The ability to wait

There isn’t much fun about waiting… Though some people say that half the experience is anticipating it and preparing for it. I guess what I am talking about is the aimless waiting, waiting for something to change or shift or waiting for things outside of your control to come together. Some people talk about precious time being wasted when we wait – like waiting for the bus or for the washing machine to finish so you can take out the clothes in order to get on with the day.

I think the virtue of waiting is underestimated. There are some valuable skills in waiting. When you wait you have to surrender your idea of having control over things, you have to be with your restlessness and boredom and face your powerlessness. And I am not sure we do these things enough.

There seem to be a lot of energy in society spent on proving one is in control – that one is productive and efficient – and surrounding oneself with an air of busyness. Waiting and busyness don’t go well together. I think a lot of us feel urged to distract ourselves instead of waiting. Or we feel like we have to fill the time with something useful.

I think we tend to associate waiting with being idle. And being idle has got a bad name:

 

No wonder our adult parts – the conscientious, image-oriented and anxious selves – feel uncomfortable when we have to spend time doing nothing.

I also think many of us associate waiting with being told off as a child for being too eager, too excited and too demanding. Waiting was a punishment or a frustrating thing we had to do to get what we wanted.  How many of us has experienced an adult telling us to do this annoying waiting-thing and then sit down with us to figure out how to do it and what it’s like.

No wonder our inner children – the excited, impulsive and eager parts of us – feel like waiting is boring and an awful state of lonely restlessness.

So if waiting is more than being idle or being forced to delay gratification, what is it then?

As I get older people feed back to me how they appreciate my ability to wait, my patience. I wait for a mood to pass, I wait for the energy to shift in a difficult situation, I wait for the next wave of conversation to come (rather than create it), I wait for life to get less busy so friends and I can find time for each other, I wait for time to heal the cracks in suffering relationships, I wait for opportunities to come along. I have practised a lot of waiting in my life. Doesn’t mean I can always do it but I find that its a useful skill to have.

Waiting is not a passive state. Waiting, for me, is an attentive state; a caring, listening state. Listening in to my body, listening in to life, listening in to a situation. And trusting. Trusting that things change even if I don’t actively interfere. Even if I don’t ‘do’.

Because life is bigger than me and there is so much I do not know, so much I do not understand. I am seldom capable of confidently taking action because it is impossible for me to know what the ‘right thing’ or most appropriate thing to do, is. So I wait. And in my experience inevitably the thing to do comes to me. Like in some strange dance with life, the next step appears on the ground under me. And because I was attentively waiting I noticed it. Sometimes it’s other people who brings the steps, sometimes its something I read or ideas that come into my head. Sometime stuff just happens and I dance along. Then it slows down. And I wait again.

When I was younger I found this dance difficult. I judged myself harshly when I went through times of waiting. I shamed myself calling me names like avoidant, lazy, indecisive, unambitious and lacking drive. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, not contributing, not out there enough changing the world, fighting the good fight.

But getting older I realise it just didn’t ring true to me deep down. I don’t want to be super-poductive and ‘out there’ because I don’t feel that rushing towards the good life and fighting for change actually creates the world I want to be in.

I am still waiting for the words to describe the world I want to be in and how I imagine the journey there…

 

Hello Self-loathing, my old friend…

Self-loathing as a belief system

Today I did a session on beliefs with a community team and one of the subjects that came up was self-loathing. 
It can be painful to witness somebody caught in cycles of self-loathing, it’s easy to feel powerless and frustrated and it’s only natural to want to bring relief. 

But if you think of self-loathing as a belief system it might become clearer why reassurance, pep-talks and affirmations either only brings short relief or at times might create more intense self-loathing. 

We hold beliefs because they help us make sense of things and organise our experiences. Beliefs can simplify the world for us or maybe they can give us a sense of direction. Beliefs can give us an excuse for doing things a certain way or for not doing something. All beliefs serve a function but it may not be immediately obvious what that function is. And it may be even harder to see how a distressing belief can be protective.

