Twenty years ago, when I was a young woman working for Her Majesty’s British Government, I had a colleague who was two decades older than me, who joined the civil service press department the same time I did.
I mostly liked my job, at least at that point, she mostly hated hers.
So I asked her: “Why don’t you quit, then? And go and find a job that you’ll enjoy more?”
I found her answer shocking, even then. She told me:
“The pension is so good here, I’m just going to sit it out, until I retire.”
“But you aren’t going to retire for another 25 years!” I tried to argue.
Pointlessly, as it turned out, as no matter how bad the job was, how much it dragged her down and made her life feel soulless and empty, she was going to carry on doing it for a whole other half a lifetime, just to get a good pension.
In the meantime, I left the civil service – and all its fat perks and benefits – two years later, and my life has been anything but stable, safe and predictable since.
True, my friend probably has a much better pension than I do, at this stage (assuming the stress of being in a job she hated didn’t kill her a long time ago.)
But also true, that there is so much more to life than taking decisions just to stay safely embedded in the comfort zone.
Ah, the comfort zone.
So many of us think we’re striving for that, so many of us believe that the goal of life is to be comfortable.
I also had a bit of that going on still, until recently, when I had three months with no major drama, no major challenge, no big project to get my teeth into, nothing to exercise my brain cells or my praying abilities.
And you know what?
I was totally and utterly miserable.
I know, crazy isn’t it!
It took me a while to figure that out myself, because isn’t being ‘comfortable’ and having ‘stability’ what we’re all taught is the holy grail of being alive? Yet for me, as each stable, predictable, comfortable day passed on, I couldn’t get over the feeling that I’d somehow just flushed another 24 of my precious hours down the spiritual toilet, somehow.
Sure, I had nice chocolate to eat. A comfy bed to sleep in. Enough money to put petrol in the car and go somewhere, and enough time to actually do it.
But so what?
It was utterly and totally meaningless, and I didn’t come back from these days out feeling refreshed and happy. I came back feeling empty and pointless.
After a couple of weeks of this, I started to realise something profound:
It’s the comfort zone that’s killing us.
All of us, not just me.
How many of us are playing safe all the time, scared to offend, scared to step out of line, scared to try something different or be the person God really made us to be, because we’re scared of what comes next?
I.e., potentially being dragged out of comfort zone?
Maybe, if we stop playing it safe, we’ll end up having a real conversation for once, instead of all the fake, pointless inanity that passes for modern “discussion.”
How dangerous is that?!?
Maybe, we’ll discover that we hate our jobs, our lifestyle, certain people we hang out with, and that we really need to change things – in a big way – to start to feel happy and fulfilled again.
Again, that’s scary stuff, isn’t it?
But this is the actual fibre, the stuff of life. All those dangers, big and small, all those challenges, all those adventures, and discoveries and hard decisions.
This is what makes us really feel alive.
Sure, there’s a healthy balance to be achieved. No-one wants to be pinging from one self-induced crisis to another, like an Olympic bungee jumper.
But the other extreme, where we just wrap ourselves up in cotton wool, and make planning holidays and supper the most exciting part of our daily routine, is just as bad for us, it turns out.
It’s spiritual chloroform. It puts us to sleep slowly, slowly, until we spend so much time as screen- watching, comfort-craving zombies we don’t even realise how much life we’re really wasting.
The comfort zone is killing us.
I know it’s scary outside, but it’s also alive, and invigorating, and purposeful, and meaningful and real.
At least every now and then, we have to stick a foot out, and follow the path less travelled.
Otherwise, like my ex-colleague, we can spend the best part of three decades treading
water and wasting our time doing things we hate, living in places that don’t suit us, and trying to hide all our internal misery with ‘busy-ness’ and holidays to Marbella.
Your soul is calling you out of the comfort zone. That’s where you’ll really find yourself. That’s where you’ll really find God.
And that’s really where the pure stuff of life is located.
A little while ago, I was having a chat with a friend when she said something that instantly triggered me into ‘fight’ mode. Before I even knew what was going on, I found myself arguing, feeling upset, and generally having that yucky inner feeling that happens when you’ve been tripped-back into a flashback.
I apologized while I was actually having the reaction, and I acknowledged something deep was going on, on my side of the fence, that I needed to go away and look at.
(We often can’t help getting triggered into flashbacks. If we’re around people who are triggering us a lot, that usually means those people aren’t so good for us, and we shouldn’t spend a lot of time with them. But occasionally, even nice people who we have good relationships with can set off a FIGHT / FLIGHT / FREEZE / FAWN response.)
So, I came off that call, and I started wondering to myself:
What on earth just happened there? Why’d I get so upset?
My friend had told me some information that she’d heard from someone else – a speaker – that she really related to, but which sounded plain wrong to me. I went to check up the facts, first of all, and nothing I turned up suggested the speaker’s facts were correct.
That’s not so unusual, especially in our world of ‘fake news’. So, why did I take it so hard?
After doing some more digging, I realized that the subject we’d been talking about is something I’ve discussed quite a bit with my friend, and that I’ve had ‘opinions’ on – opinions that clearly she doesn’t so like, or really agree with.
So, when she quoted this speaker to me, who appeared to be saying things that contradict some of what I’ve given over, I took it as a personal attack. Not consciously, but subconsciously. I got ‘triggered’ into that childhood attitude of being the kid that no-one listened to, the kid that people mocked and bullied, the kid that had strange ideas that were just too ‘out there’.
Ok, this was useful. So now, what do I do with the piece of information? I had a chat to God about it, and I got this back:
Rivka, you feel like a loser when you get the impression that people are ignoring what you say, or trying to make you ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’.
Of course, this happens a lot, because so much of what I write is not standard, and often doesn’t conform to the ‘normal’ view of things. Being criticized for holding different views is par for the course if you’re going to write about anything – anything at all – that’s really meaningful to people.
So why the over-reaction with my friend?
It’s because you thought you were in a ‘safe space’, that’s why it hit you so hard.
