Connection, Belonging and our Mental Health

Long post alert! This is an adaptation of a speech I did for GSCE English earlier this year. (Yes, these last few weeks I’ve been sitting my first EVER exams! Better late than never!) I’ve become passionate about connection and belonging and want to share this with you even though you’ll have read some of this before if you read my blog.

I believe that disconnection is a world-wide pandemic; having a major effect on our mental health.

What is mental health? According to the World Health Organization: “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

The Mind website states that “approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.”  And yet “Reports from both England and Wales suggest that approximately 1 in 8 adults with a mental health problem are currently receiving treatment”. That means that treatment is really not that accessible! But perhaps there is something we can do to make a difference for those around us.

I have personal experience as I suffered with a mental illness in 2016 brought on largely by the stress of moving here from New Zealand. It adversely affected my family and myself for more than a year.

I spent a while in hospital and after moving back home the realities of my life crashed down on me and I found myself incredibly anxious and very depressed. I even wished for the courage to end my life. I wanted out. For 12 months I was in survival mode. It was the darkest year of my life so far. I felt that I had nothing of any value to offer anyone. I felt incredibly bored and boring. It was hell.

I’m grateful for my husband. Initially he blamed me, not recognizing that I had an illness but soon he became my life-line. Day after day, month after month I would cry in his arms and send him depressing midday texts. Gradually hope started to creep back in and increasing moments of happiness.

Now that I am well again I am beginning to process that time and even more recently am starting to gain insights into the whole subject of connection, belonging and how it affects our mental health. You see, what really brought me back to life and truly living, is a friendship that after 2 years suddenly clicked and since September has grown into sisterhood.

In his book called Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, David Goleman says that the latest findings in biology and neuroscience confirm that we are hardwired for connection.

So, what is connection? Author Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

I don’t know about you, but in my experience relationships like this are rare. However, now that I am experiencing it I know that it’s worth seeking and working for. I love this quote from Jeff Brown –

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How can we find relationships in which we can belong? What is belonging anyway? Here is another quote from Brené Brown. She is a research professor studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy and is the author who has most influenced my personal growth in the past few years. “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Brené Brown, 2010

There is a deep desire in all of us to belong. In her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené shares some thoughts about the difference between fitting in and belonging from her interviews with middle school students:

  • Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
  • Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
  • If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.

I love these, especially the first one. It’s in my relationship with my best friend that I’ve felt this type of true belonging for the first time in my life. To me that feels rather sad as I turned 40 this year! But it’s made sense as I’ve realized that we are born into our parents unfinished stories and often they are still working through or just accepting the dysfunction they learned in their childhoods. I know this was true for me and my husband when we started on our parenting journey! I’m so sad that we’ve hurt our children, even in the process of trying to be good parents! What gives me hope though is that we can keep growing and changing and becoming better people.

In fact, that is what a psychotherapist in NZ once said to me when I expressed concern that I would inflict emotional baggage on my children like my parents did on me – “The best thing you can do for your children is to work on yourself.” So, I’ve set out to do that, and amazingly am in the process of helping my children to heal from the damage we did in their early years.

The great thing is that while we are hurt and wounded in relationships, we also heal in relationships. Not all relationships are safe, but if we can find one in which we are seen and valued for being ourselves, it can be an extremely healing place.

The other very important part of the quote from Brené is: “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” If we truly want to belong we need to get to know ourselves!

Almost 7 years ago I realized that yet again I had fallen for valuing my relationship with another person more than they did. I think I have always been on the look out for meaningful friendships, and yet would find myself in one-way relationships again and again. This particular relationship in 2011 was the last straw for me! I decided enough was enough! There was obviously something about me that made me find myself in this spot so often! I went on a hunt in the library and amazingly found a book titled, “One-Way Relationships”! Perfect! And that was perhaps the real start of my journey to getting to know myself better. I’ve learned a lot since then, in relationships and through reading book after book.

My self-esteem was extremely low when I was a child. Which I guess is not surprising now that I know that I suffered from emotional abuse. I was continually criticized by my mother and she openly rejected the core parts of who I am. A lot of this was probably due to the fact that I reminded her of my birth father – her first husband and the man she cruelly betrayed. I never felt like I belonged in that family which consisted of my mum, step-father and two half-siblings and I grew up feeling like there was something wrong with me. My mother was always “right”, and so I learned well not to trust my own intuition/inner knowing. I learned to value more what others said was right than what I felt was right.

