Do you remember the first time that you were talking to your doctor about some complaint you were experiencing and their response included the words, Well, at your age..? I remember being outraged and wanting to ask what my age had to do with anything! In The Netherlands where I live, you are asked to give your date of birth for all kinds of reasons that I was not accustomed to in the UK. I am always rather shocked and, yes, again outraged, that the person I am giving my personal details to does not say, No! That can’t be how old you are!
Age and the future
We live in a society that is always moving forward and looking to the future. However creative and productive you feel, at some point, that society decides that your relationship to the future is limited. You don’t count as much as you did because you’re considered to be outside the main economic and social thrust that is propelling change. In pre-industrial societies the elders were seen as repositories of wisdom that they drew on to guide the younger generations. Now in the digital age it is the young who are fully on top of all the technology needed to manage our day-to-day lives. Older people need to be taught and schooled to become familiar with tools the young grew up with. They can appear behind the times and even stubborn. There’s an increasing emphasis on older people’s mental decline.
The numbers as we age
It’s interesting how certain ages feel pivotal and how although we only become a year older, we feel as if we have aged a great deal more. Last year I crossed into a new decade, and it felt like such a big weight on my shoulders. Because so much energy in our society is taken up with resisting age, avoiding getting old when the numbers catch up then we can feel as if we are losing the battle.
I don’t use the word ‘battle’ by chance. The wish to stay looking young is often described in terms of a war—we’re encouraged to fight ageing, to resist any signs of decline. For women especially, all the narratives about getting older are full of fear and loss. We have so internalized this obsession with youth that we even turn on older women if we feel that they are not keeping up the correct standards of beauty.
As I write this blog, a lot is being talked about The Friends reunion—a show where all the actors come together to discuss what it was like and what they’ve been doing since it ended. One of the main things I noticed was how they all avoided close-up shots and how all the women and at least one of the men had had ‘work done.’ It was left to Joey to be the one most at ease, with his grey hair and big belly. I never appreciated him as much in his years of fame as I did watching the reunion.
My generation was going to change the world
I am a member of the Baby Boomer generation—the generation responsible for the counter-culture of the 1960s and the one that was going to change the world for the better. Recently, I read that now they are seen as the first consumer generation. It’s a sad epitaph on how the innovation and hope of that period was absorbed into mainstream culture. At a rough calculation there are currently more than one billion baby boomers, about 15% of the world’s population.
We might not have brought about the revolution we were seeking but one big change is that people are living longer and there are many more old people on the planet now than ever before. There are now more people over 65 than under the age of 5. Baby Boomers are the first generation to reach 60 and still have the possibility of a good span of years ahead. That’s a big social-economic shift and it brings with it all kinds of possibilities but challenges as well—such as the whole pension question. Older people are blamed for Brexit in the UK and generally, for not having picked up on climate change quickly enough—to mention just a few issues.
I wasn’t at Woodstock but I was at the Isle of Wight in 1970. I took part in many London demonstrations against the Vietnam war, and walked bare foot with flowing skirts, beads and flowers. Free love, communal living, the over-throw of authority, unfairness and bigotry all seemed possible. Now I learn of a new expression that younger people use particularly on social media, OK boomer. It’s basically used as a put-down for people—older people—whose attitudes they see as resisting change, or close-minded. There seems to be some sort of communication problem happening here.
Ageism in corona times
If there’s work to be done in building better understanding between the generations, then Covid certainly has not helped. The number of age discrimination claims taken to employment tribunals in England and Wales increased by 74% in 202o, reaching 176% between October and December 2020. Unemployment levels for workers in their 50s and 60s have soared, along with redundancies.
That is just part of the story. Because older people are more at risk from the virus, they have been blamed for the severity of lockdown measures.
Today I read an article in The Guardian about the experience of Generation Z during the pandemic. These are young people in their late teens and early twenties who have had such a hard time with their education and their first experiences of leaving home during such restrictions. There is no doubt that they have really lost out but I was saddened to see several of them blaming the elderly—those who have ‘the least to add to the world’, as one young woman put it.