Again, there was nothing particularly wrong with my friend’s reaction – she wasn’t overtly having a go at me, or saying anything horrible. She was just recounting how this information had given her a different view of things, and that view just apparently clashed with mine.
I did some more digging, and discovered that the ‘loser’ thing and the ‘know it all’ thing are two sides of the same coin. When I start to feel like a loser, I often take refuge in putting together research or posts from that stance of being an arrogant ‘know it all’, instead, to try to counter it.
So then I asked God:
What can I do, to continue putting useful information out there that will help others, but without getting too over-invested in it, personally, and writing from a place of arrogance?
The response I got back is to try to write more from a place of happy humility.
Because it really is a privilege to be able to write about important subjects, and to be able to pull so much research together and digest it, and then package it together in a way that other people can get hold of it easily, too.
Because being able to do the research doesn’t make me infallible, or right about everything, or obligate other people to agree with my conclusions. And when they disagree, that also doesn’t make me a ‘loser’.
If I can internalize this, I’ll have the energy to keep writing, without having to worry about turning into an arrogant ‘know it all’ who tries to brow-beat everyone into agreeing with me, just so that I don’t have to deal with feeling ‘bad’ and rejected. And, I also won’t feel like a ‘loser’ who just wants to give up when I hit a small obstacle.
We’re back to that energized stability idea, again.
It’s hard work, all this working on our internal dimension stuff, isn’t it?
But the alternative is to go through life hurting other people’s feelings, alienating friends and family members and destroying the world instead of trying to build it up.
So, the work continues.
The founder of chassidut, the Baal Shem Tov, taught that the whole world is a mirror.
It sounds like a very simple concept, but if a person can actually internalize this idea, it’s the key to real inner transformation.
The basic idea is this: Like attracts like.
If I myself am full of jealousy, hatred, anger, hypocrisy, arrogance and self-righteousness – just to list the things I’m currently working on myself – then I’m going to attract lots of that type of stuff into my own life, and it’s going to really annoy me.
Because God knows that we all have a blind spot when it comes to figuring out our own bad behavior and nasty character traits. We might be the most jealous person in the world, and still never realise just how much bad stuff we’re wishing on other people, because we’re secretly coveting what they have, or all their success.
Ditto, for anger and hate. While it’s usually much harder to hide things a really bad temper, and volcanic outbursts of rage, we’ll still make every effort to try to dress these bad character traits up as ‘justified’ in some way, and even ‘holy’.
And the same thing goes for all the other negative character traits that exist in the world. We’ll either ignore that we have them, justify them as being ‘good’, or make a bunch of other excuses for why our bad behavior and yucky traits really aren’t so bad, or so yucky, and why everything that’s happening in the world is really
just everyone else’s fault.
This is human nature.
So what does God do, to help us really figure out what we need to work on and change? He sends a whole bunch of difficult situations and ucky people into our lives, to give us a clue as to what we ourselves need to work on.
Whatever we’re noticing in others, that we can’t help but take ‘personally’ and get very upset about, on some level, we have the same problem.
There are no exceptions to this rule.
But then, people come along and they say: “I had awful, abusive parents. How can you say that the mirror principle applies to me?! I was 100% the victim, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was just a child!”
And honestly, there is a lot of truth to this argument. The small souls in our care are extremely easy to damage and hurt and twist out of shape psychologically, that’s part of why every parent has such a big responsibility to be working on acknowledging and then working on overcoming our own bad character traits with every fibre of our being.
But let’s explore what tends to happens to that poor, abused kid when they grow up, and they are no longer totally helpless and powerless.
The first thing to acknowledge is that if we ourselves were emotionally neglected, or flat-out abused in childhood, we have a huge wall to climb, in order to not repeat and pass on the same abusive behaviors to our children.
And this is where the mirror principal really starts to come into play, because people can so easily get stuck in a perception of themselves as the permanent ‘victim’ who is only ever sinned against, and who never does anything bad to anyone themselves.
While this mindset was probably true in childhood, it’s certainly no longer true when the person becomes an adult, and it’s definitely not true when that adult become a parent themselves.
But when a person consistently views themselves through the prism of being a ‘permanent victim’, they will never really acknowledge their own character flaws and problematic behavior.
And that’s why all the abusive people out there tend to believe that they are totally justified in their abuse of other people, including their own innocent children, because they are still seeing themselves as blameless victims.
Again, it’s completely understandable how this mindset comes about. But even so, God still wants us to get a grip on what’s really going on, and fix things, so we don’t pass the problem down to the next generation.
So now, let’s go back to the victimized kid who has now grown up.
Probably, she really doesn’t like herself very much. Probably, she has huge issues with toxic shame, which will kick in and overwhelm her every time she thinks she might have done something wrong. Probably, her fight / flight / freeze / fawn stress response will be permanently on high alert, and very easy to activate.
If someone or something triggers her into ‘fight’ – she’ll come out swinging and raging and hating.
If she gets triggered into ‘flight’ – she’ll run away into work, or doing kindnesses for all the neighbors, spending all her time in Facebook, or she’ll literally go AWOL and file for divorce.
If she gets triggered into ‘freeze’ – then that’s when depression and escapism come into the picture, whatever will close the world down around her, and let her hibernate inside her own head.
And if she gets triggered into ‘fawn’, then that’s when she’ll completely step outside of herself, and totally cut herself off from her true thoughts and feelings and emotions to try to give the other person what she thinks they want, so that they’ll leave her alone.
Let me ask you something:
What do you think it’s like, growing up with a person like this for a mother?
What is the child of this person experiencing?
And here is where we get into the real meat and potatoes of this post.
If that parent doesn’t like herself, then she’s also not going to like whatever she sees in the kid that reminds her of herself. And because so much of this is usually playing out under her emotional radar, she’s going to lash out the hardest at the kid’s characteristics that she herself has most repressed.
And each time she does that, she is being the abuser, not the victim.
Now, what about the toxic shame?
People have toxic shame because as a child, they were ridiculed or punished for making even minor, completely normal mistakes and errors. Instead of seeing that the thing they did, the action they did, was wrong, the parent gave this kid the sense that they themselves are fundamentally flawed, bad and worthless.
