The Human Condition

In light of the #MeToo campaign, I’ve been thinking a lot about conditioning. The reasons behind the way men act around women, their treatment of women and their assumptions about women. I don’t know that this needs a trigger warning, but I will talk a little bit about rape, harassment, homophobia and racism.

I posted a status on Facebook that went *slightly* viral – it was shared over 500 times and garnered about 690 reactions. It stated some truths about men and how they respond to women when their advances are refused, and to me it seemed like common sense – but the amount of times it was shared spoke volumes about the way women feel they are received by men.

This idea of conditioning is not unique to sexism or, basically, treatment of women – it can be found in every single arena of human interaction, and is not unique to men. It’s basic psychology. So let’s get into it, and I’ll explore some of my own thoughts about it.

**Disclaimer** I only did one module of psychology at university and I slept through some of it, so please don’t take what I say here to be absolute truth. All this is intended to be is an exploration of societal conditioning, based on my own thoughts and reflections on the matter.

Conditioning is defined as “a behavioral process whereby a response becomes more frequent or more predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement, with reinforcement typically being a stimulus or reward for a desired response.” (https://www.britannica.com/topic/conditioning)

Basically, you do something, you get rewarded for it, you’re more likely to do it again. Make sense? I hope so. Literally can’t make it simpler than that.

How does this all tie in to sexual harassment, racism and sexism? I’ll tell you.

Men have deemed themselves superior over women for years. Decades. Basically since the dawn of time. Just watch Mad Men, you’ll see what I mean. If you think about WHY this thought process came about, you can see it illustrated in the dynamics of hunter-gatherer/tribal societies. Men hunt, because they were generally physically stronger than women, who did more gentle things, like push full babies out of their bodies and pick berries. This carried on to Ancient Greece, where women were not allowed to leave the house unless they had a male escort (generally to protect them from being attacked and raped by other men), while the men were free to walk around as they pleased and prey on un-escorted women. I could carry on and give you a rundown of the past 1000 years, but by this point, it’s easy to see a pattern emerging. Men = strong, women = not. The fact that women were not given the platform to prove this wrong further cemented the idea in the head of men – things have always been done this way, with no problems. There were no problems because women did not have the platform to expressly say anything to the contrary. Even if they did, they were not listened to. Here’s how it goes.

A man meets a woman. Throughout their lives, they have been shown heteronormative, heterosexual relationships on TV. They see the roles men and women fulfill in life, and they use their parents as a model on which to base their opinions. If they see men domineering women with no consequence, it becomes the way they operate too. This man and woman fall in love and get married and have children. The children see their mother cleaning and cooking, their father working and paying for everything. This is then AGAIN normalised, and propagated. It continues. The behaviour may not necessarily be rewarded in the traditional sense, but it is by no means counted as bad, or incorrect, or wrong.

A similar structure can be seen in the treatment of people of colour by white people. Slavery, apartheid, racism in any sense, were all normalised things, but they were not seen as negative by *most* white people because it was just the way things were. Buying a slave, shouting racial slurs at people of colour, beating the woman who cleaned your house – all of these things were seen as normal, and they went unpunished. Not necessarily rewarded (again, in the traditional sense) but nobody really said, you can’t do that. It becomes a model for the next generation, and unless they are taught to think critically or that something may not be good, it will continue.

I think I’ve waffled a bit. I hope you’re still with me at this point. If not, I’ll try and sum it all up nicely for you now.

We have been conditioned into thinking that women are weak and men are strong, because we were told to think that by the men who built themselves a palace on the backs of black people who were told they were inferior to white people. Because these white men had white sons, they taught them the same thing. The white daughters were taught about their place in the family structure by their white mothers. Both the white sons and white daughters were taught/shown that they are superior to black people. Black people were forced to think that they were anything but equal to white people. This line of thinking was passed down without correction for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. Thousands. So it stands to reason that there are men out there who still view the bodies of women as something weak to be dominated and owned, because that is what history has taught them. They have never been punished, so it is not deemed as wrong. The same goes for racism. Homophobia. Intolerance of any kind.

How do we break this cycle? Sometimes it can be done through communication. Women marching for their rights, people posting long statuses on Facebook. Confrontation of abusers, even. Asking why they did what they did.

However. Change has to come from within. A person will only change if they feel it is beneficial for them to do so, and only NOW are the vast majority of people beginning to understand that the model on which they have based their thought processes is deeply flawed.

