When I was a little girl I was told I will be a psychologist. And although I was interested in the possibility of being one, I said no. I won’t be. I will be whoever and whatever the hell I want to be, and not what others think might be the best for me.
To be honest, I wanted to be a psychologist. I was always fascinated by the way people think and behave, and how it is possible that we are all made up of the same biological matter and have the same physical forces act upon us, yet we are all so weirdly unique in our reactions and expectations. Even siblings can be oddly similar and yet completely different. Do education, peers, genetics really affect us so much that it can lead to such differences in our behaviours? But back when I was a little girl, I did not really know that psychologists have been looking for answers to the exact same questions that I had. Back then, I had the misconstrued but widely held belief that psychologists were those wise but quiet people in rooms who saw people come in day in and day out just to complain to them about their lives. And I had enough of my own problems that I felt nobody wanted to listen to, and the prospect of spending my entire life listening to others’ problems while I couldn’t share mines were just unacceptable.
So I never really looked into psychology, and when the time came to apply to university, I decided to select English as my preference. I got into the programme that I wanted, but a month before I was due to start I emigrated. I decided that I could probably learn English by moving to the UK a lot easier than by going to university in a non-English speaking country, or at least that was the excuse I told everyone. To be honest, I just really wanted out. So I moved abroad, and amidst the awe of being in a new country and the stress of looking for a job with broken English and just a high-school certificate, I finally allowed myself to explore my interests. I enrolled on evening courses to get an introduction into psychology, and I even submitted a university application to study literature the next year. But there were only four literature courses, and I had the option to select five. And so it happened that my fifth, impromptu selection became psychology, and I started my studies in the subject that I swore would not become my career so many years ago.
Two degrees in psychology later, I am still in love with it, and I am still looking for answers about how people can be so similar yet so different. I now know that unless I want to be a counselling psychologist (I don’t) or unless I have a friend in need and want to be supportive (I do), I don’t have to listen to others’ problems all day long. Psychology is about a lot more than the often portrayed talking therapies with the silly mis-belief of someone who seems to be able to look into the client’s soul and know their deepest secrets as soon as they walk in the door. I get rather frustrated whenever I have to answer the question “what did you study”, as 9.999 out of 10 times the response when I admit to psychology is along the lines of how they are going to be careful around me as I must be reading their minds then. Maybe the whole cultural myth around what psychologists do is the reason why I am sceptical about psychological therapies, even if I probably know somewhat more about their scientific and theoretical background and practical merit than most lay people do.
The currently most popular and widely used psychological therapy that bears some scientific evidence as to its usefulness is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and I have to agree with its basic tenet, that thoughts and behaviours are intricately linked and mutually affect each other. Put it more eloquently, thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle (NHS, 2015).
You know that old saying, fake it ’til you make it? Smile and you’ll feel better? Well it’s kind of true.
Taking an example of attending job interviews, I know myself that I can be a complete wreck. I’m not even exaggerating. I almost fainted during a group interview once, and even now I get jittery and the ummms and I means follow every word I utter. But twice now something happened that I cannot ignore. I went into an interview, nervous, but also aware that I was not only qualified or over qualified for the job, but also capable to actually do it. The nice interviewers also helped, but my confidence in my own abilities definitely allowed me to relax enough to showcase my talents and portray my best possible self to the panel. In contrast, I had interviews when I went in doubting myself, and it all went horribly wrong. It starts with preparation, I know, but both recent cases when I had an interview with serious self-doubts I told myself before I even got to the interview that it would be okay if I didn’t succeed. I told myself that being invited is a good sign, it means I am a serious candidate, but it only takes one other person to have more experience, better skills, and less nerves, to be better than me. And if that was to happen, well, then they deserve it better than I do. But still, at least I tried.
Well let me blunt here. That’s a shitty attitude to have. While my little pep talk is actually true, there can be a thousand other candidates who are more experienced and speak more eloquently, I should not go into an interview having told myself it’s okay if I don’t succeed. Because the truth is, with an attitude like that, I really won’t.
