THE ONLY WAY OUT OF MY SELF-IMPOSED IMPRISONMENT AND TOWARDS TRUE AUTHENTICITY IS THROUGH “DOING”
As I start writing, I look out of the window and I see life, inviting and intimidating. The birds fly freely and the wind slowly moves the leaves in the trees. An occasional car drives by, breaking the silence. It cannot intrude into the overwhelming silence of my soul. I have spent many years pushing my passion out of conscious awareness. I venture outside to water the garden. The soft spring sun shines gently on my skin, and I gradually get a sense of vitality. It feels encouraging and hopeful. The flowers are ready to burst into blossom. The world is full, vibrant and alive, challenging the emptiness I feel. I go back inside and start to write, attempting to do so without criticism and judgement. I struggle to put down whatever comes into my mind. I do battle with my thoughts which continue to edit and judge every word and sentence. It feels impossible to give voice to the thunderous thoughts rumbling around in my head. I am hopeful that my attempts to put pen to paper will be a step in the right direction to challenging the loneliness and disconnection that I feel.
I ponder how I have arrived at this place in my life. The noise of a vacuum cleaner rudely interrupts and barges into the silence and serenity; reminding me that there are only temporary reprieves from the chores of daily living. My mobile phone pings. I go pale. The message is to inform me that a close friend has been diagnosed with cancer and has only got a few weeks left to live. 17000 kilometres separate us. I am immediately distracted. I can’t think. I debate as to whether I should make the trip, stay where I am, send flowers, write a message, phone, Skype or send a video. All of the options seem inadequate. I am abruptly reminded of the cycle of life. The inevitability of death is right in front of me. I wonder that if I thought about death more, then maybe I would live my life more fully, that I would be more able face my fears and vulnerabilities and throw caution to the wind. Sadness fills the entirety of my being. I am reminded that when we love we always risk losing. Nothing is permanent. A tear trickles down my face. I promise myself to love more fully and passionately and to try and put petty irritations aside.
Thinking of losing a dearly beloved friend plunged me back into past memories, of the ups and downs, laughter and tears, connections and losses which have formed the tapestry of my life and form the basis of this part of my story.
I decided a year ago that I would start writing down my thoughts and ideas related to my experience of being in the world and informed by my work as a clinical psychologist. I wanted to make these ideas available for public consumption and comment. Each time I thought about posting something online, I found a load of excuses as to why this was not a good idea and put in barriers, which when I reflect on them, seemed completely reasonable and validated.
Procrastination, avoidance and self-doubt have hampered my development, both professionally and personally. It has stopped me from excelling and/or completely failing; but more sadly has stopped me from fully engaging in and living my life to the full.
I remembered a colleague of mine saying: “When you are utterly bored with yourself and aware of how you avoid truly being in the world, only then will you be motivated to confront your avoidance”. I am at that place. My avoidance has at times involved constant movement, from one continent to another. When things become settled, and I need to face myself and my life, then I become restless and am tempted to move on. I have realised that the challenge is to face myself and not run (literally across the world) in an attempt to avoid who I am. I have become truly uncomfortable with the way I am living my life and I now feel I have enough courage to confront the challenges associated with changing and I am ready to address the way I am in the world.
As I am writing, the simple ways in which I have ‘stopped’ myself come to my mind. All of a sudden the phone rings. It is a friend. She shares what she feels is ‘happy news’. I don’t share the same feeling, but keep it to myself. I notice that in doing this, I feel flat and disconnected. The conversation comes to an end. I don’t say what I think for fear of upsetting the other person, or appearing negative. I try and keep the ‘peace’, but my soul is not peaceful. My thoughts and feelings need words, I cannot keep things trapped and locked up inside.
I further reflect on how my reluctance to take on challenges at work, or to stay long enough in a position to truly develop my skills and fully reach my potential, is another way in which I STOP myself. This has been a source of irritation and frustration to those who know me well and is now a source of irritation and boredom for me. I am frustrated with my excuses and bored with my self-imposed imprisonment.
Why have I let excessive amounts of self-doubt and procrastination get in my way? Why can’t I just change the way I view myself and others and throw caution to the wind?
My procrastination and avoidance has helped me to defend against a whole range of experiences and feelings, of which I am fearful.
What happens if I write down an idea and most people hate it? What if I take on a promotion and don’t meet the expectations of my employer? What if I say or do something that people don’t agree with? What do I do if I say something that my family or friends don’t like?
In all of these situations I fear exposing myself. I open myself up to criticism. I risk failure, rejection and the feelings associated with this. I risk being isolated and alone. My fear of losing those close to me, especially when they have gotten used to the way I am in the world and may find it challenging if I present a different side of myself, has stopped me from taking on risks. I have become adept at putting many walls in the way of truly challenging the way I am in the world.
I have realised I cannot underestimate the strength of the drive to protect myself from these intense feelings; from my fear of humiliation, shame and failure. I remember attending a leadership course and being told that I was a natural leader but that I was scared of my potential and my own power. I can no longer hold back and know that it is truly my time to risk. My way of trying to avoid the pain of failure and rejection has been to show my self-doubt and to be overcautious and hesitant. To go with the flow. To use my intellect and ability to analyse to avoid diving in. In order to be authentically myself, I have to truly accept the possibility of loss. In contrast t may also open up the possibility of greater connectedness and intimacy. I have noticed how procrastination, avoidance and self doubt have led to feelings of depression, anxiety, disconnection and sense of being stuck and trapped.
I have met other people, who I believe protect against these feelings through denying their own self-doubt and present as all ‘knowing’.
I find such people at the least irritating and at the worst, dangerous. They have found a way of defending against exposure of their vulnerability through presenting an ‘all knowing’ persona. In my area of work, therapists may hide behind their theories and therapeutic mask to truly avoid being ‘seen’. It is not uncommon to meet therapists who approach others in their world as if they are ‘all patients to be analysed,’ thus hiding behind their own wall of ‘professionalism’. It is my experience that they ‘defend against their own vulnerability and self-doubt’ by perceiving it as being located in ‘others’ and I often find myself feeling ‘inadequate’ or questioning myself when I am in their company. They too limit themselves by creating a distance between themselves and others, thus reducing the possibility for intimacy, connection and belonging. I believe that it is through our vulnerability that we are able to make true connections with others. When self-doubt and procrastination gets in the way of us living an honest and full life it can be damaging to our sense of self and to our well-being and sense of connectedness.
The down-side of avoiding exposing my vulnerability is that I have never truly opened myself up to a range of experiences and possibilities.
If I risk, show who I am, expose my vulnerability. I could be surprised to find that I am more successful than I thought I could be and able to reach my full potential.
I might find that by being authentically me, that I would care less about the criticisms that are going to come my way. It is through this that I would experience a range of experiences and emotions, inherent with the inevitable ups and downs of life. I may not need to engage in constant movement, from one part of the world to another.
How do I get there? For me, it is to stop intellectualising, I am very good at it. I can analyse myself and a situation and then find a multitude of reasons to explain what I am doing. There is only one way through this and that is ‘DOING’. I am hopeful that through writing this, I am actually doing what I am talking about. It is only through doing that I will be able to truly embrace life and all the possible outcomes of my actions. This to me is the only authentic way to live. The other alternative, motivated by a need for self-protection, is no longer attractive. It is time to truly risk and to be openly authentically me.