A nice man from a woodworking company got in touch to see if I’d be interested in hearing about how woodworking has been helping people mitigate their C-PTSD symptoms. (I wrote a whole bunch of stuff about C-PTSD a little while ago, including this: C-PTSD 101: I've got c-ptsd! Now what do I do to get rid of it?)
While I don’t usually do guest posts on spiritualselfhelp.org, I’m very happy to share more real information about what might be helping people to get happier and healthier, so I told the nice man, ‘sure, send me some stuff about how woodworking is helping people deal with their C-PTSD and I’ll post it up’.
So he did – and it makes some pretty interesting reading. I have a friend who swears by her crafting and knitting, for helping her get calmer, and more grounded and centred. I myself love my painting, when I get a chance to do it.
So, I can see that woodworking could also fit the bill – and if you read on, you’ll find a few different stories of people who believe that working with wood is really helping them to heal.
HEALING & VALIDATION
Mierop Mann considers his woodworking journey as a part of his healing process. I asked him what woodworking changed in his life. “It is wonderful to bring calm and balance into once chaotic existence. Inner turmoil with creative expression is a very good emotional feeling,” he answered.
Mierop’s C-PTSD was a result of an abusive family. “I am a 52 year old guy that chose to walk alone through life, as the memories of my childhood abuse became more recurring through triggers and abuse from my family up to the age of 40.”
When he finally walked away from that situation and struggled with C-PTSD, he found a liberating passion: woodworking. Woodworking helped Mierop to properly deal with a life filled with confusion and anger. It also gave him the joy of feeling validated because of his works.
“When people ask me about what I do, the only way I can explain to them is that I am an artist without a brush but with tools. I believe in my work, and even if only one person is fascinated by it, I feel validated and I feel alive,” he proudly told me.
FOCUS & SATISFACTION
For a 50-yr old woman with medical and mental health conditions like Laura B Paskavitz, woodworking can help with self-esteem issues. At least, that was what she experienced from it.
Laura shared her story—“I don't work and have been living with disability for 25 years due to medical & mental health reasons. I have CPTSD as well as a dissociative disorder from being raised in a cult and around not-well people.”
She started woodworking when she was around 20 yrs old. Her friend introduced woodworking to her to help her refocus her anxiety. It became her main distraction from stress and later on experience its therapeutic benefits.
Keeping oneself busy can be a great way to overcome C-PTSD symptoms. Laura herself mentioned, “By doing something hands-on and creative, I've noticed my focus & sense of satisfaction increase.”
And not just that. As I’ve mentioned, woodworking helped with her self-esteem issues, too.
“My self-confidence has improved and I'm inspired to live more in the moment and enjoy the process,” Laura told me.
SHARING & SELF-EXPRESSION
For Rolando Corral Sr., an Army Veteran who has tried all types of therapy to cope with C-PTSD, woodworking offered something else other than the “traditional therapy sessions”.
He said, “Woodworking helped me open up to the idea of allowing some people to come into my personal space and share it with them just for a brief moment.”
Such opportunity to share oneself to others is a huge step towards healing, especially for veterans who have been scarred by the battles they’ve seen and been in. For Rolando, that trauma started to show its symptoms after he was medically retired from the military.
“Around 2008 I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was already attending college and something just didn’t feel right,” he said.
Naturally, Rolando started seeking professional help through therapies. “I tried out VA counseling and tried talking to a person behind the desk with a fancy degree on their walls. But I still was having dreams and nightmares and I felt the guilt for not being able to deploy the second time with my Army unit to Iraq,” he recalled.
Just by chance, Rolando met a Korean War veteran who was into woodworking. That started his own woodworking journey, which started from simple projects for his kids and bloomed into a mission-driven business of handcrafted wooden flags. But on woodworking’s effect on a personal level, he said,
“You see, it helped me open up… and encouraged me to not allow my military career define me for the rest of my life. I want woodworking to define who I am for the rest of my life.”
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.
After writing a few posts on internet addiction, and on how too much time online grows out of some sort of profound 'lack' in real life, it suddenly struck me (like, duh!) that I also have some big lacks that I'm using the internet to fill.
The most pronounced of these is just straight up trying to interact with people. I keep moving location... I don't work out of the house.... I don't have any close family in the same country... My kids are older now, and I don't know the parents of their friends, or have school events to meet new people at.... I'm still struggling to find a synagogue where I feel I really 'fit'.
