I have been sad ever since I heard of Caroline Flack’s tragic death last Saturday. Like many of you, I didn’t know Caroline but felt as though I did, she’d been on my tv screen and in my living room for years, from Xtra Factor to Strictly and while I never watched Love Island, I always found her eminently watchable whatever else she was on, whether it was a panel show or an interview. She was so likeable, so vivacious, full of joy and laughter and she seemed to be genuinely nice and kind.
I can’t speak to what was going on in Caroline’s head but I hate the idea that anyone but especially someone who seemed so full of love and fun and life felt so much pain, felt so hopeless that the only action open to her to make it better, to release that pain, was to take her own life.
I can only imagine how devastated her family must be, how hurt and bewildered at this harsh new reality they must now adjust to living in and how angry they might be at the circumstances that only they will know the truth of, which drove their darling girl to suicide.
I often say to clients that no-one will say anything worse about you than that hateful, critical voice we all have inside our heads. But I can’t say that with complete confidence anymore, because it isn’t true these days. Even us ‘ordinary’ people can find ourselves encountering the hateful and rage fueled on social media. For those who grew up in this era of social networks and total online connectivity, their lives, their moods, their whole day and how they go through it is dictated by their mobile phone and the number of alerts of likes, heart emojis, and thumbs up they get on their posts and updates.
We’ve given the regulation of our emotional state to tech platforms and that frightens me.
I am angry at the tech titans for a lots of things, their utter disregard for their users both in terms of privacy and in safeguarding, they take no responsibility for what gets posted on their sites, no matter how base the content.
But what I consider to be even worse is that they have deliberately created addiction and refuse to acknowledge it. Unlike tobacco, which created an addiction to an outside substance, social media platforms have created an addiction to a direct stimulus, a ding or ping of a response to a post. And we are gripped by a global mass addiction to this.
They know, of course they know because they designed their interactive platforms to do just that, to keep us on the site longer, to share more of ourselves and our lives, our everything, no detail is too mundane, its all share worthy. And they make fortunes while people get roasted alive.
This is ruining lives. Its destroying our ability to connect authentically with each other, to actually be with one another and support, share and learn from each other. Instead the worst aspects of humanity are unleashed.
We are all here, not to just survive, to get through this, but to live life in all its glory, full of joy and sorrow, triumphs and challenges, setbacks and wins. Life is about facing everything and finding ourselves and our connection to God, the Universe and each other. And we all face similar struggles, we all have similar needs and desires but some people choose not to strive for that best lived life, to not live up to being that best version of themselves. Instead they give up and settle in to tear down all those they see around them who are doing their best to build a better life for themselves. And their pain at their own unsatisfying life gets turned outward, they find a target and unload personal disappointment onto someone else.
This is nothing new, mankind has had this taste for viciousness for as long as the patriarchal system has been in place and maybe even before that. Tabloid cruelty is nothing new, but instead of the paparazzi sticking their long lens where it wasn’t wanted, there were nasty cartoons and caricatures depicting a leading person’s ‘comeuppance,’ drawn for the delight of the masses, hangings used to draw a huge crowd, people cheered when the guillotine took someone’s head. And as usual, the worst of the cruelty and viciousness was reserved for women who dared to step out of the tiny, rigidly policed box we are supposed to live in.
Cruelty can be traced back through the millennia and in prehistoric times, it was a matter of life and death. Because if you didn’t fit in and were cast out by your tribe that meant certain death. Now it means endless innuendo, public humiliation, jibes, memes and social isolation. And if you’re in the public eye, that is amplified to a horrifying degree with the tabloids chasing stories and twisting it to suit their ugly, judgemental self appointed role as judge, jury and executioner. And social media feeds off the newspapers and the papers feed off social media and on it goes. Imagine facing that day after day, relentless, cruel, deliberate baiting.
How do we survive this? Is there a way to make it easier?
We all need to change, we all need to be kind.
That too simple? Or too big?
I can’t affect anyone else unless they ask for my help. I cannot change anything outside of me, what I can change, what you can change instantly is how you treat yourself, and what you allow into your mind, into your life, into your thoughts. Start by being on your own side. Turn the dial on that incessant critical chatter that goes on in your own head, turn it down, tune it out.
Here’s one easy way to start doing that and all you need is a piece of paper and a pen. Yes, it’s a writing exercise, don’t be put off by that, just do it. And on your paper, start listing out every negative thought and feeling you have about yourself. Everything, in all aspects of your life, health, work, family, finance, community, personal growth and spiritual, and anything else you can think of.
Just write and write and write. At first, you might start to argue with the negative thought and tell yourself all the positives that counter it, and that’s fine but keep going, eventually you’ll stop defending and self justifying and just let it all out.
I’m considered a very positive and optimistic person and I amaze myself sometimes with just how much CRAP I carry around in my head. Five full journal pages later….
Go back to this process regularly, because like a vision board or life goals, the CRAP list nevers end; it will change, newly remembered humiliations will rise up for inclusion and others will fade away. It’s an ongoing job of work but definitely a worthwhile process.
Once you’ve got your list, it’s time to bring yourself into the present moment. Breath deeply, use the pleasurable sensations of your own body to relax you; stroke your hands, arms, face and neck. I like to gently massage my inner wrists. Focus on the sound of your breathing, and you can use a bell to help you focus and concentrate.
When you’re in a deeply relaxed state, now look at your list of negative thoughts and feelings, all the CRAP you’ve been carrying around in what you thought was that positive thinking head of yours.
Because you’re deeply relaxed, you’re embedding a sense of relaxation and pleasure in your brain as you look at your list of personal CRAP.
You can know that most of the things on the list aren’t true, because they are not happening in the present moment, and it’s only what’s happening now that is true.
And you keep your list of personal CRAP, you don’t throw it away or burn it. I know, every new age guru worth their pink himalayan salt will tell you to release your negativity to the Universe. No, don’t do that. Why? Because if you get rid of it, then your right frontal lobe gets busy trying to remember everything on your list, to keep you safe, just in case. ( because that’s its job to keep you safe, that’s why it remembers all that stuff, so you don’t put yourself out there again.) And if you want that big life, you need to put yourself out there, which means you need to get it out of your head.
And now you can make up a CRAP board, right next to your vision board if you have one, add your list and even pictures if you want to go all out, all of what you don’t want in your life. And that gorgeous brain of yours will go, ‘Okay see, there’s all my CRAP over there. I don’t need to think about it, and I’m free to do my best work and get on with living my best life.’
Every day make a promise to be kind to yourself, to look after yourself as you would if you were your own best friend. What would you do, what would you say if you allowed yourself to be compassionate, considerate and gentle? To offer that to yourself, the one who deserves your kindness, compassion and gentleness most of all.
We are all here, doing the best we can. Even those who seem to be doing their worst, they simply don’t know any better.
Be the example they need to see, be kind even to them. Instead of asking them to change, show them how to change by doing what you want from them, by giving them compassion, be being kindness.
Its not easy, we all want to lash out sometimes, especially when we’re hurting. The world needs more of us to do the hard things, to be gentle in the face of torment, to give love instead of hate or indifference.
Be kind. In a world where it’s so easy to be cruel, be the one who has the strength to show loving kindness. Because we need you.