I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (From the Wrong Places)

Sometimes – no – often, I find myself working with a client who has a 100% pure impulse towards something good they want or need. It could be anything – art, beauty, intimacy, skill, authority. Anything. 

But no matter how hard they try, they can’t ever quite satisfy it. At least, not until we’ve done some work on finding the approach that is right for them. 

In this brief article I’m going to talk about the way we take those pure, healthy instincts and even with very good intentions, utterly fail to satisfy them.

And this is such a common human error that you could almost say it’s a part of being human. So it’s definitely not something to beat yourself up for, we all do it. 

Let’s use an example. Let’s say a man called Henry has been missing something in his life. It’s a kind of emptiness. He tries the gym, socialising, meditating, experiencing more culture. But although these things are all rewarding in their own way – none of them get to that deeper ache he’s experiencing. He even thinks about changing career, but before taking such a drastic step he decides to try figure out what his need is.

By looking more deeply at the emotion at the core of his uneasiness, he realises that it’s actually emotional intimacy he has been craving. It’s something he’s avoided in the past as it has been too painful and he has successfully distracted himself up to now with work and other activities. But on a deep, soul-level, he knows that’s what he truly wants. 

He’s done something that we all do. We use the things we’re familiar with to try and meet our desires and needs. After all, they’ve worked for us in the past, why wouldn’t they work again?

We don’t only do this out of habit though. We’re often unconsciously trying to silence needs that want us to grow. Perhaps we don’t want to lose our sense of safety or control, or to change the status-quo. So we do the things we already know haven’t resulted in that growth. We get to tell ourselves we’re trying something, while never risking change and vulnerability. 

And other times, we just don’t know any better. Why? 

Because we don’t know what we’re truly craving. 

Let’s try a simple exercise, one which may help you to uncover what you want right now. You’ll need a pen and paper preferably, but a device is ok too. I’m going to list a series of prompts, you just need to write the answers that come to mind naturally, without judgement. You take your first answer and use each subsequent prompt to go deeper. So you stick with the same emotion and go deeper with it, but bear in mind the topics that come up may vary wildly and even seem unrelated. Just trust the process and let go of judgement. 

Also, each desire may need a different number of prompts, so if you need to go for longer (and you can go as long as feels right to you), just keep alternating prompt #5 and 6 until you’re done. 

One at a time, write down these prompts and the words that come to mind right away: 

  1. What I want right now is: 
  2. And underneath that I truly want: 
  3. And even more deeply beneath that I want: 
  4. And below that I want: 
  5. And under that: 
  6. And beneath that: 

How was that for you? Your final answer may have surprised you. Here’s an optional bonus exercise. 

I recommend closing your eyes and putting your hands on your heart before saying to yourself: 

I trust that I want or need this.

Take a moment to be with that knowing, and take a couple of relaxing breaths. 

And now ask yourself any of these questions that feel right, with an open mind: 

Based on who I am deep down, how should I move towards that? 

What would that look like in my life? 

Based on my deepest self, what is a first step I can take towards this?

I hope you got some value out of exploring how to meet your deepest desires in a meaningful way. I think it’s interesting that knowing what our needs are can be just as fulfilling as meeting them sometimes, because they tell us so much about who we are. 

And growing that deep connection with ourselves is where true satisfaction begins and ends. 

Take care of yourself and I hope you find the satisfaction that is right for you! 

woman looking at sunset

Our Pain is the Same

But How it Comes Out is Different. 

In my work over thousands of sessions and in my travels I’ve come to realise our feelings, our pain, wishes, desires – are strikingly similar from person to person. But the way they come out is different. 

Have you ever judged someone for having this, while you’ve had that? Substitute infinite number of options: being overweight, being underweight, bad habits, a tiny bladder, a funny tummy, gas, nervous tics, strange behaviours, an odd sense of humor, defense mechanisms, limitations that don’t seem to make sense etc etc. 

One person is stressed and gets diarrhoea, another gets stressed and stops eating, another gets stressed and yells. We all get stressed sometimes. We all experience pain. 

But it can be so hard to relate to the things that are non-optional for other people. To experience them as real for that person. 

I’ve been told I didn’t have low blood sugar and wasn’t really about to pass out by someone who had never suffered from low blood sugar. I’ve had clients who were told their excruciating pain wasn’t that bad, by someone who had never felt that level of pain. 

And I’ve sometimes had a lack of understanding for other people’s pain, just because it wasn’t coming out in the way I could relate to. 

