Tag Archives: affirmation

Affirming each other’s feelings

When we affirm each other’s feeling, we affirm the right to feel, which is a key thing for good self esteem. We may also be affirming the right to be different. In accepting and honouring each other’s feelings, we have the chance to properly know and understand each other. We don’t oblige the people around us to only express the things we are comfortable with. Undertaken as a small, everyday activity, affirming each other in this way enriches and deepens relationships.

My personal feeling is that no emotion is ever wrong. How we express it may be open to question, but a genuine, felt response is what it is. Sometimes what I feel doesn’t make much sense to anyone else. It can be easy to hurt, shame or ridicule me when this happens. I’m used to being told I over-react or that I make no sense and am ridiculous. I’m also very aware of what happens when dealing with people who don’t rubbish me. When I’m allowed to explain so that I do make more sense, or when my not making sense is acceptable. When I’m given that space I feel more like a real person and more able to navigate.

Telling people off for doing drama and being irrational is a really quick way to shut someone down. We don’t all come to a situation with the same perspective. Some of us have triggers. Some of us are carrying terrible baggage. Some of us are panicked overthinkers, able to see potential problems others would never imagine. Most of us who are this way have got here through experience – it may be out of date knowledge but it most certainly isn’t irrational or unfounded. I note that the people who have done me most harm in life have also been the quickest to rubbish my feelings.

Listening to each other is powerful. Being willing to admit that you don’t understand, is powerful. Acknowledging that something doesn’t have to make sense to you for it to be real, is powerful. Ask how the people around you feel, and let them speak. Don’t argue with people if you think they *shouldn’t* feel a certain way – instead, show them respect by acknowledging this is what they’ve got as a starting point. Let people be as they are, and they can be honest with you.

So many things are more tolerable and possible to get through if you are allowed to be yourself while doing it. Being told off for how you feel is an identity-wounding experience. It’s often inflicted on people who are grieving and who hear that they should be over it by now. Depressed people are told to pull themselves together. Anxious people are told to stop making a fuss. None of those instructions alleviate distress, they just protect the person seeing it from having to keep on seeing it. My discomfort at your pain is more important than your pain – nothing devalues a person like treating them this way.

When we take each other seriously, we can lift each other up. But what, I hear you ask, do we do about the people who manufacture drama, and make a fuss, and over react, because that happens…? My guess is that where this is true (and I think it often isn’t) you’re dealing with someone who desperately needs attention. If they get attention on a day to day basis and are treated like their ordinary feelings matter, there may be a lot less incentive for the manufactured stuff. If the need for drama comes from wounding, dismissal or feelings of having no personal power otherwise, the affirmation of being taken seriously is the one thing most likely to shift this. If you’re going to challenge someone, it’s a good deal more effective if you know what’s going on with them first. Out of date coping mechanisms can need challenging, but it helps when that’s done kindly.

Whatever is going on with a person, no one becomes better, or more functional as a consequence of having their feelings rubbished and ignored. It is however an effective way of silencing complaint and distress, which is why rubbishing the victim’s responses is a normal part of bullying and abuse.


Matters of belonging and learning to trust

I’m not good at trusting people. It’s not especially irrational; I’ve had my trust betrayed in some serious ways, in the past. I also suffer from anxiety (although nothing like as much as I used to). One of the things I’ve learned this week, from a fellow sufferer, is the way anxiety distorts perceptions. It’s easier to see when looking at someone else, and of course usually anxiety is only seen from the inside.

We learn patterns of behaviour. We learn what’s normal from how other people treat us, and we start learning this from our first breath. Things that are well-meant can have unhelpful consequences. One of the refrains of my childhood was being told not to show off, not to draw attention to myself. I worry every time I try to promote my work, that I’m acting out, showing off, behaving inappropriately. I have to fight my way past it on a regular basis. I know it’s there, and it’s one of the easier ones, not least because I’ve been blessed with so much positive feedback about my work that I know there’s plenty of you, dear generous blog readers, who are interested.

Still, dealing with people, I find it hard to imagine that I’m acceptable. It’s very easy for people to say in all innocence things that will cause me to take a step back. I infer that I’m too much, too difficult, too enthusiastic, imposing – I’ve heard these things so many times through my life that it’s easy to hear them when they aren’t quite what was meant.