I had an interview just three days ago and yesterday I got the email that I wasn’t the chosen one. It sucked, but I knew it would happen. All through the interview I was nervous, I was highly aware of my responses being mediocre at best and my style of speech was ridiculously amateur. I kept picking up on the non-verbal cues of the panel, like how the lead seemed utterly bored and only cracked an encouraging smile when I dared to glance at her, and how I was in an out in half an hour, the panel barely standing up to shake my hands, and being let go with a bye that clearly indicated we will not be colleagues. Maybe it was all in my head, maybe I was over reacting it. I know I sealed my fate when I let myself believe it was all futile as soon as I walked in the door and saw they had empty tea cups and biscuit wrappers in front of them, no doubt having been through some interviews before me, but nobody bothered to offer me a drink. All my doubts about my abilities and skills took front seat in my mind and I cringed inside as I heard myself down play my experiences and bring up irrelevant examples. The point is, I went in with a gloomy mindset, and set myself up to fail.
We all know how good success feels, be it winning against the computer in solitaire or getting an A. It gives us wings, we feel like we can do anything, we feel accomplished and worthy. That feeling in turn contributes to us getting better and better as we try again, and again, knowing we have done it before so surely we can do it again. This can-do attitude, this is what propels us forward and advance in whatever we set out to do. Practice makes perfect, true, but without a sense of progress, a sense of achievement, we can soon become sour and give up. We need positive thinking, some acknowledgement of our efforts, and we can keep going towards our dreams. In this sense, I agree with the basic principles of CBT; thoughts and behaviours feed into each other, and if one of them is highly imbalanced (such as insistent negative thinking), it can also imbalance the other.
I’ve been prone to find myself stuck in an emotional rut that hindered my personal development, my self esteem and self image, and led to staying in unhealthy and sometimes toxic relationships for too long. I came to these realisations after a lot of denial and repression (hello, Freuds!), and I am currently trying to ditch the primitive defence mechanisms that I used as my crutches for some more mature ways of coping. This blog itself is an aid for my self discovery and this month’s NaJoWriMo helps me focus on personal renewal through these journal prompts.
So after such a long intro, let’s consider today’s prompt – thoughts, beliefs, opinions that I need to let go of or change.
- S/He is perfect, the best. No. People are not perfect. No matter how perfect they seem at first, they aren’t. And they will very likely never be as good as I imagined or wanted them to be. Expecting them to be so is unrealistic and unfair. Waiting for them to change is futile. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough, and cannot be loved in spite of, or because of, their imperfections.
- I was hurt and I will never be loved. Wrong. Dwelling on old hurts is not beneficial. The only person getting hurt by remembering that mean thing that was said or done to them 10 years or 10 minutes ago is the person remembering it themselves. The bully who hurt you is very likely not going to be sitting at home thinking about what a jerk they were to you and feel bad about it. You’re ripping open old wounds and for what reason? You are only going to get a nastier scar or an infection. Just look at the scar as it is now, after it healed, and remind yourself why you are not going down that road again.
- I can do anything. Well yes and no. I can try. But I have to acknowledge that I cannot do everything at once and at the same time. Sometimes I might even need some help, but that’s okay. Patience is a virtue. Job hunting is time consuming and tedious. Going to the gym is time consuming and tiring. But there is a reward somewhere down the road for those who keep going.
I think the main point of this post can be simply summarised as [… => positive thinking => positive life outcomes => positive thinking => positive life outcomes => …].
Sure, I should also check my privilege; I can still afford a gym membership after 5 months of unemployment, I am able to pick and chose what jobs I apply to, I have a roof over my head and I two degrees somewhere in my room. While I wouldn’t say that my life has been a merry-go-round so far, I still have not been fucked over so royally by life that I would be incapable of thinking positively at least once in a while. And as long as I can, I will try my best to do so. Good things come to those who have a broad definition of good, and learn to recognise it in the most simple things.