Category Archives: conscious living

From the therapy room: Beyond bad feelings

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In my previous blog ‘What scripts are running us’ I invited you to challenge your conceptions of how things should be. We have so many firm ideas about all kinds of things! Yet so many of them are not our original thoughts, but have been ‘downloaded’ from our society – through parents, school, mass media, church, books, traditions, etc. Some of these ideas may align with your deeper feelings and experiences and some not, but how can we tell one from the other without questioning them?

Questioning old ideas and our habitual approaches to life is a big part of my therapy work. I challenge my clients and my clients challenge me. That’s why it never gets boring! And today I want to share with you one such conversation that I had with my client Guy (the name has been changed for the sake of confidentiality). It began during a session and continued via emails. Hope you will find it as interesting and stimulating as I did.

G. I have been feeling kind of flat this week. And I also feel strange now, a bit panicky… It worries me a little… I thought I was making good progress and was getting better, and then it got worse again.

L. You know, somehow the words ‘progress’ and ‘getting better’ jar my ear… It sounds like you are constantly measuring where you are, according to a certain scale, instead of simply living and taking each experience on its own…

G. Well we’re taught from an early age to strive to be ‘better’ always, to ‘improve…’ like we’re on a mountain relentlessly moving to the summit… that’s where our eyes always are, rather than on the ground beneath our feet! We need more flexible criteria. Maybe we could spiral around the mountain, or perhaps head downwards to the base if we want more stability, or even stop in the middle somewhere for a balance and different views. All places have their advantage!

L. Well – if we think about it – ‘better’ or ‘worse’ is a convention, a relative thing, just as what we designate as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings. Why, for instance, feeling sad is ‘bad,’ while feeling ‘joyful’ is ‘good’? Feeling sad may be uncomfortable and heavy, true, but is it ‘bad’? When we apply labels they obscure the experience itself, stop us from exploring it and from seeing its value.

G. I think the whole structure of the way we see the world as adults is based on our attempt to hold on to ideas or concepts we have been taught are ‘good.’ And we try to get away from those we have been taught are ‘bad.’ Out of which emerges a corresponding struggle with our feelings. This is simply conditioning and represents a movement away from the experience itself. As small children we saw the world as flowing and whole… I think we need to try and somehow return to this state, coming through all we’ve learnt back to a new balance.

L. Yes! In a way it’s like going back to a pre-verbal stage where we experience things immediately. Marking things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ only comes with the acquisition of language, which is a conventional structure – limited and limiting (while also useful and necessary). I believe we need to become really clear that ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘better’ or ‘worse’ are just labels belonging to a particular framework of references. We tend to associate comfortable feelings with ‘good,’ and uncomfortable with ‘bad,’ but this is totally arbitrary!

G. Can we regard our state in any moment like an interesting natural phenomenon such as the weather, and become really fascinated by all its manifestations, and unexpected changes, or even unexpected stability at times… because really there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ weather… those notions always depend on your viewpoint… for example dark clouds and heavy rain might be ‘bad’ for a tourist, but very ‘good’ for the plants in your garden!

L. My favourite analogy is the sea: it can be rough and wavy or still and translucent. But we don’t talk about it as being ‘better’ in one state than in the other. (Unless we are fishermen for whom ‘good’ sea would mean ‘easy for navigation’/’favourable for fishing’ or whatever term they use.)

G. When we truly integrate the feeling that ‘there’s no better or worse’ it actually frees us to have criteria for ‘better or worse’ when required – as is sometimes necessary to live in the world.

L. It is a valid point: we need to have a ‘better or worse’ criterion to get by in daily life.

G. But to integrate (or live) the feeling that ‘there’s no better or worse’ this feeling itself has to be ‘no better or worse’ than anything else.

L. I am not sure I understand you here…

G. It’s difficult to express… let’s take ‘acceptance.’ We can say we’re going to accept everything about ourselves but to really do that we also have to accept our own feelings or emotions of ‘non-acceptance’ about ourselves. We can say that everything we feel is necessary and fitting but we only fully do that by somehow also seeing as fitting our feelings or emotions of things being wrong and not fitting! This is important, otherwise we can get hooked into yet another ‘better’ way of being, that of ‘accepting’, and be back in a rut again.

