The feedback was glowing. People felt safe, secure and comfortable in the workshop environment. They felt heard and able to contribute and connect. It was almost unanimously positive. Almost. There were a couple of comments which hinted at dissatisfaction or disappointment. Unfortunately, my mind locked onto those fair criticisms and wouldn’t let go. I wanted my work to have been beneficial for all. I had felt energised by every session and felt that everyone was really getting what it was all about. But here I was being told that it wasn’t the case. Some had taken less from the sessions than others.
That feedback kept me awake in the night. Having managed to drain the life out of my evening, it held me captive for a few hours when I should have been asleep. Not until the next day did I free myself sufficiently. It was a gradual process up until the jolt I received from the last line on page 94 of the book I’m reading.
The book is called When The Body Says No, by Gabor Maté. It’s another one about the ubiquity of trauma and the effects that stress has on the development of the brain, mind and body. It talks about how our survival instinct creates coping mechanisms designed to keep us alive in stressful and traumatic situations. Unfortunately, unaddressed they remain with us, and if the stress is intense or ongoing they lead to physical damage.
In short, if you can’t say ‘No‘, your body will eventually do it for you.
Our nervous system, immune system, hormonal system and our emotions are all so tightly and inescapably interlinked. When one is triggered, they are all affected. The book is as mind-blowing as ‘The Body Keeps The Score’, by Bessel van Der Kolk (mentioned here). Both draw your attention inevitably to your own life and your own coping mechanisms. How might they have arisen and what damage are they doing?
As always, the first step is awareness. Thereafter, the conclusion is clear: We have to take care of ourselves (in ways we were probably unable to in the past). Put ourselves first (more often), protect ourselves, appreciate and cherish ourselves.
Back to page 94 of Gabor Maté’s book. In discussing research into cases where there was no explanation for abnormal, damaging behaviour of the patients bodies, the study found that those patients carried with them ‘dysfunctional attitudes, particularly those associated with a need for approval […] such as perfectionist standards and a concern about the judgement of others.’
By seeking approval from every one of the 25 workshop attendees, I am increasing my risk of disease. It sounds melodramatic, but that’s what it comes down to. Wanting to please others at the expense of myself, maintaining unrealistically high standards of performance, working hard so that people like me, want me, or approve of me, puts strain on every system in my body which, over time, will break it.
I found relief by telling myself that I believe in what I’m doing and I’m doing the best I can. I know my work is effective, but I also know that not everyone is open to it. That’s okay. Every opportunity I have is a chance to offer what I have to at least one person.
But that is still only addressing the symptom, not the cause. What drives me to seek external approval? What makes me think I’m not good enough? And what is preventing me from doing what I need to do for myself to cultivate and preserve my own health and well-being?