I try to believe people and to listen. To understand that our physiology, psychology, energy levels, life experiences, challenges, abilities, strengths and weakness, innate traits, support networks and beliefs are different. 

But our pain is the same. 

It just comes out in different ways. 

As always, wherever you and whatever you’re doing, take care,


photo of group of people sitting on rock formation

Calming Down Your Nervous System for the Homesick

This is just a short one. I realised that listening to the sounds of nature from back home in the UK made my nervous system instantly drop down into a state of relaxation. And then I wondered why that might be. 

I think that if you’re away from where you grew up (in a different country or even a different part of the same country), then you’re having an experience that is not always congruent with how your nervous system was formed. On the plus side you may have left old reminders of tough times behind. But on the downside, all those times you relaxed at home with the windows open, or in a park or in nature, where your nervous system learned to relax and let go, they might only be easily unlocked by the sounds (and other senses) of home.

And I believe this is true for city dwellers also, as you usually get birds and other wildlife in streets and parks. Although we might not be aware of all those sounds in the background, they sink in and become part of us. And not just when we’re children either, it’s also about the amount of time we’ve had experiences of relaxation, to build up that reaction. 

So why not find a (hopefully music-free) audio or video recording of nature sounds from a place you grew up or lived for a long time, close your eyes and breathe. See if it helps. 

And in case you’re curious, this is one I found for Britain (I think the nature may be more extraverted than the people 😀 ).

Take care!

A picture of Suzanne smiling beside a massive tree with deep vertical lines in its bark.
A photo of me in the New Forest, UK – can you believe this isn’t the Redwoods?
photography of yellow hibiscus under sunlight

Where are you spreading your sunshine? Aka the glorious and finite nature of your attention.

If we think of your attention an energy as a kind of light you can shine, where are you putting that effort? 

And who is putting it into you? 

The most satisfying relationships are the ones where the energy you put in is roughly equal (with allowances for child/ adult relationships and others where it can’t be the same). 

When we’re younger we’re a little more indiscriminate, and we tend to give our emotional energy to things that don’t always feel satisfying to us, but we haven’t learned not to yet. 

While as adults, we only usually do that when we have an issue that’s holding us back (i.e. as a wound from childhood that is trying to get healed). 

And there are different ways to put energy into people. For example:

– listening

– paying attention

– praising

– giving feedback

– supporting emotionally

– cheering up

– laughing with/ flirting

– validating

– connecting people with others

– giving advice

– problem-solving for them

– thinking for them

You might notice it as the sparkle in someone’s eyes when they talk to you, a text or call, a book recommendation, a suggestion of someone you might want to meet, a pat on the back, words of encouragement or advice, amongst many other forms. 

All these things are the little intangibles of being in relationship. And as such, we don’t always think about how we’re spending that effort. But we definitely notice when we’re starting to feel drained though. 

This isn’t a do this or don’t do this post. It’s just a question (OK, a couple): 

Is there somewhere you’re spending that energy that isn’t being reciprocated or is otherwise draining you?

Are you doing it because on you hope it will one day become mutual or satisfying? 

Where would be better to put your attention/ energy? 

I would say that even if someone is a friend or close relative, if the energy you put into them is always squandered, you’d be better off using it to cheer up your local barista. 

And sometimes people give all the appearance of reciprocating, but it’s only the appearance. The warmth and energy that should be coming through the smile or attention to energise us, doesn’t, and we can be left feeling confused and jaded – after all our brain saw we were receiving something, but at the same time our heart knows we didn’t actually receive it. It’s like zero sugar drinks making your insulin spike for no reason, because the sweetness was just a trick. And it might not be intentional, people are often doing the best they can do, but it still may not be enough for us.

And if, thinking about this, you realise someone has been putting emotional energy into you, it would be great to just recognise that and feel grateful. It’s not nothing, it’s a real effort for people. 

I hope that wherever you’re investing your emotional energy, it is paying off for you. 

And as always, take care! 

Growing Pains and Personal Evolution

Or outgrowing Your Old Life: the Discomfort of Shedding the Skin vs the Discomfort of Staying in it.

One of my most important jobs as a coach is to support people through transitional times. This is a privilege for me, as it’s a unique and special journey. But it may feel very not-special while you’re going through it! More painful and confusing, perhaps. 

Just like a snake grows and has to shed its skin, it is in our human nature to evolve. What was comfortable becomes restrictive, and we naturally set our sights on the next step up. 