Often they are unfairly targeted as if they are the only group vulnerable to the virus. It seems when times are hard it easier to blame groups of people and anyone over a certain age gets lumped together as ‘elderly’ and therefore problematic. We’ve seen improvements in tackling discrimination in terms of sex, race and disability and although there is still a long way to go, perhaps it’s time to address ageism and the depressing effect it has on allowing people to see their later years as a productive and creative time.
Ageing can also be growing
In this time of few elders who are listened to and respected as having wisdom and experience to share, it is important to explore the benefits of getting older. It can be a time to grow just as much as any other period of our lives. In fact, with the end of life coming closer the need for self-exploration, reflection, and creativity is all the more needed.
I am coming around to feeling that it does not so much matter if other people see me as old but how I feel in myself. My wish is to find my way through the projections and opinions about what it means to age and to use these years to experiment, to take risks, to find a new breadth of freedom and possibility. We did not truly let go of our inhibitions in the 1960s, although we tried. Perhaps now, with the knowledge and insight we have gained through all our joys and sorrows in the intervening years we can dig deep and finally let go of worries and neurosis that have plagued us for so long. Why not? What do we have to lose when there is so much to gain?
Awareness in Action is dedicated to building a community of people interested in living a life of meaning and purpose based on sustainable wellbeing. If you would like to join with us, you could make a start by sharing and commenting on the ideas you find in the blogs on these pages. Your story is part of our journey.
I have had one major incident of job loss in my career. It was messy and painful. Although it happened years ago, I can still wake up in the night and wonder what on earth happened. I wasn’t fired but made redundant, although the difference felt like semantics. The experience left me feeling disorientated, lonely and inadequate.
For most of us, losing a job means a scramble to find another one as soon as possible. The bills that need paying do not stop with job loss. My own solution was to become a solo entrepreneur, which involved a steep learning curve. There is very little time left to care for how wounded, low and discarded one can feel.
Here are some of the issues that I tried to work with while setting up my new business.
Who was I after my job loss?
My job had been in senior management in an international non-profit. I travelled a lot, I had teams who answered to me—I was a boss. When it was over there was a short period of time where I was completely disorientated. For so many years I had worked very hard and focused my energy on my work. Without it I was not sure who I was.
It took me a while to consciously disconnect myself from the job that I had had. I needed to remember why I wanted the job in the first place, and to re-connect with the motivation that led me to carry it out for so long. Slowly, painfully it became possible to remember interests that I had dropped through lack of time before my job loss. My meditation practice, which had become minimal during the busiest times, flourished again. The space it helped to open up enabled me to process what I was feeling in a way that was healing.
Struggling with a sense of shame
Brené Brown describes shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of live and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.
That seems pretty accurate. I certainly felt that I had failed and become somehow lesser in people’s eyes. Indeed, by not being able to avoid job loss I had failed in my own eyes. However, much worse was the idea that people would think that as a failure I was not someone they would want to know. Not being able to explain to myself what had gone wrong made it very hard to explain to other people. I felt defenceless.
That was the place from which I set out to build the next phase of my working life.
Major cracks in my self-confidence
Perhaps it is inevitable that when you suffer a job loss you are precipitated into an intense period of self-examination. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a good idea to take time to reflect on your work habits and how you are coping with your working life.
The trouble comes when, hurting from the shock of losing your job, you forget all about how to be kind to yourself. I have had friends who have been made redundant or lost their job who have turned to me for help. I have never subjected any of them to the tirade of judgment and criticism that I poured out to myself.
Self-compassion was not so well known at the time that I lost my job. As part of my work now I have studied it quite thoroughly and wish that I had known more about it at the time. Learning how to tame the sharp voice of my inner critic and to change oneself through kindness would have helped me enormously. Understanding that my job loss was not something that only happened to me but was happening to many other people at the same time would have taught me a great deal.
Fear of what my job loss meant for the future
Underneath everything else there was the constant worry of not being able to get more work. The threat of financial difficulties was a constant drain on my energy. Working with that fear became a priority because when it got too intense, I froze.
