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April 2018

What we see in others is a reflection of ourselves

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Sitting in A&E with an unwell relative and the prospect of a four-hour wait gave me time for thinking and reflection.

In the packed waiting room my eyes came to rest on a lady who appeared to be drunk but most of the time she sat with her head on her knees not bothering anyone. She was obviously known to the staff and I felt annoyed that she was rudely spoken to by both the hospital and ambulance staff. They made it clear that they felt she was wasting their time.

A man positioned himself by the intercom button. He was probably in his 50s, overweight, and he walked with a stick. He pressed the button. He wanted to know how much longer he had to wait. Told he had at least another two hours to wait he launched into a tirade, “I’m diabetic, I need to be seen quickly. I hope she…” he pointed to the inebriated lady in front of him “...isn’t in front of me. Her condition is self-inflicted”.

I mused on the fact that he obviously didn’t see his own condition as self-inflicted. Overweight and unfit he was fairly typical of someone prone to diabetes.

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism,” said Carl Jung. We could also add food, or sugar to this quote.

I went to the vending machine and got a coffee and handed it to the lady with a few kind words of support. When the man aggressively said, “I don’t know why you’re helping that drunk – she’s wasting everyone’s time!” I calmly pointed out to him that whilst some people self-harm with alcohol, others self-harm with food, cigarettes, or lack of exercise. “We are all equally wise - and equally foolish - and we must all wait our turn,” I said.

Lost for words he sat down and didn’t utter another word until his name was called to go through.

Carl Jung also said that what annoys us about others is telling us something about ourselves. Perhaps he was annoyed with her because she reminded him of some of his own shortcomings and weaknesses. But then I became aware that I felt annoyed at him for being annoyed with her.

I realised it was time for a little self-reflection. What could I, like the Jung quote says, learn about myself here?

The first thing I realised was that someone who used anger as a way of intimidating people annoyed me. But when I looked deeper I saw that beneath the anger, fuelling it was a fear of being powerless.

I felt empathy for the woman because she was vulnerable and I had felt that way myself before (minus the alcohol) and people like this man had taken advantage because they thought I was weak. I realised that he was someone I would be afraid to stand up to, and, initially, he probably thought that I was weak because I wasn’t calling him out about his behaviour, or maybe, and this worried me more, he thought I agreed with him.

In essence, I was playing out a storyline in my head that didn’t have much to do with the reality of the situation.

The truth was he was probably worried about his blood sugars. Or maybe he was just an aggressive bully. Either way, his behaviour wasn’t a statement about me.

I realised that in all situations we find ourselves in we should try and view what is happening from a less personal place. I decided that from now on I will ask myself, “What is really going on here?” I will check in with my values and decide whether it is a time I should stand up for either myself or for someone else, or whether I should just quietly mind my own business.

My hope is that I can get to a place where if I decide I need to speak up again, I can approach the situation from a calm but firm place, minus any indignation or aggression. If I feel I have a reason not to speak up, I hope I can let the incident go, and move on.

The action I take is less important than the emotional place I am coming from. Either way, I want to remain calm and centred.

Through this process of reflection, seeing what is happening in myself, and letting old storylines drop, I am allowing a triggering situation to be an opportunity for growth.

It can be hard facing up to our own internal demons and we can’t heal overnight. But the benefits are great. I am learning the skill of staying calm in the storm of my emotions.

Image: Fotolia.com


My friend Norman

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I have an invisible friend. His name is Norman. His job is to help me do things I might struggle to do myself. For example, I’m in my car and driving into town. It’s busy and it could be difficult to park. But, I never have any problem getting a parking space because I send Norman ahead and he has a space cleared for me by the time I get there.

One Saturday just before Christmas, as we headed towards a busy car park, I was telling my daughters about Norman. They thought I was mad. I assured them that I had sent Norman ahead and he had saved me a space in the second lane from the end, four spaces down on the right. As we drove up the lane in the car park all the spaces were taken. My daughters laughed and one said “Perhaps it’s because you drive too fast…maybe he walked” and “You’re crazy Mum”. As I got in front of ‘my space’ the lights flashed on the black Range Rover parked there, I reversed, the Range Rover pulled out and the lady driving put her hand up and smiled. I smiled, raised my hand in return, and pulled into the space. “Who on earth was that?” asked my daughter. “Oh, that must be Norman’s wife. He must’ve been held up and asked her to come instead” I said. Inside the car was silent. However, now whenever we are going somewhere they always say “ask Norman where to park”.

Now, what Norman really does is he shuts down the voices in my head that say “It’s too busy!” “I’m never going to be able to park.” “It’s not worth trying.”

Beliefs can influence our actions in a way that makes those beliefs actually come true.

Years ago I owned a horticultural business and I would sell and deliver plants all over the country. I would often take brief directions over the phone, have a quick look at a map, and away I’d go. I thought nothing of driving to the north of Scotland, London, Spaghetti Junction, or anywhere else orders took me.  I very rarely got lost. Whenever anyone asked me how I did it I would tap Puggy’s steering wheel (Puggy was my Peugeot) and say, ”Oh, the car knows its way.”

More recently I was asked to do a seminar at Old Trafford in Manchester. Because it had been a while since I had driven through the city I decided to try using a sat nav. It got me close. I could see the venue but I was stuck in a dead end on the edge of a housing estate. I should have trusted Norman (he was with me of course) when he told me to go right when the sat nav told me to go left.

Norman can help with all sorts of things.

Imagine, for example, you were going for an interview and you sent Norman ahead to tell the interview panel what a great person you are, how good you are at your job, and how worthy you would be of this position. Your feelings of not being good enough would dissipate.

I always know when someone doesn’t have a Norman to smooth the way for them. If someone comes to me to ask for something I can tell whether they think they will get it or not. It might be the way they walk, the way they look around, or their attempt to engage me in useless conversation…

It seems ironic to think that what we’re so afraid of or don’t want can become reality. However, at times our actions function as if they were calling them to happen.

Thank goodness I have Norman to help me.