I think a lot of it has to come from teaching people – children, certainly – to question their thoughts and actions. Being mindful of what they are thinking. Understanding that most people are ruled by their emotions, and will respond with their emotions leading the charge. It’s important to remember that the mind is a malleable thing, and for most of humanity’s recent history, we have been advertised to, sold lies, led to believe that we are not enough unless we have this product or go on that diet. We listen to the people in power because we have put them there ourselves, instead of taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions.

This does not, of course, excuse the horrendous treatment of people of colour, nor does it does not excuse rape, sexism, homophobia, or any other form of assault. But it makes it slightly easier to understand, and it makes it easier to forgive, when you remember that the majority of people are piloted by an inner 7 year old child who was not allowed to mature into their thoughts – instead they were taught to think by a white man on a television, spewing lies and hatred masked in sugar, profits, and a chance at popularity.

So the next question is, I suppose, how do we move forward? Do we forget the past? Forgive our abusers and never speak of it again? Get angry and shout and scream that you have been slighted and demand retribution?

No.

We surround ourselves with compassion. We practise letting go. We engage in calm discourse, and we choose to let those damaged, broken people who refuse to turn away from the sadness and suffering in their hearts continue alone on their path, and focus on only bettering ourselves and the people who adore us. We teach others to think and respond in this way, and propagate a society and human race of compassion and understanding, one that is quick to listen and slow to judge, one that does not deal in anger but in peace. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but knowing that we have the capacity to live in this way makes it possible for those who choose to live like this to continue, and for those who don’t live like this to learn.

Otherwise we are destined to live in a damaged, broken and disgustingly inhumane society. Look at our past, and see how similar it is to our present, and then we can work to change the future.

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Trust. Or don’t.

If you ask anybody (okay, most people) what the fundamental building block of any relationship is, they will probably say trust. There’s no real relationship without it, and this obviously goes for familial, romantic, business and all other relationships. It’s a lovely thing to be able to say about someone that you trust them completely, but it feels to me as though people don’t really think too much about what trusting someone really means. In this post, I’m going to look at trust in romantic relationships (because I want to and that’s that).

First and foremost, trust is not a given. It’s something that’s earned, and it can be far more easily lost than gained. People who tend to trust easily often find themselves becoming jaded as their trust is broken and misused again and again. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it can be a learning curve if looked at in the right way.

When you tell your partner “I trust you”, you are telling them, perhaps on an unconscious level, that you believe that they have your best interests at heart. That they will consider you in decisions made, that you will be near the top of the list of things considered important. “I trust that you will not cheat on me” means that in the face of a potential sexual encounter with someone else, your partner will remember the promise made that it is only the two of you, and nobody else can enter or destroy that partnership except for the two people involved in it.

As with many people who suffer from any kind of anxiety, their mind and thoughts are often plagued with insecurity. Hell, you don’t need to be anxious to be insecure. Insecurity is arguably more insidious than anxiety though – anxiety is something that can be calmed with medication, therapy, meditation. Insecurity needs reassurance and a strong, unshakeable love for yourself in order to be bested. Insecurity at the hands of someone else, ie: insecurity in a relationship, is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

When you wait until your partner is asleep or showering to quickly skim through their photos, Whatsapp, Instagram or Facebook, you are doing two things. Well, three, if you count going through the phone, but I mean two things in light of the relationship itself. One – you are breaking the trust of your partnership by invading their privacy (which they are completely entitled to), and you are also accusing them of breaking that trust agreement – even if you don’t find anything suspicious. By looking for evidence of unfaithfulness based on an insecurity, you are essentially saying “I do not think that you, as my partner, are keeping to your word.” That’s dangerous, yo. Really. It’s actually insulting, if it turns out that you were completely wrong. And blaming it on an insecurity is actually a bit of a cop-out. It’s saying that the trust that you have built together was not enough to placate an insecurity that was really put there by your own perception of something.

I also understand that a lot of the time, people are afraid to communicate. Communication builds trust, as long as it is not taken personally. My boyfriend asked me to be a little more quiet in the evenings, because sometimes I talk. A lot. And I know that. My first reaction was to be all downtrodden and to take it to mean that he doesn’t want to talk to me. And then I realised that that was completely ridiculous, because if he didn’t want to talk to me, we wouldn’t be dating. I just needed to be more mindful of the amount of talking that I do – and that wasn’t an unfair ask, because anyone who knows me might be laughing and agreeing that I do talk a lot. And I do. So – we communicate, leading to a stronger bond, and greater trust that I will do everything in my power (and within reason) to help him have a happier, more fulfilled life, and that he will do the same.

