blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, relationships, self improvement

Escape From Outrage – How To Be Less Easily Offended

angry masked girl_Patrick Fore
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Being offended doesn’t, by itself, make me right.
Garon Whited

Are you easily offended?

Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • How can X group hold Y opinion that’s *obviously* wrong?
  • How dare he look at me like that?
  • She hasn’t said anything but I’m already upset because people like her all hate people like me.

We live in a world where people take offence at just about anything, whether important or trivial.

Whole industries are built around us paying attention to events and people that have no direct bearing on our lives.

We’ve been convinced not only that all our opinions matter a great deal, but also that we must express them —  loudly and with increasing venom.

Everyone’s shouting, but few are listening.

This means that everyone is capable of both giving and taking offence.

Giving it is framed as exercising free speech without being responsible for its effects.

Taking it means being accused of being oversensitive, unable to take a joke, a snowflake. And then there’s another chance to become offended or hurt. It’s like an endless game of tennis with pain as the score.

There are ways to navigate this minefield and survive.

Different And Equal

In essence, you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization. In the eyes of the ego, self-esteem and humility are contradictory. In truth, they are one and the same.
Eckhart Tolle

Freedom of speech is a defining feature of democracies. This right belongs to everyone, especially those who disagree with you.

Your first thoughts on a matter reflect deeply held beliefs and prejudices which often go back to your family of origin. They’re tied to triggers and first impressions, allowing the brain to make snap judgements. These can be reinforced by schooling and media and are an automatic response that is barely examined.

Your second thoughts might agree with first thoughts, or they might differ. These are the beliefs you have formed after considering your first thoughts in the light of experience and new information. They need time and repetition to become automatic and overwrite first thoughts.

You’re free to speak, but you should wait before exercising that right.

By holding your tongue, you gain the chance to make a more considered response, one that shows a more mature personality. Suspend judgement and think, then respond.

You’re also free not to speak. It’s always an option to be silent in some circumstances.

The right to speak does not mean that others must listen. You can respectfully agree to disagree and move on. Also, use mute and block on social media to exclude some voices that routinely disturb you.

You can argue this leads to smaller echo chambers without dissenting voices, but social media lacks the nuance for reasoned debate, especially in these highly politicised times. Reduce contact with people who cause friction in your life.

More Than Stars

Exaggerated sensitiveness is an expression of the feeling of inferiority.
Alfred Adler

In a world of starred reviews and comparison websites, we all want to be at least four out of five. In extremes, hearing the equivalent of one star can bring us to tears and/or aggression depending on whether the anger is directed internally or externally.

If you can’t take any criticism, take a step back. Since none of us is perfect and we know it, anyone who touches on an insecurity is immediately judged hostile. But there may be information you can use if you examine what’s being said to find a core of truth, separate from the emotional hit.

Discount personal vitriol and look at your behaviour.

Could you change how you do something?

Do you need to change, but have been resisting it?

Are you angry about being caught out?

Own your feedback, do the work, and nobody will be able to goad you in that way again.

Their Opinion Is Not Your Mirror

People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high; being self-righteous and morally superior feels good.
Mark Manson

You are not someone’s opinion — including yours. You’re much more than that. Most times, expressed opinion reflects its holder and not its target. We see the world as we are.

So, sidestep the opinion. Ignore it. Refuse to engage in a fight to see who can offend and be offended more. Most of us have enough baggage of our own without taking on other people’s insecurities as well.

a baby with downturned lips sitting on a plaid blanket on grass
Photo by Ryan Franco on Unsplash

The Centre of the Universe

One who enjoys finding errors will then start creating errors to find.
Criss Jami, Killosophy

You probably know someone who has a criticism for everything and is happy to share it. They may dress it up as advice or concern. Either way, they’re right and everyone else needs to be told which ways they’re wrong.

If you find yourself getting angry about a celebrity’s choices or something on TV on a regular basis, you’re spreading your circle of influence too wide. You aren’t the centre of any universe except your own, and that’s the only place you can make actual changes.

That woman’s plastic surgery or that man’s choice of partner do not require your input, and you can divert the emotional energy into your own life. Let entertainment be just that, and sidestep the negative vibe of constant gossip.

Often, you use misplaced moral outrage to avoid working on your own issues. Social media is full of virtue signalling where people are conspicuously and publicly offended to score social points but achieve nothing. Be careful where you place your attention.

Embrace Imperfection — Even Yours

Remember you don’t own people, let them decide, choose and live. There is no inferiority and superiority; it is just your crazy imagination.
M.F. Moonzajer

When we recognise our own flaws in others, we reject them — and usually the person too. The inability to forgive ourselves first is the root of much sensitivity. We hand out punishment for the flaw in any way available, whether verbal attacks or online hate.

Ask yourself why this person has made their statement or action. Consider reasons that don’t involve you directly. It’s often not about you, even if it’s directed at you.