But fear and comfort can stop us taking it. All that energy we’ve stored up, which was getting ready to help push us forward, adapt and grow, is now just pent up inside us. It has to come out somehow, so it may become an unhealthy habit, or a negative attitude such as jealousy of someone who has been successfully growing, or resentment towards someone we are blaming for our lack of growth. 

But either way, that energy for change will come out somehow. You can wait your impulse to grow out over time, as it can diminish with age as your energy levels diminish also. But it’s not ideal because deep down you always know the truth, that you let fear stop you from becoming more of who you are. 

Reading this, someone could definitely take it as a sign they should finally give up their job and go travelling round the world, end that relationship or start their own business. If that’s genuine then it could be your next step, but it’s often something smaller and deeper. 

Having a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off, setting up a healthy boundary, believing in yourself enough to learn a skill you’ve been wanting to for ages, loving someone more deeply, taking a chance on intimacy, being honest with people about who you are. 

A lot of self-development work is about leverage: a small but deep change is worth a million huge outer changes. 

And although many of us can get restless and feel pulled to grow, it can be hard to know in what direction. Many of us assume it should be more of the thing we’ve been doing, especially if it has paid off so far. More travel, more success, more money, more influence, more socialising. 

It’s a challenge to pause long enough to listen to what our deepest self wants, especially when we don’t want the answer (because the answer is often the thing we’ve been subconsciously avoiding for a long time). It’s the thing that is really going to make us leave our comfort zone. Not just of external things like how we dress or where we go, but in our experience of who we are to ourselves. What we know about ourselves. 

There’s a risk of shattering ideas we’ve held about ourselves that have helped us feel safe in the world. I could write a book, if I ever just sat down and wrote it – could you actually? I am a good person, even though I lose my temper – are you being a good person in that moment? I’d be a great husband/ wife, I just never felt like settling down – or are you scared of not being enough when you’re truly seen? (These are just examples, of course, and they don’t have black and white answers most of the time).

Our ideas about who we are keep us feeling safe in the world. What if we try to step beyond them and there is nothing there to catch us?

What if we try and we’re not enough? What if we succeed and then we actually have to like and believe in ourselves more as a result? What if we try to find love and get rejected? Or worse, are truly seen and loved, subverting our beliefs? What if the thing we’ve always been blaming (ie; I’d be happy if I got a raise), turns out not to be the thing (I got the raise, but I’m not happy) and we realise it’s been us all along?

The good news is that when we grow for genuine reasons, the path appears. But that’s not to say there won’t be hard and dark times. And it’s not to say the difficulties won’t last for longer than you want them to. For that reason, growing isn’t always the right thing to do. You have to be ready, with enough of the things you need to succeed and stay healthy. It could be money, health, emotional support or something else. 

Here are some tips based on what I’ve learned after years of supporting people through transitional phases. I hope they help. 

  • You won’t be able to see the end. You’ll definitely know you’re going through something, but the outcome will not reveal itself to you until you’re very close to it. I don’t know why, but I think it’s an important part of the process, because self-development dynamics don’t tend to be a certain way just to mess with you. It can feel disorienting though. 
  • Regarding the point above, since you may find it hard to know exactly where you’re going, it helps to try orient yourself according to your deepest self. Your needs, wants and instinctual knowing. Your deepest self will lead you in the right direction, you just have to try and make sure it isn’t your old habits and fears masquerading as your self in an effort to stop you changing and protect themselves. 
  • It may take a week, it may take years. Probably not what you want to hear, but change has its own speed and process. It’s much healthier to help it along rather than cut it off before it’s done (unless you are overwhelmed and need time off), or to hurry it up (and cause overwhelm). 
  • It may be a multi-stage process, especially if it happens over years. So you may be growing for a time, then resting and integrating for a time, and so on. For some of us this process is our whole lives, but I don’t think that’s the case for everyone. 
  • You have to have faith in yourself and your capacity to adapt. But you should also be smart and balance your material needs with your need for change. Other resources such as emotional support, nutrition, advice, practical help and more, may also become important at various points. 
  • Growing is hard work. Rest when you need to. 
  • A lot of emotion from the past may come up, so you may need therapy to help you process it. Growing doesn’t only open us up to new opportunities, it can also open up old wounds. Perhaps the scar tissue is too restrictive for who we need to become to fully be ourselves. 
  • We can get energised then a bit crazy. Sometimes throwing off a restraint that’s been holding us back (that we’ve been allowing to hold us back), for a long time gives us a huge burst of energy. Suddenly anything is possible and we feel young and vibrant. That is an amazing feeling, but I do recommend not indulging in a series of external changes, where you just go from one thing to the next and never settle. It can become addictive and a way of avoiding the deeper meaning of why you were growing in the first place. 
  • The above can also become a version of “my ex-wife never let me wear shirts like this”, while everyone thinks perhaps his ex-wife had a point. But actually there is a lot of value in trying different things to find out more about who you are and what you like. But you don’t want to orient yourself too much around the past, ie. what you were not allowed to do, how you were failed etc. New bursts of energy need somewhere to go and if you’re not certain of who you are, it can be easier to look to the past and to other people. So, I recommend trying different things, having fun, but also getting massages and meditating. It’s about getting a balance between using the energy to push outwards into new life, while also bringing it back to who you are deep down and staying grounded (and working through any emotions that come up). 
  • I also highly recommend journaling. It will help you to process what you’re going through and stay connected to yourself, even when it feels like nothing is certain.
  • I know I said it before, but it is the open-ended blank space you’re heading towards that is a vital part of the process. I think it makes you have faith in yourself, get closer to your instincts and hold a beginner’s mindset. It opens you up again, where comfort may have made you a little closed. I know it can be unnerving, but it’s really good for you. 
  • One last piece of advice: if you’ve been through a transformative time before, you may assume this one will be similar in shape, length or outcome. But it may be completely different this time, so keep an open mind. 