When you’re getting that message as a victimized kid, you tend to develop perfectionist tendencies, to try to minimize the times you’ll get carpeted – and then flooded with toxic shame - for making a mistake. Highly controlling behavior goes hand-in-hand with these perfectionistic tendencies, and again we can understand why.
A lack of ‘perfection’ will lead to punishment, and awful feelings of toxic shame. Trying to micro-manage the environment is a way of trying to minimize the likelihood of anything going ‘wrong’.
The problem is – no one is perfect. The problem is also, things can and do go wrong, even with all the meticulous planning in the world. With a lot of effort and focus, it’s maybe possible for the controlling, perfectionist person to keep the world running the way they want to when they’re in the office, or at the gym.
But at home? It’s a completely different story.
So now, what’s going on when that victimized kid grows up, and has their own family?
If they haven’t realized what’s going on internally with their own feelings of toxic shame, unreasonable perfectionism and need to control – they are going to ‘punish’ their own children harshly for making even minor, completely normal mistakes.
And so, the cycle starts again.
But if this parent still feels like they are the victim, they won’t own up to their own abusive tendencies and behavior towards their children. Often, what’s stopping abusers from putting their hands up to their bad behavior is the awful feeling of toxic shame that floods them whenever there is any hint that they might have done something wrong.
But now, they really are doing something wrong – even, lots of things wrong – that they can’t or won’t admit.
And having a person like that for a parent is extremely difficult and challenging for the child.
Once again, the victim has become an abuser.
NOW, WHAT ABOUT AN OUT-OF-CONTROL STRESS RESPONSE?
Ok, that awful, traumatic childhood we had means that we are primed to fight, run away, freeze and fall into depression, and / or turn into a disassociating people pleaser.
For sure, people only get like this because they went through some very challenging, difficult experiences.
But now they’re a grown up, and now they are the parent, the boss, the president, and they are tyrannizing the people around them with their awful rage fits; or ruining their relationships with their inability to really relate; or neglecting their kids, their responsibilities, their spouse because they are ‘frozen’ into a small, depressed bubble where they just can’t see past their own miserable headspace; or stuck in some plastic, unreal, unemotional version of who they think they should be.
What’s it like growing up with a parent like that?
And so, the cycle starts all over again, with the ‘victim’ becoming the abuser.
So now, how can we stop this awful cycle from continuing?
Enter: The Mirror Principle
When you grow up being constantly blamed and shamed for pointless nothings, or constantly ignored, or constantly attacked, or constantly made to feel bad for wanting normal things like love, affection and real conversations, you aren’t going to trust other people when they tell you ‘you’ve got a problem’.
And who can blame you?
You’ve heard that from the day you were born, because the ‘permanent victims’ in your life were trying to make all of their own problems and issues your fault.
But at the same time, you for sure still have a bunch of your own issues, that if you don’t get a handle on, are going to lead to you becoming an abusive ‘permanent victim’ in turn.
So, God arranges things so that you will be constantly surrounded by people who have the same bad character traits that you yourself have. Like it not, these are the people who you’ll be attracting into your space, and into your life.
Because like attracts like.
And now, you have a choice. Either, you can decide that you are still 100% perfect, and that you have absolutely nothing to work on yourself (which is the classic stance of a perfectionistic, permanent victim, and usually leads to a person being diagnosed with some sort of a personality disorder).
You can accept the mirror principle, and start to explore what God is trying to show you via the people in your life who are upsetting you.
THE 1% RULE
There is no such thing as being 100% right.
If you are caught up in some sort of distressing altercation with someone, or if someone’s behavior is upsetting you, then you own at least 1% of the problem.
There is at least 1% of the work to be done here, and you have to go and figure out how you may be treating others the way this yucky person is treating you, or acting in a similar way to the one you are so upset about, or harshly criticizing in others.
Let’s give an example, to try and make it easier to follow what I’m saying.
ANGRY HUSBAND, ANGRY MUM
Let’s say, you married someone with an awful temper. If the toilets aren’t cleaned just so, he’ll storm out in a rage. He’s constantly insulting you, and criticizing you. He can get enraged if the cable TV stops working, or if the car breaks down.
You’re scared of him, so you go into ‘people-pleasing’ mode to try to manage the situation.
Superficially, it looks like this man isn’t your mirror at all! You’re being super nice and accommodating as much as possible, while he’s raging and abusing.
But now, take a look at what’s going on with the kids.
This woman isn’t scared of her kids, and as the adult, she’s in the position of ‘power’ in the relationship. And sure enough, there’s an awful lot of anger being blasted in their direction.
She berates them for not doing their homework properly, blasts them for how they dress, and is constantly criticizing them and blowing up at them.
The mirror principle is playing out.
Is her anger as extreme as what she’s experiencing herself, from her husband? Arguably not. But she still has a lot of her own inner work to do, to overcome her anger and rage.
Now, if the woman in our example believes herself to be a ‘permanent victim’, she won’t understand that she actually has the same problem as her husband. She’ll blame him 100% for all the issues that are going on in the house, and she won’t take any responsibility for her own abusive behavior of her children, which she’ll tell herself is not a big deal, and justify as being ‘normal’.
In the meantime, her own relationship with her kids becomes extremely strained.
Now, the mirror principle is going to kick again, as the kids start to relate to the mother with more and more anger.
Again, God is giving her a chance to see what she herself needs to work on.
At least 1% of this problem is hers. At this point, she can either knuckle down to see how her own behavior and negative character traits are contributing to the problem, or she’ll pretend that she’s 100% perfect, the “permanent victim”, and that all her children’s anger issues are nothing to do with her.
We all have resistance to acknowledging our own faults and flaws.
If we have issues with ‘toxic shame’, then that resistance can so easily turn into an impenetrable mantra that “we can do no wrong”, and that we are always just the permanent victim.
But all of us are down here because we have work to do.
So next time you see something you don’t like, or experience some behavior that you find unusually upsetting or emotionally wrenching, take a moment to try to figure out what God is showing you about yourself, that you need to work on and fix.