What it means in practice is that to feel easy and secure in a situation, I need a fair amount of positive feedback. I need to know where I fit, and that I fit, and that I am welcome. Recent years have brought me a number of critically important spaces where I feel I  belong. There’s my marriage, for a start. The Contemplative Druid group has been a welcoming, patient, affirming space where I’ve felt able to speak honestly, and have had chance to tackle some of my body contact issues. I feel a sense of belonging with OBOD, although that’s all through the ether and somewhat more ephemeral. I feel a deep sense of belonging at Moon Books, where the affirmation that my work is valued has been ongoing, and I take considerable joy in helping and supporting other authors. I’m starting to feel a sense of belonging with Druid Camp too (it’s taken me nearly three years). This week I’ve realised that Stroud Short Stories is also going to be one of those spaces for me.

One of the hardest things for me, is to trust people to find me acceptable. It makes me hesitant around relationships of all shapes and sizes. I stay still when perhaps I could step forward. When in doubt, what I hear in my head are the voices of the people who explicitly rejected me in the past, for being too much trouble. But there are people who have been patient with me, and just kept giving me reasons to keep trusting them, to keep talking, to stay. People who are generous with their affirmations make worlds of difference. Thank you.

To know where I belong is to be able to put down the utter shit of the past, and let it go, and do something better, with people who want to be doing things with me.


The problematic art of giving compliments

Compliments can be a very positive thing – lifting confidence, creating social connections and affirming people. At the same time, compliments if mishandled can cause massive offence. The people who offend by complimenting generally can’t see why this could be so, and can feel unreasonably got at as a consequence. I’m not sure this will work for all variables, but it is, at least, a place to start.

What is my relationship to the person I’m complimenting? Do I know that they want to hear my opinion? If I know they do, fine, go ahead at an appropriate level. So, if my husband looks really sexy in his new waistcoat, I will tell him he looks really sexy. I know he likes me thinking this. If a friend had a new waistcoat that made them look really sexy, I probably wouldn’t frame it that way. I might say ‘you look fantastic in that waistcoat.’ I know they care about my opinion, but I don’t want to seem like I’m coming on to them, that would be weird.

If I see a stranger who looks fantastic in a waistcoat, I have no idea how they are going to feel about a comment from me. To walk up to a total stranger and tell them they look sexy could either be threatening, or seem like I am making a joke at their expense. At this point, focusing on the waistcoat seems a better way to go. They probably chose the waistcoat, they probably like it, they probably won’t be offended by me saying ‘hey, awesome waistcoat.’ Thus far, I’ve never had this be a problem, at any rate.

If I’m in a professional context with someone who I do not also know in another context – say I’m at the doctor’s, talking to a lawyer, dealing with a volunteer… unless how awesome they look relates directly to the job in hand, I will stay away from it, because it’s a distraction and not what we’re there for. I probably don’t have time. They probably don’t have time. This is particularly why focusing on the appearance of a woman in a professional context is not a good idea – all of the above issues, plus it’s taking attention away from the work. It’s not clever, and makes the one dishing the compliment look unprofessional and like their mind isn’t on the job.

We can be quick to default to the idea that our opinions are relevant and necessary. Sometimes they aren’t. If we’re looking at a situation and inferring something and basing a compliment on an idea of what we think is going on – this is hazardous, because it’s so easy to misinterpret in the first place. The better you know someone, the less of an issue it is. ‘That was brave’ is not necessarily a compliment to someone who was shit scared the whole time and wants to hide under the table. It can make things worse. It may be more useful to say ‘I’d have been terrified doing that, I’m really impressed by you for doing it’ which leaves the other person room to say ‘well, I was terrified,’ but maybe still feel a bit affirmed. ‘I would not have the courage to do what you just did’ is more honest, and probably more useful than calling someone brave when you don’t know what’s going on. If the idea of their courage is based on the idea of them being disadvantaged to begin with (not perfectly skinny people jogging, for example) it may be a lot more helpful to just leave the whole thing alone. If your compliment has a disparagement nestling inside it, don’t say it. ‘I’m amazed you past that test.’

Complimenting on weight loss – when maybe the person was ill and lost weight that way. Complimenting on physical appearance can suggest you’re busily judging people on how they look when they have little control over some aspects of how they look – that can be uncomfortable. ‘Nice jacket’ they probably did have some control over, and it’s less personal. As far as I can make out, the more control someone had over the thing you are complimenting them for, the less likely it is to offend them. Compliments that are velvet gloves for an iron fist of put down, are not actually compliments. ‘Not bad, for a girl’. There’s a definite power in affirming each other over the things we do well, and affirming people we don’t know, as well. Compliments that cause discomfort or irritation do the exact opposite and should not be excused under the guise of being well meant.