L. Yes, I see what you mean now: we need to also embrace our own feelings of non-acceptance as they too are integral part of our existence and experience. From what I know about Buddhism, it encourages precisely this kind of approach: accepting or rather witnessing without rejection any state in which we find ourselves. Even if it is uncomfortable and difficult. Allowing it to be and being ok with it.

G. Yes .. but even if we think we’ve got really good at this ‘non-rejection’ thing, but suddenly find ourselves back again vehemently rejecting something, that’s exactly the point where, instead of hopelessness, if we’re really living this dialogue, we don’t reject that very ‘rejection’!

L. You are totally right and – well, yes – it is a challenge! And we can only meet it by learning to be compassionate towards ourselves.

Nonviolent Communication: How to get your needs met

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What is your habitual response to being hurt, annoyed or irritated by another person? Do you swear? Do you smash plates? Do you withdraw within yourself? Do you tell that person how wrong (insensitive, selfish, etc.) she or he is?

And now think of the habitual reaction that you get from that person, in response to your response. Most probably they will try to argue back to defend their cause or pull away and withdraw, too.

Too often, unfortunately, in our communication with each other we get trapped in the vicious circle of attack and defence, which often takes a form of a counter-attack and generates more violence. And here I am not speaking about physical violence (although situations can escalate to it), but about emotional violence. This type of violence permeates our daily life to such an extent that we tend to take it for a norm and may not be able straight away to identify it as violence.

Marshall Rosenberg explains that this is because we all have been educated in a ‘school of jackals’ where violence is the norm.

I have first heard about Marshall Rosenberg and nonviolent communication (NVC) from a friend several years ago. I bought his book and it really resonated with me, so since then I have been learning to practise NVC and also passing it on to my clients, who also found it very useful.

In this blog I want to introduce you to a few fundamental principles of NVC, which is designed to help you being heard and have your needs met while maintaining good healthy relationships.

 

  1. Differentiate between feelings and interpretations

How our message will be received depends a lot on how we convey it. The words in which we package our message may either help or prevent it from being adequately understood.

For example, let us say that at a party your partner has been speaking to other people and did not pay much attention to you. As a result you are being hurt and upset. Yet when you finally get to talk to your partner and let him or her know how you feel you say “I felt ignored by you!”

Now ‘hurt’ and ‘upset’ are feelings, while ‘ignored’ is an interpretation that entails an assumption about your partner’s behaviour or intention. If their intention was not to ignore you they will understandably respond to you in a defensive way, denying that what you said is correct. Then you will feel even more hurt because your message hasn’t been heard. But it hasn’t been heard because you used the wrong words! If you say “I am feeling hurt” your language is matching your emotions and your partner will be more likely to hear it and less likely to get on defensive.

Marshall Rosenberg suggests that it is very important that in expressing ourselves we differentiate between feelings/emotions and interpretations or assumptions that we make about another person. It doesn’t mean that we cannot make an assumption, but we have to clearly identify it as our assumption (e.g. “I began to think you were ignoring me”).

 

  1. Stick to the facts, focus on yourself and give the reason

Very often when instead of stating our feelings we jump to interpretations, we also omit mentioning the exact thing that caused us distress. Furthermore, we formulate our message in a form of an attack (blame or accusation) on another person. Thus, continuing with the same example of the party, we may express our feelings in the following way: “You ignored me the whole evening!”

From the point of NVC, this sentence contains three communication mistakes:

  • It substitutes feeling/emotion (‘hurt’ or ‘upset’) by interpretation (‘ignored’);
  • It contains an accusation (“you ignored me”);
  • It doesn’t explain what your partner actually did that has upset you.

The example of a correct statement may be as follows:

“I am feeling upset because you talked to all other people at that party for the whole evening and haven’t said a word to me!”

In this sentence you keep the focus on you and your feelings. The explanatory statement, of which your partner is a subject, describes what exactly about his or her actions you found upsetting. When you express yourself in this way your partner won’t feel the target of an accusation or the blame. They won’t feel the need to defend themselves from an imposed interpretation and will learn what to do and what not to do in the future so that not to hurt you again.

 

  1. Express your needs clearly

 More often than we realize we expect another person to intuit our needs. When they fail to do so we get disappointed and upset. A vivid illustration is a story my mother told me about a falling out she had with my father during the early months of their marriage. She had a bad toothache and needed to see a dentist. She was anxious and wanted my father’s support. However, she didn’t ask him to come with her; she expected him to guess that this was what she needed from him. You can imagine how disappointed and upset she was when instead of offering to come with her he went to play football with his friends!