Because I guarantee, at least 1% of the problem lies with us, and not the other guy.
For months now, I’ve been circling around the subject of how online anonymity and abusive behavior seems to be inextricably linked.
When the internet first started out in any serious way, say 15-20 years, ‘being anonymous’ was part of its whole mystique. Anonymous people could go into anonymous ‘chat rooms’ online (remember that era?) and say and do whatever they wanted, mostly disgusting and probably illegal.
Then, that was followed by the rise of anonymous bloggers, who mistakenly thought that no-one could ever track them down if they were using a fake name, or no name. That worked for a while, but then the governments fought back, and started what is becoming an ever-tighter crack-down on what’s being said online.
I remember one anonymous blog in the UK, called ‘Civil Serf’, where the spy agencies were basically brought in to track down the anonymous writer, as whoever he / she / it was, they were making HM Government look really bad.
(As someone who used to work there, I can tell you it was still falling far short of the gory truth.)
Then, anonymous blogs started to catch on in the orthodox Jewish world too - and all these closet atheists started ‘coming out’, anonymously, online, as hating their religion and their communities. Inevitably, sooner or later their neighbors figured out who they were, and many of these bloggers ended up having to shut up, or to put a real name to their writing – and leaving their communities, marriages, kids and home as a result.
Was it worth it?
I’d love to ask them that.
Then, social media and free-for-all comments on internet forums became the name of the game – and this is where ‘Anonymous Psychos Online’ season really began in earnest. So many people who wouldn’t say boo to a goose in person started unleashing all their pent up anger, rage, frustration, jealousy and generally disgusting negative, personality disorder-ed character traits all over social media.
Twitter was a blue sea of expletives and insults; Facebook walls were defaced by personal attacks, slander, insults – and of course, the inevitable expletives.
Online forums were just an excuse for people to start bashing other people and cutting strangers down to size. And for a year or two, venturing online was like banging open the doors of the OK Corral: you never knew when someone was going to challenge you to a duel, or just shoot you straight through the heart and have done.
Lucky for me, I was offline for most of this really yucky period of time. I had internet addiction issues, so I decided to have no WiFi in the house, and to just go to the library to do my emailing and post up my blog posts.
I did that for 7 years, and I’m so grateful, because it’s become increasingly obvious to me that:
This crucial break from the internet is what kept me sane, as a blogger and writer.
yAs part of the crackdown on the internet, which has some massive cons, as well as a few massive pros, that overtly abusive behavior is now being tolerated far less online. Most of the news channels have removed their comments sections. Most internet forums have ceased to be, or have beefed up their rules and regulations. Most comments today are moderated before they can go up – something the technology couldn’t do so well, initially.
Of course, a lot of this is leading to choking political correctness too, so it’s a double-edged sword. But there is now much less of a laisser faire attitude to abusing other people online, or being perceived to be abusing other people online, which is where all the politically correct minefields and arguments over ‘fake news’ are now exploding.
Because many psychos are now using political correctness as the excuse they need to carry on abusing other people, ostensibly for not being politically correct enough, and not thinking exactly the way they do about things.
But let’s get back to the discussion of Anonymous Psychos Online, because that’s what I really want to talk about today.
In a nutshell, where five years ago it was ‘standard’ for many people to be anonymous online, today, it’s increasingly a sign that there’s something not quite right going on.
If a person can’t put their real name, and their real identity, and their real circumstances to their comments and articles, that has to beg the question why?
What have they got to hide?
If they’re just commenting on other people’s stuff in a critical, confrontational way, then the answer is obvious: they want to hide behind an anonymous persona, because they don’t want to take responsibility for all the poisonous, factually incorrect, insulting and mentally-ill stuff they are putting out there.
Anonymous commentators just want to keep blasting away at other people’ issues, and the more ‘anonymous’ they are, the less fallout they think they’ll have to deal with from people calling them out on their own stuff.
It’s the online equivalent of a hit-and run.
A couple of years back, I got pulled into commenting anonymously myself once or twice, and I felt so ucky afterwards that I promised myself that in future, if I couldn’t use my real name to say something, that was a clear sign that I shouldn’t be saying it.
And that’s what got me pondering about how emotionally unhealthy a person would have to be to want to stay totally anonymous.
Again, if you’re anonymously posting up sweet, encouraging comments to people, that’s probably a different category.
I’m talking about the ‘permanently anonymous’ people who have been around the block so many times, they’ve insulted so many people with their abrasive, insulting comments, they’ve built up such a long list of enemies, and such a reputation for being completely cuckoo, that if they post up anything with their real name on it, they know:
So far, we’ve just been talking about the problems inherent with anonymous comments.
But then, you have the bloggers and online writers themselves, which is where the question of anonymity becomes even thornier.
Personally, I believe if you can’t write something that is non-fiction (even when it’s just a comment!) with your real name, you shouldn’t be doing it. (Fiction is a whole other story, and there is no moral issue with a ‘fictional’ person writing fiction.)
There are some clear exceptions to this, like dissidents in countries where they could be tortured or killed for saying things the people in power don’t want to be said (or heard…) (and the way things are going, this could soon be spreading to France and the US, too.)
I also think it’s OK to have occasional posts put up by ‘anonymous’ writers, or writers using a pseudonym, when they are covering extremely personal or emotional subjects in a non-fictional setting.
But I tell you why I’m against permanent anonymity, even in these cases, and that’s because there is something about writing anonymously online that encourages people to devolve into opinionated, narrow-minded, abusive psychos.
It seems to me to be a form of disassociation, where the blogger, the writer. develops an ‘online persona’ that is often completely disconnected from the reality of who that person really is, and how they are actually living their life.
If someone is only posting up cake recipes, then fair enough, who they really are actually doesn’t matter. But when people are having opinions about real things, or trying to persuade you of a certain viewpoint, or sharing ‘information’ that may or may not be true, may or not may be manufactured and manipulated, may or not be reflecting an obvious bias or vested interest – then you really need to know where that person is actually coming from.
Especially if the subject is at all contentious, or the person is setting themselves up as some sort of ‘expert’ or advisor who wants other people to listen to them.