Affirmation – Personal

Being part of an affirmation culture has considerable impact at a personal level. Many of us find that our self-esteem is tied to how others see us (no matter how many self-help books announce this is not the way to go!). Feeling valued, and knowing where you fit creates emotional security, and we are more likely to invest where we feel valued, too. Most people are happier when their lives feature positive reinforcements and encouragement, when they feel respected and taken seriously.

Less obviously, it is a very powerful thing to be a giver of affirmation. To praise and encourage someone else is to be in a position of power. Not power over them – more standing within your own power. To praise, you have to take yourself, your opinions, values and insights seriously. Being able to give praise confers dignity.

In a praise-giving culture it’s a lot easier to come forward with whatever you’ve got and openly seek approval for it. It’s much healthier. If you can honestly seek praise, all kinds of strange, often passive aggressive games of influence and leverage become pointless. If praise-seeking is not derided (we currently tend to demonise and discourage it) but if it’s allowed, everyone can show their best without shame. By this means you start to get a culture more interested in how good something or someone is, not how much power they have.

People who can exchange affirmation have means of connecting with each other and brightening each other’s lives. In lifting each other up, we are all lifted. It encourages co-operation, and more friendly forms of competition where putting the best forward and seeking the best is more important than being declared winner. A habit of praising and valuing each other reduces jealousy and resentment, and makes it easier to be honest about envy. Wishing to achieve the same standards, be as clever, look as good is a way of expressing both affirmation and envy at the same time. It’s a much less poisonous sort of emotion when you can hold it honestly.

Affirmation gets us into the habit of looking for what’s good, or better, or useful. It’s not just about praising the best, but recognising progress and small wins. Undertaking it makes us more aware of what’s good around us, keeps us alert to small acts of kindness and little, ordinary victories. It also allows us to look at ourselves and see the good bits. Our current culture encourages self-judgement, and a sense of failure (should have gone to Specsavers, etc) we are bombarded with daily messages that tell us we’re too fat, unfashionable, not rich enough and not possessed of the new magic product. That wears people down. Being able to look at what you’ve done and pick out the good bits, and comment on them, and get positive encouragement from others over those good bits… that’s life changing.

Of course if we all did that, perhaps we’d all be less focused on material wealth and conspicuous displays thereof. Maybe if we knew we were respected as parents, valued as workers, loved as good neighbours, found amusing, charming, kind, well meaning, insightful… if we had those things, perhaps it would seem less important to have a new car, and the most fashionable shoes, and the right designer labels. And if that were the case, perhaps we’d find it easier to stop trashing the planet for the sake of all those material luxuries that add so little to our emotional and practical wellbeing. Perhaps we could have less, and enjoy life more, and feel totally awesome about ourselves as a consequence. I reckon we’re splendid enough to pull that off.


Affirmation – Community

The exchange of affirmation is one of the core features of a viable and self-sustaining community. Without affirmation exchange, you probably have a group defined either by necessity or leadership, which will not survive the loss of either. To make a tribe, I firmly believe that you need to create an affirmation culture.

Affirmation can mean a number of things. Without getting bogged down in detail, here’s a quick list. Respect, gratitude, appreciation, encouragement, praise, compliments. Gestures that convey liking, enjoying, valuing and affection. Recognition that the person is needed, liked, valued, understood, accepted. Some or all of these things need to be expressed to take effect, and everyone must be to some degree involved in the process of affirming everyone else.

If affirmation primarily flows from one person to everyone else, you maybe have a benevolent tyrant, or a guru. Anyone excluded from affirmation will not get to feel like they are part of the tribe. In loose collections of people this can be a reasonable way of removing people who don’t fit. In families, is tends to be emotionally damaging for the unacceptable one. Equally, anyone who is not allowed to give affirmation is automatically afforded second class status. There is power in being able to distribute praise and implications for authority when praise is a common form of social currency.

I’ve started, led, and participated in a great many groups over the years. Groups with clear self awareness but permeable borders, I don’t like cliques and cults. I’ve watched what makes a group work, and what doesn’t. I have run as a benevolent dictator enough times. To be giver of praise and encouragement is a very easy way of making that role comfortable and useful, more an act of service than one of imposition. Benevolent dictatorships are good ways of getting things done, but they are not communities.

