Thoughts on love

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Not that long ago, someone asked me what this means, and explaining it got me thinking about love. Everyone wants it; it’s sort of the whole basis of our culture, to be accepted, fit in, be loved. Right? But I got to thinking; is it really being loved that we want? Isn’t what we really want to love something or someone else?

Being loved gives you, in the best case scenario, security. Reassurance. In the worst case, it gives you a stalker. It is the difference between being loved by someone you want to be loved by, and someone you don’t. Loving someone or something on the other hand is usually a positive experience. Sure, unrequited love is painful, but still, having that strength of feeling for anything- even if it hurts you, that makes you feel alive. That’s what I think we’re all looking for.

But being happily in love with something gives you energy and a reason to get up in the morning. And, even though a mutually loving relationship is a great thing, the emotion in itself doesn’t have to be returned to exist. You can get that same energy kick from books or music, or whatever else you love, and get the full benefit of feeling something fantastic without having to have them love you in return.

Another aspect of ‘you are not who loves you’ that came to mind as we were discussing this quote, is that so many times when people start new relationships, you see them taking on every interest and characteristic of their partner, losing their own; they almost start turning into the other person, and when the relationship ends, they’re left all confused and befuddled about who they are without their partner. That is the danger with thinking you are defined by who loves you. It doesn’t have to be your partner either for that matter – some people become who their parents want them to be (or who they think their parents want), again defining themselves through outside eyes, eventually arriving at a point where the outside perspective is lost, and they have no idea who they are as people anymore.

Whereas if you define yourself by your interests and passions, by what you believe and feel about the world, then there’s a good chance that you will grown and change according to your own life, and be less dependent on others for your sense of self. At least that is my theory, and that’s my take on what this means, and why I find it such a helpful and encouraging quote.

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Setbacks and disappointment

So, the downside of this trying malarkey is of course that trying often leads straight to failure. Trying, as we all know, is in fact the first step towards failure.

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And when what you’re trying to do is something of a life-long project (feeling better, being a better person) then failure is of course downright inevitable. Every day cannot be a better day than the one before. Every step cannot be a step forward. So, it seems this is another aspect that will have to be dealt with. But how?

“Plant expectations – reap disappointments” in all honour, but how do you ever do anything without expectations? How do you work on trying to be better and feel better if you don’t have the expectation that what you’re doing will help? And when it seems to help, when you have actually managed to handle a situation in a better and more productive way than previously because of the work you’re doing, then how do you avoid being devastated when the next time rolls around, the same type of situation, and this time over you completely botch it? I thought I had this shit down! What gives? Did I get cocky? Overrate my own abilities, what? So, here are my thoughts to try to make this better:

1) Two steps forward, one step back… Failure implies trying, so at least I’m trying! I’m doing something. I’m not just giving up. That seems comforting to me. Feels better than to feel crappy and not try to do anything about it. Keep taking steps, and the odds are good that eventually you’ll get where you’re trying to go. Take no steps and, well. You’re almost guaranteed not to get there.

2) Every day is not a good day. There can be reasons you’re not at the top of your emotional game on any given day. Maybe you’re stressed about something. Maybe it’s just one of those days. This is okay. Sometimes you have to be gentle with yourself and forgive yourself. Just like you feel better if you forgive others for disappointing you, you’ll feel a whole lot better if you forgive yourself for disappointing you.

3) Try to see it as a learning experience. Every exposure to the situation that upsets me gives me a chance to practice not getting upset. And even if I failed spectacularly this time, next time will be a chance to succeed. It sounds over-optimistic and sappy, but logically, it is true. You can’t succeed at something that you never have to deal with.

Today, I read an article about this researcher who had written a book about why people like playing video games when they keep failing (boss fights, platform jumps etc.) Obviously, people like a challenge. My thought is that the more times you have to retry that boss fight, the more pissed off and frustrated you get, the better it feels and the more of a kick you get when you finally succeed. So maybe failing isn’t always bad, if you can see it as building towards a more satisfying pay-off? That thought actually makes me feel a little better!