If someone is aspiring to be a spiritual mentor, guru, relationship advisor, or religious leader, then you for sure have to know 100% what is actually going on in that person’s own life, before you can make an informed choice about whether they are a good, healthy and balanced source of information, influence and advice.
If you knew someone was divorced, would you pick them for advice on holding a marriage together? If you knew someone was emotionally abusive to their friends and families, is that the person you’d turn to for advice on how to deal with other people? If you knew someone’s parenting approach meant that a few of their kids had cut them out of their life as adults, would you still approach them for tips on how to handle Junior?
If you knew a person wasn’t practicing what they regularly preached – and often doing the exact opposite – would you still be lapping up their opinions, or taking their advice at all seriously?
I know I wouldn’t.
But that’s what is happening all the time, with anonymous bloggers and writers who split their supposed ‘wisdom’ and knowledge off from the reality of their actual lives.
There’s always more to say, and no doubt I will return to this subject again at some point.
But in the meantime, I put this little chart together, which basically sums up the main point of this post:
The more ‘anonymous’ a person is online, the more dysfunctional they probably are, and the more abusive and / or damaging they will probably end up being, to other people.
So caveat emptor.
One of my correspondents asked me a really good question:
How can we actually forgive the people who have really hurt us, especially when we’re still suffering from the problems they’ve caused us?
It’s an excellent question for a number of reasons.
First, let’s just take a step back to say that there are many gurus and ‘spiritual guides’ out there who like to promote and encourage something that I call ‘superficial forgiveness’.
Superficial forgiveness is where the person who was hurt hasn’t really processed what occurred to them properly, and still has a lot of emotional unfinished business with the person who hurt them.
Yet, that person is ‘forced’ to ‘get over it’ as quickly as possible, because we live in a society that – at least superficially – is a very big believer in ‘forgive and forget’. It’s part of the overall cultural zombification process that tells us deeper emotions don’t matter, and that keeping up appearances and maintaining polite relations is the most important thing.
So what tends to happen is that when we get seriously or chronically hurt by someone, society encourages us to stuff down the very valid feelings we have of betrayal, anger, sadness and upset, and to move straight into ‘forgive and forget’ before we’re really ready to do that.
And when that happens, we end up in a very hard place where on the outside, we’re operating from that place of ‘superficial forgiveness’, but on the inside we still have a lot of anger and vengeful feelings that simply have never been recognized, and never been properly worked through and processed.
And this is one of the best short-cuts I know of to turning into an emotional zombie, and / or developing some severe mental health issues, and / or becoming chronically ill.
Another important point to make is that we can only forgive something that we've actually acknowledged. For as long as we're in denial about what was truly done, or how we truly felt about it, we can't actually forgive.
So, what’s the solution?
This is what I believe works so much better than ‘superficial forgiveness’.
STEP 1: Acknowledge the hurt that was done to you, and validate your feelings.
Your feelings are subjective. We aren’t talking about an objective judgement of what has really happened here, and you don’t need to worry about ‘proving’ your case against the other person.
What you need to focus on is:
This stage can’t be skipped, and it’s the foundation for being able to really forgive further down the line. Where the hurt was profound, or long-lasting, or the result of an enormous betrayal (as is often the case when we’re talking about the parent-child relationship) – this part of the process can take a very long time.
Like, years, sometimes.
Why does it take so long in these situations? Because usually what happens is that the children of emotionally immature / absent and / or abusive parents aren’t allowed to experience their own feelings in a genuine way.
That’s far too threatening for an emotionally-dysfunctional parent.
So instead, the child is encouraged to view every interaction, thought, and feeling through the parent’s emotional lens, and that’s usually calibrated to make the parent come out looking as good as possible, at the child’s expense.
It’s a subtle, but incredibly effective form of brainwashing that sadly is so, so common in today’s world. And it can take the child years and years to really rid themselves of seeing the world simply as an extension of their own parents, and then to really feel all the things that they were never allowed to feel.
Like hurt, betrayal, sadness, jealousy, fear, and rage at how unfair it all is etc etc.
So dafka, when those people’s true feelings start to defrost, there’s a lot of repressed ‘uck’ that has to work its way out of the system, and be properly processed, before they can look to really forgive.
Another very important factor which can slow the process of real forgiveness up is how much of a threat the person who hurt us still poses. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so much easier to forgive someone once they’ve passed away, because your subconscious is no longer scared for you to let your guard down around them – they’re dead! They can’t hurt you any more.
But, when people are still in a position of power, or still in a position to harm you in some way, or you still have that fear inside of you that it’s dangerous to come off red-alert around them – you’ll find it much, much harder to forgive them 100%.
So, now we’ve spelled out how crucially important STEP 1: Validate your own feelings really is, we can move on to:
STEP 2: How to really forgive the people who hurt us.
People are built in such a way, that we need to be able to ‘get things off our chest’ in some way, before we can really let go of things. But, when we’re dealing with people who have seriously hurt us, that’s usually impossible.
These people usually lack self-awareness, empathy and compassion to a very large degree, so confronting them with what they did to you will usually only lead to them lashing out, and trying to close you down any way they can.
That’s not going to end well for either of you.
So then, how can you get ‘closure’ without actually speaking to them?
The answer is to sit somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, and to imagine talking to them in your head. Say everything you need to say – repeatedly! Yell, curse, accuse – whatever you need to do to ‘get it off your chest’.
And then, give them the opportunity to respond – still in your head.
Usually, they will start to explain a little about what’s really going on with them, and you’ll start to get some stunning insights into the internal demons the other person is battling.
Again, that doesn’t excuse or justify their bad behavior, but it does explain more of it, and it will help you to understand more about the huge challenges that other person actually has, internally.
If the hurt was huge or chronic, you may well have to repeat this process of ‘talking to them in your head’ a few times over, every time some new emotion, or some new aspect, comes up again in your life, that you have to deal with.
The goal is to get closure, to have your say, and ultimately, to forgive, and I’ve found that visualizing the person in your head, and saying whatever you need to say to them, is the single best way of doing this.