Fortunately, we often have more resilience than we think. As much as I could, I used the fear to cut through my feelings of inadequacy and to spur me on.
The loss of community
One thing that I had not anticipated was how much I missed the people that I had worked with. People that I had worked with for years and seen every day simply dropped out of my life. Gone was the flow of ideas and the shared camaraderie.
When you work with other people there is a ready-made social network. Of course, you are joined together by the work you are doing but you also share all kinds of other things. You hear news of what is going on in other people’s lives. There is an audience for you to share what is going on in your’s. You accompany each other through all kinds of moods, challenges and accomplishments.
With a job loss, all this is gone in a moment.
Struggling with the sympathy of friends and family
My friends and family were kind and sympathetic, but I found it hard to be the one needing support. I am more used to offering it. Too often I found myself putting on a brave face when actually I felt really low. In fact, it was a journey for me to allow my vulnerability to show and to accept their support with gratitude.
However much we may need to move on after a job loss and find new work, we need time to grieve. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and it takes time but without it we are denying ourselves the opportunity to learn from what has happened to us. In order to move on in a good way, we need to be able to make some sense of what has happened. How we heal the pain of our loss will depend on being able to take the time for reflection, and evaluation. Job loss is one of the most stressful experiences we will face but it is also a time of opportunity. We need to give ourselves the gift of that time.
I hope you enjoyed this post. I am currently designing an online course to support people through job loss. If you could fill out my survey it would help me to gather data for the online course. It will only take you 10 minutes. Thank you so much!
Most of us are back at work by this point in January and already the holidays are starting to feel like they’ve been over for a while. In our street, every day the pile of Christmas trees assigned to the garbage grows bigger. It’s hard to imagine that a few days ago they were taking pride of place loaded down with all kinds of treats and surrounded by presents.
Perhaps while you were enjoying your holiday downtime, you were thinking about the new year about to start. Maybe you’ve made a whole list of new year resolutions. It seemed a good idea at the time—make a fresh start to the year and get yourself in shape. The thing is, we can get a bit carried away. We make a huge list of all the things we are going to stop doing and all the things we think we should start doing and when we come to look at it—well, it’s a bit overwhelming and frankly, depressing!
When we are not self-compassionate
Now we have set up the perfect conditions for feeling guilty and dissatisfied with ourselves. The next step is to start beating ourselves up for not getting going on the self-improvement plans we made—which will make us feel worse. It’s easy to look back over the year just finishing and remember all the things we didn’t do, or hopes we had that were not fulfilled.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to get the best out of ourselves, nor with using the beginning of a new year as a time for reflection on how we are living our lives. The thing is we tend to go about it in such a self-critical way.
We look at everything we think is not working so well and then make a long to-do list of all the ways we want to change. Somehow, we are surprised when it is overwhelming and we cannot keep it up. We feel as if we have failed in some way and are disappointed in ourselves.
Some suggestions for making self-compassionate resolutions
Not surprisingly, we are much more likely to get the best from ourselves if we approach any changes we want to make with an attitude of self-compassion and kindness. We can try and be a friend to ourselves, rather than behaving like our worst nightmare of a disapproving schoolteacher.
Start off with looking to your strengths
Think about the parts of your life that are on track and the things you do well. Ask yourself how you could build on that.
For example: you might be good at your job but have an irritating relationship with a work colleague. Your resolution could be to try to make a difference in how you both relate to one another. Start small by making them a cup of coffee whenever you can. The chances are you’ll be surprised how quickly they warm up to you. It often does not take so much to make a difference.
Choose the changes you want to make carefully
When looking for where you want to change, choose something manageable. You can see from the picture above that ‘improving self’ is a big project, as is ‘save money’. Both are too big and too general.
Even ‘more family time’ is asking a lot. Instead try to be specific—decide to call your mother twice a week; or decide to turn off all your individual screens (phone, tablet etc.) by 9pm in the evening in order to have quality time with your partner.
Set yourself some attainable goals
It takes time to change your habits, so take big picture into account. Set yourself a goal—like making meditation part of your life but then look at the steps needed to get there. Decide to meditate for five minute every day for two weeks. If that goes well, then try for 10 minutes every day for a month. When you miss a day, don’t stop to berate yourself—just carry on the next day.