Anger management

There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally

I’ve always been infinitely better at knowing how to hurt people than make them feel better. It’s so easy to lash out! And so hard to hold my tongue. Maybe it’s my backlog of grievances from my school days, and misdirected lust for revenge, but that does not make it any more okay. So I’m trying to stop that. And the easiest way not to lash out at someone is to try and not get annoyed with them in the first place.

I get very easily annoyed at people. Not to say angry. Not to say hurt. That is because I’m impatient – to me a lot of people are notoriously slow at doing things, like responding to e-mails etc. Many are the times when I have sat fuming and wondering what on Earth is it that can POSSIBLY take so long!? But, just like with insults, I have found that there are a few ways to think that can help relieve the anger and frustration I’m prone to feeling.

Firstly, I find it helpful to identify why I feel so frustrated. What are the thoughts behind that grating, unhappy anger and impatience? Depending on the circumstances, I have come up with a few different ones.

1) ‘But I would never…’

I would never behave that way – make someone wait that long. Sure, once in a while something legitimately happens that causes the delay – but most of the time, honestly, they’re just being slow for (what I consider) no reason. And I get hurt that they’re just not prioritising me in the slightest when they don’t reply to a chat message for half an hour because they were ‘caught up’ watching a you-tube clip or something. I would never do that. To me, that’s just basically rude.

And that feeling is very hard to shake, but here’s the thought that helps to at least ease the discomfort: They’re not me. This is the top one. Just because I would treat them in a certain way, it doesn’t mean that I should expect them to treat me the same way back. I can multitask; watch a film and reply to a message simultaneously. Perhaps they don’t have that ability. They think differently; their minds work differently; they have a different way of doing things. It doesn’t mean they’re being rude on purpose just because if I did the same thing, I would be. And there’s nothing to say that my way of doing things is the right one, or even the common one. The more people I interact with, the more I seem to realise that I’m probably the unusual one.

2) ‘It used to be better’

Another big source of unhappiness for me is comparing things to the way they used to be; those days when interaction was swift and pleasant. And I have noticed that this thought isn’t just the sadness that things are worse now, but a fear that it’s a continuing tradition. That if something is worse today than it was yesterday, then it is bound to be worse still tomorrow.

But this is a false projection. People don’t work that way; they’re not quite that linear and predictable. Anyone can have a bad day today and a good day tomorrow. If things can get worse (and they always can!) then they can usually get better too!

3) Overlooked reasons.

Tiredness. Stress. Work / school, family matters. Mental health. There can be lots of things on people’s minds that they don’t mention but that are causing them to act in a… less considerate manner. But these factors hit people differently too. See no. 1)

A few days ago, someone wrote something that really annoyed me on a message board. It wasn’t directly affecting me or related to be, but… sort of. And my knee-jerk reaction was to post something snarky back, but I managed to restrain myself, and I’m glad I did. Apparently, this person, it turns out, struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts and whatnot, and when I found out, it made me think about how I tend to forget about people’s reasons. And about giving them the benefit of doubt even if you suspect that they are lying about their reasons.

4) ‘Is is my fault?’

It’s important not to fall into the paranoid ‘was it something I said’ mindset where you convince yourself that you’ve pissed them off and they are somehow taking their revenge. This one can be very hard to deal with, but if you do piss someone off, you usually know it with more certainty than that. Now, if I do feel strongly enough that I have done something inconsiderate, I just ask. And, if it turns out I have done something, out of my impatience and annoyance, I apologise. This has certainly happened; I have said quite a few things that were out of line over the years. But I am working on not letting it happen again.

This is an insult!

ImageToday, I was speaking to a friend about being offended by things people say. Particularly family.

Nobody likes getting insulted. And if you’re like me – extremely over-sensitive and prone to taking everything personally – you really don’t like it. It’s been quite some time since somebody has insulted me on purpose now, but it used to happen every single day for nine years while I was at school (I was an overweight child / teenager), and I guess that is what has left me with a quite reactive personality. But I have realised that getting insulted is actually a choice.

