love. And when you become dependent financially on your voice and your singing, that puts a huge amount of pressure onto something precious. Wouldn’t it therefore be better to be content to be a highly proficient amateur or semi-professional, and protect my joy in singing?

So hard to tell! I do know that when I did my first big audition I did become nervous and lost a lot of my joy in singing – my practice became a stressful chore rather than an expressive pleasure. Would I get used to that in time? Or with a little more external success? Perhaps.

I recently read Renee Fleming’s autobiography, which is very interesting – very honest about the difficulties and fears and frustrations of being a singer. She seems to have huge doubts and endless rejections even after she got going professionally – but I have to admit that she seemed to have a real discipline in her practice even when things got tough. And OK, so I’ve had a lot on my plate emotionally lately, but if I were a professional singer I would have to find a way to continue to practice and perform, regardless of what was going on in the rest of my life. Do I have that toughness?

Perhaps not… and yet can I really give up this dream?