If you find yourself reaching for your partner’s phone this evening while they’re in the shower, take a second and ask yourself a few questions before you unlock it.

1 – Is there any evidence to suggest that what I’m doing right now is justified?

2 – Would they do this to me?

3 – In the history of our relationship, have I ever been given a real, concrete reason to believe that I’m going to find something to prove me right?

4 – If I’m doing this, do I really, truly trust them?

It’s a scary thing, trust. Allowing someone else in and giving them the power to really, really hurt you can be – and should be – terrifying. But the payoff, if it works out, is worth it. A beautiful partnership of two people who want nothing more than to help each other live their best lives.

And in the end, isn’t that what a relationship should be?

Why nobody gives a shit if you haven’t watched Game of Thrones

Look, I get it. Everybody on Facebook and Twitter loses their mind for Game of Thrones, there’s memes that are created and shared, reaction videos of the episodes come out weekly.

A lone voice calls out into the night – “I have never watched an episode!” Someone on Facebook sees a post – “Share this if you’re part of the 1% of people who have never seen an episode of GoT!”. They whisper to themselves, “I relate to this.”

You don’t deserve a medal.

Game of Thrones is clearly insanely popular. A lot of people enjoy it. Some people don’t. I don’t want to say that they’re wrong, but… you know.

Pop culture is such that mass groups of people are attracted to the same thing. This holds true for music, film, books, clothes, a diet – anything that can be consumed. Not consuming does not make one “special” in any sense. The reasons vary, but at the end of the day, if you’re laughing at people getting excited at the idea of Danaerys and Jon getting together and razing King’s Landing to the ground so that the Targaryens can lay claim to the Iron Throne, you’re not funny, you’re not special, you’re actually a little bit of an asshole.

A – It’s popular world-wide. It’s been out for years. Literally everyone you know has seen it. What have you been doing that you haven’t watched it? Have you watched Harry Potter? Yes? Nobody gets treated as special for not watching/reading the Potter series. They get asked what rock they’ve been hiding under.

B – Why can’t you just let people enjoy nice things? Us watching GoT does you NO harm. If you feel irritated that you can’t relate, or that your feed is being spammed with GoT stuff, maaaybe you should consider watching?

It’s not just a fantasy show about kings and queens and death and sex. Well, it is. Definitely the sex and death. Definitely. But it also holds lessons on religion and blind faith, family values, loyalty, politics, feminism and tolerance.

If you don’t want to watch because it’s not really your thing, that’s fine. I hate Lana Del Ray, personally, and I know how popular she is but I don’t expect people to applaud me for being different. Just relax, let the memes flow, and don’t. spoil. a goddamn. thing.

Living with, not in, your mind.

I’m a little ashamed of myself today.

Up until yesterday evening I had been living without any form of anxiety crossing my mind for… I’m not really sure, to be honest, but it’s unimportant. For someone who suffers from any mental illness, any length of time without feeling the effects of it feels like a victory – until you feel it again. Then it’s back to square one, and getting over something you thought you had dealt with months ago.

The details, the trigger, and the outcome are not of any material value. I’m more concerned with the fact that an anxiety attack happened, and that I got past it.

I want to ruminate on that for a second – “anxiety attack”. I consider myself to be a person with a deep understanding of words, sentence structure, literary communication, and as hard as I try, I cannot come up with a better term for it. It’s an attack, because it is not something you expect. You live in fear of having one, definitely, but it’s not as though you wake up one morning, speak to your PA – “Barb, schedule an anxiety attack at 11:03 am today, please. It’s been a while.” If only.

No, instead, you are suddenly and often unwillingly faced with an enemy that seems to have no weakness. Imagine your mind as a small village in an area where natural disasters are just something you have to live with. Anxiety is like a hurricane that blows in at breakneck speed, razes the work you have put in to rebuild after the last attack, and leaves you with no food in your stores, no sense of direction, and takes with it the will to continue. You barely have time to prepare for the next one, because you’re pretty sure it’s going to happen but you don’t know when, and how do you prepare for an enemy with that much power and force?

You cannot really prepare. Oddly enough, you can only be ready.

I know how that sounds. Being ready and preparation are two things that kind of go hand in hand, and to separate the two seems ludicrous. But hear me out.