All this means I have a big lack in my day-to-day interactions with real, live people.
The last week or so, as I've been trying to spend way less time online, that lack has been popping up with way more forcefulness.
But how do I fix this?
So many people today are 'disconnected', and hiding behind anonymity online and addictions to ersatz internet relationships. Now that I'm starting to dry out from my own online obsession, at least a little, I realise just how hard it is to meet real people.
So many of us are scared that the other person is going to end up being a psycho, or more trouble than they're worth, so we're all keeping each other at arm's length.
I don't know what the answer is right now, I'm thinking out loud.
But I can see that getting more 'real' and getting away from the internet is a much bigger mountain than I thought.
Re-posting this from last year - seems a lot of us are currently having to deal with abusive people who live in a strange 'mirror world' where they accuse everyone else of being the problem. Here's a little background, to help you understand what's really going on - taken from my series of posts on C-PTSD.
I just wanted to talk a little about the phenomenon of ‘projection’, which will help you understand one of the most puzzling aspects of dealing with emotionally-disturbed individuals.
On some level or another, emotional disturbance occurs when a person isn’t acknowledging the truth of who they really are, how they really behave, and what they really think.
Now, this characterizes all of us from time to time. All of us have things we’re in denial about, or facets of our personalities that we’d rather not acknowledge, or things we do that we try to play down or minimize. That’s human nature.
The more emotionally and spiritually ‘transparent’ we are, the better our emotional and mental health usually is - and vice versa. By the time you get into the murky area of things like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Anti-social Behavior Disorder (AsBD), Disassociative Identity Disorder and schizophrenia, for example, that healthy ‘transparency’ has become so opaque it’s literally led to a breakdown in the affected person’s grasp of reality.
When a person can’t honestly accept and acknowledge facets of their own personalities, thoughts and behaviours, they start PROJECTING these things on to other people - which can be completely head-wrecking, until you understand what’s really happening
Here’s an example: a restaurant in Hawaii put up a notice saying no “Trump fascists” would be served on its premises. That restaurant owner is acting in precisely the ‘fascist’ way they’re accusing Trump supporters of doing - which is classic projection.
Multi-billionaire George Soros accusing Trump of being a ‘wannabe dictator’ is also a classic case of projection. Now, I’m not saying that projection and emotional disturbance only happens by liberals and left-wingers, because it’s a problem that crops up all over the place. But what I have noticed is that there an awful lot of ‘projection’ stories hitting the headlines in the wake of Trump’s win, as one emotionally-disturbed celeb after another is using Trump’s win to vent their own emotional issues.
Of course, projection also happens much closer to home, too. If you want to know what an emotionally-ill person really thinks about themselves, pay close attention to all the insults and put-downs they start shooting your way, especially those that are completely off the mark, seem completely out of context or are just plain bizarre.
Say, you’re a gourmet chef and someone starts ranting at you that you couldn’t even make a decent piece of toast. The chances of that statement being true about a gourmet chef are practically nil, so you know you’re dealing with a pure piece of projection. But the projection can be much harder to spot if you’re being accused of a problem you really do have yourself.
For example, if you’re being accused of not doing enough ‘soul-searching’ by someone with zero interest in spiritual issues, that’s obviously projection, but it could also still have a crumb of truth in it. Some effort will need to be made to figure out how much of that statement is pure projection, and how much is actually relevant.
Another point to make about projection is that whatever we’re accusing other of doing (at least directly, to their faces) is nearly always an indication of something we ourselves need to work on.
The more I’ve been trying to work through my own issues like arrogance and anger, for example, the less those traits are disturbing me when I see them in others, and the less likely I am to comment on them in a critical way.
God created the whole world as one big mirror, to show us what we ourselves need to work on and fix. Any trait or behavior you see in someone else that hits a nerve is something you yourself need to deal with, and work on. If it’s not agitating you, it’s not your problem in the same way, even if it’s still objectively nasty, bad and mean behavior.
You could write a whole book on this subject, but I’ll stop there.
In the meantime, here’s some rough rules of thumb for dealing with projection:
I personally now almost enjoy my abusive correspondence (almost….) as each fresh batch of emails gives me a clearer picture of my emotionally-disturbed correspondant's state of mind, which is sometimes even entertaining (almost…)
The last thing to say about projection is that God is still hiding messages for us inside all the projected statements from the emotionally-disturbed people we know, but it’s very rarely the ‘face value’ message of what we’re being told.
