Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Know Yourself

know yourself haiku

I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way. Alison Goodman

Why know yourself?

Because wouldn’t you rather be your own best friend than your own worst enemy? Not only that, the healthier your relationship with yourself, the healthier your relationships with others.

When I think of the people I know whose lives are more melodramatic than a soap opera, it’s safe to assume that they’re missing an inner connection. For example, I know of a guy who goes from one failed relationship to another, always being taken for a ride; he constantly bemoans the fact that women take advantage of him. Never does he stop to consider that he’s the common denominator in this repetitive cycle.

Then there’s a colleague’s (adult) daughter who complains about everybody she comes into contact with. Can it be that everyone in this young woman’s life has a problem, or does she need to look in the mirror?

I don’t know either of these people very well, but what I do know is that their inability to form and maintain good relationships tells me they could benefit from doing some personal development work.

If you can’t acknowledge yourself in your entirety, the good as well as the supposedly bad, then you project what you reject in yourself onto others; it stands to reason that these relationships are then going to suffer. Or as Steve Maraboli suggests: A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not being true to yourself.

It’s empowering to know and accept your whole self. When you know who and what you are, you can make decisions based on what is right for you, rather than letting external influences dictate your life.

There are memes currently circulating social media, pictures of Audrey Hepburn or Princess Diana, bearing the caption: In a world full of Kardashians, be an Audrey/Diana. A relative of mine posted one on Facebook and I had to comment: Better still, why not be yourself?

In The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford discusses how we cover our inner treasure with masks that protect us as we face the people who challenge us daily. Wanting to appear a certain way, perhaps because we fear being judged, we deny our true self; in the process creating a false self that we believe is a better representation of us. That false self is the fragile ego, described by Sogyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying as:

…our false and ignorantly assumed identity. So ego, then, is the absence of true knowledge of who we really are, together with its result: a doomed clutching on, at all costs, to a cobbled together and makeshift image of ourselves, an inevitably chameleon charlatan self that that keeps changing and has to, to keep alive the fiction of its existence.

In The Book of Life, Jiddu Krishnamurti points out how self-knowledge can transform the self and, in turn, transform the world. This transformation can only occur, however, if we agree to see ourselves as we are, rather than who we would prefer to be. This means acknowledging and integrating our ‘shadow’ sides (aka the fragile ego), which isn’t as difficult as it sounds (if I can do it, anyone can).

One way of developing self-knowledge is to look at the stories you tell about yourself. Taking responsibility for the story of your life enables you to be the writer, director and star in your own life story. It can be hard work, but it can also be fun and is ultimately satisfying.

C. Joybell C. suggests examining what you’re afraid of: to know yourself, look at your fears. Fear in itself is not important, but fear stands there and points you in the direction of things that are important. Don’t be afraid of your fears, they’re not there to scare you; they’re there to let you know that something is worth it.

One way of examining your fears is to journal about them.

And an exercise to consider is this: think about someone who irritates you. What, specifically, is it about that person that gets up your nose? Say, for example, you can’t stand your mother-in-law’s gossiping; could it be that you, too, like to talk about other people, or are you over-identified with being the strong, silent type? Or does the fact that your brother is a notorious womaniser push your buttons? Is it because you secretly wish you could be as desirable to the opposite (or same) sex, or are you over-identified with being ‘good’?

Where do you think your judgements come from? Can you recall hearing a parent, or other significant adult in your upbringing, criticise the behaviours you find abhorrent?

In facing my own shadow, I discovered that who I am is okay. Along with C. Joybell C., I now find that: I don’t fit into any stereotypes. And I like myself that way.

Can you say the same?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

eq haiku

We all have the same pallet of emotional paints. It is how we pigment them on the canvas of life that dictates our artistry. Ged Thompson.

Are you in charge of your emotions, or are they in charge of you? Consider the following scenarios:

  • Your son attains a ‘B’ in his French A-level, whilst his best friend is awarded an A*; this, for you, takes the shine off your son’s achievement.
  • You discover that your daughter’s boyfriend has cheated on her; your daughter decides to give him a chance, but you brood on his treatment of her and think she should dump him.
  • A colleague loses weight and has a makeover; you agree she looks great but the compliments she receives irritate you.
  • You’re convinced your mother is trying to sabotage your wedding; she seems determined to help your sister upstage you on your big day.
  • Your brother’s wife has left him; you and he never really got on and he was quite smug when your marriage broke down so you’re secretly pleased that his has now failed.
  • Your sister-in-law has asked you to babysit – again; you say yes, but you complain about her behind her back and resent being put upon.

Would you say that the (fictional) people described demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence?

On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate the happiness levels of people who feel this way?

Spinoza said: When a man is prey to his emotions, he is not his own master. I know several people who behave in similar ways to those I have depicted, and not one of them can be said to be his – or her – own master. Not that I’m judging; I’ve been that person who always says ‘yes’ when they really want to say ‘no’. Being a doormat is a codependent trait.

What jolted me out of that particular behaviour was an exchange I had with my dad in which I grumbled about a favour I’d agreed to do for one of my sisters.

‘Either do it, or don’t do it, but don’t moan about it’, he snapped at me.

At first I was upset by what my dad said, but after reflecting on his words I came to the conclusion that he was right.

Emotional intelligence, then, helps you to transcend your unhealthy/neurotic/wounded ego; it’s about responding to rather than reacting to life. Cultivating EQ helps you to accept what one of my favourite authors, psychotherapist David Richo, calls the ‘givens’ of life: the things we cannot change. (See David’s website for some excellent free resources, including Human Becoming, a collection of excerpts from his inspirational books).

The five givens specified by Dr Richo are:

  • Everything changes and ends.
  • Suffering is part of growth.
  • Things do not always go according to plan.
  • Things are not always fair.
  • People are not loyal and loving all of the time.

If we have emotional maturity we are far better equipped to cope well with the unavoidable life events that these givens represent, such as the death of a loved one; the breakdown of a long-term relationship; the job promotion that falls through; the child born with a disability; the betrayal by your best friend.

We have to take 100% responsibility for how we behave in response to the emotions we feel; for example, it is common for abusive partners to blame their victims for their actions: ‘You made me angry because you put too much milk in my coffee.’ The truth is that no-one is forcing an abuser to lash out; they don’t have a gun to their head, just a lack of self-control.

Understanding your emotions is part of knowing yourself – what triggers you and why. When you have this awareness you are in a position to stop yourself being hijacked by inappropriate stressors.

An added bonus to managing your emotions is that it makes you easier to be around; be honest, who would you rather spend time with, a self-pitying whinge-bag or a good-humoured character?

Emotions are contagious; what mood are you spreading?