‘Compare and despair’ and then what?

We’ve all been there. ‘I bet everyone wants her. If I was like that, then people would want me too and that’s when I’d finally be happy’. You get jealous of someone and comfort yourself like ‘she’s obviously a basic bitch anyway’. In your eyes, even your friend is superior because of their intelligence or productivity. You stalk someones social media, dating right back to the big bang, when you’re suddenly urged to lose weight because your body is no where near as lean as theirs. This is coming from someone who doesn’t even have social media because personally, being bombarded with this imagery was exceedingly negative for me, for various reasons. Cue the resent! In drives the impulse to achieve an impossible goal of being a carbon copy of that person. An excruciating deep dark hole spirals beneath you as your low self esteem guides you through a cycle, which you ride like a merry go round. The price rising as the horror show of Brexit continues, day by day.

jealousy-blogENOUGH! Jealousy and envy will always be there, but there has to be a healthier way of responding to it. Particularly between women, I find the sense of competitiveness so self deprecating. We’ve been taught that we have to fight for space, to be seen and appreciated. This is not a rarity, its a cultural issue concocted by our overarching competitive capitalist state and patriarchal culture. Hence the ‘basic bitch’ gets casually slung out. Yet, really, there are no ‘basic bitches’; there is something valuable about that person and it does not compromise your brilliance, you do not cancel each other out. This was actually something a friend corrected me on and it made me realise how it not only prevents us from insulting others, but also establishes a more autonomous mindset. We can exist together, knowing that our approaches are different which builds a stronger sisterhood. It may seem simple or trivial, but it’s important to remind ourselves that we each hold uniquely beautiful qualities, or else it can subconsciously chip away at our own self acceptance.

In therapy recently, I was reminded of the ‘threat, drive and soothing system‘ of the brain, which I think plays an interesting role here. In simplistic terms, the threat system is the part that helps us shit ourselves at the sight of a lion and then leg it. It’s the oldest part of the brain which essentially triggers whats commonly known as the fight, flight or freeze response. Of course, we have been able to adapt our surroundings as humans, meaning that we no longer need to run from lions but our brain has taken a little longer to adapt, making us socially triggered. So the threat system can not only alert us to fight, flight or freeze in response to things like public speaking or rejection but also in response to internal threats like negative self talk. The drive system however, is the part that motivates us to make plans, create things or think about the future. This is a part of the human brain which has lead us to create masterpieces, build beautiful works of art but also may be triggered unnecessarily. Your drive system may be working away at a time when your goals are simply not feasible or you could be appreciating the present moment. Some suggest that an overworked drive system can contribute to a belief that you are falling behind, making it harder to accept who you are right now as good enough. What balances these flourishing flowers out? The soothing system! This part calms us down and keeps us grounded in reality. Interestingly, because of nueroplasticity, the brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise the threat system, the bigger it gets, making it more of a ‘go to’ in potentially triggering every day situations. Unfortunately, when few people have been properly soothed during threatening situations, soothing is not taught by example and we aren’t taught how to sooth ourselves. It’s common for soothing systems to be a neglected, deeming them harder to use as they are physically smaller.

Wanting to be like someone else could very well activate the drive system. Perhaps you do admire someones beauty or intelligence, however, the goal of achieving that is unattainable if you forget to nurture and incorporate your own style of doing things into that aspiration. Inevitably, the threat system’s sirens start sounding as your thoughts trail off into punishing self doubt, shame and despair. So, how can we activate a soothing system that is physically small due to it’s lack of use? Practise. It feels alien, which is why we have to make a non-negotiable effort to soothe. We all have 10 minutes a day. We all deserve to be the beneficiaries of 10 minutes of kindness and reassurance a day.

How to soothe

Breathing techniques

  • Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4, exhale for 6.
  • Meditation – try out the Head Space App, or Bangor university website for guided meditation.

Compassionate self talk

  • I was called out after saying ‘I need to challenge my negative self talk’ because even the word ‘challenge’ is combative, which could trigger the threat system! Compassionate self talk is about acknowledging your pain, understanding where it has come from and then focusing on how you can take action, which aligns with your values, in the present moment.

List 3 things you love about yourself

  • I read an interesting article recently which speaks about how to address food related guilt. If you’ve ever felt bad for eating or that you need to cut down on food to compensate for something you ate, it’s less to do with how you feel about your body and more to do with how much you love yourself. The article recommends listing 3 things that you love about yourself every time your inner critic takes the mic, or in this case punishes you for not being someone else. Doing this can slowly shift your thoughts to become more accepting and loving of yourself.

If you are able to soothe yourself more, you will react to threatening situations in a more soothing way which could de-escalate the situation. With a stronger soothing system, you will inevitably have more of a capacity to soothe others, ending a painful cycle.

Try to spot projection

  • If you don’t understand what projection is or think it’s some voodoo shit, check out Martha Derbyshire‘s description, she explains it very clearly.
  • Ask yourself: Am I projecting a part of myself that I am uncomfortable accepting, onto that person? Their intelligent articulation or natural beauty, for example. What does that say about my confidence in certain areas of my life right now? How can I nurture these areas with compassionate soothing?
  • Could someone else be projecting their uncomfortable subconscious thoughts onto me? What can I do to create a boundary, to avoid embodying emotions that are not mine?
  • Explore this in writing!

Piece of cake. Already completed it mate. I jest. Dis gon take time. I am not claiming to have mastered self care, this is a reminder for myself more than anything. I found ‘The Happiness Trap’ has been a helpful book, which I highly recommend as it was suggested to me by a psychotherapist! This book taught me that we cannot control our emotions or get rid of jealousy. Jealousy is natural and necessary, showing us what we desire and care for, but we can choose how to act on it. Our thoughts will run away with us some time soon, before we realise we’re in that pattern, deeply ingrained, apparently, since childhood because of experiences we did not chose. But the thing is, that moment when we direct ourselves down our chosen path of compassion, self love and celebration of others, is a moment of growth. And always remember, practise makes poifect. Jokes, there’s no such thing!


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