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.
The key to dealing with the 'backseat driver' is to understand how it actually operates.
The backseat driver:
- never stops talking
- doesn’t give you a moment to relax, digest, contemplate
- encourages you to spend as much time as possible checking pointless stuff out on your mobile phone
- plays both sides of the equation [like egging you on to 'speak your mind' about an issue, and rationalizes why it's actually good and correct for you to spew poison at other people, and then puts the boot in once you've actually done that, and makes you feel really bad and ashamed of how you just acted.]
- makes you feel ucky
- makes you feel like you can’t do without him.
- is a worry wort - as soon as you deal with one issue, and safely put it to bed, it throws up the next one to panic you about.
This probably sounds all to familiar, because all of us have to deal with the 'backseat driver' to some degree or another, and this is the way it operates for all of us. So for now, don't stress that you've got a huge issue that can never be fixed. It can, but first, we’re just here noticing the problem.
Here's some other stuff that the backseat driver does:
Really? Out outlook is what is shaping this reality, and not the other way round. But by controlling the way we process our experiences, and by filtering all of our experiences through it's own, warped lens, the backseat driver reinforces its version of reality, and maintains it's control over us.
But guess what:
That crazy little guy isn’t really us! And it's not really giving us a true picture of reality.
So then the question begs to be asked: who are we, really?
Let’s find out.
“If you take the next left, it will get you to the store 10 minutes faster…Hey, you’re revving too much, the engine can’t take it! The aircon is up to high I’m getting chilblains just sitting here…do you know how much gas that thing sucks out of the tank? This trip’s gonna end up costing you a fortune…You’re going to get stuck behind that tanker going uphill, you should indicate now and get into the middle lane…the cops usually park right behind that next bend with a speed-o-meter, hit the brakes so you don’t get fined…”
Few things are more irritating than having a back-seat driver along for the ride. There they sit, picking holes in your driving style, your sense of direction, even your choice of music. Ask the backseat driver why they do what they do, and they’ll tell you straight out: they’re just trying to be helpful. And they really believe it!
But going anywhere with a backseat driver is invariably exhausting and draining. They don’t shut up… they’re forever looking for one more thing to worry over, one more thing to criticize you about, one more way to make you feel small, stupid and entirely reliant on them and their superior advice and experience.
Backseat drivers take all the fun out of the journey.
Now, it’s hard enough to deal with a real-live person stuck in the back of your car trying to call all the shots and not giving you anytime or space to think things through for yourself in a calm, relaxed fashion. But there’s a big secret you should know about yourself: You’ve got a back-seat driver calling the shots in your own head 24 / 7 and you never get away from them.
And that’s not all. This backseat driver is so cunning, it’s managed to convince you that the person who’s doling out all the criticism, and worry, and doubt and harsh judgments about you and the rest of humanity is actually…you.
“I’m such an idiot! I can’t believe I forget to call the insurance guy to renew the policy on time. Now, I’m going to have to re-do all the paperwork from scratch, I’m so retarded!”
Or, try this:
“I can’t believe I was dumb enough to try to avoid paying the tax I owed. Now, I’m stressing about it all the time and I sit in the office convinced the IRS are going to burst through my door any minute and arrest me. They’ll splash the story all over the local press and my wife will divorce me…”
Or how about this:
“Man, why did I eat all those fries and pizza? I really feel like I’m going to throw up now! I’ve got no self-control, I can’t seem to get a grip on my life, I’m such a loser.”
He's convinced us that HE is really US!
Do you see what’s happening here? The backseat driver has us convinced that he is really us. He talks in our voice, he uses our catch-phrases, he knows all our secret fears and weaknesses, and he has absolutely no qualms about using them against us to get us to do what he wants.
And what is it that this internal back-seat driver really wants from us? In a word: control. He wants to control the way we see our lives, and the way we relate to other people, and the way we react to the different circumstances we get sent to deal with.
He wants to convince us that the world is full of bogey-man waiting to get us, and monsters under our bed who want to spirit us away to the netherworld, and nasty people who are just itching to kidnap our children and steal our lifesavings.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking to yourself: “But isn’t that true? Isn’t that a rational opinion to hold, that the world is a dangerous place and home to milllions and even billions of psychos, derango-s and otherwise criminally insane, crazy people?”
Let’s be clear no-one is arguing with the idea that the world is full of loony-tunes. Everyone walking around on planet earth has got their own issues to deal with, and their own craziness to face down. But top of the crazy-making list is this:
People think that their backseat driver is really them.