I believe that all people are born equal and hardwired for connection and it gives me hope for the world – whether it’s true or not I’ll never know. I also believe that most people are dishonest about their intentions – quite often because they are not aware of them and are living in default mode – which helps me be cautious and discerning about who I give my love and energy to. If I get too attached to this belief I start becoming distrusting and suspicious but if I can hold it lightly it helps me look after myself.

We might think of self-loathing as an emotion but I see it more as a state of being; a part of me that has its own perceptions and its own beliefs.

Quite a lot of my life I have believed that I was a disgusting, evil and horrible human being. I have believed that I needed to contain myself so that I wouldn’t pollute people around me with all the horrible stuff inside me. I have believed that I had nothing to offer to the world, that I was a problem to be gotten rid of and that I didn’t deserve love and friendships. I have believed that other people found me disgusting too and that they were just tolerating me in order to make fun about me behind me back. I have believed that I was cursed and that there was something innately wrong with me. I have felt incredible amounts of shame about my thoughts, my feelings, my body, my behaviour, my dreams and my personality. 

And at times I still feel these things. At times I go into states where my self-loathing beliefs feel like the only reality there is.

Letting self-loathing do its job

The experience of hearing voices has taught me a lot about holding reality lightly and accepting not knowing what the truth is. It has helped see how the world is full of realities, full of different perceptions and different ways of understanding these perceptions. Hearing multiple voices, each with their own take on the world, has made me more able to sit with the uncertainty of multiple realities.

So today when my self-loathing states visit me, I try to remember that they are temporary and wait them out. But I also try to acknowledge that they don’t come along out of the blue. I feel self-loathing for a reason.

Self-loathing does a lot of different jobs for me. Some of them may seem to contradict each other but it seems to me that it’s just an expression of different needs at different times.

Self-loathing gives me reasons why I at times feel disconnected from other people. It tells me why people don’t take an interest in me or why I experience being dismissed. 

Now the temptation might be to say: “But self-loathing has got it wrong. It’s not because you are disgusting that people don’t take an interest – they are just too busy, stressed and wrapped up in their own needs and feelings.” And yes that is a much nicer and more rational explanation but why are we so reluctant to admit that there may be some people who find me disgusting? It is extremely likely that there are people who I – for whatever reason – rub up the wrong way and they may find me horrible and evil. Self-loathing reminds me that I cannot please everybody and that there might not be any point in trying to.

Self-loathing keeps me in touch with my ugly sides. There is no hiding from self-loathing; it will remind me of all the horrible thoughts or impulses I have at times. There is no suppression with self-loathing.

Here the temptation might be to go full throttle on positive affirmations: “We are all unique and beautiful beings, blessed by life or a higher power and all of us worthy of love. You are not evil, I experience you as a caring and gentle person.” And I may express gratitude and acknowledge the attempt to reassure me but in a state of self-loathing I will also be thinking: “Well you don’t know me the way I do – how would you feel if I told you about my desires to hurt or be hurt or my thoughts of ridding the whole world of humans?” Most of us have thoughts or fantasies that we feel ashamed about and think we are alone with. When someone tries to reassure me, it can make me think that they are not willing to look at the horribleness of humans with me.

Self-loathing keeps me humble. Self-loathing gets intensely angry with me if I start thinking I am better than, special or a chosen one. Somehow it keeps me balancing on that edge of being unique and yet equal to everyone else. When I feel superior, self-loathing bombards me with my inferiority.

And I can hear someone argue: “Well surely there are other ways of keeping your megalomania in check? Staying humble could be achieved by other, gentler means.” And yes there might be other ways and that may work for other people, but I wonder why I should choose another way? Harshness and violence is a natural part of life, denying that it is part of me and not giving it a role seems problematic to me. I have no interest in eradicating self-loathing and keeping me humble feels like a good use of its natural talents.

Self-loathing keeps me safe. It allows me to give up and let go. If I am unworthy and unlovable what’s the point of chasing after love, of proving myself to the world or of trying to live up to others expectations.Things cannot get any worse so I can just stop trying and withdraw into my cocoon. Self-loathing and self-pity are familiar companions and I know where I stand with them; with them I am allowed to die and disappear.

