Going easy on Expectations

Some of the least happy periods I’ve had in my life have been when I’ve expected too much of myself. Trying to be perfect and ending up feeling more inadequate than ever. Now that I’m older, I have learned to be a bit more gentle. Perhaps more realistic too. I see that it’s tiny little steps in a consistent direction that work best for me. And which invite less of a backlash of self sabotage.

There were damaging events in childhood that can’t be denied, and that effected my confidence, and caused me to adapt to have to survive such anxiety. These adaptations, some of them not healthy, became part of my character and my life script. It has taken many years to understand the cause and effect of it, and I have made peace with this history largely now.

However recently I found myself tearful remembering the terror of being a vulnerable child around and angry aggressive mother. I saw that I carry these experiences around to this day. A slap across the face was never far away, and often for no reason I could see. The consistent message to me was “your feelings don’t matter”. My mum had a lot of emotional pain going on, and I feel compassion for her. But I was her emotional and physical punchbag. So I grew up not feeling very safe or valued. My lovely grandma did balance that out a lot though, she gave me the opposite message.

I was telling a friend about it because I’d recently become very afraid in the face of an angry client. I wanted her to be happy not angry. Taken right back there to being a scared child. I went straight into appeasement mode, and offered her money to please her. Unnecessarily. It was money that was due to me. It was a hard lesson. I didn’t stand my ground. I felt demolished, hopeless that I would ever recover from these conditioned responses. Humbling experience.

But I know what to do with this now. Feel compassion for myself, just as I would feel compassion if it was a friend telling me this story.

So much suffering in the world. I ask impossible to answer questions about this like why why why are some adults so horrible to children. It’s ignorance, they don’t know what they are doing will effect the kids whole life, their choices of partner of job of personal wellbeing. If you abuse a kid the message is that they don’t matter. That has massive consequences on a persons life. It becomes hard for them to feel they deserve a good life, a happy relationship and financial security.

I’ve been working through this bit by bit. The conclusion I have come to is that progress is best in small steps.

I’m at such an unmotivated impasse just now in my life. I have taken myself, my wellbeing and health level, my money situation and my business way beyond my old upper limit level and while it feels great and I celebrate this, I’m in unknown territory. I feel anxious at times. Is this too good for me and it’s bound to come crashing down?! Self doubt thoughts like that swirl around. There are doubts that I deserve all this. Even though on a conscious level I know how much I’ve worked and struggled to get here to this place of relative freedom.

So when in the grip of anxiety of self doubt, and feeling paralysed I can still find the smallest of actions to take that demonstrate kindness. So I light a scented candle, I take some vitamins, put some soothing music on and plan on a walk in nature, even in the rain this is always therapeutic.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility”.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


What brings me most Happiness?

Thought I’d make a list, as I lose sight at times. It’s also what I’m thankful for too, so a gratitude list also. Life has been feeling a bit humdrum recently and I want to check in that I’m doing enough of what I love. J

  • Walking slowly through nature, lingering and exploring and just being outdoors in the woods, by a river, in a meadow
  • Birdsong
  • Hearing Tobie’s interesting thoughtful views
  • Seeing Tobie is successfully making his own way in life
  • Being around any kind of animal
  • Pollok park
  • Taking beautiful photos
  • Being around old beautiful architecture
  • Exploratory conversations
  • Hugs
  • Being in the countryside
  • Being in Fife
  • Designing a garden
  • Happy clients
  • Increasing my Understanding of myself and others
  • Feeling compassion
  • Feeding the birds and watching them
  • Playing with a dog
  • Being useful to others
  • Silence
  • Loud energising rock music
  • Going to see live music
  • Travelling to new places and experiencing other cultures
  • Toasted seaweed
  • Milky tea and honey
  • Old photos from earlier periods
  • Exercising and keeping healthy
  • Daily Swimming and the jacuzzi
  • seeing the men every day and having a chat
  • learning to listen better
  • The smells of autumn

Photo taken last night in Pollok Park where I go daily


Small Steps each Day

Allowing more and more happiness in, slowly and gently. Maybe wellbeing is a more accurate word, I don’t mean momentary glimpses of joy or fleeting highs of mood, more a thorough integrated feeling of increasing wellness, emotionally, mentally and physically.