Now, you’re ready for STEP 3: Bring it back to God.
I know that people who come from religious traditions that don’t believe in reincarnation will find what I’m about to say challenging, but everything that happens to us down here is arranged by God, and is connected to fixing us, and our souls, on some level.
We have no idea what we did in a previous life, but if we got sent back down here in 2018, the odds are very good that we were the abusive parent last time round, we were the fraudster and thief, we were the cheating spouse, we were the cold-hearted murderer.
And if we didn’t make amends to our victims during that lifetime, then the only way to pay down and rectify those sins where we hurt other people is to experience the same sort of suffering ourselves.
Does this excuse the people who hurt us?
But, fundamentally, they are just being used as the stick in God’s hand, to rectify some wrong that we ourselves committed in a previous lifetime.
Again, for as long as you haven’t worked through the previous steps of:
You simply won’t be able to get to Step 3, which is where you can really see and internalize and accept that God was behind it all.
And that’s another reason why ‘superficial forgiveness’ is so poisonous and damaging, spiritually, because until and unless we have really worked the hurt through, as described above, we simply won’t be able to internalize that it’s all from God, and all for our good, somehow.
There are no quick fixes with these things, there are no short-cuts.
The people who are telling you to ‘forgive and forget’ are usually dealing with their own massive, and massively suppressed, mental and emotional health issues.
True forgiveness usually takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of inner work, courage and effort, and it’s predicated on first truly understanding what was done to you, and how badly it hurt you. Only then can you move on to really forgiving the other person, and then bringing it all back to God.
But when you finally do reach that stage of forgiving them 100%, it’s the best feeling in the world.
If you boil down most people’s problems, and certainly most people’s relationship issues, and almost just as certainly most people’s chronic health problems, at their root you’ll find one thing: avoiding reality.
Now, people aren’t doing this on purpose, anything but.
What happens is that most of us kind of get born into circumstances that are less than ideal, or find ourselves in a situation that really isn’t what we expected or wanted, and at that point, we are given a choice:
Either, we can take a deep breath, and face up to what’s really going on in our lives, and our relationships, and our own minds and hearts, OR, we can try to duck reality.
Here’s the thing: most of the modern world is built on that second option. Most of the stock market gains, and house price inflations is built on ducking reality. Most of Western healthcare – which tells you to just take the meds, just have the surgery, and that will solve all the problems – are built on the second option.
Nearly all the divorces in the world happen because people are ducking reality. There are literally whole industries – worth trillions of dollars – built on false science, and fake principles and certainties, that only gained traction because they gave people the option of being able to pretend that something other than reality was causing their problems.
What, people have emotional and mental issues because they were ignored, mistreated or traumatized as a child?!
That can’t be right.
What, women leave their husbands because the husband has bad character traits (all the time believing that he’s really perfect…) and the woman just can’t do it anymore?
What an absurd proposition!
And of course, the idea that our teens starting to smoke, or getting depressed, or dropping out of school, or going off the derecho, or struggling emotionally, might have something to do with how we are treating them also makes people feel very uncomfortable.
The whole world is a mirror.
Right now, there’s a bunch of people in California who are pretending that the only reason massive fires are going on in their state is because of man-made climate change.
And there’s a whole bunch of other people who think the world got here completely by random, when some primordial soup got hit by a lightning bolt 4.6 billion years ago (sic).
Can you prove that?
And what about God? Where does God fit into this picture, and all the other pictures painted above, because the most ‘real’ part of reality is that nothing is random, and everything is tailor-made to bring us back to God, and to get us to live the lives we are meant to be living.
For as long as we’re ignoring God, or pretending He doesn’t exist, or telling ourselves fibs about what we’re down here to do, or imagining that every action we perform (or don’t perform…) doesn’t have some very real consequences attached it – well.
We’ll remain stuck in the problem.
Whatever it is.
As long as we’re ducking reality, as long as we’re hiding the truth, we simply won’t be able to heal, improve, change and move forward in life.
We’ll stay blaming other things and other people; we’ll waste so much time tilting at imaginary windmills; we’ll stay shut up in our make-believe, often miserable ‘bubble’.
And that’s such a shame.
Sure, it’s scary to open our eyes and look truth in the face. Especially if we haven’t acted so nicely to others. Especially if we’ve made a lot of mistakes. Especially if the truth hurts.
But you know what?
We’re all in this together.
All of us have issues, none of us are perfect. And when we finally stand up, turn around, and face reality down – that’s when the good things in our life will really start to happen.
So, don’t be scared sweet reader. God is there to help us do all this stuff!
Facing reality can be so, so hard, I know.
But it’s the door to healing, health, hope, happiness and holiness.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a pronounced correlation with the amount of ‘news’ a person feels compelled to consume, and a marked deterioration in their mental health. Even back in the old days, before everyone was addicted to internet and iPhones and endless, poisonous ‘look at me’ tweets and Instagram notifications, news could still have a serious impact on a person’s outlook and mood.
Stocks are falling through the floor!!! (Cue to jump off a bridge, if you own stocks, or at the very least develop a very bad attack of peptic ulcers.)
Russia is going to nuke us!!! (Cue to lose all your joie de vivre, and to spend endless hours worrying about being vaporized by a Commie bomb.)
Butter is bad for your heart!!! (Cue to feel all guilty every time you put a pat of that creamy yellow stuff anywhere near your bread, or frying pan. And guess what they were pushing on the unsuspecting public instead of that ‘dangerous’ butter? Yup, you got it: margarine.)
It could be that once upon a time, the mainstream news was actually useful, contained some real facts, and wasn’t just a soap-box for big business and corrupt politicians to brainwash everyone into believing their own version of reality.
It could be.
But these days, that’s almost definitely not the case.
Most of the mainstream news is so devoid of anything that you could actually call useful, or factual, or even true, and so full of pessimism, manipulation, brain-washing and opinionated craziness, that the best way to deal with it is just to stay far, far away.