That’s why they have ceded almost all their power, control and inner vitality over to that little crazy guy sitting behind them who is calling all the shots in their lives.
So what can we really do, to try to get rid of this pernicious backseat driver who seems to have opinions about everything and everyone, and who makes judgment calls 24/7 and doesn’t give us a moment’s peace and quiet, even (or maybe especially…) when we’re trying to settle down for the night?
Just as we’ve got into our favorite pair of pyjamas and started to drowse off over an interesting bit of bedtime reading and reached to turn the bedside light off - that’s when it starts reminding us that we forgot to hang the washing up, and it’s going black and moldy in the machine. Or that we forgot to respond to that niggly work email, and now all the endless possible responses are going to be cycling through our head, bothering us and stopping us from going to sleep all night long.
Let’s be clear that this crazy little backseat driving guy is really good at what he does, he’s an expert in keeping our heads too stuffed up with worries and problems and doubts and arguments and criticisms to really take a breath and to actually think.
But it’s time to turf him out of pole position, and to reclaim control of the vehicle once again
These days, it seems like you need a bunch of letters after your name to have a right to an opinion on anything.
“You can’t eat carbs for breakfast! The latest research shows that eating carbs for breakfast will severely impact your digestive system and make you sluggish and slow the whole day.”
“But, I really like my Weetabix…”
“Who are you to have an opinion like that?! What’s your alma mater? What do you know, really? I’m telling you that carbs are bad for breakfast - and I’ve devoted the last 10 years of my life to researching this issue - and you’re still telling me that you enjoy wheat-based cereals first thing in the morning?! Why should I take you seriously? Who are you, to be arguing against the science?”
All the experts out there are pretty busy these days telling us what to eat for optimal gut health, and what gloopy stuff to smear on our skins to combat wrinkles, or zits, and how to raise our kids so they won’t turn into psychos.
The list goes on and on.
Uhoh. Here comes one now.
“Wait a minute, who gave you permission to write about all this emotional health stuff? Where’s your credentials? Where did you study? Who are you, anyway?!”
Hopefully, we’ll get to a much deeper answer to that question as this series of posts unfolds, but you should know that regardless of all the experts out there who are trying to convince you that you can’t so much as pick up a pair of slacks or buy a new toothbrush without their ‘expert’ advice and opinion, really there is only expert you should be listening to on a regular basis: yourself.
Not because you have a million shiny PhD diplomas hanging on your wall (although that’s nice if you do); and not because you’re a self-made millionaire, or a fashion icon, or a pillar of society, or because you happen to bake the best pecan pie this side of the Atlantic.
All that stuff is nice, sure, but the reason you are the real expert about your own life is because you got given that job to do, and every ability you need to carry it off properly. This book isn’t about teaching new truths or new wisdoms that you’ve never heard of before. It’s about revealing that truth deep inside of yourself that you actually already know and recognize to be your own.
Really, you know better than anyone else in the world what you should be doing with yourself, what’s good for you, what you should be aiming for and getting the heck away from. And you for sure know what to have for breakfast.
So this series of posts isn’t so much a journey of discovery as a journey of helping you to reclaim what is already yours, and to find what you already possess deep within.
More and more of us are starting to wake up to the fact that the information we consume may have just as much of an impact on our mental and physical health than the food and other substances we’re ingesting.
There are a lot of similarities between the way we consume food, and the way we ‘consume’ information online.
The healthier, more wholesome sources of information and help on the net can truly help us to nourish ourselves spiritual, and can feed the appetite we have for information and advice in a fulfilling, positive way.
Those are the sites that are routinely useful and calming, without trying to ‘hard sell’ you anything, rope you in to anything, scare the pants off you about anything. In short, about 2% of the sites you’ll find online (maximum).
SO MANY YUCKY SITES OUT THERE...
Then, there’s the other end of the spectrum - the sites that are encouraging and promoting the worst types of behavior in humanity, like online porn, DIY build-your-own bomb sites, sites encouraging teenagers to commit suicide, of people to gamble their life-savings and homes away online.
These sites are more like crack cocaine than foodstuffs, because even evil substances like MSG don’t really come close to the damage viewing sites like this can do to a person’s psyche and overall sense of health and wellbeing.
Thank God I’m not in that world, and I have a couple of strong filters to try to help me stay out of that online version of hell on earth, so I have no idea what percentage of the internet these types of sites account for. But sadly, it’s a lot.
And then, there’s all the sites that are in between, ranging from mildly helpful but still a complete waste of time, through to sites full of profane language and demeaning behaviors that aren’t quite illegal, but are still really, really awful.
