My Self Healing

Posted on September 17, 2014

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Disclaimer: The following is my opinion based on my experience and is not an attack on any religion or other belief. What works for you is what works for you, this worked for me. This is not a guide written by an expert either.

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How does one heal themselves, from trauma, betrayal by those they’ve given their hearts and lives to, the feeling of deep aloneness and depression? Well it was hard. There is a short Wikipedia article about the topic which claims that the method has “mixed fortunes” due to its amateur nature, however that self-motivation will help in achieving success. This was probably a big factor in why it worked for me. I want to just clarify at the outset that this was not some miracle trick but required hard work and motivation. It is likely to be so for anyone else that tries it too.

It is also important to know that it’s not necessarily done entirely alone; you need the support of friends and family that will help you through a process of self-reflection, and be there to verify and support the perspectives that you develop. Maybe even a professional psychiatrist can help, although I personally didn’t use any when I was originally going through this process and only tried it once later when I was down due to a relationship break-up and betrayal. I was down but not to the depth I had been before, but I wanted to try to see if it worked. ait did help, at least to confirm the steps I already knew I needed to take.

What one has to realize however, is that even in a healing process guided by faith or by professional therapy, much of the actual healing is done by oneself inwardly with the realization of self-worth leading to regaining one’s self-confidence and esteem. In professional therapy, the therapist guides you through the process which helps if you can’t figure the steps out yourself. In a faith based healing, and I am being rudely blunt here, the process remains the same, albeit covered by layers of religious reasoning, and you do the work yourself but then give credit to whoever you worship.

Now, to the point. Say you are depressed, for whatever reason. The main features of this are: uncontrolled and often unexplained regular bouts of sadness, a feeling of loneliness and lack of self-worth. The feeling of sadness maybe for a reason that you shouldn’t really be that sad about, or even for no reason at all. This magnifies the feeling of loneliness, to the point that you will feel alone even amidst a group of people that genuinely care for you. You just can’t see it due to all the distraction. Both these lead to low self-esteem, low self-worth and potentially even suicidal tendencies. No citations of medical journals here. As I mentioned before, this is an opinion piece based on my experiences, and this is what I experienced. The part about why I was actually depressed and all the stupid things I did (or tried and failed to do) is not going on this article due to privacy but will be shared with a few people. However, this is how I dealt with it.

Seeing Things for What They Are

What I found to be the key factor in my own self-healing process is the ability to evaluate others’ perspectives of myself and the relative importance of how others treat me. We all want to be loved and respected. That is why we feel bad when others mistreat us. This can’t be helped. However we can prevent a temporary dampening of our mood from growing into a deep depression and affecting how we value ourselves. As an ENFJ/ENTJ (I shift between mildly feeling and mildly thinking) I am a social animal, and feed off the attention and love of others. Therefore people’s opinions are important to me, to the point that once upon a time I let that be a key determinant in establishing the value of my life.

This is definitely ‘no bueno’ when you’re twelve, smaller than other kids and regularly got bullied. This led me to base my own view of the value of my life on the low life runt that I was told I was. I felt my life was not worth living and that no one would ever care. Little did I realize that this was in fact a vocal minority and that I was generally well liked by the silent majority. I also lacked the maturity to realize that there will always be people that dislike and /or mistreat me, sometimes the feeling being mutual and sometime it being one way. I hit rock bottom, and only a couple of my very good friends know the exact depth I sank to, but slowly recovered when the bullying died down as I grew physically bigger and fitter, and better at sports. Then several years later a case of unrequited love sank me again but I was mature and motived enough to pull myself out, with a bit of luck.

What I eventually manage to do was to see exactly what people’s opinions were: just opinions. Maybe they are based on what these people wanted to see in me, their own insecurities or maybe some fault of mine, which was construed as a trait not a one off fault. At the end of the day I couldn’t help being upset when I find that someone holds a negative opinion of me, and I think it’s a good thing as it enables you to hold yourself to account and be better equipped to survive in society. However I managed to stop it there and detach my deeper sense of self-worth from other’s perceived view of my worth. At the end of the day, they don’t know me as well as myself anyway. As I grew more aware of the world and its challenges, needs and opportunities, I was able to establish right from wrong better and have an understanding of what ‘values’ were of actual value in the context of humanity and the global wellbeing. Once I realized what actually mattered in life and what actually was important to the world (as opposed to the conceptions or misconceptions of a few) I was able to judge myself against these values. Not everyone you come across is enlightened. It was a lucky string of events that combined to help me realize this, and that I wasn’t all that bad. Of course I had many faults, which was humbling to realize, but I also found out what I needed to do to be a better person. It is a work in progress and I’m not perfect, but at least I can try.

The Realization    

The realization of my true worth came thanks to a cocktail of luck, and different passions that intersected around the same time. I was born in beautiful Sri Lanka, growing up between one of the most scenic cities in the world, called Kandy, and the idyllic setting of my grand parents’ villages, Pujapitya (paternal), and Wadakada (maternal). In the villages and even in the Kandy suburbs, forest and wildlife was not far away and as a result I grew up with an appreciation of nature and passion for conservation. After moving to equally beautiful New Zealand at 15, this only grew, adding on a passion for social justice, which led to much community involvement, co-founding a student sustainability group and then Engineers without Borders. At the same time my love of dancing was growing and the social contact the Latin dance scene offered saved me from the extreme loneliness I would have felt otherwise following losing the girl I loved and the majority of my support base (friends) relocating to Australia. I did community work not to feel good about myself (and I didn’t at first) but because I really cared about others and the planet.