Because when you log on to a news site every five minutes, when you listen to those news announcers droning on about whatever it is they are trying to brainwash you into believing and thinking, when you buy into the idea that the only ‘news’ worth reporting and sharing is bad news, and angry news, and hateful news – that has a seriously negative impact on your mental health.
It can easily bring you down. It can easily make you angry. It can easily get your paranoid. It can easily make you feel like the sky is crashing down, and send your anxiety shooting through the roof.
Go cold turkey on the news
Yes, it’s true that there are many bad things happening in the world, including fatal car crashes, civil wars, and even (shock!) Roseanne getting dumped from her own TV show.
But so what?
Do you know how many good things are happening in the world? How many nice people there are out there? I’m guessing you probably don’t, if your only source of information is the news.
So, if you’re dealing with anxiety, worry, hatred, anger, paranoid, apathy, jealousy – basically, all those negative character traits that we all have in spades, especially if we consume a lot of information – then here’s the single best thing you can do for your mental health:
Go cold turkey on the news.
If it’s really important and really relevant to your life, I guarantee you’ll find out about it anyway. And if it isn’t – who needs it?
Who needs to waste all that energy and headspace being ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ Trump? Who needs to read more scare stories about humans causing global warming, and Russians being behind ever dark and despicable deed ever known to man? (Really? They are only behind half.)
And if I can add another piece of advice here, it’s this: also go cold turkey on bloggers who are obsessed with the news.
Because most of those folks are certifiably crazy. If someone has nothing better to do with their time than give second-hand opinions about third-rate news – why are you wasting the precious moments of your life by reading what they have to say?!
Go for a walk instead, go paint a picture, call a friend, play a game with your kid, read a good book, practice the lost art of thinking for yourself.
Do something, anything, instead of imbibing the deranged viewpoints of internet crazy people.
I promise you, you’ll feel so, so much better if you do.
Because really, the only good news is no news.
"Facebook’s founders knew they were creating something addictive that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” from the outset, according to the company’s founding president Sean Parker." - The Guardian
The first thing to understand is that social media was made to be addictive on purpose. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp – whatever the social media platform(s) you’re addicted to, they were all designed to keep stimulating your brain in exactly the way required to create some sort of mental dependency.
Why did they do that?
Because more users = more influence = more money.
That’s why Facebook has a nasty 30 day limit before it will really let you delete your profile, because it wants to give enough time for any resolution you made to come off Facebook to crack into pieces, and make it as easy as possible for you to go back in to the addiction.
Nice, isn’t it?
So, how can you get out of it?
Cold turkey is one route, but cold turkey doesn’t work for most people (not least, because of the sneaky tricks companies like Facebook are using to keep people hooked.) So instead, the answer is to try to take the time you spend on this stuff down by small increments, on a regular basis.
[I should just mention here that I got rid of all my social media, except Linked In, last year, so I’m not 100% up-do-date on the interfaces being used now, so what I’m suggesting here are broad-brush ideas.]
How can you do this? Here’s some practical suggestions:
It’s very easy to over-ride the password if you DO want to visit these sites, but having an extra obstacle makes it much, much easier to avoid impulse, knee-jerk visits that you really are just making out of force of habit. If you’re REALLY serious about putting these sites off-limits, have someone else K-9 them for you on your PC, without telling you the password they’re using to do that.
4) Don’t do anything anonymously. Sticking to this one, simple rule will help you stay out of a whole lot of trouble online, and take down a lot of the ‘thrill’ of surfing. If you can’t stick your real name on a comment, if you can’t openly visit a certain site, or group as your real self – don’t do it. It’s just feeding the dark side of your personality that is keeping you chained to the internet.
But, as with all addictions, there are deeper reasons for why you keep logging back in, so you may also want to spend some time doing the following:
1)Figure out how much time you’re actually spending on social media every day. Make a note of when you log on, and when you log off, over a 72 hour period. The answer will probably shock you, and it will help you to get more motivated to use that time on stuff that will actually nourish your life and your soul, instead of depleting it.
2)Find out what negative emotion is ‘pushing’ you to use social media. Here’s a few of the most likely culprits:
c.Apathy & despair
e.Sadness & depression
g.Frustration & anger
Once you know what negative emotion is triggering your social media use, then you can take steps to try to deal with it in a more productive way.
EG, if a sense of loneliness is causing you to feel you need to ‘grab some attention online’ by doing or saying something risqué, aggressive, ‘edgy’, or outrageous – think about what real, positive activities you could be doing with a real person instead. Doesn’t have to be anything to set the world on fire – could just be a walk in the park, or a bit of window shopping, or meeting up for a coffee.
(If you really want to take this up a level, try visiting an old age home – I guarantee you’ll find tens of people who would be only too happy to have someone to talk to, and to take an interest in.)
Meanwhile, to take another very common example, angry and frustrated people are just looking for some opportunity to knock someone else over online, or to make a ‘clever’ comment at someone else’s expense, or to try to blow a hole in someone else’s sense of well-being.
Doing this gives them a sense of feeling powerful, and important, and in control. And ironically, it’s exactly this that is actually missing in their REAL life.
So, the idea is the fill the ‘hole’ in your life that is currently full of social media with other, real, more productive things that will really give you something tangible back. But before you can figure that you, you first need to know what negative emotion is triggering your surfing habits.
3. Find productive REAL ways of doing whatever gives you a kick on social media. If you like debating ideas, consider taking a course somewhere that will enable you to do that. If you like finding new recipes online, go buy yourself a gorgeous cookbook (or borrow one from the library).
If you like knowing how your friend’s holiday really was – call them up and ask them!If you still need a bit more of a ‘push’ to get off, take a look at this video. It kind of hits the nail right on the head. (This has a couple of shots of women in it, buyer beware).
And the last thing to say, as always, is to pray on it.
God can turn anything around - even a soul-destroying addiction to the internet.
Another stunt the backseat driver likes to pull is telling you about stuff that happened to other people, that is highly unlikely to happen for you.
You’ve met the girl of your dreams, you’re ready to pop the big question, and here he pops up with a million examples of people whose marriage went sour to try and convince you’re making the mistake of your life. But those people aren’t you! And even if they come from similar backgrounds - even if they come from the same family - they still aren’t you.