The hurricane must have a starting point. There’s that whole thing about the butterfly flapping its wings and then on the other side of the world, there’s destruction – let’s go with that. A single thought, about anything, is that one wing flap. Another thought = another flap, and so on. The power builds up with consecutive thoughts, right? The more thoughts about a specific subject you have, the more that butterfly is flapping its wings, which leads to more air, which leads to a hurricane. It’s a simplistic image, but go with me here, this is working for me and I feel like it’s a pretty good analogy.

The secret to beating this is to know that thoughts are going to happen, regardless of you actively thinking them or not. The mind was programmed to think, and stopping that process is impossible. You have to let the mind do its thing, but you have to let those thoughts be thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less.

Once you recognise that, and you willingly accept it and make it part of your life, you can consider your village ready for the next hurricane. I’m not going to promise that the moment you realise and internalise this, your village will have an indestructible diamond dome placed over it that no hurricane can shift, but it does fortify the structures that you built the last time. It can turn the hurricane into a breeze that flows through your village, passing gently over the buildings, and carrying on into oblivion. The butterfly’s wings are still flapping, but the wind is picking up less and less.

The way to allow this to happen is through two things – awareness and acceptance. Awareness is a pretty broad term here – it starts with being aware of the things you are thinking, aware of the thoughts you are assigning power to, and it carries on to being aware of the reality of the situation you are in without being blinded by the thoughts (giant hurricane) swirling around you. A lot of my anxiety stems from the idea of not being “enough”, not being good enough for my boyfriend, not being good enough to hold down a proper job, the list can (but won’t) go on. Here’s the reality of these two situations – my boyfriend is still my boyfriend. He can leave if he is going to leave, but he hasn’t. He’s not the type to pity-love anyone, so there must be something I’m doing right. Right? I may not have a 9-5 job, but I have enough freelance work to keep me going until I manage to find a job, and all I have to do is be just good enough at that job to stay employed there. Which isn’t difficult, really – do the job you’re paid for. That’s all that’s required. Awareness is a powerful tool, and it’s the first one you need to practise in order to build up your mental defenses.

Acceptance is, I think, much easier. Feeling shit? Alright. Sit down and figure out why. Now ask yourself if there’s anything that can be done that will make things better. If yes, you do your best to do it. If no, then you give in to the reality you are facing. “I cannot change the things that have happened. I cannot change the things I have no power over.” That’s what I mean, really. If something hurt you in the past, you will only find pain if you keep visiting that place. Sure, you can get all the closure you need, but revisiting it is not going to make it any easier, and sitting for hours trying to figure out why it happened is pointless. It happened – you need to move on. The world does not wait for anybody.

I no longer feel ashamed – I took my own advice. The anxiety attack happened, I know why, the reasons are a bit silly, and now I’m moving on.

In the midst of that hurricane, take some advice from Steven Universe – “take a second to find yourself, take a second, remind yourself/ take a second and ask yourself, if this is how you fall apart.”

They’re just thoughts, and shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

Let that hurricane be a breeze that carries the seeds of your self-compassion.

Get back to living.

Anxiety is SO 2016.

Excuse the Buzzfeed-style title.

Over the past two years, there seems to have been an increase in anxiety, globally speaking. Some might argue that this is due to mental illness making its way to the mainstream, which is true, but these days you can’t even scroll through Instagram without coming across some convoluted attempt at a meme that contains every kind of stereotype around anxiety, and somebody (see: everybody) has commented saying “Literally me”.

Obviously.

We are all prone to anxiety, and it’s the point of a meme to have some sort of relatability to it. However, I want to talk more about anxiety in its most natural form, and why 2016 should have been the year anxiety ended.

2016 has been recorded as one of the worst years in recent history. I don’t need to go over the events involved, we were all there. If you weren’t, welcome to 2017, where we are implementing precisely none of the lessons 2016 should have taught us. The year even got its own horror movie trailer.

(Not kidding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z04M6NhkIKk. Also, if you’re one of the people who somehow managed to remove themselves from the passage of time, give that a watch, it sums it all up quite nicely.)

Here’s the thing, though – 2016 was just a number given to a year on a calendar created solely by the human race. While this is possibly the most obvious point I’ve made thus far, it’s also very true, but never fear – this will *probably* not become a blog of facts that you can find on any mindfulness and spiritual awareness page on Facebook.

At least, I hope not. Anyway, back to the matter at hand.