I have been surprised by the extent and intensity of the unconscious resistance inside to my increasing openness to allowing more wellbeing in. While I’m loving this new way of living, a part of me still seems to regard it as unsafe and wants a return to normal stress, inner wrangling, interpersonal conflict and drama. How powerful the urge to sabotage this wellbeing, how sneaky that sabotage can be too. It is like it is actively intelligent, with a will of its own, to take me away from this new territory and back to more familiar, less happy ground.

So each day I practise allowing wellbeing, consciously. I register that I feel wellbeing and I pause and feel into it fully and allow it fully…I let it last longer and longer, I linger for longer periods there. Not attaching to it exactly, ready to let it go when it wants to go, but like welcoming a timid deer coming up to me, I just try and relax with it. A gentle self coaxing.

I scan my situation and see where I’m allowing self sabotage to sneak in under the guise of something else. I question my decisions and actions in this light, and gently too.

Like maybe this recent one.Im not sure if this is self sabotage but I am monitoring it closely. I reconnected with an old friend who used to be quite abusive emotionally. I meet him every day nearly for an hours walk in the park. Out with his angry outbursts we get on great, but he is extremely volatile and has a lot of anger. He has some serious mental health issues, including  depression and low self worth….and I askis this wise for me? Is the decision to be around him caring towards myself? He crossed a line already by getting angry towards me. A situation I’m watching closely.

Yes at this stage I question my decisions. I see how my cycles work. Life is getting better and better. I’m exercising a lot and feeling fitter, business is going very well and my bank balance is healthier, my inner mood is fairly stable and contended, my relationships are harmonious…all good. So now here is how self sabotage works.

Next thing I find myself feeling compelled to overeat. It only lasts a few days but the pounds go on, 3 or 4. I feel guilty and ashamed. Judge myself as weak and lacking control. I don’t feel so light or good about myself with extra pounds on.

The part of me that wants this sort of drama has won, for now. It has succeeded in making me dislike myself more. The same thing happens when I drink too much. I feel ashamed and guilty and like myself less. Takes me back to familiar self hatred territory, and away from this news familiar scary territory. Or I feel compelled to bite a nail so hard that it hurts.

This is how tricky it can be breaking out of the mould given to us by our families. They set the thermostat inside for how much love, joy, wealth, wellbeing and harmony we will allow ourselves. If we try and move beyond those limits and turn the thermostat up, then resistance can be experienced, and often in the form of self sabotage.

A few words about my own forms of self sabotage. What happens for me is that as I do better in life it invokes a little anxiety due to moving into more unfamiliar territory. I become more susceptible to old habits and activities which provide short term relief from that unease. For me the actions that provide this short term relief include comfort eating and drinking sweet alcoholic drinks.

Fairly mild yes. Yet it is all under the spotlight right now. And these short term comfort measures sabotage my longer term goal of being fit, slim and healthy. Then I experience inner conflict. The cognitive dissonance of taking actions regularly that are in direct conflict with my clear goals. I experience shame and disappointment in myself too, self judgement, and the whole thing gets to continue.

My only answer to this is to take small steps each day in the right direction. To find other ways to support and sooth myself. Gradually these will replace the less healthy methods of self soothing.

So here’s a few regular practises that support this process.

  • I buy some scented candles and light them, just for me sitting here at the table having an evening alone.
  • I spend time amid trees and nature almost every single day. The beauty soothes and takes me away from a focus on the personal.
  • I make sure I do what I can to bring a touch of joy or encouragement to everyone I meet, either just by being friendly and open or sometimes as situations allow, by a compliment or encouragement. Spreading the love reminds me and others that we are not alone.
  • I linger in wellbeing when I notice it’s presence. I’m gentle with this, knowing how timid part of me is about entering more fully into it. So I’m kind to myself about it, patient.
  • I start the day with the gym and a swim. This gives my day structure and a sense of familiar regularity which is important reassurance to any part of me feeling insecure. And it’s good for the body and nervous system too. I do about 5000 steps, 10 minute swim and 10 minutes in the jacuzzi. Pure luxury, and that is okay 🙂
  • I assert myself when challenged by clients wanting more than they paid for. I’m comfortable now with sticking up for myself.
  • I position a towel on a chair next to the pool, and I practise a mantra of “resting with the way it is right now, all of it” over and over, resting resting resting.
  • I remember to feel grateful often for the abundance in my life. This is very helpful for allowing and resting with increasing wellbeing. I say out loud thank you and acknowledge it out loud when I feel wellbeing.
  • I use mindfulness to help me not to get caught up in stories in my mind. The other day driving along in the car I caught my mind winding me up about an action someone body ‘shouldn’t’ have done. I paused breathed in deeply and blew out, and cut short an inner drama that could have raised my stress level but didn’t.