Celebrate your successes
If you had a good friend who was trying to change some habits you would want to encourage them. Remember, with self-compassion you can be a good friend to yourself. Celebrate every success you achieve. Build in rewards for what you accomplish. When you manage your first week of meditating 5 minutes a day then you could celebrate by giving yourself a treat.
We are all in the same boat.
Whatever our situation and circumstances, people mostly want to be happy and live good lives. Think of all the people who are trying to make positive changes and struggling with them just like you are. None of us is alone in trying to find the way to get the best out of ourselves and live a meaningful life.
Allow yourself to get it wrong
No-one is perfect and it’s a waste of effort to even try. As human beings, we are sometimes going to make mistakes and sometimes we will be brilliant. When you break a resolution, or find yourself slipping back into old habits instead of beating yourself up, try forgiving yourself. Focus on the effort you’ve been making and don’t give up on what you are trying to do just because you had a bit of a blip. Remember to talk to yourself as you would to a good friend. If your friend was struggling with their resolution—how would you talk to them? Would you call them a loser? I doubt it. After all—if we cannot be a friend to ourselves, how can we be a good friend at all?
Awareness in Action is delighted to post this advice on how to really benefit from our winter break from Paloma Sparrow.
Quieter time during the winter season
Chinese medicine is in a way a misnomer as its approach is largely preventative. Its focus on subtle factors that combine over time to impact on health (depending on an individual’s constitution) gives rise to a wealth of information on how to support health. In winter this means allowing some quieter, more restorative time, in tune with what is happening in the natural world.
However, what this means for an inhabitant of a developed country in the 21st century is likely to be quite different from an agricultural or manual worker in China in previous millennia.
Planning for rest
Because of the increased use of technology in daily life and the hyper-arousal of the nervous system that this can give rise to, we may need to plan how we use this quieter time. Allowing some non-demanding time for quiet restoration could mean planning less events into the holiday period. It could mean more time to unwind, and relax. The absence of pre-planned events and routine allows us the opportunity to connect with what we feel like doing in the moment.
A technology holiday this winter?
It might also mean reducing levels of stimulation from screen-related activities. You could consider having a family ‘technology holiday’, or non-screen days, or evenings. How you arrange this is best agreed together as a family unit beforehand. You might even agree to have a short period during which you hold off all but essential communications. Both of these can be particularly important for children who are more sensitive to external influences and stimuli and whose neural development may be impacted in a lasting way by too much screen time.
Including exercise as part of your rest
The winter months can be a welcome opportunity for physical rest or reduced activity for farmers of former times. However, for many of us holidays are a time when we are able to exercise. We are able to give time to the kind of exercise we enjoy, and maybe to have more social time with friends and family.
But perhaps because we have now less time available to exercise, exercise can mean pushing ourselves to the limit, chasing an adrenaline rush or weight loss. Recent research has highlighted the link between exercise and longevity. The approach of Chinese medicine would recommend that exercise and our approach to exercise needs to be more individualised.
Arriving at your own programme for restoration this winter holiday
So, consider this. You could spend your holiday trying to live up to healthy ideals. Accomplishing everything you would like to for the holiday could become your main goal. You might end up spending too much time on screens. However, on the other hand, a restorative holiday period could mean giving yourself time to wind down a bit and connect in with what you feel like doing.
Paloma Sparrow is a traditional acupuncturist and has practised in educational, public health, and charity settings as well as in private practice in the UK. She finds the lifestyle advice of Chinese medicine a valuable tool to enable patients to support their own health. She has particular experience treating problems of pregnancy, birth and supporting children’s health with acupuncture, and she is a student of Tibetan Buddhism.
We all know that Christmas is a big opportunity for stress. The combination of having to appear to be having fun, while coping with all the frustrations and extra work can be a real downer.