We’ve dealt with an ever-increasing number of doomsday prophecies and warnings of the end times, none of which have happened, so it’s probably safe to assume the rapture won’t occur. The Mayan calendar was just a stone calendar made by normal, regular human folk. That Seth Rogen movie “This is the End” also didn’t come true. Basically, it’s probably safe to assume that all the good people and all the bad people are here to stay, and that no cataclysmic event will occur, ultimately ending in the destruction of the human species.

Anxiety, amirite?

I won’t go into details about the aforementioned cataclysmic events. Luckily, we have scientists and some pretty amazing technology that is designed to warn us well in advance of anything that could mean that we are about to die. I will, however, begin to talk now about why anxiety should have stayed in 2016.

The year humbled us. We lost our grounding, we woke up every day wondering who else was going to be taken from us. It was a year of mental exhaustion and unrest, but it was also just that – a year. We placed all blame on it – “2016 has been hard on us.” If anything, it should have reinforced an idea that I have only really been exposed to in the last few months; humans have absolutely no control over the way in which the universe unfolds. We like to think of ourselves as “other” to the world a lot of the time, and I could go on ad nauseam about how we belong to the earth, not the other way around, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

As humans, we have evolved from humble beginnings. Our place on this planet and in this universe is purely by chance – everything was “just right” for the propagation of life. We even called the area in which the earth exists the Goldilocks Zone. Our existence is so magically unplanned and unexpected that for most of us, we cannot even comprehend our reason for being here. But humans also seem to have an undying need to believe that there is something so special about us that our existence needs a reason, and I believe this might be our largest mistake. We cannot seem to get past the idea that maybe we were not planned, that maybe we just evolved into this incredible arrangement of matter. What makes our existence special and unique is that we exist. Of all the beings on this planet, we have a conscious mind that allows us to make choices based on information from our surroundings. That is what makes us special – not that a deity of some kind thought, you know what this planet needs? Humans. Definitely humans.

The human brain is incredible, but the majority of people seem to be trapped by it. The mind is something that belongs to you – “I haven’t made up my mind” means that you clearly possess the capacity for rational thinking, yet we choose to think that we are not as attractive as our friend, as worthy as that celebrity. “But I can’t control those anxious thoughts!” you might be shouting at your laptop right now.

Except – you can.

That mind is not something separate and all-powerful to you. That mind is the thing that allows you to experience and perceive the world around you. And so thought patterns begin, and inevitably we attach ourselves to a thought and get carried away with it – what is my purpose in this world? How do I fit in? What if I don’t become rich? What if I fail? What if, what if, what if?

“What if” creates an expectation, right? What if the world ends tomorrow? What if JK Rowling dies in a car crash? What if Kim Kardashian gets cancer?

There is nothing to be done. We cannot do anything that will change the unfolding of life and the universe. To sum up – we have no control. Life will happen.

Anxiety, therefore, comes from the fear of an outcome – what if I miss this deadline? If I miss this deadline, my boss will call me into her office, I’ll lose my job. All of that time spent thinking about how bad everything could go, instead of just surrendering to what needs to be done, and getting on with it.

How does this relate to 2016? A lot of bad things happened, and instead of thinking, “Okay. I accept this, I accept that life is going to throw bad things at all of us. I accept that, I surrender to it, and I am ready for whatever comes next.” we thought, “Maybe next year will be better.” Placing expectation on something that has still yet to pass, and inevitably being upset and anxious because things didn’t necessarily go as planned.

To bring all of this to a close, I will say this. Those anxious thoughts are just thoughts. The same kind of thought as one saying that you do look amazing in that dress. The same kind of thought saying you are good enough to get that job. The same kind of thought that says maybe I do like green more than red. Even something as simple as “Wow, it’s really hot today”. They are just thoughts. You are designed to think, and so, thinking is what you will do. You choose what you want to ascribe power to, but unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to rewire the brain to not attach itself to negativity. It is definitely possible, and every effort should be made to acknowledge that the brain is going to think things, and that we should maybe take 10 minutes a day to look at the things we’re thinking, and evaluate them, without attaching to a specific thought.

That, by the way, is called meditation.

Oh, and one more thing – if you have felt offended at all, or perhaps felt that maybe I was insensitive to people suffering from anxiety, bring me your medication and I will compare it to mine. I still suffer anxiety attacks, even though I have been – by my own choosing – off my meds for almost a year. I still wake up and think that I cannot get out of bed because I actually just suck so fucking much that any contribution I maybe could make would be seen as inferior.

The difference is now I know where those thoughts come from, and I have learned (mostly) not to listen to them.download