In so many ways, the world would be a better place without the internet, but for now we’re stuck with it - at least, if we want to pay our bills, find out what’s going on in our kids’ schools and be able to buy things conveniently or make cheap calls abroad.
(And of course, if we need to work on it, which is the biggest reason I’m still stuck in front of a screen much more than I’d like to be.)
HELPFUL GUIDELINES TO REGULATE WHAT WE CONSUME ONLINE
So then, how can we ensure we’re consuming more of what’s good for us, and much less of what isn’t?
I was pondering this myself, and I’ve come up with a few guidelines that are helping me tremendously, and that BH will also help you too to ensure that more of the ‘wholesome’ and healthy sites are making it into your daily internet diet.
It’s very useful to approach the internet as you would food.
The first thing to do is to divide your internet use into two categories: necessary and unnecessary.
Necessary is work, paying bills, checking PTA notices, printing off a Google map etc - anything that has to be done, and that can only be done online.
Consider this to be your internet staples, the bread and butter of your time online.
Next, take a look at your unnecessary list.
This is where the real work can begin, in two stages. Stage 1 is to divide these sites into ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ sites. The definition of ‘helpful’ I’m using here is very simple:
does it make you feel cheerful, filled-up and inspired, when you read it? Does it give you real, practical information you can use in your real life, or just panic-inducing superficial soundbytes?
It can be hard to figure out what site is ‘helpful’ and what isn’t, especially initially, because so many of the unhelpful sites are actually strongly addictive, so we get an initial burst of ‘great’ when we log-on, but that feeling tends to sour very quickly.
CHEMICALLY ADDICTIVE, OR REALLY ENJOYABLE?
Again, it’s useful to use a food analogy. Sometimes, we just need that bar of chocolate, that scoop of ice-cream, especially if we’re using it as a coping mechanism or a form of self-soothing. An occasional splurge on sites that aren’t ‘crack cocaine’ is fine, and won’t kill anyone.
But if all you’re doing online is consuming the internet equivalent of candy bars and big bottles of coke? Then sooner or later you’re going to start feeling very, very ill, mentally and spiritually.
So for now, go slow, and just pay attention to how you really feel after you’ve read a site. What sites do you look forward to, and why? What sites are ‘addictive’, what sites do you feel compelled to read almost against your will - the same way a binge eater just has to raid the fridge late or night, or finish every crumb of the gateau?
This stage can take a few weeks or even months, so don’t rush it, and treat yourself very nicely while you’re going through this process of trying to streamline your internet intake. No guilt trips, no beating yourself up, no harsh judgments about your viewing habits.
Just plenty of self-compassion, patience and asking God for help to show you what’s going on and why.
GIVE UNHELPFUL SITES THE HEAVE-HO
Once you’ve really managed to pin-down the helpful and unhelpful sites, you can move on to the next stage: block the unhelpful sites.
Now, don’t panic! I’m not saying you can never, ever, ever see that particularly poisonous Facebook page you’re addicted to. All I’m saying is list your unhelpful sites with something like ‘Block Site’, which is a free add-on for Chrome users.
You can change the settings on it at anytime, so if your urge to splurge online gets too much for you (it happens…) you can indulge it for 5 minutes, remember why you blocked that site in the first place, and return back to your healthy internet diet.
Go HERE to download the BLOCK SITE plug-in for Chrome, and let me know how you get on.
I installed it last week, and I’m already noticing that my internet habits have got so much better. Little
by little, I’m spending much less time online, and more time in my ‘real’ life doing ‘real’ things with real people that really bring me more pleasure and contentment.
A last tip for the news addicts out there (I’m also one, which is how I know all this stuff about you…): block the images on the news sites you regularly visit, and you find you’ll be able to get your ‘news fix’ much faster, without disappearing down the latest bit of eye-candy’s appealing cleavage.
Again, try this for yourself, but blocking the pictures made a huge, huge difference to the pulling power these sites had on me - and I’m a lady!
So here’s to your healthy internet use, and BH, one day we’ll be able to go back to sending snail mail letters, reading magazines printed on proper paper and interacting with people in person again.
I, for one, can’t wait.
A few years’ ago, God did me a very big favor. Every time I was around someone with a very complicated inner landscape, my eyes would go funny.
The first few times it happened, I freaked out and started panicking that I’d developed some horrible disease that was going to leave my partially sighted, God-forbid, or worse. But then, after this had been going on for a few months, and after I’d been talking to God about it a lot, I suddenly got the insight that my eyes would only go funny around particular people, or in particular circumstances.