One of the things we need to know about stress is that it closes things down. It’s hard to feel joyful and enthusiastic when you are stressed. We tend to close in on ourselves and set up a kind of survival regime to get us through. Maybe it does help us to struggle along but it does not help us to care for ourselves, to open our hearts to others, to learn anything about the habits that lead to the stress in the first place.
Let’s take a look at some ways we could set about making connections this Christmas instead of going into survival mode.
Connecting with yourself as the basis to overcome stress
Do you ever feel like the people in this snow globe at Christmas—all in your festive gear but not able to communicate how you are really feeling? The holidays can be a strangely lonely time, even when you are surrounded by people.
As the lead up to Christmas gathers pace, why not take some time to check in with yourself and see what you are hoping for from the holidays.
Whether you are religious, or not you can ask yourself what is important to you about this holiday. Is it having family around and lots of good things to eat and presents to share? Or is it about having a few days off from work and routine in the middle of winter. Whatever it is, it will help you to set an intention for yourself—a kind of inspiration for the holiday.
Then at the other end of the scale, try to see what it is that triggers stress for you.
Take a moment to sit quietly and then ask yourself these questions:
At what times do I experience a high level of frustration over relatively small events?
How does it feel in my body?
What do I do about it?
Going through this exercise will help you to identify the times when stress can creep up on you, so you can prepare for it and hopefully, avoid it. Allowing yourself to use your body like a stress barometer shows you the effect that stress has on you. Spending time thinking about how you deal with stress helps to get you off the survival treadmill and really consider how you can ease your stress.
Connecting with the present moment
So often when we are busy our minds are just rushing away with us thinking ahead of all there is still to do. That’s particularly sad at Christmas when there are so many enjoyable rituals in getting ready—like making the cake.
So one way we can ease a feeling of stress is to connect with the present moment. For example, try not to hurry with making the cake. While you are mixing it, don’t think about making the mince pies, a present for grandma and whether you have enough wine in the house. Instead, try focusing on simply sorting your ingredients for the cake, weighing and adding them in the correct order and mixing it all to a delicious consistency. Take time to smell the fruits and the brandy. Allow yourself to enjoy the texture of batter. Remember to make your wish and just be with the making of the cake. When it is in the oven, you can go on to the next task and approach it in the same way.
Connecting with a sense of enjoyment and celebration helps to dissolve stress
The more we can get our stress into perspective, the more chance we have to enjoy some of the magic that there can be around Christmas. We said earlier that stress closes things down and one of the first things to go is any sense of enjoyment and celebration.
Allow yourself time to look around you and see the things you enjoy. I am a big fan of Christmas trees both indoors and out in the open. There is something about all the lights and glitter on a dark winter evening that just says home and love to me.
What is it that you enjoy most at Christmas?
Connecting with family and friends
Probably if we are honest, one of the biggest sources of stress is how the family is going to manage together over the holidays. It can get complicated with all the in-laws and the extended family. We all know that awful tense feeling that can come when uncle George manages to come out with the opinions that we know will drive our teenage daughter to distraction. Or when grandma insists that we don’t know how to put on a Christmas like they did in her day. You dread the moment when your sister-in-law, who always manages to make you feel like bargain-basement wife, arrives for dinner looking as if she just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, along with her two immaculate children. You, on the other hand, hot and bothered from the kitchen feel less than glamorous.
Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind while the family dinner is underway:
Everyone around the table wants to be happy—just like you do.
None of them want to be anxious, or worried, or miserable and yet, inevitably they all have times when they are—just like you.
Chances are that each one of them have their own insecurities about the family gathering—just like you do.
Perhaps some of them are even intimidated by aspects of your behavior–what a good cook you are, how you juggle family and career—who knows?
It can help so much if before your irritation arises you can put yourself in the shoes of the person irritating you—perhaps they are more like you than you think.
Connecting with the rest of the world
As well as closing things down, stress makes us lose perspective. Whatever is going on with us seems so much more important than anything else that is happening in the world—which in the scheme of things, really does not make sense.