The Attraction of not doing TOO well.

‘TOO well’ What does that mean? It means going near or beyond the inner limit of ‘doing well’ that we have fixed for ourselves or more usually, was set for us. Going beyond what we were brought up to feel we deserve by our parents, social environment, class, neighbourhood. This can be in the areas of happiness level, material wealth, health or relationship harmony.

So this morning I was reflecting on the very poor quarterly results my business has had. This follows a successful year, the best results the business has ever had and the most money I have ever earned.

I wondered what about me is the cause of this result. In business its always your fault and your responsibility and so one doesn’t need to look far to find the cause of any problems. It’s always with me.

There is something glorious about being in control to that extent, knowing that I can change the course I take. It can also be daunting at times to take full responsibility and know that the buck stops here, every time. No recourse to the childlike state of wanting to be saved by a shining knight or to blame someone else.

So I glimpsed the attraction to not doing well, the pull towards failure. Here are a few I found this morning, some of which were more relevant in the past for me…but may still be activated at times and cause a conflict of goals. In fact if my main conscious goal is to be successful in every way this whole list demonstrates sub goals that can interfere with the main goal if not made fully conscious. After each I have put the kinds of affirmations I use to answer each fear or mistaken belief. I have done this really quickly this morning to its not complete, I may add to it later on.

  • It can come from adhering or being subject to unrealistic levels of perfectionism. If you are not doing it perfectly or hugely massively well you might as well fail – being perfect is a hard benchmark to chase, far too hard. It can suck your motivation – so why bother even trying – I am enough, I work hard enough, I love myself whether I fail or succeed


  • It can come from being over criticised as a child. You get the message you can’t do anything right, so you conclude like I did, that I may as well not even bother trying too hard. The parents won’t be pleased by your efforts and the desired praise won’t be forthcoming anyway. In fact I may as well do everything wrong, since you are being constantly chastised anyway. So rebel against this and that and everything including doing well in life – I no longer have to rebel against what others consider normal, I observe what works and use it, I can encourage and praise myself, I am very pleased with myself 


  • Hang about in struggle and you don’t need to take a fall from success or a high position. So if you don’t  allow too much success in, there is no chance of tumbling from the position, nowhere to fall if you are already scrambling about on the ground. So saving face? Pride is that – there is no need to worry about failing and losing face, life has its ups and downs, many times I have recovered from failure successfully and will again if necessary


  • Hang about in struggle and theres no danger of pride developing or getting carried away with feeling superior –I trust that I will maintain healthy levels of humility and I am conscious when my ego tries to step in and take over,


  • If I am successful people will probably not like me. I have had some of this already, friends who have called me right wing or attacked my lack of ‘social benefit’. People seem to associate doing well with right wing and selfishness. ‘The rich are to blame for societies ills’ is the dominant social paradigm. To be popular in the UK you have to fail, to be hated, just succeed – I am less and less concerned about being accepted and liked the more I accept and like myself, I accept that we can’t be liked by everyone and that to be yourself sometimes requires others disapproval 


  • You may lose some friends, and your social circle may change, you could feel abandoned – I feel compassion for myself and allow change to take place


  • Fear of causing others envy and jealousy. Your success may make others feel inadequate and they may consciously or unconsciously compare themselves to you- I feel compassion for any suffering I see in others and I feel compassion for myself


  • To ease up on the succeeding a bit…get back to old comfy familiar territory of struggle and strife and worry and uncertainty and living on the edge- Even though it can feel scary at first its actually quite exciting to explore new territory, I trust myself to thrive in the new circumstances and to cope adequately with new situations


  • My own unworthiness kicking in perhaps as doors of a better life open up to me and invite me in – I work daily on allowing myself to experience happiness and success, and I am mindful of my positive qualities and worthiness and I feel gratitude for all that I have in my life 


  • Fear of increasing guilt. The guilt says why would I want to have so much when most have so little? I trust that the more I have, happiness, wealth etc, the more I am able to share, and the more good I can do in the world, there is no need for guilt




Allowing more Happiness in

I have a sense that it's our choice how much happiness we allow in. I have had a love/hate relationship with happiness all my life. It has felt more comfortable to be mired in interpersonal drama, in relationships with dysfunctional or just incompatible people, to be struggling financially, to be focused on what is not right most of the time. That's what is familiar. A sense of feeling safe with lack of safety.