Overtime, you’ll start to find that it’s getting easier and easier to maintain pole position in directing your own life and your efforts and energy to where you really want to get. You’re starting to be more aware of what you do and don’t actually like, what you do and don’t actually want to do, and what activities and people fill you up, energize and empower you, and which ones really don’t.
With practice, you’ll get more and more adept at noticing when your backseat driver is surreptitiously back behind the wheel, pulling you down into pointless distractions and off into tangential dead-ends, goading your critters into a fury or trying to ship them out - permanently - to Australia.
The good news is that most of the time, he’s not going to be able to mess with your head the way he used to. You’re onto him now, and most of his sneaky tricks, and you’re starting to be able to ‘choose against’ much, much more, and more easily than in the past.
The bad news is that the backseat driver still has access to your two biggest nuclear buttons, and the more you start trying to pull away from him, the more he starts to use them against you.
These two buttons are marked ‘fear’ and ‘anger’, although most people don’t actually realize that these are the two raw emotions powering up those babies.
Many people prefer to call these buttons by fluffier names like stress, worry, indecision, mild upset, disappointment, etc. But if you dig a big deeper, you’ll always hit the bedrock of either anger, or fear, lurking underneath. It’s like when the boss calls you over for a chat, and your stomach instantly lurches into your shoes.
We can call that ‘butterflies in the stomach’, which conjures up the most fragile creatures in the world whispering gently around out intestines, but what are we feeling really?
WHAT ARE YOU REALLY FEELING?
“The boss wants to talk to me? Why? What did I do wrong? Is it that unauthorized phone call to Honolulu I made three months ago? Did someone complain about me? I bet it’s Jill! She’s had her eyes on my project for a long time. She’s always stabbing people in the back. She’s such a cow. I can’t believe she’d go this far though, unbelievable…”
Step back, and let’s observe what’s going on here. It started out as fear, and then very quickly the anger and self-indignation rushed in like a tidal wave, together with a solid (but completely unproven….) assumption that Jill has done the dirty on us somehow, and dropped us in hot water.
Then you get to the boss and you find out he just wants you to know you have a week of leave to take, and you need to do it pronto, by the end of the year. That’s it?!? You worked yourself up into a state over that?!
What’s going on here? Suddenly, you feel like you’re four years old, all lost in the world and completely overwhelmed. You need your mommy, right now. But now you’re 34 years old! And mommy isn’t available to soothe your pain and kiss is better. What makes all this even worse is that you’ve convinced yourself you’re an enlightened human being now, and that you’re meant to be past all these charged emotional outbursts.
The people who buy into that story get so badly stuck because they’re effectively closing themselves into a cell with no light, no window, no door. If you tell yourself that you’re enlightened and you can’t get angry or scared even more - even though you’re clearly doing precisely that - how can you ever get out of the problem?
If you can’t recognize the street that lead you down this blind alley, how can you retrace your steps?
True emotional freedom requires us to be honest about what’s really going on. It requires us to stop daintily hopping over words like stressed-out, healthy venting and a bit worried to actually call the emotional spade a spade: we’re angry, and we’re scared.
And sometimes, it’ll go the other way around instead, and we’ll be scared and then angry. And sometimes, a few other things will get drawn into the mix, too, and we’ll find ourselves feeling angry, scared, resentful, jealous and hating.
But underneath it all, it’s really all just a reaction to losing control.
It’s a great feeling to finally feel yourself properly in the driving seat. You set the destination, you decide where you want to go and how and why, there’s no-one holding you back now, or ordering you around.
Which is when most people discover the next hurdle on the path: now they are starting to get some mental clarity, and a break from the backseat driver’s incessant instructions, nagging, small talk and general freak-outs about all things large and small, they find
they have no idea where they want to go. Or why. Or how they actually feel about the process of trying to get there.
It’s like that 17 year old who finally gets around to asking the cute girl out for a date, and after months of planning and hoping and waiting finds he has absolutely nothing to say to her when the big day comes around.
If you’re not prepared for this part of the journey, it can easily tip you head-over-heels and have you scrambling to invite the backseat driver back into the car again, so you can get past that panicked feeling of having no frigging clue about what you actually want to do in life, or how.
