It is with a little trepidation (…okay okay – a lot) and some not so insignificant self doubt that marks this as my first official blog (and by official, I kinda mean any blog of any nature whatsoever). My clients have been suggesting that I post my ‘wisdom’ online for a long time and my friends have also joined a chorus of encouragement (it just occurred to me though that my clients may have just wanted to save a few dollars and that my friends are just trying to get me to shut-up!). All cynicism aside, I did want to create a blog dedicated to wellness, happiness and creating a life of authenticity and vitality. And as I hope will come across in the blogs to come, I want to give a young and fresh approach with plenty of humour from a ‘living-in-the-real-world, young, stilleto-wearing, festivals-in-the-summer/winebars-in-winter’ kinda girl.
At about this point, you may be wondering what makes me think I could add anything to the growing body of bloggers/research/literature into the self-help (God I hate that phrase), positive psychology (really hate this phrase) movement. I am a clinical psychologist who has worked with individuals and groups and seen radical changes in the way people live and experience life. I have also seen these same people, at the start of our journey together, struggle and suffer in a life filled with effort and compromise, running on a treadmill and never quite feeling like they ‘are there yet’ or getting there and thinking: ‘this just isn’t what I thought it would be’.
One of the greatest sources of pain in our society is the adoption of sociocultural values as our own, to the detriment of our authentic and deeply personal values. Many of us are drawn into pursuing goals we erroneously believe (rather, we have been programmed into believing through years of marketing by family, friends, culture, advertisers, and the media) will/should bring us happiness and a sense of wellness and feelings of security. Often we find, that even if successful, not only are we not necessarily ‘happy’ but we may have sacrificed more than we bargained for in the pursuit. We may have important bottle-neck moments on the way that make us question whether it’s all worth it. All too often though, fear holds us back. We are evolutionary programmed to avoid social exclusion, to be similar to the pack, to fit in and be socially accepted. The failure to reconcile these goals results in a state of anxiety.
From an evolutionary stand point it makes sense that we are programmed to avoid social rejection by having a system very sensitive to social situations that may result in social rejection. This system is what may lead to the fear of conflict, and of course leads to the production of adrenaline (causing a sense of uneasiness and discomfort) if we were to make decisions which appear to be different to our social group. This is because we tend to like people who are similar to us, have similar interests, similar points of view, similar goals and similar lifestyles. We then, through a beautiful process of mental symmetry, infer that in order for people to like us, we need to be similar to them in many ways. As many of you are thinking however, this is not necessarily true, as we often have friends who are very different in many ways to us. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that evolved for the benefit of very early man was not very sophisticated or open minded it seems. Therefore, while our experiences may be contrary to some of these core beliefs, our evolutionary defence against such situations may still be triggered. For example, consider a woman who has become a mother for the first time. She may begin to experience a conflict between the desire to return to the successful and fulfilling corporate role she enjoyed before motherhood and the desire to be there for her child. This is not a discussion about a woman’s right, choice etc. – that is irrelevant to the point I am making. I am more concerned about her internal pushes and pulls. It may realistically be impossible to do one, without it interfering in one’s capacity to do another, and the push and pulls of this decision, when closely explored may not be simply about two equally important desires. When really explored, the issues may have more to do with fear vs desire – the fear of not being able to keep up financially, the fear that your sense of ‘success’ will diminish, the fear of regret or missing out if you spend too much time at home/work, the fear of no longer fitting what we perceive and have internalised as society’s expectation of us. For everybody this expectation may look a little different. We are all unique and individual and even slight variations in our individual experiences of family, friends, culture, socioeconomic status, peer groups, intellect, personality, health, life experiences and many more factors, can lead to marked variations in social group affiliation. The choices we make are really the cornerstones of life’s direction. They can lead to a sense of constant pressure, a sense of ongoing and unfulfilling compromise or the experience of vitality, and a deep connectedness to life. In my experience, leading a life where the fuel in your tank is desire and not fear is what makes the journey one of wellbeing, happiness and meaning. The trick is knowing yourself well enough to know the difference!
I invite you to let go of fear and insecurities, to believe in your “bigness”, create a vision for your life and be inspired to stay on track!
Maria-Elena Lukeides (D.Clin Psych)
Friend, mother, mentor and meaning-maker (also great at reading maps and putting together IKEA furniture)