I am quite similar, in some ways, to my mother and share a number of her inhibitions and defence mechanisms (including withdrawal). So I know how difficult it is to bring yourself to articulate what seems to you plainly obvious! Yet it is plainly obvious only within your own emotional system of references. Alas! Sometimes it is healthier and helps create happier relationship when we treat another person a bit as an alien. If they don’t guess our needs it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t love us. It may simply mean that on their planet 2 + 2 doesn’t make 4!

 

  1. Listen to the message behind the words

The counterpart to Marshall Rosenberg’s character of ‘jackal’ is ‘giraffe.’ I believe he says somewhere that he has picked up giraffe because giraffe has the biggest heart of all mammals. (This assumption is erroneous by the way… Do you know which mammal has the biggest heart?) In contrast to ‘jackal,’ ‘giraffe’ speaks from its heart and listens with its heart. It means that ‘giraffe’ listens to feelings behind the words and not just to the words as such.

Consider this conversation between the ‘jackal’ and the ‘giraffe’:

Jackal. You ignored me the whole evening!

Giraffe. Are you saying that I have hurt you?

Jackal.   Yes! I am very hurt.

Giraffe. Oh… Is it because I haven’t spent much time with you?..

Jackal.   You haven’t spent any time with me at all! You were busy talking to all these other people.

Giraffe. And you thought I was ignoring you…

Jackal.   Yes! And I am very upset.

Giraffe. Of course, you would be upset. I am very sorry.

When your child screams at you “I hate you!” you know that it doesn’t mean she or he hates you, but that they want your attention (or something you are not giving them). In the same way we can practise understanding emotional needs behind the words and the behaviour of other people. It is not easy – but it is possible!

 

Video of Marshall Rosenberg’s workshop

Well, this turned out to be quite a lengthy article and we have only covered the basics!

If you are interested, you can learn more by watching this video. Enjoy and have a good laugh!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBGlF7-MPFI

 

The alchemy of intuition: How to trust ourselves

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In my previous article I suggested that our ability to trust other people is closely connected with our ability to trust ourselves and here I want to continue the discussion.

People often speak about “trusting your intuition.” But what is this mysterious thing that we call “intuition”? What kind of secret ingredients compose intuition and how can we account for the instances when it apparently fails us? Without pretending to be an adept, I would like to try and unravel the alchemy of intuition.

A very fine-tuned intuition presupposes a high degree of self-knowledge and ability to be in touch with your inner self on many different levels simultaneously. Awareness, I believe, is a key notion here and it includes:

  • awareness of your needs (physical and emotional);
  • awareness of your current state (physical and emotional);
  • awareness of the past experiences and how they may be affecting you now;
  • awareness of your desires, expectations and values;
  • awareness of your weaknesses and strengths.

(The list is, of course, incomplete.)

When dealing with a specific situation or a person we calibrate our self-knowledge against the knowledge that we possess about this person/situation and take a more or less informed guess. We draw upon our life experiences and acquaintance with human psychology. The more knowledge we have (both about ourselves and about others), the higher the probability that our guess will be accurate.

When our inner compass is confused

We rely on our intuition daily, making split-second decisions and evaluations that we often don’t even register. We sharpen it by making mistakes and learning from them. It is as if we had an inner compass that was guiding us through the complex maze of life-situations, suggesting which direction to take. Yet it can happen that our inner compass gets seriously confused and we don’t feel that we can rely on it. We then feel lost, bewildered and unable to make sense of what is going on. This state of confusion can be very painful and impairing. At one particularly difficult period in my life, when my whole world seemed to have turned upside down, I remember experiencing an ongoing physical sensation of a slight nausea, like a sea-sickness, when your balance is askew.

To repair our compass and overcome the confusion, it is important to understand what causes it. Reflecting on my own experiences and through my work as a therapist, I came to think that we lose trust in our inner judgment when our immediate – visceral – experience is forcefully contradicted or denied.

For example: imagine that everybody around you will start telling you that the grass is blue. At some point you will begin to doubt your own eyes and/or sanity. This is, of course, an exaggerated case, but it highlights the mechanism clearly. When our perception is invalidated by an overpowering authority we lose the point of reference. It is as if the hand of a compass habitually pointing North has been re-magnetized to point to a different direction. A Hebrew expression for feeling disoriented conveys precisely this idea: “to lose the North.”