We all I know it is most hurtful to be told negative things by people close to you. I think it’s because we have a greater tendency to believe they’re true if the person saying them know you well. But a lot of the time people say things out of stress and annoyance, like I do, and remembering that helps.

What also helps a lot is bearing in mind that anything anyone tells you, you’re free do decide that it doesn’t apply, or that it does and it’s okay. If someone calls me, for an example, let’s say ‘lazy’, then that is by their standards, and their opinion. And I can either decide that they’re wrong, or that they’re right but it’s not really such a big deal. I’m easily annoyed and impatient (which peopled do tell me and which is true) I mean, yeah. That’s the case. I’m working on it, but other than that, there’s really no point in getting offended at somebody for stating fact.

So why would I, and most people I think, react so strongly to being told they’re lazy, if they indeed happen to be? Is it because they know it’s true but hoped nobody would notice? Or is it because in that statement is implied an opinion that you should change?

Maybe you want to change. Maybe you’ve tried to change. But when someone else tells you you ought to change, it’s suddenly a big deal? Because they’re telling you they don’t like you as you are? Or, rather, you choose to interpret it that way. When you think about it, any insult could really be placed into one of two categories.

1) Subjective opinion. “You’re ugly” – Says you. And I should care about your personal preferences why?

2) Truth. “You’re so impatient (you really ought to do something about that)”  – Yep. You’re right. And I am trying to do something about it, or else I’m coping fine like this. Or I should do something about it it, but I’m not going to right now because of reasons.

3) It’s not an insult. “You should / shouldn’t do x, y, z this way or that” – Many times people tend to take advice as criticism. But it doesn’t need to be. Maybe the person in question genuinely think you have not considered this approach and want to help. There’s nothing wrong with assuming a benevolent reason and save yourself getting insulted. (More on this in a later post)

Bearing these strategies in mind, technically it should be possible to become uninsultable. In theory…

Big question – easy answer?

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There are some answers (or, let’s call them ‘solutions’ rather than answers, since there is no yet any absolute confirmation that this is indeed the truth, but the probability seems high enough to make it truly feel like an answer) to big questions, that when they present themselves you not only get a huge a-ha experience, but you also can’t believe you had to arrive at this conclusion by yourself. It seems so obvious that it ought to have been the first thing anyone told you when you asked as a child. Like what happens after death.

I remember being very freaked out at the thought of my own death when I was younger. I even remember one specific time when I got so worked up that I was shaking. And this was not in a crisis situation; this was just speaking about it over dinner.

It wasn’t so much the afterlife that worried me – my parents had always answered ‘probably nothing’ when asked what they thought happens after death – but it was the aspect of being dead forever that really scared me. Because my brain couldn’t handle the concept of forever; there was no way of picturing forever. Or ‘nothing’ for that matter. How do you imagine not existing? Being nothing? Forever? It was distressing.

The day I realised that death would not be anything new to me, the relief was palpable. I can’t remember how it came to me, but it was not from reading anything, seeing anything on TV, or somebody telling me. And that’s what I cannot understand. One simple sentence that seemed to make everything infinitely better: After death it will be just like before you were born. Of course! I’ve already done all this once! The nothingness and the forever – just that forever stretched in another direction – what’s the point in fearing something you’ve already experienced (or not experienced in this case) and have no bad memories of?

Why had nobody told me this? I was born in the 70s, maybe nowadays this is common knowledge amongst the kids, but back then, it wasn’t. And to think grown men have struggled with the concept of death all through history! Inventing heavens and hells and all manner of reincarnation rules and practices… it seems so unnecessary!

Now, if it was only as easy to find a solution to the problem of grief. Other people’s death seems a far scarier thing than my own. It’s the people left behind that have the problem, not the ones who are dead. But… I’m still working on that one.