Self-loathing tells me that I might have spent too much energy comparing myself to others. Self-loathing seems to get stronger when I – unawares – have been looking at other peoples achievements or the recognition other people get. 

Self-loathing encourages me to get clean; physically, energetically and mentally. It has very high standards – impossible actually – when it comes to ethics. But it seems to me that we need a lot more sustainable and ethically ways of living so I don’t mind that self-loathing helps keep me in check.

Exploring Self-loathing with others

Self-loathing can be a lonely place because the nature of it is full of tabboos and shame. Even though I have just made an argument for why self-loathing is an important part of my life, I also know how difficult it is when self-loathing takes over and controls your life. When it goes from being a state of mind or a part of you to being the only reality, your disgusting worthlessness the only truth.

I totally understand why people want to relieve the pain of self-loathing, why it makes us panic and go into fixing and reassuring mode. I myself am not that great at responding to expressed self-loathing. In the moment it can feel so uncomfortable, as if you’re getting drawn into this heavy, gooey, foggy swamp. It triggers off our caring instincts as well as our desire to stay hopeful and optimistic. How can we show empathy without making it worse? If we just accept and empathise are we not just colluding? Don’t we need to stand up to this kind of self-abuse?

I want to finish this blog with a couple of things that I have found helpful in terms of finding a place for self-loathing in my life. 

First of all there is the Voice Dialogue model which has helped me see self-loathing as a part of me that comes out at certain times. This helps me explore and be less angry with it or scared of it. One time when it got really intense I asked my partner to dialogue with this part of me. I had felt caught in cycles of anxiety, shame and overwhelm for a while and I could feel self-loathing working in the background. Having my partner talk to self-loathing helped honour it’s energy and bring it into the light which made it easier to deal with. 

Another thing I find helpful is when other people share their horribleness with me. When friends feel safe enough to tell me about tabboo thoughts or feelings they may have. It seems to me that self-loathing feeds off secret keeping and shame. Self-loathing seems to grow out of proportions when we cannot find spaces to talk about all those ugly things that live in us. 

I love the death-cafes movement. I would love for there to be similar initiatives around self-loathing and the darker sides to being human. 

Can we let go of shaming and blaming?

When we grow up in a culture where fear of shame and blame is used to control us…. And we use it to control others…

What can we do? It’s so deeply ingrained in us. The fear, the anxiety. We resort to shaming and blaming in order to make sense, to place responsibility and to protect ourselves.
We know no other way; the shame and blame game is being played all around us. In media, in politics, in business, in the legal system and in the educational system. We get rewarded for playing the game. It keeps the hierarchies in place everywhere. Shaming and blaming is seen as the norm but does it have to be?

Are there not other ways of organising our systems?
How much energy do we spend on shaming and blaming every day? Energy that could be spent on other things…
How can we stop blaming each other and stop make choices based on avoiding being blamed ourselves?
How can we share responsibility for the hurt we inevitably cause each other?
How can we allow each other to fail without shaming and then learn from our failures together?

Shaming and blaming is divisive, we demonise each other and in the process our selves.

Try going through a day and notice how many times you’ve done something in order to protect yourself from shame and blame. Just putting on clothes in the morning – to what degree do you choose your clothes out of fear of judgement and shame? How many times have you automatically put the blame on someone or something? Just opening a newspaper or watching tv, how many times do you get drawn in to thoughts about who the villain is, who the enemy is, who you should fear, who you should blame… How often do we end up in conflicts unwilling to take responsibility for what is happening? It’s so easy to say “Well they started it, I’ll stop if they stop”.

How can we remember we are all human and interdependent?
We are all human, fallible and vulnerable and mortal.
We are all scared.
But if we stop shaming and blaming we might get a little less scared and maybe with less fear we can begin to use our differences to our advantage and save the beautiful planet. We need all of us.

Interesting article on anxiety:

http://www.weareplanc.org/blog/we-are-all-very-anxious/