I lived what Brené says is disconnection from ourselves.
“…there is another form of disconnection, one that is often more painful and confusing that all of these other forms: it is the feeling of being disconnected from ourselves. We are often so influenced by what other people think and so overwhelmed with trying to be who other people need us to be, that we actually lose touch with our sense of self. We lose our grounding. We lose our authenticity. The reason this is so painful is because our authenticity is the very foundation from which all meaningful change occurs.” Brené Brown P241, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t!)

What is authenticity? Brené says that she realized from her research that “authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice – a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” And that can be rather scary and take a lot of courage!

When I consider our mental and emotional wellbeing I feel that authenticity is a huge key. When I think back to the lead up to my breakdown I realize that I was putting on a happy mask. I was hiding behind a façade of ‘everything is great!’ when in reality our move to the UK and the main reason for making the move had not worked out well. Everything was crumbling around me – our financial security, my relationship with my husband and my Dad, my son’s mental health… but was I willing to be honest and real with myself? No. I was pretending, I was trying to be who I thought I should be rather than embracing reality.

So what is authenticity all about? Not surprisingly Brené’s research comes in handy again!
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.

Choosing authenticity means:

  • Cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;
  • Exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and
  • Nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.
  • Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving – even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.

Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.” Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection p50

She also says though, that “Choosing authenticity is not an easy choice.” She quotes E.E. Cummings who wrote: “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting.” And in Brené’s words – “‘Staying real’ is one of the most courageous battles that we’ll ever fight”.

Brené also goes on to say that we should be born with a warning label similar to the ones that come on cigarette packets –

Caution: If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.

I don’t know about you, but those sound like mental health issues to me! Which brings me back to my opening statement, which was: I believe that disconnection is a world-wide pandemic; having a major effect on our mental health.

Again, Brené speaks to this when she writes: Our innate need for connection makes the consequences of disconnection that much more real and dangerous. After collecting thousands of stories she says she is willing to call this a fact: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. There are certainly other causes of illness, numbing, and hurt, but the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.” Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection p26

And who are we disconnected from? Others, yes, but also ourselves. Since recently reading Brene’s latest book my new mission in parenting is to help my children to believe in and belong to themselves. Above all else. If I can achieve this then I know they’ll be emotionally resilient enough to deal with the challenges of life, wise when it comes to relationship choices; they’ll have the courage to say no to opportunities and relationships that don’t align with their core values, they will have the confidence to seek adventures and experiences that will broaden their perspectives and open their eyes to ways that they can make a difference in the world.

As for me, I’m going to continue to invest in my personal development and in the safe relationships I have and bravely reach out to others. I don’t ever want to stop learning and growing and becoming the best me I can be. And this gives me so much hope that I’ll not only maintain my current sense of well-being and contentment, but I’ll also be able to continue to make a difference in the lives of those in my circle of influence. And for me – that is the greatest blessing and contributor to my mental health and sense of connection and belonging!

Renae Cobb, one of Brene’s blog readers commented as follows:

“Certainly, the people we love inspire us to heights of love and compassion that we might have never achieved otherwise, but to really scale those heights, we often have to go to the depths of who we are, light/shadow, good/evil, loving/destructive, and figure out our own stuff in order to love them better.”

“Loving and accepting ourselves are the ultimate acts of courage.” Brené Brown

My hope is that at the very least I have persuaded you to further your own personal development journey and explore some of the concepts I’ve shared!

Elizabeth

P.S. Since writing the above I can now say I have more friendships where I feel like I truly belong. Amazing. This feels like proof that it really is more about how we see ourselves and how we show up in our relationships than about others.

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Rising Strong

 

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I’m often amazed by how a book I’m reading speaks right into what I am living.

In January I shared what I encountered during my first Counselling Course weekend: On Finding Our Unique Voice. During the following three weeks I began to realize that yes, I am strong, but I can also hide behind my strength. And that is not such a good thing!

At this month’s workshop, almost immediately, the returning students were all speaking up and I soon realized that I don’t have to be strong in that room. I can be vulnerable and allow myself to feel things that I haven’t felt in years. During the course of the weekend I experienced sadness (tears rolling down my cheeks), vulnerability and even intense shame. Some of this shame was triggered by everyone laughing (in enjoyment) over my strange vowel sounds: think New Zealand accent in a room full of English ones. I knew in my head they weren’t laughing at me, but my body responded as if they were and it felt like déjà vu. The incredible thing for me was being able to stay in that room in that vulnerable state and then later share my vulnerability with a few of the others and feel totally supported. For the first time. Ever.

After the weekend I continued reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown and I just happened to be in chapter four, The Reckoning.

