female walking lonely
Health / Mental health / The world

Permission to be a human being; ignore the criticism

Many people live life trying to abide by exacting standards that are impossible to reach. They could sound something like this, a list of “shoulds”:

paranoia talking through a door to self
  • I should get good grades, do well and achieve but
  • I should not be proud
  • People should see that I am busy doing “worthwhile” things
  • I should not take up too much room
  • I should never be selfish or be perceived as selfish
  • Eating should not be enjoyable
  • I should be agreeable and my opinions are unimportant

I’ve tried to fit into a perfect mould but perfection was always just beyond reach because as a human being I make mistakes and normal life stuff gets in the way!

Spending a life feeling as though I don’t fit in, I just thought I had to try harder to please others but constantly felt as though I just wasn’t good enough and was a failure. This is the perfect storm for mental ill health. It’s taken me years to climb out, numerous therapists and invaluable self discovery to realise that accepting myself for who I am (whether other people like it or not) makes for a much happier life!

I’m currently studying to be a counsellor and I recently completed an exercise that showed me how I spend my time. The idea was to reflect on whether we engage in types of behaviours that benefit or disadvantage us. I usually approach these tasks with trepidation as I assume I’ll feel dismayed that I’m “doing* life wrong”. But it enabled me to reflect that my life is actually very well balanced.

Yes, I spending the majority of my time studying (placement, college, assignments, reading, repeat) but I’ve made specific decisions not to let negativity into my life; the exercise also reminded me that I don’t need to justify to anyone how I live my life or why.

*This is exactly where I’ve been going wrong. I thought I had to do more to please other people but it didn’t matter how much I did, I was never good enough. Social media doesn’t help—we see pictures of contacts busy “doing”, how many people post “today I’m busy being“?

The global pandemic that’s touched us all in different ways has helped me reflect on what’s really important. Doing more and more has an incredibly negative impact on my life but why do I feel as though I have to justify the healthy choices I make? Why do I feel guilty or shamed when I’m trying to make choices to ensure I keep balance that doesn’t harm my health.

People are desperate to “get back to normal” and this is understandable; this time has been painful in may ways. Some changes have been hugely positive; the world has become a lot more accessible (as it always should have been) and we’ve been forced act as a community to protect each other.

Do you find yourself feeling as though there’s a list of things you feel you “should” do? How is this serving you? Do you feel empowered and are you flourishing into the human being you’ve always wanted to be? Perhaps take a few moments now to write a list of beliefs/values you feel have been instilled in you over the years. Take a look at them; some of them may be beneficial, while others may just drag you down. Perhaps they don’t all include “should” like mine did—there are other thinking patterns that are unhelpful, have a look here to understand these.

Through extensive work, a few of the philosophies I now live by include:

  • Making mistakes is ok, it’s how I recover that matters
  • Self care is not selfish, it’s vital for health
  • If other people want to judge me that’s their problem, not mine
  • I’m allowed to have opinions
  • What makes me content is my business, no one else’s
  • I can eat what I want, when I want

Yoga is the epitome of what works for me. I listen to what my mind and my body needs. Being in tune with what I need means I’m able to challenge myself everyday without it being a chore. My chronic illnesses and disabilities haven’t disappeared but I accept myself for who I am. I’ve faced judgment and criticism for stepping out and being me but I’m able to let it go because their opinions are from a place of ignorance.

If each of us stopped once a day to “smell the roses”, what would we learn in that moment? That intake of breath could tell us that roses not only smell beautiful and different species of rose have individual scents but we might also discover:

  • “I’m holding tension in my shoulders”, that’s giving me a headache
  • “There’s a lot of stale air in my lungs”, it feels so refreshing to replace it
  • “I’m light-headed and hungry” because I’ve not prioritised eating today, I need to find something to eat
  • “The activity I was doing is bringing me down”, it’s time to take a break

In that moment with the rose, there’s no need to do anything. This is a metaphor, of course, at any moment in time, we can take a deep breath, to take time to notice what really matters.

During time of lockdown, we may have felt trapped, isolated and/or restrained but instead of viewing it all as negative, how we reacted can tell us a lot. I have a dream that the world post-covid will be more accepting, more tolerant, more accessible, less judgmental, more caring and that people will have an understanding that communities pulling together rather than apart is for the greater good.

To work out how to move forward in a positive way, these 4 questions might help. I hope that more people will have an understanding that “being” rather than “doing” is a far more beneficial way of living.

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