Although the specifics of a a transformational time look different for each of us, the general dynamics are the same. We go from a stable period in our comfort zone, to a feeling of restlessness and an urge to grow. From there we either don’t take action and the energy comes out in less productive ways, or we start to grow. As we evolve into more of who we are we also have to confront unhelpful beliefs, work through emotions, and then also re-evaluate priorities and make life adjustments to reflect our new, greater level of personal truth. We then either progress to another level of growth or we’re done for a while and we get to just integrate what we’ve learned by living and enjoying ourselves (hopefully). 

If you are currently in the restless feeling or the process of change, I can empathise. I’ve been around the transformation block a few times and experienced the unease (as well as moments of unexpected joy) that comes with it. 

Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and finding the support you need. It’s not meant to be a battle, but a natural process of growth. The difficulty is part of the process, but you don’t need to make it any harder on yourself than it is. 

Maybe the point of growing is not to become something, perhaps it is just to keep us open and supple in our spirits. If that’s the case, I think it’s worthwhile. I hate to see people sad and stuck, calcified in their ways of being, and so sure that nothing can ever change or improve. If pushing through the fear and uncertainty is the price we pay to stay open, creative alive and loving, I think it’s worth it. 

And, as always, take care! 


abandoned factory

Figuring Out How Someone Is Broken Inside

Trigger warning/ caution: I wouldn’t do this exercise if you are feeling sensitive right now, or raw from something that someone has done. As always, seek help from a qualified professional if you need to.

If, like pretty much everyone else in the world, you know someone who is unkind or has a bad habit and you want to deepen your understanding of why, this may help you. 

I thought of the exercise below just today and I like it as a way of cutting through all the logical arguments you, they and others have supplied, which don’t match up with the emotional charge, consequences, reactions or likely intentions of their actions. 

It’s best to do it with an open mind because it is a gut-reaction search for information, not an intellectual figuring-out of a problem. Also try to minimise your judgements of the person and the situation because they make us less open to receiving information. Finally, it is most likely unhelpful to tell the person your experience, this is just for your own understanding.

Exercise: How Are they Broken?

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Imagine doing one thing that they have done, something unkind, unhelpful or unhealthy. 
  3. While picturing yourself doing it, follow the feeling all the way back to the inside of you and imagine/ wonder what you would have to feel like inside to want to act that way yourself. 
  4. When you’re ready, remind yourself that you and they are separate beings and release any feelings that do not belong to you. 
  5. Open your eyes.

This exercise, like all self-help exercises, can give us unexpected and useful information about a situation.

Of course, it doesn’t make us experts on others and sometimes our minds can step in and tell us what to see, rather than allowing our intuition to supply fresh (to our conscious minds anyway) information – especially if we’re holding a grudge! And sometimes we’re projecting our own stuff onto other people and situations. So it’s worth treating the results as a possible, not ultimate, truth.   