Then consider if they’re acting on their first thoughts. Give them the benefit of the doubt at first, because we all need to learn to wait for our second thoughts, the ones that more fully align with our principles and experience. Be civil because that’s the kind of person you are.

Ask yourself if you’re guilty of the fault you find in others. It may offend you because it’s close to home, whether it’s a self-indulgence you deny yourself or a desire you’ve been taught to suppress.

If they are deliberately offensive, ignore the chance to correct themselves, or escalate, then it’s time to walk away. They have more growing to do, but it’s not your job to teach them.

For example, in common with most female physicians I’ve been addressed as Nurse too many times to count. Nothing wrong with nurse, it’s just not my title. A polite correction is usually enough. But if a patient keeps using that title in a mocking tone, alluding to “real” doctors and positive discrimination repeatedly, they show that they’re hoping to offend. And make no mistake, I am irritated.

But I don’t explain myself, apologise for not being what they expect, or otherwise engage except to get the job done. Their projection of issues with perceived inferiority or authority aren’t my concern. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Never wrestle with a pig because you get dirty — and the pig likes it.”

If you accept your imperfection and that of others, paradoxically you are less fragile. Nobody can use your flaws to crack you open and goad you into helping them do it.

Let It Go

When you’re attached to something, whether through love or hate, you give it an importance it doesn’t have.
Marty Rubin

Some people hold tight to their negative emotions. They cradle them and feed them with their attention until they are defined by them. They become known for their thin skin or loud outrage on certain subjects. They have missed the truth.

Emotions are something you have, not something you are.

Other people’s emotions are not your responsibility, but you should follow the golden rule: do as you would be done by. This alone will help because it’s impossible to never offend anyone.

Strengthened by self-acceptance, tempered by empathy, and equipped with rational thinking, you can step back from constantly feeling offended or overly sensitive. You can observe those feelings and let them go. And you can make real choices about your future behaviour without either denying your feelings or allowing them to dictate unthinking behaviour.

So next time you find yourself getting worked up by something, ask yourself is this about me?

If it’s not about you, let it go. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything, nor do you have to attend every fight you’re invited to.

If it is about you, do something. Work on your blind spots and weaknesses, or work to make needed change in the world around you.

Use your anger positively and you’ll find life much calmer overall, and that has to be a good thing.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, self improvement

How To Build Your Self-Worth Through One Simple Act

giving is good – taking is great

gift-flowers-hands_klimkin
klimkin via pixabay

Give without remembering and receive without forgetting.
Elizabeth Bibesco

Would you rather give something or get something?

You’ve heard that it’s better to give than to receive. The idea of giving is central to most religions around the world. Winston Churchill supposedly said “you make a living by what you give, but you make a life by what you give.”

If you’re the lucky recipient of a gift, how do you receive it? Get it wrong, and the whole exchange is soured.

You’d think it was easy, but gift giving is often a fraught affair, hedged round with expectations and social norms. Some people don’t know how to give; others never learn to give. Even when we’re following that golden rule, it can still fail.

During a writing group meeting, I once complimented a writer on her dialogue, which flowed on the page with the polished elegance that comes from a finely tuned ear. She smiled uncertainly and protested that it wasn’t that good – at all.

So we both felt bad. She felt undeserving of something good, and I felt as though she had thrown my words away. What made her react like that?

Given But Not Taken

Gracious acceptance is an art – an art which most never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving…. Accepting another person’s gift is allowing him to express his feelings for you.
Alexander McCall Smith

I’m certain that my writer friend would never throw a physical gift on the ground and walk away. But in refusing to accept the intangible gift of praise, she essentially did just that.

When parents and caregivers teach us to be polite, they leave out the most important skill in receiving. Politeness hides many a scowl of anger and disappointment, and its lack of authenticity is obvious even when cloaked in smiles and happy words.

The art of receiving a genuine gift (or even a fake one) is in understanding that when a gift is given it must also be taken. Both sides are necessary.

Learn to give without strings. A gift with conditions is at best a loan of something the giver still controls.

The art of receiving a gift is first in feeling worthy enough to be given something, and second in expressing genuine gratitude.

When given a compliment, are you:

  1. embarrassed because you don’t deserve praise,
  2. suspicious of their motives because they must want something from you, or
  3. angry because they’re clearly mocking you?

These emotions have their roots in old programming and/or traumatic events that you’re holding on to in the present.

Think back to the last such encounter and examine your feelings. There’s often an old memory attached that still shapes your behaviour in the present. Perhaps you were taught that taking things was selfish, accepting praise was a sin of pride, or simply that compliments weren’t for people like you.

To rewrite this script, here is one thing you need to accept about yourself.

You are worthy.