So what that you grew up in the same home? Do you like exactly the same things? Do you work at exactly the same job? Do you have exactly the same personality, abilities or goals in life?
Nope? So don’t listen. That advice is talking about someone else, it’s not talking about you.
When you’re dealing with a healthy personality, the other person gives you space to express your views, put across another opinion, and generally listens in a respectful way to the points you’re trying to make, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.
You won’t find any of these things happening by the backseat driver. The BSD doesn’t care what you really think and he’s not interested in having a real discussion with you. Remember, this is all about who gets to be in control, and while you’re the one actually steering the car, there can’t be two of you setting the direction.
The backseat driver wants you to see the world the way he does, and to act and react the way he would. Full stop. There’s nothing to talk about here. And the way he’ll pull you around to his way of thinking (once you’ve figured out that he is not you) is by grinding you down with an incessant monologue about what he thinks should be happening.
“You shouldn’t be so nice to people, they’re taking you for a ride. You should put yourself first, because if you don’t look after number 1, no-one else is going to. People are just looking for a chance to stab you in the back and pull one over on you. You can’t trust anyone. You should stop making an effort with those people. Everyone’s just in it for themselves, they’re all selfish, self-centred people.”
Is there a place for to respond, during a rant like this? Nope. Understand that trying to bring the backseat driver around to your point of view is a complete waste of time. So then, why bother arguing with him in the first place?
It’s because you’re not having that argument to persuade him of the truth.
You need the argument to persuade yourself of the truth.
Which is when the backseat driver will try another strategy out on you: As soon as he sees you’re starting to pull away from all the mind-control and automatic obedience to what he thinks you should be doing, he’ll try to rush you into making rash decisions.
“Do it now! Buy that massively overpriced house now, because if you don’t, someone else is going to step in and get the deal of the century! Tell your sister what you really think about her now! After what she’s just done you will never have an opportunity to tell her the real truth about herself, and if you don’t set things straight, how is she ever going to know how much she hurt you and how horrible she really is? Quit your job now! You can’t stand it anymore, it’s such a grind, the journey in is so tedious and horrible. Who cares about money when you’re so miserable? There’s more important things in life!”
Notice the backseat driver is hugely convincing, at least in the moment. But what’s missing here is the necessary give-and-take that will enable you to really explore all sides of a decision before really making your mind up. Sure, the decision itself is important, but what leads up to making it is probably even more so.
Because once you’ve explored all the angles, and really thrashed things out, and taken the possible consequences into account, only then can you really make a decision that you’re probably not going to regret, however it ends up turning out.
If a real person showed up and started trying to fill your head with nonsensical doubts and worries; or started picking holes in everyone you know and everything you’re trying to do, you’d (hopefully) run away pretty fast.
Who wants to take advice from someone like that? Who wants to have someone like that in control of their decision-making processes and view of the world? The guy is nutso! So the first and crucial step to breaking free from the backseat driver is to stop automatically agreeing with everything he’s telling you.
How do we do this?
After we’ve spent a bit of time really noticing the sorts of things he says and when, and how we start to feel after listening to one of his monologues or rants, the next stage is to start challenging the argument.
Try this: When the backseat driver is trying to convince you of just how terrible a particular course of action is going to be, or why you really are the ugliest person in the world and you’re never going to get a girl-friend, start to challenge the narrative.
Think of all the ugly people you know in the world who are in a relationship right now - there’s millions and billions of them. So many people with bad skin, crooked teeth, excess poundage and terrible haircuts have found their other half. Many of them have a thriving home life and happy families.
Why couldn’t that be you too?
Warning: the backseat driver will not take to this at all kindly, especially at the beginning, and will try to cower you into silence by going into a big list of ALL THE THINGS THAT ARE WRONG WITH YOU.
“You don’t have the job or the bucks that guy’s got. You haven’t got his group of friends, or his batting average. You don’t know how to ski. You live in the wrong neighborhood. Your family is way more messed-up than his is. You come from a broken home and no-one ever loved you right…”
On and on it goes. And the key to withstanding the backseat driver’s onslaught and to finally breaking free from his control is to not take him seriously. Remember, you are dealing with a loony tune here, a nutjob.
This is not someone that you want or need to take advice or opinions from in any way, shape or form.
Again, the only reason that you’re listening to the backseat driver is because you and him are the same person. But that’s not true! The real you, the true you, is so much wiser, smarter and nicer. And we’re going to learn how to get the backseat driver out of the picture so that real you can start to find their voice, hold on.
Because the real you is the only expert you really need, and the only source of advice you should really be listening to.
So, how you can tell the difference? Understanding when it’s the backseat driver talking or when it’s the real you talking is the key to starting to think straight, and starting to tune out all the chaos, upset and ‘noise’ that the backseat driver, or BSD, is filling our minds with.
Yes I can see, just keep backing up. You’ve got plenty of room behind you.
You should just drive down to Eilat; it’s so much easier than flying.
You should dye your hair blond.
You should dye your hair black.
You should take the overnight bus — its 11 hours but you’ll sleep practically the whole time.
Just glue it back together. She'll never notice the difference.
Tango Orange is a perfect shade for your bedroom, because it’s so happy!.
You can’t get chicken pox twice.
Don’t bother checking where it is on a map, I'm sure it's really easy to find
Shake it off. It doesn’t look broken and a sprain actually hurts worse than a break.
They always put the sell-by date really early, so people will throw it away and buy more.
Go running later, when it’s dark — that way the park will be less crowded.
You don’t need an electrician for that — just do it yourself.
You shouldn’t eat more than a couple of grapes at a time, it’s so easy to over-do it with fruit.
Next time the chatter starts up, with all its doubts and judgment calls, ask yourself if the backseat driver is qualified to give you his advice on this matter?
If you’re trying to buy a new sofa, what does this guy know that you don’t? Does he work in the business? Did his grandparents craft sofas by hand back in the old country? Is he a fine furniture connoisseur?
Nope? So don’t listen.
It’s not coming from a credible source.
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