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Reaching out

Confidence, doubts, guilt and shame.

Why is there a great power in reaching out to others? It helps put things into perspective for us, it helps us feel safe and, perhaps most importantly, it gives courage to others to do the same thing. It’s amazing how articulating our thoughts and feelings – especially those deeper concerns – into words has the effect of taking away their power over us. This is even better if you can speak them out aloud, preferably to a trusted friend or partner, but also to yourself.

“Awareness and acknowledgement are a good 1A and 1B in the steps towards reaching out.”

Too often we might not be aware there is potentially something wrong, and less willing to acknowledge it (even less so if it’s because of ourselves). If we cannot complete this step then we have nothing to talk about, which a lot of the time is what people want; the smooth sailing, no questions asked, no thought required, no feelings hurt. However, if we climb over this hill we’re still not out of the woods, as we can be plagued with the belief that there isn’t anyone out there who might be suffering like us – sometimes this is combined with the thought that everyone else is just fine and dandy, further reinforcing how alone in our struggle we feel we are.

“To allow yourself to be vulnerable and share your innermost feelings can provide that much needed opportunity to heal.”

Our confidence can be severely lacking at these points in our lives which not only inhibits our ability to express things to ourselves, but to find or even believe that there are people like us and/or who would listen and care. We can come to develop a sort of “learned helplessness”, a term coined by American psychologist, Martin Seligman. Essentially, this “nothing I do matters” mentality has a bad habit of snowballing and we would like to avoid that where possible. If we can try and invert this process, as sport psychologist Bob Rotella called “learned effectiveness”, with our new found optimism we can leverage a sense of confidence that wasn’t there previously, and with some persistence achieve success.

Now, this sounds all good and well, even easy, but from the depths it can be difficult to look up especially if you’re already looking (further) down. How does one meet the world on their terms? To not be afraid or embarrassed by our own voice, needs and wants? To have the inner resolve to stand strong against the litany of insults, criticisms and derision especially towards that which we hold dear and close? We’ve already started answering some of that…

"Anxiety deserves greater dignity: it is not a sign of degeneracy. It is a justifiable expression of panic at our mysterious participation in a disordered, uncertain world." – Alain de Botton

Nothing like a bit of doubt to send the anxiety levels through the roof, although, typically “we suffer more in imagination than reality”, as Seneca once wrote. Our doubts lead to inaction, the inability to move forward with a sense of self-efficacy. Doubts have a tendency to erode or destroy our goals, and can seep in through the myriad of opinions out there, critical or unfounded. You must think things through and understand why you do what you do, ethically and morally, as the purpose of living ethically is to achieve peace and not be tortured by your own conscience. To steel yourself, to have and maintain belief in your convictions, otherwise you’ll live in fear.

Doubts and fear can arise through feelings of guilt and shame. Now, there are differences between guilt and shame despite many people conflating the two. Shame is an act of ‘commission’ i.e. you have committed a wrongful act/done something wrong, basically you have done something you shouldn’t. Guilt on the other hand is an act of ‘omission’ i.e. you have failed to do the right thing/something good, you haven’t done something you should have. Maybe this will help you to understand the next you feel guilty or ashamed.

In the context of reaching out, why would we feel guilty or ashamed? We can feel ashamed that we’re not strong, resilience nor wise enough to deal with our problems on our own. We can feel guilty for not using the help of a friend, partner or professional service when it’s there. What if we don’t have enough money for a psychologist? Shame…again. We feel guilty about being a burden to our loved ones.

The thing is though, and it’s a bit of doozy and context dependent, but guilt and shame can act as “positive” motivators for change. Micro-habit changes aim low, and focus on growth and development. To become maximally motivated one pursues goal/s and transformation at the same time. As the elder from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov espoused, being ashamed of yourself is the cause of everything.

I’ve had my own struggles with reaching out to people. In my experience most people have distanced themselves from me after I reached out to them which has further cemented my distrust in other people. Conversely, this isolation has led to me doubling my efforts to strengthen my resolve and stoically go it alone for the most part, although I know most people are not cut out for that life. I know I need to muster the courage to seek out those I can confide in, but this is no easy task, and I’m filled with more doubt than confidence.

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