During the holiday period you can counter-act any tendency to feel that getting the lights working on the tree is more important than, say, global warming by consciously allowing yourself time to think about what is going on for everyone else in the world. Many millions of other people are celebrating Christmas around the world, with traditions that may be very different from your own. There are also millions who are not celebrating Christmas and it is just another ordinary day for them. Then there are the millions who whether or not they wish to celebrate Christmas are not able to because of poverty, or war, or persecution. Keep them in mind also.
So, a very merry stress-free winter holiday to everyone!
I am particularly delighted to welcome Carole to the blog. She is writing about such an important topic—compassion on the internet. In these polarised times it is so important to take her Netiquette guidelines to heart. Thanks for the post, Carole!
Compassion is a strength that has supported me throughout my life. I have also witnessed the development of compassion help many people in my role as a private practice psychologist.
I think we’d all agree that communicating via the internet has been one of the fastest growing evolutions of the last 20 years. These days there are endless opportunities to communicate online and it can seem like a fast-paced world, difficult to keep up with. No doubt there has to be an effect on our mental health. Our relationship with these communications and how we relate to each other has been something of a personal and professional fascination to me over the years.
Today I will be sharing an online experience that took me to some dark human depths and caused me to wonder ‘where is the compassion?’ in these places. It was hard learning. This has driven me to create some online etiquette (Netiquette) guidelines that I am sharing with you today. I’ll walk you through my story.
Stepping into the Lion’s den
Working solely in private practice has its rewards and difficulties. One of the potential pitfalls can be becoming isolated from other professionals. So, when the opportunity to connect with others became available through social media, I considered it. To be honest I mostly ‘lurked’, watching others post and felt very reticent to get involved. I didn’t think too deeply about why that might be at the time. I found myself drawn in to respond to areas I had experience and knowledge in, feeling a responsibility to share.
One fine day I noticed someone asking a question on one of these social media networks that I had some information on and experience in. I summoned up the courage to post a link on the subject in question in a desire to be helpful – I remember thinking it was a neutral thing to do as I wasn’t directly offering an opinion. Now, it is important to say here there are difficulties with having such a small space to respond in as things may look out of context, AND you do not know what has gone on before in that forum…..these are things I learnt the hard way.
The unforeseen threat
Although I had responded to one person’s information request what happened was an entirely different person responding with an angry tirade of words. They were directed to me personally, questioning my knowledge and professionalism…I had a sense of ‘who do you think you are?’. It felt very threatening and I can share with you I felt absolutely crushed. I did not know who this person was and what sort of influence they might have. Crucially, I did not know who was looking in and struggled to find a way to deal with the situation, in the moment. Nobody posted anything straight away after this – although each of us got (secret) likes. In effect I had experienced a group shaming process, and in my vulnerable state had to decide how or if to respond.
I absolutely agonized over what to do. Ultimately, I decided there was no way I could respond directly or indirectly without entering into the angry, difficult behaviour. Abstaining was hugely difficult in itself as a fragile part of me felt like I was allowing myself to be bullied. In effect I was both trapped by the situation and blocked from responding – a dangerous and compassionless feeling place. This has caused me to wonder whether the speed of our ability to communicate is bypassing the decision-making part of our brain? We could be responding straight from our threat systems. Ironically, I suspect my seemingly (from my end) innocuous posting provoked the other persons threat system.
The power of self-compassion
Now, at this point I’d like to say thank goodness I had been practicing self-compassion for many years. Fortuitously I was already on one of Maureen’s (online) self-compassion courseswhich was hugely helpful in helping gather myself, and help view things from a safer feeling mindset. From this view I applied some compassionate self-correction as opposed to shame-based self-attacking (Professor Paul Gilbert OBE) for my part in entering naively into the online domain ill-prepared.
I wondered how I might respond if this were to every happen again. This was quite a conundrum. I spent some time considering what had happened to compassion in this situation and how important to our well-being kindly, well thought out communications were likely to be. Goodness knows we can think of many examples of difficult, unhelpful and harmful online interactions that go on every day.
Salvaging something from the experience
I decided to move forward by finding a way to contribute positively to these tricky communication spaces. Previously, I had encountered Netiquette (online etiquette) guidelines but they did not cover what I wanted to convey. I really hoped it would be useful to offer an understanding of what might be going on for us as human beings in online places, and why this might be important for our well-being.