CURIOSITY is a SHIT-STARTER. BUT THAT’S OKAY. Sometimes we have to RUMBLE WITH A STORY to find the truth. p44

“One of the truisms of wholehearted living is You either walk into your story and own your truth, or you live outside of your story, hustling for your worthiness. Walking into a story about falling down can feel like being swallowed whole by emotion. Our bodies often respond before our conscious minds, and they are hardwired to protect – to run or fight. Even with small every day conflicts and disappointments, physical and emotional intolerance for discomfort is the primary reason we linger on the outskirts of our stories, never truly facing them or integrating them into our lives. We disengage to self-protect.” p46

Brené also writes: The rising strong reckoning has two deceptively simple parts: (1) engaging with our feelings, and (2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings – what emotions we’re experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors.

I realize that on my journey to where I am today I analyzed my painful past in my head and then moved on. Now I understand that it’s time I walk back into my story again, allowing myself to feel my emotions, get curious about them and integrate my past more fully into my present. I know it’s not going to be an easy process but I am rather excited about it.

Would you like to join me? Next time you feel strongly about something how about stopping a moment to get curious about your emotions and ask yourself some questions about what you are feeling and why. It might feel a little daunting but I believe the price of stuffing our emotions is much higher.

One of the big prices we pay for not rumbling with our story can be in our relationships with our children. Our theory for the second workshop was attachment styles and my tears were flowing as I realized how much I have let my children down because of what I haven’t known. If we didn’t receive what we needed emotionally from our parents then we will end up parenting in the same way. UNLESS we choose to go on a journey to find deeper self-understanding. So I’m choosing not to beat myself up for my failings because I know there is hope for me and for my children because I am choosing to invest time in both myself and in them in order to find healing together.

I can really recommend getting a copy of Rising Strong as Brené does a wonderfully gentle job of leading us through this challenging growth process. If you are intrigued as a parent or a future-parent-to-be and want to research further here is a little introduction: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Parenting. I can also recommend another book I’ve just begun but already feel like raving about and that is: Parenting from the Inside Out – How a Deeper Self-Understanding can help you Raise Children who Thrive. I don’t know about you but that has always been the desire of my heart – to put wind under my children’s ‘wings’ to help them to fly far!

So, have you walked into your story yet? Or are you living outside of it and still hustling to find your worthiness? I am passionate, not only about walking this journey myself but also about supporting others on their journeys. I welcome you to contact me via my Contact Page. Looking forward to meeting you!

Elizabeth

The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending-to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends. p50

Great Posts #8

Great Posts I've Read This Week

I haven’t done a Great Posts post for a few weeks, so this is a bit of a catch up one. 🙂

  • I read this first post soon after I wrote On Finding Our Unique Voice.

Life is about infinite growth and expanding, it’s surrendering where you feel you need to be and showing up where you are so you may become. Life is about the return to yourself, the one born of love and fully whole before growing up in this cruel and beautiful world. No growth, no expansion, no mess, no embracing of it all.. that isn’t living. Kristy @ A Renaissance Glow. Read the rest here: Be Yourself. Unless You’re a Unicorn, Then Be a Unicorn

  • I don’t know about you, but I really want to be as genuine as I can be. I also look for others who are real. How genuine are you? 🙂

Genuine people are more or less the same on the inside as their behavior is on the outside. Steve Tobak. Read the rest here: 10 Behaviors of Genuine People

  • It was just over 2 years ago that I researched the word Narcissist and realized it explained so much of my relationship with my mother. I’ve learned a lot since then from reading books and things I’ve found on the internet and I’ve also realized how common this type of parent is. If you are struggling to make sense of any relationship, if you wonder if you are going insane because things don’t add up, if you feel that you are not being truly heard or seen, then check into this a bit more. You might just find some answers and understanding. Becky Johnson has written this informative post: The Pocket Guide to Narcissism: Nourishing Recovery from Crazymakers.

Do any of these posts resonate with you as well? Have you checked out my Facebook page yet? I share other posts and quotes I love there too.

Blessings to you,

Elizabeth

TGIF!

Thank God it's Friday!(1)

I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith. Brené Brown

I’m still having to Trust that my husband will get a job soon. He’s made some progress this week…and I’ve just found out today that I’ve got part-time work lined up for the summer. Yay!

When this auto-posts I’ll be on day one of my Counselling Course! Whoop whoop! I’m feeling really happy (can you tell?!) and Grateful!

This week I’ve been Inspired by another blogger to continue going after my dreams. I’ll add a link in my next post.

Faith is a challenging one for me to comment on. Every week I feel stuck. I think this is because my ideas on faith and spirituality have changed so much over the past few years. I’ll leave you with this thought…

Let Your Faith Be Bigger Than Your Fears

…and a question! What does Faith mean to you?