One of those people was my husband, so figuring out what was going on become a big imperative.
After many more months of pondering it, praying on it, thinking about it, I managed to narrow down ‘funny eye syndrome’ a bit more, and to realize that it would happen whenever I was around people who were suppressing strong, negative emotions.
By suppressing, I don’t mean that they knew what they were feeling, consciously, and were gritting their teeth, or keeping a stiff upper lip, although clearly that also would sometimes occur.
I mean that these negative emotions were so buried, so hidden - even from the person themselves! - that they had absolutely no idea what sort of tremendously powerful emotional vibes they were actually sending out into the atmosphere.
That was being soaked up by yours truly and making my eyes go funny.
Releasing the pressure
Over time, I figured out that the single best way to cure my funny eyes was by helping the person I was talking with to really acknowledge their deeper, nearly always extremely negative, true feelings.
This is so much easier said than done, as most people who make my eyes go funny are suffering from something called alexithymia, or an inability to really describe or get a handle on their feelings. This usually happens because a kid isn’t really ‘seen’ in their childhood by an emotionally-absent parent.
So when they get upset, or scared, or anxious, or concerned, there is no caring adult around to notice what’s going on with them, and to give them the word, the label, they need to shrink their huge feeling down into language, and make it manageable.
So then, these individuals grow up, and a fuzzy sense of frustration (that they would never think to label ‘anger’) is really the only feeling that can or will admit to experiencing.
But if you could rip the scab off that ‘frustration’, then a whole bunch of seething, immature, enormous negative emotions would come bubbling out. If that sounds like a scary prospect, you are now starting to understand why so many people who find it hard to relate to their negative emotions are so scared of anyone getting anywhere near close enough to prise off the ‘frustration’ lid.
Because a volcano is lurking underneath.
Sadly for me, or luckily for me, depending on how you look at it, pretending that nothing was really happening underneath got very, very hard when my eyes would suddenly go completely weird mid-conversation.
Someone would be telling me what they had for breakfast, or about their upcoming trip to the US to visit family, or about their kid’s new school, or they’re new job - and whammo, my eyes would de-focus and I’d be left squinting around, completely perplexed as to what was going on and thinking big thoughts about serious vitamin deficiencies.
Until I figured this out.
Which is when I realized that God had actually given me a secret back route into instantly figuring where the emotional body was buried, so to speak. Because a person can swear until they’re blue in the face that they’ve made their peace with so-and-so, or don’t care about such-and-such, or completely past whatever it is - but if my eyes have gone funny, I know they are lying.
Especially to themselves.
This is useful with husbands, but not so useful with everyone else
Now, with husbands this is actually a pretty wonderful, helpful thing, as thanks to the funny eyes, we’ve got to the bottom of so many issues that we probably never would have, otherwise.
But with other people? Well, it’s made things pretty complicated. And it’s a big part of the reason I got so anti-social for a while, because for the life of me I couldn’t work out how I was meant to be reacting when someone would be telling me about their wonderful family celebration, or how much they really wanted to just settle down with someone (when the exact opposite was true) while my ‘funny eyes’ would erupt off the Richter scale.
If a person isn’t telling themselves the truth about a particular situation, woe betide the person who is dumb enough to try to step in and deliver the message the other person is trying so hard to ignore and avoid.
I learnt the hard way that you can’t fix people with ‘the truth’, and if you try, you are only going to get your head completely blown off. And you probably deserve it.
So, for a long stretch of time it’s been easier to keep things superficial with most people for most of the time, because in 2018, so many people are dealing with huge negative emotions that they’re repressing, without even realizing what’s going on.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because I have the feeling that the more you start to get in touch with your own real self, and the more you try to work through your own enormous, deeply-buried negative feelings, the more you’ll also start to notice how certain people, certain conversations, set you off, too.
Maybe, your eyes won’t go funny, but you might find your breathing goes a bit weird, or that your heart starts beating too fast, or you suddenly feel horribly hot and suffocated, or weak and faint, or your hands suddenly go ice-cold.
Pay attention to those clues that God is sending you, especially if they’re popping up around a spouse or a kid.
Because those people, you probably can help, if you take a deep breath and prepare yourself mentally to face down an internal volcano of huge, suppressed feelings.
But everyone else, you probably can’t.
So the best bet is then just to smile and nod politely, and quickly change the subject.