“Sure, I had all plans to drive down South and visit a bunch of cool canyons but now that I can actually just go right ahead and do, I’ve got cold feet. I’m not sure I want to spend a month of my time on a road-trip right now. I’m scared of what I’m going to find if I go. I’m even more scared of what I might come back to.
“Maybe, this emotional freedom is more hassle than it’s worth, and it’s easier to go back to just following orders and dreaming about freedom in theory…”
This is a really normal response, to that first taste of freedom.
That's why so many long-term prisoners baulk when they're finally released, and will do anything they can to get themselves back into jail as quickly as possible.
You’re being stampeded into a panic about what’s out there, and you’re probably also stressing about how you’re going to cope, and feeling pretty overwhelmed by all the things that you kind of relied on the backseat driver to take care of for you.
This is when it starts to dawn on you that kicking that guy out of the car was empowering, but maybe also the dumbest thing you ever did in your life. Because now there is no-one else to blame, there is nothing else to hide behind and the buck stops with you.
If you’re not prepared for that heady kick-back from your first real taste of freedom, it can knock you out cold. So many people turn tail and run when they’re finally given the key to open the door, and get out there a little, but that’s only because no-one ever told them that this feeling of overwhelming panic is just a stage.
If you sit quietly, and wait it out, it’ll pass. For some people, it may take a few minutes for the freak out to start to fade away, for others it may be more like a couple of hours, or a couple of days. But it won’t be more than that, and if you can get through this stage, you’ll be through maybe the biggest milestone on your quest for emotional freedom.
It’s like when you bring that cute puppy home from the pound in its plastic travel crate. The first time you open that box up, that cute critter is going to power out of there like Usain Bolt.
It’s going to run up the walls, wee in the corners and generally make you wish you’d just said ‘no’ to all the wheedling to get a dog.
Alternatively, it’ll push its way back, far, far back, against the wall of the carry crate, and not hell nor high water will get that animal to venture out into the wide open space of your yard. But just leave the door open, go about your business, and slowly but surely, he’ll start sniffing around and when he gets a little hungry, or he needs to attend to some present business, he’ll come out and make your acquaintance.
Whichever way your own internal ‘critter response’ is going to play out, trying to stuff the dog back in the box and shipping it straight back to the pound is not the answer.
You wanted that dog in your life because you wanted the benefit of getting your face all licked off when you open the door after a hard day’s hustle, and you wanted something warm and cuddly to hang out with and talk to. Maybe, you also wanted Buster in your life to give you a greater sense of security, and like someone, something, has got your back.
A dog can do a lot of good things for you. Persevering through those often difficult few days and weeks when you’re starting to get to know each other, and starting to figure out what each of you can bring to the relationship, and how best to relate to each other takes time and a lot of patience.
The same is true with your internal ‘critter response’. Those guys have been all boxed-up inside of you while the backseat driver’s been calling the shots for years. Now that you’re finally swinging the cage open, you can expect to feel messy and chaotic for a while, or panicked and all crumpled up at the back, scared to put a foot wrong.
But with a bit of coaxing, a bit of training, and a lot of patience, your critter response will turn around from crazy-making overwhelm, to giving you the best, most loyal and lickable best friend you ever had in your life.
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.
Ok, let’s recap where we’ve got to so far on our road-map to real mental health:
1) There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with you. All of your problems are being caused by the backseat driver.
2) The backseat driver is working night and day to fill your heads with needless and frivolous confusions, doubts, worries, criticisms, worst-case scenarios that never happen and a general view of the world as bad, dangerous and nasty.
3) The backseat driver’s greatest achievement is convincing us that he is really us. He talks in our voice, he addresses us as himself, he uses our own phrases and foibles against us.
4) The true essence of a person is not defined by what job they do, where they live, how much money they make, who they love or who loves them, what they succeeded at, what they failed at, or what they look like.
5) A person’s true essence is made up of every thought, word and deed they actually put out into the world, both good and bad. We can only really know what our true essence actually was at the very end of the journey.
Now we have those ground rules set down, it’s time to take a look at what we can do to try to turf that backseat driver out of the car, or at least, to get him muffled enough of the time that we can actually start enjoying our lives a whole lot more. The first thing is to just start noticing he’s there.