It’s also good to bear in mind that it’s not always useful to have empathy for unkind people, especially if your empathy has a tendency to lower your boundaries. It depends on how easy it is for you to feel empathy and have a healthy relationship with that person and care for yourself at the same time. 

But it can be an interesting exercise because we can all either down-play things, make excuses for people or judge them too harshly. Using an exercise like this to understand someone’s habitual unhelpful behaviour may give us a sense of the internal pattern that’s causing it. That can help us get more perspective and even to take appropriate action. 

Even when we’ve been severely hurt, understanding the underlying, constant state of pain a person can be living with can really help us with our own recovery (as long as we don’t decide to try and fix or save them – that’s their job if they’re an adult).

It can even help us to take it less personally. After all, hurt people hurt people (or themselves). If it’s not you, it would likely be someone else. So, as strange as it may seem, drawing the person’s dynamic even closer to us with this visualisation may actually give us more distance from it, through the perspective we gain.

I hope this was useful for you. 

And as always, take care!

Additional note: As I mentioned above if you need specific help, such as therapy, do seek it out. Also, if you’re worried about someone who is acting in a way that is harmful to themselves or others, there may be people you can reach out to for support for yourself, even if they are not yet ready for help themselves. Remember to always take care of yourself and your boundaries first, so that you can be happy and whole, a much better foundation for taking care of others. Finally, if you’re dealing with a hurtful person it may also be useful to revisit the post on dealing with narcissists in case that is relevant to your situation.

Picture of mean-looking judge in courtroom

Why Do We Care What Jerks Think?

..is the shorter title I came up with so it wasn’t too unwieldy. What I really wanted to call this blog post was: Why Do We Care About The Opinions of People We Don’t Really Respect?

But that was a mouthful. 

Part of me wants to just say, seriously – if you know the answer, let me know, and end the post here. Because it seems like a pretty tough question. 

We all do it. We all know that person that maybe doesn’t have any expertise in our industry (or perhaps they do, but they’re not really someone we look up to for various reasons) but we still want them to have a good opinion of us and our work. Or that relative with a lifestyle that is nothing we’d want for ourselves, but we want them to approve of us/ our choices/ our home etc..

And they’re probably not bad people (although if they do routinely treat you like you’re not living up to their standards, their behaviour probably doesn’t have the best motivation behind it). There’s just a dynamic floating around the world that we don’t really talk about that often.

We talk about power, who has it, who doesn’t. The same thing with money, influence, success, looks, luck etc… We’re aware of all of that. But we don’t talk about approval as a kind of currency. 

I wonder if that person you thought of when you began reading, are they someone who often withholds praise and approval? Do you they give you appropriate credit for your achievements? Are they happy when you succeed? 

Or do they hold back, do the corners of their mouths turn down and their eyes narrow at your good news, do they point out the flaws in what you’ve done, the potential pitfalls of your future endeavours? Are they acting in some kind of self-appointed voluntary capacity as a judge or a gatekeeper to your permission to enjoy your own success?

And what is it that they’re withholding and that we’re feeling? What is it made of? When people approve of us and congratulate us freely it feels really nice, but it can flow away faster than it came. We don’t always value it very highly. 

But these withholding people – their approval sometimes seems so precious, it must be or they would give it away freely, right? We may even yearn for it. And as we yearn, they may feel a sense of control, even superiority perhaps. 

It feels like a strange kind of game where a person throws away pieces of gold they are freely given and stares rapt at a jealously-guarded piece of tin. And the person holding the tin doesn’t value it. They value the attention and power they have claimed for themselves by denying someone’s achievement. (The gold is genuine praise, the tin is praise being withheld by an insecure person, in case that wasn’t clear). 

It’s so odd. Being a person is so odd sometimes. 

What do we think will happen if we get that piece of tin, that worthless approval that is probably completely disconnected and irrelevant to the thing we have/ made/ did? Will everything be magically alright then? Will we give ourselves permission to celebrate our achievements? 

What do we get from playing along with this ancient and bizarre ritual of craving approval from the least deserving among us? (Not to say that any one person isn’t deserving in themselves, but this behaviour is not inline with the character traits of people I respect.)

So what are we getting out of it? We’re getting something out of it, or we wouldn’t do it. 

Perhaps these people are tapping into the insecurities we all carry. I am not enough, I am an imposter, I am unloveable etc etc. Maybe it even feels good to have someone confirm these familiar old feelings too us. “Ah, yes, thank you for seeing how rubbish I am – other people don’t understand, but you do”. 