Formative childhood experiences

As I suggested above, the ability to trust ourselves is intrinsically connected with our self-knowledge. We gain this knowledge by being in touch with our feelings and recognizing them for what they are. Childhood experiences are paramount in developing this ability. Especially, when we begin to speak. Young children don’t have names for emotions. They learn to recognize and articulate them with the help of adults. For example, when a child is angry and starts throwing things around and kicking furniture, the mother may tell him: “I can see that you are angry. You can say ‘I am angry’ – there is no need to kick this table.” Thus a child gets a word for identifying and expressing what is happening within him or her. Conversely, if the mother would shout “You are a bad boy!” the child will not learn to understand himself better. Instead he will associate the raging emotion of anger within him with being a bad person, someone his mother (and others – in the future) cannot love.

Unfortunately, it happens far too widely that a child’s emotional experience is not accurately acknowledged by parents or other adults in authority. In response to a child’s expression of his/her emotions parents impose valuating (often negative) judgment on it, deny or twist it.

Consider, for instance, a situation when a father teaches his little boy to cycle and the child falls and starts crying. The father says: “Stop crying, it doesn’t hurt that much! What a shame: you are a big boy!” The boy’s hurt is not being acknowledged, instead his feelings are denied and he is being shamed for having and expressing them. This creates a dissonance between an immediate experience and an ability to grasp it. If this “educational” trend continues it is very likely that the boy will gradually stop expressing his pain (physical as well as emotional pain) and even learn to block his feelings altogether.

As a child I was repeatedly told that I was selfish. My earliest memory of it goes to the age of 4 or 5 when I would refuse to share a candy with my younger sister. Reinforced by other incidents, the branding “selfish” became a part of my self-definition, my hidden shameful secret. Apart from developing a negative self-image, it also impaired my ability to acknowledge my needs and wants and to properly balance them with the needs and wants of other people. Every time I acted according to my needs I would feel bad about myself because it “confirmed” to me my “selfish” nature. It took me years to rid myself of this branding and reset my inner compass.

Perhaps one of the most painful experiences is when our sense of justice is violated. Consider such a typical situation (with multiple variations): two siblings are having a fight; the younger runs to complain and the older is being punished by default without a chance to explain what happened. Another quite common case is when a parent is in the wrong, but instead of acknowledging their fault he or she blames the child. In these cases a child’s sense of fairness and justice comes into conflict with an authoritative verdict of a parent. The child begins to doubt his/her own truth and this confusion may have very long-reaching implications.

Recovering trust in our inner judgment

Growing up with a parent who consistently invalidates your feelings and perception can be very damaging. It is difficult to own your feelings when they have been repeatedly denied or subverted. The first step towards recovering your ability to trust your inner judgment and developing your intuition is by separating your emotional experiences from your parents’ valuations. It may be helpful to ask yourself whose voice is speaking in your head when you tell yourself, for instance, that you are being “lazy”? Most likely that it is not your own voice, but the one of your father, mother, grandparents or a teacher.

As I said – we are not being born with ready labels for our emotional experiences and their behavioral expression. We acquire these labels through our parents/teachers who often misinterpret us and thus undermine our ability to trust ourselves. One gift that as adults we can give to our inner children is to acknowledge their feelings that have not been acknowledged in the past and thus help them (and us now!) heal.

Whom can I trust?

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Once a month I run a personal growth group that meets at my home. Every meeting centres on a theme that we choose in advance and participants share their life experiences that relate to the theme. One of our meetings had been on the theme of trust and reflecting on it afterwards, I had been struck how everybody spoke about a situation that involved broken trust. Although we all, hopefully, have had experiences in life when our trust was reaffirmed, instances of broken trust are so painful and leave such a deep wound they come to the fore when the topic of trust is raised.

Like everybody else, in my own life I have had situations when I felt badly let down by people I put my trust in. In my therapy work too, broken trust is a recurrent theme and sometimes I hear a cry of a near despair: “Whom can I trust then?” When we have been hurt very deeply it may sometimes seem that to keep safe it might be better not to trust anybody ever again. Yet by adopting this strategy we would stop ourselves from experiencing the joy of intimate connectedness and may suffer from loneliness and isolation. So is there a way out from this conundrum? How can we trust people and keep ourselves safe?