You are good enough, so is your work, and you deserve the rewards you receive. Whether it’s a yummy cupcake, a well-written report, or a project delivered on budget and on time. So accept that compliment. If you refuse it either outright or by deflection, you hurt both parties.

As interactions become more transactional and less genuine, dysfunctional gifting can be seen as a microcosm of a wider problem. When your gift is covertly rejected, you become cynical. There seems no point in giving, so you restrict yourself to exchanges that directly benefit you in some tangible way. When you refuse a gift, you replay an old script that says you are unworthy. You add to your burden of self-doubt.

The donor is hurt because rejection robs them of the pleasure of giving. You hurt yourself because you reinforce old lies that whisper you shouldn’t have nice things. And an exchange that could start to heal those wounds is wasted.

Take The Box

After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give.
CS Lewis

It’s easy to fall into a trap of feeling under-appreciated while simultaneously refusing credit where it’s due. Hidden under the guise of humility or self-deprecation, this form of self-sabotage eats away at self-esteem unseen. It’s time to find a better way.

Next time someone says something good about you, remember you’re being offered a gift. Don’t walk away or bad-mouth it. You know how you’d like your gift to be received. Make eye contact, smile and thank the giver sincerely. There’s no need to explain more. Don’t follow up with how hard you found it, or minimise your efforts. Don’t give away the gift by saying anyone could have done it.

There is no giving without taking. They complement and define each other.

Stay in the moment and acknowledge the gift. When you do that, you honour both the giver and receiver. That’s the gift you give back.

View at Medium.com

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How to Build Self-Confidence and a Writing Career You’re Proud Of

friendship_InsidePhotography
InsidePhotography via pixabay

What’s the one thing that you and every other writer want?

You might answer money, fame, critical acclaim, autonomy, or something else. All these boil down to one need: validation. As humans and creatives, we want to feel that we matter, that our work matters, that we have made a mark, no matter how small or fleeting.

Too often you don’t get it.

Your spouse ignores your attempts to find writing time by making endless domestic demands.

Your friend laughs when you confide that you want to see your book made into a movie.

You read over what you wrote, and it’s so far from the standard of your favourite author that you want to toss the laptop out of the window.

You brood, become irritable and defensive and indulge in mindless TV or ice-cream or gin. Anger simmers under skin that seems to get thinner every day. Your writing stumbles and you can’t get going again but what does it matter? It’s not like it means anything to anyone.

You can recover, but you need to know how.

First Find The Itch

We aren’t all the same, thank goodness. Success and might look very different to you and to me. It all depends on whether your need for validation is internal or external.

Internal validation is rooted in strong self-esteem. You set your own performance standards and you live by them, and the approval of others is less important than your own. While it’s helpful to get support from others, you don’t rely on it completely. You look inwards for the strength to deal with your own issues. You’ll run with the pack if the pack is running your way, but you’re okay with being on the margins sometimes.

External validation is rooted in strong social instincts. Harking back to a time when acceptance by the pack was literally a life or death matter, you seek to conform to what’s expected in your social group. You look outwards and rely on the feedback of others to judge your performance against an accepted standard. You’ll stay in the centre of the pack where it is safest.

Both of these styles can coexist, where they apply to different areas of life. So you might be entirely happy with your professional performance where you have confidence in your abilities, but less certain when it comes to your creative skills.

Sources of validation will vary based on these different styles because what works for one will not suit another.

Few people would turn away from external success, but for some, it comes at too high a cost. The familiar sad sight of a celebrity imploding despite fame and fortune has many causes, but failed internal validation is one. The star has everything she wants except her own approval, and all too often no idea how to get it.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 13.07.24https://2squarewriting.com/2017/05/would-you-walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes/

 

Addicted To Love

thumbs-up_geraltgeralt via pixabay

Western society prizes autonomy and a strong sense of self. Look at all the movies with a lone hero, doing what he knows is right and to hell with the system. From John McClane to Jack Reacher to Jason Bourne, they cut through the knot of expectation with their sword of conviction.

But society prizes conformity even more. The social death heralded by no likes on your latest Instagram post is for many people equivalent to the actual death of being banished from the tribe. We are encouraged to post and share, then wait for the dopamine hit from likes, claps, and comments. Since the hit is fleeting we do it again, a never-ending cycle to feed a hunger that can’t be sated.

Whether at high school or work, you know that conforming is generally easier. Nobody will ask you to justify sticking to the status quo. You’ll get along just fine without having to explain why you don’t watch that one show everyone’s talking about, and then why you don’t have a TV…

Media holds up examples of overachieving, internally validated heroes, and at the same time demands worship at the altar of extreme external validation. It’s no wonder we’re confused about what’s important.

The internally validated person is more in control. They weather the ups and downs of life better, not because they have fewer storms, but because they trust their ability to survive them.