As Pagans we form into tribes of all kinds. Moot, grove, coven, learning circle, order and organisation. Sometimes for logistical reasons these have to have people running aspects of them, but that can be one role amongst many. Shared labour goes more naturally with free flowing affirmation, and people who freely exchange positivity are more likely to share responsibility and work. An affirmation culture makes you a good deal more aware of how other people see your input, and that can be a good counterbalance to those folk who make a lot of noise but otherwise contribute very little. In an affirmation culture, everyone has the right to judge you, and that in turn gives everyone a reason to be co-operative.

One person can define the nature of any group, if they’ve the will to do it. One person can shape the tribe they are in, and inform the society around them. Affirmation gets some really interesting results, some quickly, many over time. If you want a tribe, and a place to belong, affirmation might be the best way forwards. This is how we get cohesion and belonging.


Another year older

Mostly I’m going to take today to read and be less workish, it being my birthday. However, birthdays lend themselves to considering where we are in life, where we’ve been, where we might be going. The celebrating of birthdays is one of those community and family focal things as well, affirming bonds. Or at least, it can be. Thus far I’m having a really nice day – I have some new books and some chocolate, there was coffee in bed, lovely messages rolling in on facebook, and I woke up in the arms of a most adorable man who treats me like I’m special every day, not just on occasions. Of such things are happiness made.

But inevitably I end up looking back, three and more years ago, to the time before and the other life. The year my ex forgot that my child might want to give me a birthday present and was too young to go shopping by himself. The lingerie that turned up most years, bought to amuse him. I’d maybe wear it once, much of it was then ‘borrowed’ for him to wear and I’d never wear it again. One year I was told off for wearing on a normal day a bra that had been bought for his amusement in the bedroom. Only, all of my other stuff was depressingly tatty. There was the year we went into Birmingham, my present was going to the sea life centre- what I wanted. Only when we got there, he looked at the entry cost, at the size of the building and muttered that it seemed like a rip off, so we went away again, failed to find anywhere affordable to eat, and went home. Happy birthday me. The year James wanted to make me a cake, and needed help (He was five or six). The misery-inducing stompping, banging and burned mess that followed because the ex couldn’t make cakes, couldn’t follow a recipe and didn’t want to do it. There was a decade when birthdays were miserable, along with anniversaries, valentine’s day, Christmas, mother’s day… all opportunities to tell me how impossible I am to please, which of course meant there was little point even trying to do something nice for me, because I wouldn’t appreciate it, or like it. There were a lot of years like that, and they are not easily forgotten. I started to believe I must be an awful, demanding, horrible, unreasonable, ungrateful sort of creature, because I was forever being told that so much was done for me, and only my ingratitude made me not see all of it. With hindsight, I see all of that in a very different light.

I know myself. I appreciate the bliss of a good night’s sleep and the joy of waking up beside someone who touches me with love, and whose words leave me feeling warmed and cared for. I appreciate the joy of a smiling child who has chocolate to bestow, and his noble reluctance in helping me with it (I persuaded him, I can’t eat all that chocolate by myself!) I appreciate the coffee in bed. It doesn’t take vast outlay to make me smile. A little care, enough attention to know what I might like, or the willingness to ask – my family enquired about book titles, and are furnishing me with research material. This is a longstanding tradition. One year they all clubbed together to get me a book on the natural history of otters – the only scientific one in existence. This year I have an excellent looking thing on Shinto, and have asked for Philip Carr Gomm’s Book of English Magic. Often, this is how Ronald Hutton books have come to me as well.

It’s not about the money. It’s the taking time for the other person, trying to find something they will enjoy, sharing a good thing, honouring bonds. A friendly line on facebook, a walk in the sun.  Two years ago Tom bought me a mug, with tentacles. Three years ago he drew a picture for me. Happy things.

This is another day of celebrating my freedom, and rejoicing in the good things in my life. This is a day of being so very grateful for the good friends I have, and for the lovely man I am now married to. Remembering the past is part of the process of coming to terms with it, and letting go. There’s too much to think it could all be forgotten, but the sharp things become a little less cutting with every day and before me, is the prospect of days with nothing of that ilk in it. Good days, with good people, and a world of possibility to explore.