Notice what chatter he’s filling with you head with when you pick up the phone to make a call:
“Uhoh, my mind’s gone blank. I’ve got nothing to say. I’m going to sound really stupid. They’re going to think I’m retarded. I can’t the words out properly.”
When you’re browsing in a store:
“That sweater is so pretty. But it’s costs a fortune. It probably won’t look so nice on my anyway. I’m just going to end up looking like some fat version of Taylor Swift if I try to fit into that. I wish my arm-flab didn’t jiggle so much. Man, my legs are so hairy, and I look like a guy. I need to take better care of myself. I can’t do it. I haven’t got the time to work out, I haven’t got the money to really buy the clothes that would suit me. Man, it’s really hot in here, I’m finding it hard to breathe…”
Little wonder you’re finding it hard to breathe in the store! You popped in to try on a sweater and now the backseat driver is having a field day finding more and more reasons why you should hate
yourself and how you look!
He also starts up when you’re trying to decide what new car, or new sofa you want to buy:
“The brown leather looks nice…but it’s scuff really easily…and start to look shabby after a year or two…but it’s got a 10 year guarantee and it’s from Italy so maybe that’s ok…but look at the price they are charging for that! I could buy two sofas for that…and if I make the wrong decision I’m going to have to live with it for years…and I’ll get so blamed if I pick a duff couch…and spend our hard-earned money on something that’s going to look bad so fast…but this company has a great reputation, and it’s got a 10 year guarantee…”
Round and round it goes for days, week, months and for some unfortunate individuals, even years.
Years of indecision, worry and guilt that they might ‘pick wrong’ and suffer the consequences for eternity.
See what that backseat driver is doing here? He’s turning everything into a ridiculously big deal. He’s blowing everything out of proportion and painting a picture of ‘reality’ that is anything but real.
The only way to really attain true inner peace is to stop paying attention to the backseat driver.
Try this: next time he starts up, asks yourself what you’d think if a real person came over to you and started telling you all this stuff. Do they sound balanced? Sane? Rational? Like someone you’d really want to pay attention to and take seriously?
This takes a bit of practice, and the main barrier to starting to put that much-needed distance between you and the backseat driver is to understand that he is not you. Where he came from and what he’s doing in your headspace we’ll get to a bit later on, but for now this is the main work to do:
Stop taking that backseat guy so seriously.
If someone asked you to describe yourself, what would you say?
Most people will answer by talking about their career:
“I work for a multi-national company.”
“I manage 500 people.”
“I’m looking for a job.”
“I’m studying at Harvard University.”
“I’m an investor.”
“I’m a stay at home mother.”
“I own 139 properties.”
Some people define themselves as ‘victims’, just the product of their circumstances:
“I always do everything for everyone but all I get in return is being [turned on / shunned / criticized / abused / made to feel bad / taken for granted, etc].
“I’m a survivor.”
“I’m a single mother raising my children alone.”
Other people will define themselves by a particular character trait:
“I’m an introvert.”
“I’m a nerd.”
Some people will define themselves by their marital status, especially if they’re divorced or widowed.
Still others will define themselves by their religious beliefs:
“I’m an atheist.”
“I’m an orthodox Jew.”
And then you’ll find those who don’t know how to answer the question, so they try to dodge it:
“I’m nobody special.”
“I don't know.”
“I’ve never really thought about it.”
“Isn't it the eternal question as Paul Gauguin beautifully depicted ? “ Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
But are any of these responses really capturing the true beauty, the true essence of who you really are?
Even if you answered very fully:
“I run a successful accountancy practice in Connecticut, and my hobbies include writing free verse and playing the oboe. I’m married to a wonderful woman - my second marriage - and we have two teenager children. I’m a big believer in an open economy, I usually vote Republican, I’m quite a deep personality who thinks a lot about the meaning of life and often worries that I’m not quite doing what I should be with my life, and my favorite author is Thomas Hardy.”
Ok, so that’s a pretty [full] response, but if we’re honest, we can see that it doesn’t really capture the essence of a person.
So who are we, really?
There’s a short answer to that question which will do for now, but we will get into the longer and more complex answer a little later on, but slowly slowly. We can’t move too fast with this stuff without triggering off an all-out war from the backseat driver who’s got us all fooled that he is really us.
So for now, let’s try to define who we are by who we aren’t.