Sometimes when I stand on the outside of myself and look at this dynamic and how it’s playing out in my life, well – it seems pretty perverse. 

Maybe one day I’ll just gratefully accept all the pieces of gold and treasure them, and see the piece of tin for what it is. Just let the wind fall from the sails of that particular dynamic, so it falls flat on its face. Just let it be as weak as it is and not use my energy to prop it up. 

Maybe one day the person jealously holding the tin will offer me a piece of gold with an open heart. Maybe. 

If you hate analogies I expect that this was your post from hell. 

As always, take care! 

AI art of a woman sitting in a large home library with her dog, 2 versions

Using AI Art for Self Development

When I first heard about AI art I thought the whole thing was a bit weird and sad. What about real art – what about the artists? And then I tried it. 

And I got the scariest, creepiest result – like something out of a Korean horror movie. But then I tried it again. 

And I got – wow. I think the cool thing is, you put in a specific prompt with a general idea of what you want and you are handed back something else completely original. 

One of the main tools I use with people is visualisation -using your mind to generate an image to do something for you. What if you also used this technology to provide you with powerful images to help you connect to something you want to access inside yourself, or to a vision for the future?

Let’s say you’re about to go into a difficult meeting with two different groups who are in conflict and you need to be the peacekeeper. Well, you can use a program like Dall-e or Midjourney to quickly whip you up a picture to inspire you, like a warrior on a bridge between two warring tribes. Or a politician making an impassioned speech, perhaps.

Or perhaps you had a bad day, someone cut you off in traffic and you have anger to vent – why not ask for a picture of a Godzilla-like monster crashing through traffic and throwing cars into the air? 

There are quite a few different possible applications: 

  • You can create image that will make you feel something, like calm for example, 
  • Or you can make an image that can help you connect to a future self you are aspiring towards
  • Or you can use it cathartically

There’s only one small caveat – I wouldn’t use it when you’re new to it if you’re feeling very sensitive as occasionally the unpredictable nature of AI means you get something you might be disappointed by, or that even looks a bit scary. But if you’re feeling fairly robust, why not dive right in?

After a couple of practice gos (and some looks at how other people have phrased their prompts), you’ll probably get the hang of it very fast. 

Here is one I made earlier (on midjourney) with this prompt: “enormous personal library, floor-to-ceiling books, bay window, natural light, dogs by the fireplace, woman drinking tea with paul rudd, 4k, photographic quality”

4 versions of AI images of a woman sitting in a big beautiful library alone apart from a dog by the fire.

Ummm.. you missed something Midjourney. Never mind, you get the gist!

AI can’t replace art, but as a new tool with emerging uses, I wonder if there are other ways it can assist us in our self-development.

That’s all from me, I hope you’re having a great week.

And as always, take care!

PS. If you’re having a hard time finding your images in mid journey, try this.

Photo of a broken bridge

Reclaiming Parts of Life Others Have Ruined for Us

I wanted to write about this topic because it’s another area of life that isn’t usually talked about directly. 

Before we begin, I need to say that if you need to reach out to a therapist for help with any issues that come up, please do so.

Trigger warning: If the subject of bullying or abuse is too triggering for you right now, skip this article. 

OK, with that said, let’s start with me giving you an example, because I know this concept may seem vague. 

Let’s say you were bullied in school by someone who loved a certain band. In fact, you used to like that band too, but the association with the bully ruined it for you. Years later you could be driving along and one of their songs comes on and you’re right back to feeling angry and insecure. 

The interesting thing about this to me is that it appears that the bully has more power. They have, in a way, claimed the band for their own, perhaps even intentionally ruining your love of them. Because bullies are (acting like) £$%holes. 

But let’s say you grow up and one day meet the band and realise they’re great people. They wouldn’t even like the bully or want to be associated with that person in any way. In fact, they would think they were an £$%hole too. 

So all these years, the association of the bully has stood between you and your love for a band, even though that person has no more power than you. In fact, they’re weaker because their personal power is so low they have to try and steal it from others. And the band isn’t associated with them at all and if they were, wouldn’t like them.

This kind of pattern can apply to almost anything:

  • Hobbies like cooking, painting, dancing. 
  • Smells of any kind you associate with someone you dislike, colours and sounds. 
  • Places, restaurants, entire countries or nationalities – perhaps even races and in extreme cases genders. 
  • Aspects of life including: self-care, intimacy, exercise, healthy diet
  • Names (you wouldn’t name your child after your school bully!)
  • Entertainment such as books, movies
  • Sports, games
  • Style choices, brands
  • Jobs. 