Blessings,

Elizabeth

TGIF #4

Thank God it's Friday!(1)

This week I’m still having to Trust that my husband will find work. This phase of our relocation is more challenging than I anticipated!

I’m particularly Grateful for my improved health. I’m not yet 100% but close.

I’m continuing to be Inspired by Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. I’ll be finished the book soon, but have another one of hers lined up to read. So you have been warned! You’ll be reading her name around here for a while yet! 😉

My Faith has been tested this last week. This quote by Anne Lamott is very apt.

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Wishing all my readers a wonderful weekend. Hope you manage to find some balance and experience freshness inside.

Blessings,

Elizabeth

Rediscovering Balance

FindingBalance

Two nights ago I picked up The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown again, my own copy purchased with Christmas money. Yes, it’s worth buying! As I read I felt my soul climbing out of the slump it’s been in lately. Feeling the lift in my spirit reminded me that to thrive I need to be learning and growing. I’m going to make sure I’m reading a learning book every day.

That night I was reading Guidepost #6 Cultivating Creativity, Letting go of Comparison. Looking back now nothing really stands out as being what inspired me so much. I think it was more the thoughts I was having as I was reading that were really inspiring me. Does that happen to you? I had already been thinking lately about how I want to encourage my children to have balance in their lives.

I recently bought The 7 Habits of Happy Kids by Sean Covey, recommended by another blogger, to read with my son. The seven habits are simplified for children, but important for us all. I wish my husband and I had been taught things like this when we were children.

Habit 7 is Sharpen the Saw: Balance Feels Best. Sophie Squirrel spends all her time reading (using her mind) and becomes really tired. Her mother tells her it is important to also use her heart, body and soul. “You use your heart when you play with your friends. You use your body when you exercise. You use your soul when you find something quiet to do that makes you feel fresh inside. You need to do all those things to get balance in your life.”

I love that advice. Don’t we all need to ‘feel fresh inside’? I believe that including creativity in our lives is an important part of balance.

“The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing – it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.” p 96, The Gifts of Imperfection

I want to model balance for my children. Children are naturally creative – I want to support mine in the creative outlets they express interest in. I also want to show them what creativity looks like for me as an adult. Taking pictures and writing are the activities I’m most interested in these days. And walking out in nature (exercise!) with my camera is an activity that makes me feel fresh inside.

During a conversation with my Dad yesterday I realized that another part of the imbalance I’ve been feeling (the feeling like I’m under a cloud) has been that due to my illness I’ve not been keeping in touch with friends. Connecting with friends is vital to my sense of well-being.

In summary, I have realized that the following things are necessary for me to feel balanced, happy and at peace:

  • Reading inspiring books = learning and growing
  • Making time to connect with friends
  • Exercising/walking in nature
  • Being creative – with words and photography

It’s amazing the difference a few days can make to one’s outlook on life. I’m feeling so much more positive and at peace with where I’m at.

How about you? What ingredients are important for your sense of balance and peace?

Elizabeth

Creativity

TGIF #3

Thank God it's Friday!(1)

This week has been challenging for me as my husband and I have been adjusting to living under the same roof again. It’s felt like an emotional roller coaster at times and my head space has been rather cluttered.

I am happy to report that we are making headway. This afternoon we had coffee together and came up with a basic routine for the two weeks of school holidays. Already this has helped to clear a lot of my mind-clutter. Afterwards I came home and rushed about sorting some of the clutter pile in our dining area. It all helps!

This week I’m Trusting that hubby and I will continue to find our way back to a close relationship and better communication.

I’m Grateful for the ongoing support of my therapist and my Dad.

I’ve not lacked inspiration for blog posts but have struggled with finding time to write a “meaty” post this week due to the changes in our family normal. I’ve been Inspired by a Blogging University course to sort out a poll for you, my readers, to give me feedback about what you would like to read here at Unravelling Mysteries going forward. Watch this space. 🙂

Our son is still struggling a lot with anger and low self-esteem. The more I talk things over with my therapist the more understanding I gain and the more I realize how much our dysfunctional parenting (thanks to family-of-origin baggage) has contributed to how he is today. I’m grateful I’m healing from my past and learning how to be a better parent now. I’m grateful too because my husband is more on board than he’s ever been and is open to continuing to grow in his role as a dad. I’ve already seen wonderful changes in his relationship with Master Speedy this week and it’s doing my heart good! I have hope and Faith that the two of us will continue to find healing ourselves and in turn will be able to help our boy find healing and peace too.

Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty. Brené Brown

Wishing you all some rest for your souls this weekend!

Elizabeth