The externally validated person, however, has a shaky sense of self-worth. All is fine until they don’t get the answer they expect and need. A negative or missing answer leads to feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness, anxiety and so on. Managing these feelings leads to dysfunctional behaviour, and their weak boundaries result in a spectrum of responses ranging from extreme people-pleasing to narcissism.

Of course, we don’t live in a vacuum and we write to connect. There’s nothing wrong with wanting praise and positive reactions from others sometimes. But if that’s your only way to feel good about yourself, then you need to work on gaining approval from the one person who truly matters.

That person is you.

All By Myself

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 12.59.43MonikaP via pixabay

Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
Louise L. Hay, You Can Heal Your Life

Writing is a solitary business until we look for external acclaim, and then we feel exposed and vulnerable. But it’s possible to get what we need without being completely overwhelmed by forces we can’t control.

To escape the trap of external validation, you need to pay attention. Instead of simply reacting to events, start to notice your inner world and slowly refocus your response.

Notice your body

It’s easy to get caught up in sensations of stress: racing heart, dry mouth, nausea, shaky hands, and tight chest. Stress hormones coursing through your veins distract you from thinking clearly, instead flooding your lizard brain with three options; fight, flight or freeze. None of these are helpful in modern life.

Before you distract yourself from how you feel physically or try to make the sensations go away, take a deep breath, and another. You might feel threatened, but the cause isn’t an actual threat to your immediate survival. Slow down, allow your thinking brain to regain control.

Notice your achievements

Many of us go through life still looking for a pat on the head and a cookie from some parental figure. Part of growing up is realising that we have to be both parent and child, and award ourselves our own approval.

You probably have no difficulty beating yourself up over imagined shortcomings. What if you gave yourself praise too? Stick to those things within your control. Acknowledge that you hit your word count or finished a task. Let go of the external response to those tasks for now, because that’s not under your control.

Without being arrogant, give yourself credit for what you’ve done well. Write it down, give yourself a gold star.

Notice your emotions

Properly channeled emotion can inform your writing and give it power. Unregulated emotion, however, is the enemy of creativity.

Take a moment to recognise your feelings. Try not to judge by saying that feeling angry is bad, for example. Each emotion has its place, and it’s how you choose to respond that defines your experience of the world.

You might just feel ‘bad’. Sit with that feeling until it becomes more defined. Bad as in angry, lonely, hurt, anxious? They aren’t interchangeable, and neither are the solutions. Ask yourself questions until you’re certain of the feeling. Write about it in your journal.

Then ask yourself, “what do I need?” Treat yourself as gently as you would a child. You deserve no less. If your instinct is to run away from difficult emotions and numb them, sit with them longer. Work it out in your art, take a walk, pray, meditate, give yourself time.

The next step is to find a way to give yourself what you ask for, whether that is attention, positive affirmations, or simple recognition.

Notice what you give away

If you’re a caregiver by nature or training, you may be out of touch with your own emotions. You’ve learned to react to other people’s feelings and ignore yours. Notice what you offer people because that is very often what you need for yourself.

You offer to be a beta reader, give thoughtful comments, and write a nice review on every book, all the while waiting for others to do the same for your story. You’re friendly to that person hovering on the margins of the writing group because you hope someone will give you acceptance in return.

You’re generous with your time and knowledge, and you swallow the disappointment of finding that people take without giving back. Recovering from this feels a lot like selfishness. But remember the airline safety briefing?

Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

In fact caring for yourself first allows you to offer more service without becoming exhausted. The more you have, the more you can give others. You don’t become selfish: you simply put yourself on equal footing with others.

Getting What You Give Yourself

mountain-adventure_PexelsPexels

When anyone starts out to do something creative – especially if it seems a little unusual – they seek approval, often from those least inclined to give it. But a creative life cannot be sustained by approval, any more than it can be destroyed by criticism – you learn this as you go on.
Will Self

You write and you want to get better, so you seek feedback and hope for a positive response to your writing. That’s a proper route to improvement but should form only a part of your validation process.

When you grow used to the idea and practice of self-approval, a strange thing happens. As you become more comfortable in your own skin, others start to give what you once yearned for. You’re less needy and less inclined to fish for compliments. When you get one, you can accept it gracefully because it aligns with your internal map. And if you don’t get one, that’s okay too.

Family members can be the worst for refusing to give up their idea of you as a child, or a beginner, or something else. A person with self-approval accepts that and goes on their way. Maybe your mother doesn’t think art is a suitable pursuit for you. Maybe your friend thinks writing is not for people like you.

When you are internally validated, you accept their views without letting them derail you.  It can feel strange to receive something you dreamed of yet truly not need it for your peace of mind. The freedom that comes from being independent of external opinion is intoxicating.

As long as you remain open-minded and avoid arrogance, you’ll find that your approval is the only thing you need to keep walking your path, sharing what only you can give to the world.

Go your own way.