The list is endless! 

I currently have a negative association with a certain smell and right now I have something very similar melting in my wax burner. As the smell is released, I’m sitting here and trying, with an open mind, to rediscover what that my relationship to that smell is, without interference from the memory of the other person. I’m finding, as is often the case, that I’m detangling my true self and experience of life from that person’s pain and poor behaviour. 

This isn’t like the process of desensitisation that therapists will take you through when you have a phobia (although if the thing triggers you strongly, perhaps you should reach out to a therapist). It is about finding how you relate to that specific thing in a genuine way. 

And this is important, because I believe when you get disconnected from something because of a person or an association (such as a negative event) – you haven’t only lost your connection to that thing. You have lost connection to a part of yourself. 

The part of yourself that enjoys that band, that colour, that hobby. That smell. 

It isn’t always so easy to reclaim something when it triggers difficult emotions. But it can be a wonderful way to start working through those emotions. It may take you a long time, you may need to take baby steps and spread your efforts out over time. I think the key thing is not to try bypass your emotions or take back your power by convincing yourself you’re OK (which is really common when you feel someone has taken your power away and you want to get it back as quickly as possible by pretending you’re OK). As you reclaim that part you will also get more of your power back naturally. 

Whatever you are reclaiming for yourself, it is your birthright. No one can dictate your relationship to yourself or the world around you – there shouldn’t be another person stuck in there (or their “stuff”). 

Here is my crude diagram of that:

diagram of person in centre and things they relate to in circle around them, including smells, music, jobs, sports etc.

Unfortunately abusive people are often trying to insert themselves where they don’t belong, so if you have suffered from that, reclaiming this space can take a bit more effort. You have to separate who you are from how they want you to react, from who they actually are and from how they want to appear and other issues. It gets a bit tangly and messy. 

So take your time, follow your instincts, and just remember that any time you sense someone else has come between you and your relationship to something (or someone) and it no longer feels genuine, that you can always reclaim that for yourself. 

I have done another basic diagram where I labelled the person who ruined something for you a “boundary breaker”. Of course, you might have a negative association with someone who didn’t even do anything wrong, but it’s a bit less common. 

Diagram is explained in text below, shows person a circle in 1, in 2 with section missing, in 3 section is reconnected

As you can see in step 1, your relationship to a thing (I’ve labelled it “anything specific”) gets a bit weird when someone interferes with it by crossing a boundary into the space between you and that thing, where it should just be you and your personality. 

In number 2, part of you splits off from the rest of you, showing that when your genuine connection to something is damaged, it can also damage a part of your connection to yourself, usually a specific aspect of yourself. The boundary breaker is shown as having that thing (and part of you) in a net – because that’s how it feels, not because they could actually ever take that thing from you.

And in 3 you’ve reclaimed that part and by doing so you are more integrated within yourself. Your relationship to that thing is your own again. The boundary breaker is less relevant and you no longer give them as much power. 

That is a topic for another day, but it’s important to mention that although the title of this article is about other people doing something to you, to a certain extent we have also allowed them to do it to us. This can feel very triggering – especially if someone was abusive and even more if they were in a position of power. It is not to say your experience is not real. It is more a sense of shifting our own power back to our centre, and knowing we are the masters of our own inner experience. 

It’s not easy to do. I often fail. I often feel like people are taking advantage, or doing something to me. And to a certain extent, they are. But we mustn’t overestimate the power of weak people, or spend too much of our time or energy on them. This also extends to not allowing weak people to dictate our inner sense of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us, as I’ve spoken about here.

And “weak people” isn’t the kindest term. I really mean people who aren’t currently acting out of their best selves. But it is accurate in terms of what they are often putting out into the world. 

If you’re an HSP (highly sensitive person) like me, you may attract, and be affected by, more than your fair share. However, it is something we all have to deal with on some level. 

So if you want to try an exercise I just wrote for this, I’ve put that below. I hope you get to enjoy that smell, eat that pizza, listen to that song, wear that colour or any other thing you’ve been avoiding!

Let me know how it goes and what you’re reclaiming.

And as always, take care!

Exercise for Reclaiming What’s Yours

Have a think about the people who you dislike and/or who treated you badly and just wonder with an open mind – is there anything they ruined for me? 

And now try really clearly telling yourself that they don’t own that thing. (It may help to imagine the thing as really big and the person as really small).