Expectations, awareness and reality check

Broken trust always involves the fissure between our expectations of another person and their ability (or rather inability) to meet these expectations. Thus the first thing to become aware of is that we do have certain expectations. Next, we need to enquire how realistic our expectations are: whether or not the person in question can possibly meet them.

Our expectations always spring from sets of values and beliefs which may or may not correspond to that of the other person. This takes time to find out, but it is also important to keep in mind that our values and beliefs are not fixed once and for all. They change as we change while journeying through life and what we believed to be unshakable truth when we were 16 may not be the same for us when we are 30.

These changes often happen gradually and imperceptibly and may not synchronize with the changes in our friends, partners, parents or siblings. When we are unaware of this ongoing process of change (within ourselves as well as within others) we are more likely to miss the signals that inform us that we are no longer in alignment with another person. Then the risk of suffering a disappointment is higher. It also often happens that when we come under pressure or when our priorities change as a result of changing circumstances we may not be able to be there for our friends in the same way we used to.

One of the most painful losses of friendship in my life happened through my inability to appreciate the change that was taking place in my friend’s life. For several years we have been very close, shared with each other intimate concerns and helped each other through the times of emotional turmoil. Then my friend got married and the joys and challenges of her new married life have naturally become a priority to her. I, however, haven’t been able to recognize that and continued demanding that she remains engaged with me with the same intensity as before. This placed too much burden on our relationship and eventually the connection has snapped. Had I been able to understand and accept my friends’ changing needs and emotional resources we could have kept the friendship going. Yet I couldn’t… At that time I had been struggling, feeling lonely and wanting emotional support, which I used to receive from my friend, and when she distanced herself I felt abandoned.

Taking care of ourselves

It is most important to realize that no single person in this world can possibly take care of all our emotional (and/or practical) needs. Not even the best ever parents are able to meet all the needs of their children because we are such complex beings and our needs are so many and varied. Thus it is essential to become aware of the needs we have and to find ways of meeting them through different sources. Consider questions like these : What is it that makes me happy and what I can do to give it to myself? What is it I am struggling with and where I can find help?

For example, if we want companionship we can think of activities we can do with other people who share similar interests. We can’t demand or expect the satisfaction of this need solely from our partner. Similarly, when we are going through difficult times. One person – be it the most loving partner or friend – can only support us thus far, as we all have limited resources and a lot of personal challenges to deal with. So we need to seek help from a different source, such as therapy, for instance, otherwise the relationship may suffer under too much burden.

It is also important to develop an ability to be on our own. I want to avoid being misunderstood on this point. I am not trying to advocate the idea of total self-reliance. I believe this is neither realistic nor healthy. After all we are communal beings. Rather what I am trying to say is that when we are able to stay quietly with ourselves in a moment of distress we begin to hear better our inner voice that would offer us insights and guidance that we need. We become stronger and more independent, in a sense that we learn to be a source of support to ourselves.

Renewing trust

However much awareness we have it is nigh impossible to altogether avoid the situations when we feel badly disappointed and let down by others. From my own experience and through talking and working with people I came to think that, in addition to hurt, we also suffer in such instances from a sense of confusion. We momentarily lose faith in our ability to make a sound judgement about other people and situations. We feel disoriented and helpless. And then we ask the question: Whom can I trust?

Basically, what we are asking is this: Can I trust myself? Can I trust my own intuition, knowledge, perception?

In recovering trust and faith in ourselves it helps to look at the factors that contributed to us misjudging the situation or overlooking the signs of a possible fracture. These can be our beliefs, fears, past hurts or desire to see what we want to see… Alas! We are only human! When we claim responsibility for our part in the situation we reclaim our power back. We don’t any longer feel like a victim of a blind force, but feel more in control and better equipped for handling similar situations in the future.

Forgiveness

In conclusion to this rather long and very incomprehensive blog I want to say a few words about forgiveness. If you have felt unexpectedly let down by somebody whom you have known to be very trustworthy, please consider giving this person another chance. This is different from giving our trust blindly to somebody whom we don’t know that well or who consistently proved to be unreliable. Rather it is about acknowledging that we are subject to many different forces – often subconscious and very strong – that can overpower us at times and make us act out of character.

It might be sad to think that complete, 100% trust, just as an eternal love, is not really possible. Yet in this sadness we may also find greater kindness towards ourselves and towards others. And by renewing our trust we help our life and the lives of others unfold.