Using my experience, I wrote from the heart and a set of compassionately written guidelines emerged. My thinking was that if anyone found themselves in the same impotent situation instead of entering into the communication, they could send a link to these Netiquette Guidelines. And whilst I am not naive enough to think this might also feel inflammatory the other end it would offer an opportunity to respond compassionately and not feel blocked.
These guidelines focus on the realities of being human beings in the online space, which has some significant differences to communicating in other places. There are some very interesting phenomenon that influence these communications such as the Online Disinhibition and Black Hole effects that you can follow if you are intrigued. I bring into view the public shaming opportunities public platforms can bring, as well as the opportunity to use our powers for good. I also encourage PUSHING THE PAUSE BUTTON as we are encouraged to sacrifice sense for speed.
Importantly …I encourage us to remember there is often a human at the other end but crucially remember we are all human! Being courteous and mindful is likely to reap big rewards for our well-being.
FORGIVE OTHERS AND BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF
– Remember you are a human too and with the best will in the world we all make mistakes. Mistakes online can feel much bigger, but if we are forgiving and compassionate with others and ourselves, perhaps that will become contagious.
REMEMBER WE ARE ALL HUMAN.
We are not all the same
You may be thinking ‘I wouldn’t be affected like that’, and this is a very interesting point. We are just in the beginnings of understanding what impact communicating via the internet might be having on us in terms of; changes in our brain, conditioning, attention etc. This evolution has potentially been the fastest in history and pushing the pause button to reflect perhaps the wisest thing we can do at this juncture. I have come to wonder how differently we react to online communications in different contexts and one interesting notion is how relevant our attachment styles might be. If you haven’t encountered attachment theory before it is really relevant in how we communicate with other people (and ourselves) and is often explored in compassion-based therapies.
Attachment and its importance in relating to others
From our early experiences we often talk about four styles; Secure, Ambivalent/Anxious, Avoidant and Disorganised (basic explanation). It’s not our fault we find ourselves subject to these styles and it can be helpful to understand how they might impact on our lives.
What is fascinating to me is how these might be acting on us in online communications that have different rules and less non-verbal communications to steer us. I have certainly noticed in my practice how some clients are drawn to continually check for approval in these 24/7 online spaces. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that we can compare ourselves to others at an alarming rate. Other factors are suggested as important such as; having a safe haven, a secure base, proximity maintenance and separation distress.
It is profoundly interesting to wonder how these ideas might be being influenced in the often boundaryless feeling online space of the world wide web.
Reflecting on the learning
My own very strong reaction to this experience has been hugely interesting and I would certainly subscribe to the idea my attachment style has a place to play. An area of concern for me is the idea that compassion might be getting eroded in some online communications. Also, the capacity for group shaming and high levels of self-critical thinking, greater than in other spaces. Perhaps we could view these communications as high challenge in terms of being without the same safety giving non-verbal cues. This in turn might mean we require high self-support to manage them. In my experience self-compassion which encourages courage, distress tolerance, and a sense of safety might well provide balance to this modern-day stress. I sincerely hope my story and subsequent reflections have resonated with you. Please feel free to share the guidelines and I send compassionate best wishes for us all going forward.
I would like to leave you today with the words of Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the internet) in his open letter 2019, 30 years after he gifted us the Internet. His message, I believe, is of hope in we can steer the internet as we move forward – as opposed to being steered by it. I’m hoping in a more compassionate direction.
“Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us, we will have failed the web.” (Direct quote)
Gilbert, P. (2010). The Compassionate Mind. Constable: London
Holmes, J. (2014). 2nd Edition. John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (Makers of Modern Psychotherapy). Routledge: Abingdon-on-Thames.
Carole is a counselling psychologist in private practice near Bristol, UK. She provides therapy, supervision, consultation and training both face-to-face and via online means. Carole often combines her research interest area of online relational aspects and compassion orientated approaches to explore some of our every day struggles. Her passion is in sharing understandable insights she hopes will be helpful to us as human beings.