To happiness I respond as if it is a threat, so with anxiety, unless it is experienced within the familiar confines of what I have deemed to be 'safe'. The safe forms for me are walks in the woods, taking photos of flowers, staring blissfully at a sunset, enjoying the music I so love. Levels of almost uncontainable bliss are experienced quite often. It also makes me happy to share these things with a close friend. These simple and nearly always available pleasures mean that no matter how my moods may temporarily swing to and fro, I can find joy easily again and elevate out of self preoccupation into nature. So that is all great, and I am thankful for this permanent salve. I am aware however that I observe levels of happiness in others that I don't know about. The harmonious loving relationship, the stable finances and lovely permanent home….

I have gone back to basics in an attempt to understand the self deprivation. Then I saw the self contempt in the mix. The 'not good enough' belief. So gradually I have been allowing a simple happiness of acceptance of being me. There are even times now when I really feel a sense of celebration of myself. It's similar to what I feel when I take the space and time to really see and celebrate the uniqueness of another, and so in a way it's not actually even personal, not in a narcissistic sense.

It's great being me I sometimes realise! And that includes every character defect too. The realisation is what utterly uniquely fabulous being we all are. "If we really saw people, every person we meet would be the love of our lives" Byron Katie said, and I really get that. I can be in love with everyone I meet, the postman, the taxi driver, my mum, my sister…my neighbour….I marvel at them and myself and feel a thrill of awe and wonder at times. My biological evolutionary programming does not allow me to live in such an undefended state normally though, and appraising how much threat another poses is part of looking after myself in a healthy way….but there is a hint that perhaps we can go beyond feeling threatened by others. I am not there.

Coming from parents in an unhappy marriage I don't know how to do those loving close reliable intimate kinds of romantic relationships. It's so alien to me. I am not even sexually attracted to healthy functional successful men. But present an attractive slightly broken and lost man and I am instantly interested. Combine that with a strong 'helper' personality trait and idealism you can imagine….One of the downsides to being an idealist personality type is that you see the potential in others, even if it's a mile from actuated and will require years of therapy for that person. Realists don't have this issue, they see things as they are clearly, end of.

There are levels of happiness and joy in relationships I won't allow in because they are unfamiliar to me and so feel dangerous. It's the same for levels of personal happiness levels. I seem more comfortable focusing on problems. That is partly our negativity bias we hear so much about from the evolutionary psychologists. But it's also partly growing up in a dangerous household with an unpredictably emotionally and physically violent mother. I learned to be on alert all the time, certainly not to relax back in a sense of safety. There was much love from her too, but it could quickly change and so wasn't trustworthy. Relaxing back into love and wellbeing and feeling safe was not taught to me, and that is where joy arises, when we feel safe. In a stable environment. We can create those conditions for ourselves though even if we weren't taught it.

So what can I do to coax myself out of these now self imposed limitations? It has been my life's work. Here are a couple of the actions I took that I have done that have let more happiness in.

– dare to imagine more, and different from expectations given to us by others. I used to write lists and descriptions of my ideal life. What kind of partner, exactly my ideal house, car and job if I gave myself full permission to 'have it all' . I examined the washes of feelings that came up and embraced them, feeling arose of unworthiness, of self judgement and criticism, and that was valuable and they are all allowed. The effect of this was a gradual expansion of my parameters.

– as my life becomes more stable, successful and calmer and I start to feel safer, I watch out for unconscious tendencies to sabotage harmony, the pull back to familiar dangerous waters, the excitement of living on the edge, the gambling risk taker.

– self compassion has been the single most life changing addition to my life. It is a tool that I now use when I remember to, whenever I experience suffering. I use self compassion to soothe myself, and thereby experience greater emotional regulation. It has given me more courage to be honest with myself as the pain of doing this isn't so scary, self compassion is available to tend to the wounds and the pains. So if I'm going to meet a client and performance anxiety arises I can give myself a literal or metaphorical comforting hug, and say 'it will be alright, and even if it doesn't go well, that is also alright'.

– appreciation and gratitude when I remember to activate them, are immediate comforters. Things aren't so bad when I write a list of all that is going well. Counting ones blessings is a great way to feel more balanced, and it nudges out that tendency to complain.

