Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the Peter Gabriel song ‘Don’t give up’?
Such a heart wrenching depiction of a man at his wit’s end, bereft of his pride, his identity, lamenting the loss of his usefulness, his place in the world, belief in himself…‘I never thought I could fail’. It’s about a man adrift, amputated from his spiritual home.
I find this song so real to life and deeply moving.
It seems he’s struggling with expectations, an implied hand-me-down measure of success, ‘taught to fight, taught to win’ and he believes he has reached a point of ‘no fight left, or so it seems’. It’s a failure story.
First, you have to hear it
Do you have a failure story you tell yourself? I know I do. There was a time I was unaware of it, didn’t realise it was a story. I mistook it as a fact, a personal truth, a dirty secret. Everything I did was an attempt to conceal this truth from the world. I didn’t know it was a product of another burden, the fear of judgement, and that only with perfect behaviour, achieving perfect outcomes, could I have any sense of immunity.
News Flash… there is no immunity from Judgement!
I spent a huge portion of my life trying to avoid judgement. Ironically, in my quest, the unconscious strategies I employed invited lots of it… I attracted the very thing I was pre-occupied with. Isn't that funny (Eh, No!), but that’s what happens. Wherever your energy is invested, life also issues cheques from there.
If you’re invested in avoiding anger, be guaranteed your pay checks will be full of it. Same for disappointment, disapproval, conflict…whatever. These are the arenas of judgement, ruled by a panel of critics.
Retire the Peanut Gallery
The world is full of critics. Oh yes, chalk that down. The thing is, the critics aren’t just out there, in the world… the social phenomena of internalisation brings them much closer to home. That's how we get inner critics.
If enough people are mean to, or hard on you, even if it’s just one (but influential) person and it threatens your lovability, you learn to be mean to or hard on yourself. Same goes for disapproval, expectation, regard, neglect. In it’s simplest form, it’s a case of ‘Monkey see, Monkey do’.
So you pick up the cues, internalise the habit and critisize yourself relentlessly in the hope that this strategy will produce the ‘right’ behaviour to ensure the outcome of complete protection from judgement.
That’s how it worked when you were small right? Your behaviour was shaped to suit those in power. Your job was to avoid upsetting the adults. The unspoken instructions of ‘Be a good girl so I can be happy with you’, really meant ‘Don’t blow my cover child, I’m trying to appear in control here’.
Want a Plot Twist?
Break the pattern! You can’t expect or wait for the hander down of this pattern to change their position before you change yours. You can’t control that, so you have to do the work on what you can control.
As Jesus said ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do’. It’s the only way to release yourself from a story where you’ll always be wrong. You may design scenarios in your head where you argue your position, get to have the upper hand, correct the offending party and bring them to the realisation of their wrongdoings (or is that just me?). In real life, I bet you’ve never have that satisfaction, the outcome that would grant you vindication and peace. Sorry to burst your bubble but it ain’t gonna happen, not that way anyway.
You have to make your own peace. Waiting for another to suddenly see the light and take it all back still won’t undo what is done. It’s kinda like the artist Prince becoming Prince again, still doesn’t change the fact he went off and became a symbol, something we couldn’t call him for a while. Waiting for your peace to be granted only perpetuates the powerlessness that keeps you locked in a cycle of grievances.
Put the stick down
Stop critisizing yourself. In fact, stop criticising others too. Believe me when I tell you this is key, when you do this you’ll be amazed at the amount of energy you’ll free up from operating the default position of always ‘correcting’. Don’t let that be your purpose in life. It’s exhausting, stop it. Use the same habit cue to practice compassion instead.
I’m not suggesting you become a robot here and deny your emotional stress reactions, you’re not perfect, nobody is.
The other day I spent hours on to customer service, trying to resolve an issue with my phone line. My call was repeatedly dropped and eventually I lost it, I screamed the house down in pure anger and frustration before calling back. Calm and composed I was not, so I’m not going to pretend there aren’t days my shit is far from together. You’ll lose your shit too, just remember to forgive yourself, recover and move on.
It’s gonna be alright
If you know the song I opened this post with above, you’ll know Kate Bush carries the chorus. She represents the voice of compassion, arriving to interrupt the protagonist’s failure story with another perspective. Her message is one of love, hope and encouragement, a reminder that he is loved, cared for, supported, that there’s no burden on him to prove himself, no need to be ashamed.
Be like the voice of Kate Bush in this song, develop a compassion mantra. You don’t have to come up with an original one, borrow one from a song or poem or story you like. A mantra I absolutely love to use is borrowed from Three little birds by Bob Marley, ‘Every little thing, is gonna be alright’… Keep it simple.
P…lots of P!!!
Practice, patience, persistence, repeat. I’ll never forget the first time I actually experienced compassion for my own self. I had been ‘in practice’ for about 18 months before it finally came to me, but when it did I was so humbled by it, it’s a beautiful experience.
If you want to read a little about that, I’ve written about it in this post, but I mention it here now because I want you to know it doesn’t happen overnight, you have to do some emotional work and prepare for it. To arrive at self compassion after having been foreign to it is a big moment, very moving, overwhelming really, but in a good way.
Unlearning self bashing and developing compassion requires a leap of faith, you have to hope, keep going, keep believing, you will get there. I’m not saying it will take you the same amount of time as it did me, just don’t expect miracles of yourself or the universe and don’t expect to arrive without the required journey on your behalf.
Nobody else can walk your road for you, but know that you’ll never be alone, on this adventure you’ll meet many fellow travellers, each at various stages, each seeking, so remember to be kind and let kindness be.
Take your time and for now, just promise you will at least show for up yourself, as you are.
State your intention out loud with me now…
“Dear (Amanda), I promise to show up for you”
How does that feel?
Always, Amanda xoxo
If you have an experience to share on this or questions to ask, leave a comment here or you can always email me firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d be delighted to hear from you.
P.S…. Check out my links page for some amazing resources to get you on your way home