As the orthodox Jewish world seems to be hurtling towards encouraging more and more orthodox women and girls to start posting more pictures of themselves online and in other publications, I thought it would be timely to take a look at the links even the non-Jewish world is starting to flag up between so-called ‘selfie’ culture and a whole host of emotional issues and problems.
Let’s start with some scientific studies examining the huge impact ‘selfies’ is already having on young women’s self-esteem and body image.
Back in 2014, a Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and The Priory Hospital, started sounding the alarm that about the alarming link between the rise of ‘selfie culture’ and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Dr Veale said:
“Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites.”
In 2016, researcher Katia Mifsud undertook a study for the University of Malta which found that respondents with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) were:
Before we continue, here’s a definition of what ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder’ actually is:
Body dysmorphic disorder: A psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive preoccupation with imagined defects in physical appearance. It is classified as an anxiety disorder, and it is believed to be a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also known as somatoform disorder and dysmorphophobia.
As posting pictures online and ‘selfies’ has become de rigeur in the non-Jewish world, more and more people are falling prey to Body Dysmorphic Disorder, caught up in the overwhelming focus on ‘externals’ and ‘how they look’ instead of who they really are, as a person.
Is this really something we want to be promoting in the orthodox Jewish world for Jewish women and girls, under the banner of ‘progress and equality’?
Even the non-Jewish world is starting to realize there is a huge selfie-induced problem with people posting too many images of themselves online, and becoming overly-obsessed with their external appearance. This comes from the official BDD website:
Body Dysmorphic Disorder affects 1.7% to 2.4% of the general population — about 1 in 50 people. This means that more than 5 million people to about 7.5 million people in the United States alone have BDD. BDD is about as common as obsessive-compulsive disorder and more common than disorders such as anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia.
Again, we take all psych stats and statements with a huge pinch of salt, but we can still clearly see that there is a huge problem that's developed around BDD, and it's of fairly recent origin.
Let’s go back to the scientific studies, to see what else they are telling us about how social media is promoting some very unhealthy emotional attitudes to how people relate to themselves.
Dr Giuseppe Riva recently published a study called: ‘Risk and maintenance factors for young women’s DSM-5 eating disorders’. This study found that:
Self-objectification (thinking about and monitoring the body’s appearance from an external observer’s perspective) was the largest contributor to both Eating Disorder onset and maintenance.
To put this into plainer English, the more a young woman was focused on how her body appeared to other people, the higher her chances of developing an Eating Disorder in the first place, and also for her Eating Disorder-ed behavior to continue. In other comments that he made to VICE magazine (horrible name, but actually a really good article), Dr Riva explained how social media is promoting the problem of ‘self-objectification’. He said:
"This is particularly true for Snapchat and Instagram, which provide a mirror-like vision of young women, which is also altered and shared. This behavior supports the vision that a social body—self-objectified—is more relevant than the real felt body."
In case you don’t know how Instagram and Snapchat actually work (I didn’t until I started researching all this stuff) both apps let users retouch their snaps and selfies with a variety of filters. Spots and birthmarks can be erased, wrinkles retouched, even the shape of the face altered, to give your selfie that ‘perfect’ appearance.
Apparently, things are getting so bad with these apps that many users now refuse to have any picture taken that they can’t ‘retouch’ and make ‘perfect’ - which brings us on to the next mental illness selfies can feed in to: narcissism.
I’ve written so much about narcissism, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NDP) on spiritualselfhelp.org and in other places. The bottom line is that it’s learned behavior and can be unlearned (with an awful lot of effort, prayer and understanding of what’s really causing it and how.)
But there is no question that social media encourages people to behave in a very narrow-minded, self-aggrandising and un-empathetic way, all of which can fuel the fire of narcissistic traits, and turn the latent narcissistic ‘tendencies’ that we all have, to a greater of lesser degree, into a real problem.
This comes from an excellent article on the RAWHIDE website (which sadly has pictures of women in it, so I can’t link to their excellent infographic), but here’s their take on what they call ‘social media narcissism;”
Social media narcissism may be displayed through many of the following traits:
Again, this is an over-simplification of the real reasons why people want to post pictures of themselves online, and compulsively get attention from strangers and other people they don’t know based on how they look.
But the point is this: the whole social media / selfie culture that encourages both men and women to obsess over appearance instead of being concerned by substance, and that glorifies people’s looks over their personalities, abilities and deeds is clearly leading to some huge spikes in emotional and mental issues, including:
So why oh why would the orthodox Jewish world want to encourage our teens and women to start doing more of this stuff, and to start putting more emphasis on having pictures of themselves posted up all over the place?
The mind boggles.
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