– learning mindfulness has taught me to slow right down, to remember my breathing, to see my passing thoughts and witness that feelings come and go. There is no need to panic. So every day I work at this, a joyful work it is as I am helping myself and making life better. Many little exercises throughout the day, short moments of being present to what I am experiencing. So I set up a chair in the pool in the morning and I say over and over as I swim towards it, 'rest with everything'. Rest with this feeling of anxiety, rest with that worrisome thought, rest with that anger, with this joy, with this appreciation, rest with it all….and it moves on.

– for nurturing a sense of self knowledge and developing a well rounded self acceptance, writing a list of personal defects and positive qualities is a great exercise. In that order. Quite important to end with the positive qualities rather than defects so that we don't come away with a sense of even greater inadequacy! As my self compassion has grown I am no longer quite as daunted by the facing of my faults, and can unflinchingly face them without my self esteem being bruised. The self esteem is more robust now and in facing my faults I'm more understanding towards others, more compassionate and able to see how such qualities arose, often no fault of our own. There are mostly simple adaptations that took place in response to circumstances in life outwith their control.

– tempering generosity. I used to love giving to and helping everyone I met. I have noticed that unexamined giving to others does not work, for them mostly, and can be a waste of resources for me. If I give to others beyond their capacity to receive, they may reject the gift and me. We cannot receive more than we feel we deserve at any time. So now when I consider giving, I feel into how appropriate it is. Not do I feel they deserve it, but do they. Am I trying to buy the affection or loyalty of another with being over generous? Why do I feel obliged to pour out resources like this? Am I doing compulsive giving to buy love/approval/acceptance? Good questions I've had to answer.

– spending time around those who allow happiness in areas I have not allowed in for myself. This has been very valuable, to observe how others are with it. It can reassure the scared part of myself, when I see others safe and doing well in these areas. So spending time with friends with happy functional marriages, or confident people who can make public speeches, or being around and getting to know my wealthy clients and watching how they are with it. Learning by observation and maybe a little imitation….

Will continue this…

Resting with Whatever appears

Want to share a quick post on what I have I found to be an effective soothing excercise. The other day before I got in for a swim I positioned a chair at the end of the pool. I used it to remind me to rest, to allow what is occurring to just be there, to relax. Every time I swam towards the chair I said to myself

Relax with the thoughts coming up

Relax with the feeling of anger

Rest with the anxiety

Rest with the greed

Rest with the crazy thoughts

Rest with not being present

Rest with the situation right now

Rest with the guy splashing me as he passes

Rest with the nasty thoughts

Rest with the state of the world

Rest with all the feelings as they appear and disappear

Rest with the insecurity

Rest with the judgements

Just rest with whatever is occurring, the myriad of thoughts and feelings and sensations. The pleasant and the unpleasant.

The portal

There is a portal I can go through any second of any day. It has taken me a lifetime to find it. It takes me from hell to heaven or heaven to hell. It is a tiny invisible switch, and it’s the realisation of a choice. The mind can create a perception of my life that makes me miserable and that focuses on what is not right, what needs improved, problems and complaints, personal defects, failures.
It can equally create a perception that life is full of miraculous wonders everywhere I look, including myself, my amazing progress and how far I and have developed and how humanity has come in the last 100 years. The support that I have, how fortunate I am to be in a safe secure area relatively free of violence and war, the abundance of opportunities we have at our fingertips, the excellent medical and education facilities. The list goes on, as does the list that can take me further into hell. 

I found myself slipping into hell this morning. A complaint from a client arrived, joined up with another thought of how things are not right, not working, are a failure, then to my inability to sort it, then a further turning towards deficits and problems, next thing I’m thinking I’m all alone and nobody cares! Just like that! My emotions felt dampened in response, and helped to create more of these thoughts once activated. 

Been reading recently that we are hard wired for perceiving problems, part of our primitive survival mechanism. I have certainly felt drawn towards that compulsively at times. I have a tendency towards unhappiness from early experiences. That just means I need to remind myself more often of the choice. Like I’m doing now. 

When I think about fully opening up to the joy, I notice that I am afraid of stepping fully in, there is a fear of loving everyone and everything unconditionally. I suppose I try to defend myself with negativity, it seems to put some distance between me and everything ‘out there’ (that could hurt me), it creates an illusion of separation, a mistaken idea of safety by keeping myself separate when I’m not really and can’t ever be separate from anyone or anything.