Finally, see if you can ask yourself with an open mind, how you can reclaim that thing back for yourself? And maybe also wonder what that would mean to you. 

photo of woman carrying stack of books

The Body Eclectic: Coaching in a Messy and Multifaceted World

By now you may be wondering why a leadership and holistic coach is writing about so many random subjects. If so, I completely understand. Focusing on the specifics of leadership coaching, or holistic coaching would seem to make more sense. 

But being a leader, being a person, is complicated nowadays. It’s not just about understanding the best strategies or choosing great goals. Clients bring so many diverse topics to the table because, in real life, things are messy. We have to deal with challenging people, including narcissists, we have to work through our emotions, learn how to harness our will power in appropriate ways, learn how not just to make smart decisions, but authentic ones. 

Having an eclectic background allows me to think outside of the box when I’m coaching. It helps when clients are trying to figure out a way forward, but normal strategies are not working, or there’s more to the situation than meets the eye. Although having a holistic perspective might sound wishy-washy, it really just means that you understand how one aspect of your life, or the world, is connected to others and what the impact of that is. 

For example, if you want to take a more active role in shaping the culture of your team, you may need to become more emotionally available as a leader, which will also benefit your personal life. Or you want to become more decisive, but find that skill easier to practice at home or the grocery store and then implement it at work later. You may need to connect more deeply with your values and you find it easier to do that through exercise, time with friends or a spiritual practice, before bringing that self-knowledge in to inform your leadership style.

There are so many different aspects of life, it is impossible to learn how to lead through textbooks and seminars alone as if it is one self-contained subject. Your whole life informs your leadership style and can strength it (or limit it) also.

To be a great leader we need to know who we are as individuals, what makes us thrive, what drains us, what inspires us and our “why”. We need many skills such as: processing emotions, communication, freeing up will power and resting effectively. It is also important to be able to switch from a big-picture eagle’s eye view to the detail-oriented view of a magnifying glass. This ability to be adaptable, in-the-moment and to shift between different ways of being can be an innate gift, but for many it is a learned skill that comes from working on themselves. 

And this is very important with the clients who come for holistic coaching (closer to life coaching), who feel that there is more they can be, more they can experience, but something is holding them back. It is usually not the obvious thing that is limiting you, it’s the dynamics and beliefs underlying it, as well as its connection to other aspects of who you are. For example, you’re trying to get in shape but keep craving sweets and the feeling of fullness. An underlying belief may be “I am empty, something is lacking, so I need to fill myself up”, while the dynamic could be looking for comfort through food instead of being brave and going after what would really satisfy you (a better job, method of self-expression or experience of intimacy, for example). This habit may be connected to other areas of your life such as self-esteem and the way you talk about yourself to others, your boundaries, the way you relate to people, your expectations, how much money and time you’re willing to spend on self-care and fulfilment, how far ahead you look in your life, whether you are looking mainly to avoiding your fears (while mostly believing they’ll probably come true anyway) or to moving towards your passion and joy, etc. etc. I could go on for a long time, because all aspects of ourselves are related!

So, whether a client comes with an unexpected blind spot (such as a prejudice), a difficulty with a co-worker, a resistance to a particular task or a confusing group dynamic, taking a holistic view can be powerful. And any issue can be a wonderful way to begin an exploration of areas for growth and insight. With coaching it almost never matters where you start, it is all about the journey and the lessons you learn along the way. Great coaches know how to guide you on that journey. 

So, I write about eclectic topics, more than the behind-the-scenes coaching tools I use, because real life is where the growth and learning happens. It’s messy and diverse and unexpectedly challenging sometimes. The skills we are expected to develop as a leader and a person nowadays require unprecedented amounts of self-knowledge and personal growth. But the beauty of that is just how much we can use real-life situations to bring us closer to ourselves and to others.

Because real self-development isn’t about living far from antagonism and meditating on perfection (for most of us). It’s about being in the messiness of life, and using the opportunities it presents us with to grow as people, and to bring that growth back into our lives to enrich it for ourselves and others. A great leader isn’t only skilled at leadership in one specific environment, they can use learning and growth from different aspects of their lives to embody their own leadership style as well as a genuine way of being. 

Life is much more complex today than in years’ past, and we’re expected to draw from many different sources of knowledge. But although that can be a challenge, it gives us so many opportunities for growth and for fun.

I hope you continue to find value in my eclectic blog. 

And as always, take care!