We aren’t our jobs.
People change jobs all the time, housewives become CEOs, car mechanics become taxi drivers, lawyers become authors or chefs. Especially in today’s hustle economy, no-one can really define themselves by their job even in the short-term, because the job, and the role a person performs in society is constantly changing and evolving.
So we aren’t our jobs.
We aren’t our circumstances.
There are so many rags-to-riches stories out there, and probably even more riches-to-rigs stories. Today’s front page socialite who has the world at her feet could so easily be tomorrow’s washed-up drug addict who’s continuing to sell copies of the National Enquirer for very different, unglamorous reasons.
Circumstances can and do change. And this tends to be the rule, not the exception in our lives. Sometimes, we perceive those changes as positive, like when we move up the property ladder to a bigger house, or when we get a promotion, or get some other lucky break, or enjoy some other delicious moment of serendipity when our circumstances fill us with joy.
But if you define yourself as a loser and a victim, or as a winner and a superman, then what happens to you when your circumstances change?
Let’s consider the case of Christopher Reeve, the powerfully-built actor who embodied the conventional idea of how a ‘superman’ should look and how he should act. On screen, Reeve was the caped crusader with supernatural powers who used his physical prowess and really handy flying abilities to save the world from baddies and natural disasters.
Off-screen, Reeve seemed to carry a lot of his character with him, and was a highly-successful, attractive and physically active man. Until that fateful day when he had a terrible accident whilst riding his horse and broke his neck.
Overnight, the muscular, powerful ‘superman’ turned into a total quadriplegic, almost entirely reliant on other people to help him do even the simplest things in life like eat and get dressed.
Most people would have been absolutely crushed in this enormous reversal in their circumstances. But Reeve wasn’t most people, and he rose to the challenge of expressing the essence of who he really was in completely different, non-physical terms.
For the decade of life that remained to him after his accident, Reeve was a tireless campaigner for disability rights and for disabled people.
It’s maybe the biggest irony of his life that he pulled off his most heroic role, and the biggest positive and lasting impact on the world, when he was physically paralysed and confined to a wheelchair.
A superman indeed.
But the point is, we aren’t our circumstances. Whether or not you have wealth, health, good fortune, a big house, good looks, loads of friends, physical prowess, intellectual abilities - all of those things can and do change from day to day, sometimes subtly, and often less so.
So we aren’t our circumstances.
We aren’t our collected personality traits, either.
While this has the surface appearance of being a little closer to capturing the real essence of who we are, it’s still got the same limitation that applies to the other answers we’ve discussed: people’s personalities can and do change over time.
If a person is continually trying to work on themselves, and continually trying to uproot negative character traits, beliefs and behaviors, overtime their personalities will become more sparkly, spiritually shiny and beautiful.
And if we’re not trying to do that work, than typically overtime, our backseat driver will keep diverting us down more and more emotional dead-ends and black holes, and we’ll increasingly find ourselves sharing a ride with more and more feelings of anger, bitterness, resentments and regrets.
Which doesn’t make for a nice day out, by any measure.
So when some people say things like: “I’m just an angry person”, what they’re really trying to do is control their environment by getting themselves stuck in a persona that actually, really isn’t the true them.
“Watch out, I’ll get angry if you try to pull me out of my comfort zone, or expect me to change how I see the world, or react to things!”
It’s like posting a ‘Beware Dog’ sign on your perimeter. Statements like this are warning shots to try and keep people away from the real essence of who you are.
But guess what: you really aren’t the person who’s sticking those signs up - the backseat driver is.
And plenty of angry people calmed down and stopped been so aggressive and edgy once they learnt where their feelings of anger were really coming from, and how to deal with them properly.
And most importantly of all, when they realized that calling themselves ‘an angry person’ actually didn’t’ reflect the true reality of who they really are.
When you give your child a loving hug, are you an angry person?
When you say sorry to a friend for forgetting to calm them on their birthday, are you an angry person?
When you make a huge effort to cook a nice meal for your family, are you an angry person?
The honest answer has to be no. In that moment, with that action, you aren’t being an angry person at all.
So then, who are we, really?
If we’re not the guy in the backseat, and we’re not a collection of our successes, failures, job descriptions and labels, then who are we, really?
Who we really are:
Who we are is expressed in our collective impact on the world, both for the good and for the bad.
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