Intimacy and vulnerability

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Every person has a theme running – like a leitmotif in music – throughout their whole life. For me that theme is connectedness. As a child and adolescent I spent a lot of time secluded in my inner world, dreaming that one day I would meet like-minded people with whom I can share my thoughts and feelings. As I journeyed through life it became stronger and more pronounced, and my work as a therapist has much to do with it.

We need to be careful in assuming that what is true for us would be the same for other people. Yet some things are universal – things we all share as human beings. And I believe the desire for an intimate connection with another soul is one of them. This desire to experience intimacy at a deeper level – and to help others experience it in their lives – led me to practising therapy, for it can be experienced not only with close friends and loved ones, but with somebody you barely know, even with a complete stranger. For me – and I think many of you will join me here – these are truly moments worth living for. Why, then, do we so often feel lonely and cut off, very often from the very people we most want to be close to?

Dragon with many heads

The main reason for this is a dragon with many heads: FEAR. What are we afraid of? First of all, of course, we are afraid of being hurt. This is the chief head of the dragon, a natural fear linked to the self-preservation instinct. If we expose our inner being, we make ourselves vulnerable and it is easier to hurt us through either intention or omission. And there are so many ways in which we can get hurt! So we learn to protect ourselves by donning armour over our sensitive inner being. And there are so many ways to wear this armour! By pretending we don’t care. By criticizing another person. By playing silent games and withdrawing within ourselves (my default defence reaction). You name it!

We do it and all other people do it too. So what happens? We end up walking around presenting to each other our either polished or bristly armour and thus we begin to forget (because we cannot see it) that within each person we meet in our daily life, there is this vulnerable being that yearns for genuine human contact. We also begin to believe that people who come across as strong and self-confident will only accept us and want to socialise with us if we project a similar impression. So we create a persona according to the likeness of this ‘idol’. We may go to terrible pains to maintain this persona and also suffer from a lot of fear like a charlatan waiting to be disclosed.

Fear, however, engenders fear, and going along with it we perpetuate the vicious circle. Yet the truth lays in exactly the opposite direction. The truth is, it is precisely our vulnerability – our humanness (that we often come to despise) – that attracts people and makes them want to connect with us! It is such a simple truth, but sometimes it is so hard to really believe it in our heart! As I have been thinking about writing this blog I have been observing myself more closely and noticing how much I am still infected by this fear – or fears. Fear of being judged, rejected, looked down at. Yet I have countless examples of absolutely wonderful transformations that happen to people and their relationships when the fear is discarded and you reach out to someone heart to heart. I can tell you one such story.

Shedding our armour

When I was doing my PhD, I often came to work in the reading room of the University Library. And for two years there was a man who also came to work there nearly every day, yet we never said hello to each other. I felt uncomfortable with that because it felt unnatural: here is somebody that you know – somebody like your neighbour – yet you pretend that you don’t know each other. This uncomfortable feeling began really to bother me and so one day I put aside my reservations (like what if he thinks I am crazy) and judgements (like he is an arrogant and unfriendly snob) and stopped him as we were passing each other in the library corridor. I said: ‘Hello! I have been seeing you there in the reading room for a long time and we never said hello. My name is Ludmila.’ Guess what happened? He absolutely beamed, said his name was Jack and right there on the spot started telling me all about his research and his work. He was not arrogant or unfriendly – he was just shy! Since then we would sometimes meet for coffee in the canteen and have nice chats. We didn’t become close friends, but it was a genuine human connection – from the heart.

I also remember a story my father told me when I was in my late teens. He was attending a work function and there was one colleague whom for no apparent reason he took to dislike. And he had expressed his dislike by being mean to that person in some small ways. But then at some point during the party, the man came over to him and asked: ‘Victor, why are you treating me like this? What have I done to you?’ Hearing that, my father’s heart turned within him. All his hostility vanished in an instant, he felt remorse and a wave of warmth towards his colleague.

Expressing our hurt directly instead of acting it out means letting go of the armour – and it usually helps to disarm the other person too. Yet it is so difficult to do it! I am personally still struggling with it as one of the pillars of my ideal self-image is ‘being strong’ (understood wrongly – hence quote marks). So it’s not only the fear of being made vulnerable to the other, but also the fear of disappointment with oneself – if we admit that we fall short of what we expect from ourselves.

Well, I have written a very long blog already and have barely begun to scratch the surface of the topic! Please write to me your thoughts and stories – I would love to hear from you and to continue the discussion below.