However, I found myself on Tanna Island, Vanuatu with colleagues Keri and Josh, going above and beyond our original mission providing the local Worldvision office with technical assistance relating to water supply projects. It was when, after one site visit to a cluster of villages to inspect rain water harnessing systems, the local chiefs respectfully asked for my advice as the only professional engineer in attendance that I realized what I had done. Here is me feeling like my life was worthless, but actually making a difference in the lives of others; better yet, without asking for anything in return or trying to convert them to my beliefs. Thanks to our work, hundreds of people including children had access to safe drinking water year around. Salmonella can kill kids before they are school age, but now these children have the opportunity to grow up and make their own mark.

We were also training locals to manage water resources to ensure lasting progress and a high level of ownership due to deep collaboration with the community from the outset. I just felt happy. For the first time in my life I truly felt happy and content in life after this trip, as I realized that my life was valuable not because of the way others treated me, but because I have actually made a positive impact, and without me there would be more suffering in the world. Far from feeling pompous, it was actually very humbling. I felt that I had earned my life, and I knew that I wanted to further champion sustainability and social justice. Albert Einstein had said that a ‘life lived for others is the only life worth living’ and I realized how true this was. Instead of whining with self-pity, I had actually started to live for others, for something greater than just myself and it felt awesome.

This was the starting point, and it gave me the momentum and motivation to keep working on myself and focus on my passions. It empowered me and gave me the courage to follow my dreams. I got more and more into dancing which helped further build my confidence, and I left my day job to get another day job which gave me more time for other activities and which was more in line with my passion for sustainability. When the opportunity arose, rather than looking for an excuse to back down, I took the opportunity to move to the US for a MBA, and this ongoing experience has been amazing.

Tools

There are several tools to help you self-heel. Support from friends and family, and focusing on those positive relationships is a good starting point, which however may or may not be available. If someone is unsure about where to start the self-healing process, I strongly suggest doing volunteer work and at the same time picking up an art form, dancing being perfect due to the social opportunities that it gives within a supportive environment. It helps you put yourself in a positive light, which should help you garner the courage to carry out some self-reflection. This is not easy. Write down what you are about, and what your passions are. Once you written down everything that you are, good and bad, accept that this is you. You are not being represented by a standard package that you are forced to conform to, but rather the real you is unique to you. Rather than only painting a rosy picture, you will see some ugliness, but at least rather than suffering eternal damnation, you can take these as opportunities to grow as you know what areas you need to work on. Then keep working on it. Eventually you will have the ability to look at yourself objectively, not just critically or just positively. Acknowledge the good, base your self-worth around it. Acknowledge the bad, try to garner the courage to share it with someone close. Then look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself what you need to work on and how to go about it. It’s hard to start, but once you start, you will get a surge of empowerment. Share with someone you trust and get their help if you need. Tell them to evaluate you candidly. All the while remember the good, and understand that that’s what makes your life worth living. Sometimes it helps to write it down, so that you can remind yourself of your purpose in life when you feel down. It may look something like this.

“I am not a hero, I am no one special, I am just me. Nevertheless, and whether or not I was created by a supreme being or am an accident of nature, I was born with the power of free will. Although many use it for their own ends without regard to others, I decided to use this power for good, for the benefit of humanity and this world. Other who do not know or understand me, may mistreat me or think ill of me; that is their prerogative. However this doesn’t change who I am or what I have decided to do in my life, and it’s what I do, who I am, my values, passions and principles and the change that I strive to make in the world that define who I am, give purpose to my existence and value to my life.”

Through this on-going process, one might regain their sense of self-worth, and realign it based on the value they add, not on someone else’s love or on the basis of them being created. Love is great but it’s even better when you are not desperate for it because that’s all you base your life on. Enjoy being you.

Faith

Faith in itself is a good thing, it keeps you grounded and act as a guide, for better (Mother Theresa) or for worse (the crusaders that sacked Jerusalem or the zealots that burnt supposed witches). However in my opinion it is useful after you have established a level of confidence around your self-worth, not as the basis for your self-worth. This is because you are still pinning the value of your life on someone else, based on the premise that they created you, and thus love you, have a plan for you and will ultimately protect you.

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It is convenient that as opposed to a human that can betray you, hurt you and say offensive things to you as they are present in physical form, this supreme being is spiritual, and we have assigned values reflective or perfection and ultimate goodness to them. As they are not present in physical form they cannot prove you wrong, and consequently, as long as you attribute everything good to them and everything bad to their antithesis, they will never hurt you. Thus it seems to work, unless you have other philosophical or doctrinal conflicts with the faith that propagates this supreme being and choose to leave it, suddenly finding yourself in a vacuum, your life without meaning and no basis for your self –worth. All this would happen despite you continuing to be the exact same person you were before except for those spiritual conflicts, and continue to be indispensable for society.

Another point is that you are attracted to religions, or more easily convinced to join one, when you find yourself weak and vulnerable, essentially looking for something comforting to grab on to. Imagine you are being caught by a rough current down a river towards a waterfall, you will grab at whatever you can grab, without thinking of other consequences. The search for immediate relief being the overriding factor, other aspects of your personality and logical reasoning will be clouded. In fact this is likely to lead to future conflicts as the relative importance of the comfort factor diminishes and doctrinal issues come forth. Of course if there are no issues, then it is fine, but otherwise you would find yourself in the aforementioned vacuum. Now consider you are in a gentle stream, with many branches of many different trees available for you to grab on to at your leisure to help yourself on to the bank. In this case you can evaluate the branches for what they are, make sure there is no poison ivy, and pick the one you like best. Same with religion; we all need some spiritual guidance, but when the need for affection and a sense of belonging is not clouding our judgement, we can make better decisions. Hence, discover yourself in the present first, then try finding out how the universe was created and what happens in the afterlife.

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Posted in: Life