For me, as a highly sensitive, introvert empath, High School was hell. I enjoyed reading books more than trips to the shopping mall. Preferred gardening to “meeting up with the boys”, actually loved learning and detested the obligatory Saturday night partying.
I was a geek, a teacher’s pet with uncool hobbies, unexciting interests and oddball opinions. But still, I wanted to be accepted. Be part of the popular crowd.
So, throughout my school years, it seemed like I only had two options:
Be true to my authentic Self and face rejection, bullying and loneliness. Or deny my true nature, renounce my interests and adapt my personality to fit in and avoid social isolation.
And both of these options meant suffering. But there was a third option. It was right in front of me all the time. I just never allowed myself to see it.
Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the simple reason why you never get what you want. It was based on the premise that the Universe loves us. Every one of us. It wants us to be happy and yearns to provide all that we need to live an abundant and fulfilling life.
This is something I deeply and truly believe in.
But yesterday, I received this message about my article:
“What a load of crap! The universe doesn’t give you what you want, since what you want usually involves other people or something else, and that is what we don’t have control of. Not everybody gets what they want no matter what they do. In my opinion, the Universe is cruel and evil.”
It broke my heart to read this message. Not for my sake (I’ve been immune to criticism for quite a while now). But for hers!
I can empathise with all the anger and frustration that result from a life that feels unfair. From having your dreams and hopes crushed every time you try. From having to resign yourself to the suffering and misery of a life you didn’t want. Where everything seems to go wrong all the time.
But the Universe doesn’t hate you! It didn’t deal you a bad hand out of spite. And it certainly doesn’t trip you up through sheer vindictiveness.
Your negative experiences and unhappy circumstances are not the Universe’s fault. They all just boil down to one word:
Yesterday I had a meeting at a hospital about an hour away from home. And I had to drive there!
If you’ve been reading my blog posts for a while, you know that I suffered from colossal driving anxiety only a few years ago. And I didn’t get my first car (a funky orange Ford Fiesta called Cecil), until I was 28 years old.
I now believe myself to be a competent drive. However, going somewhere I’ve never been before still makes me nervous. But with the mantra “feel the fear and do it anyway”, I set off. And all went well.
Until I arrived at the hospital and the Satnav told me to turn left. Which I did.
A bit too early.
Finding myself in the “Strictly for ambulances only” entrance of the hospital. In a slight panic, I searched for a way out, while the SatNav blared “Perform a U-turn when possible”. As if to mock me in my distress.
I ended up turning around in front of the emergency department entrance. Hanging my head in shame as patients, paramedics and doctors witnessed me blocking the ambulance access.
I escaped eventually and found my way into the main patient and visitor car park.
And as I sat in my car, breathing a big sigh of relief, I realised something astonishing.
Let me ask you a question. Do you brush your teeth? Every day?
Because it’s imperative for your dental health, right? If you don’t brush your teeth caries will accumulate, erode your enamel and cause excruciating pain. Who wouldn’t want to avoid that?!
And we are well equipped. Our parents taught us an effective dental hygiene routine as soon as our first teeth emerged. Our schools reinforced the essential message and we visited the dentist regularly to maintain healthy teeth.
Most adults will brush their teeth diligently and consistently once or twice a day. It’s part of our daily hygiene. And we don’t think much about it. Knowing that, if we neglect it, we will suffer the painful consequences.
I am sure you do the same, don’t you? It’s important after all!
But what do you do to prevent emotional pain? To avoid and eradicate anxiety and depression? What does your daily emotional hygiene routine look like?
Cursing the abhorrent weather, I stumbled through the front door off the storm-swept streets of Vienna. I shivered and sneezed, feeling sorry for my dripping wet self. It would be just my luck to catch a cold so close to my birthday!
I opened my mailbox with a feeling of dread. It only ever spat out bills, problems and evil tidings. I expected the worst, and wasn’t disappointed when a hefty supplementary electricity payment dropped in my hand.
This was outrageous! They were taking advantage of little people like me!
Disgusted by the world’s corruption, I stomped up the stairs to my flat. My mind racing with worst case scenarios of nasty conversations involving arrogant call centre employees defending a money-grubbing corporation. I loathed conflict!
Lost in gloomy thoughts, I caught my foot on an umbrella some idiot had left outside their door to dry. I tumbled down, my knee hitting the hard stone floor. I screamed in pain and frustration.
Why always me?! Why did the Universe hate me?
As I finally collapsed on my sofa, despair overwhelmed me. My life was a relentless string of disasters, catastrophes and anxieties.
What was wrong with me? Why did nothing good ever happen in my life?
I felt like a pathetic failure. I wasn’t good enough! My own incompetence and the cruelty of this backstabbing world doomed me to a miserable existence…
And right there, as my mind wallowed in hopelessness, it hit me.
Every thought I created was toxic, every word I spoke despondent. I had become a powerless victim of my own negativity which sabotaged my life, destroyed my happiness and ramped up my anxiety.
I am often asked why my tips on overcoming low self-worth and anxiety never seem to include meditation.
After all, it calms the mind, balances your emotions, deepens your breathing and helps to control stress, fear and negativity. During meditation, you connect with your authentic Self. Transcend your limitations and struggles. Enjoy the infinite peace, love, bliss and worth that dwell deep within your blessed soul.
And I know that. I tried.
When I first started to transform my life back in 2005, I believed a regular, healthy meditation practice was an indispensable part of my journey out of fear, emotional turmoil and worthlessness. Many times I sat down on my meditation cushion. Closed my eyes. Focused on my breath with high hopes and expectations.
But it always went a bit like this…
Me: “OK, breathe in. And out. No thinking now.”
Mind: “Shall we have fish and chips for dinner?”
Me: “Argh! Be quiet!”
Mind: “Oops! No more thinking…my back aches. That was another thought, wasn’t it? So sorry!”
Me: “Don’t worry about it. It’s ok. Just be silent now please”.
Mind: “Oh God! I have to give a presentation at work tomorrow. I think I’ll be sick.”
“Me: “Would you just shut up!”
Mind: “Don’t be so mean! I‘m trying my best here. I’m just not good enough. I will never get better. It’s hopeless.”
Me: “You know what, just forget about it! I can’t even meditate. I hate myself. What is wrong with me?!”
It was counterproductive, to say the least. Every time I attempted meditation, I abandoned it prematurely, feeling ever more anxious and upset. Despairing over my obvious inability to create a happier life.
I believed I wasn’t disciplined enough. Too weak and pathetic. Incompetent.
When, in fact, I misunderstood meditation altogether.
Last week I was making my herbal tea to drink throughout the morning. As I do every day.
But as I poured the boiling water into the jug, the glass exploded and scorching liquid gushed towards me. In panic, I hurdled backwards, stumbling over one of little one’s toys.
And while I thankfully avoided a third degree burn, I tore a muscle in my thigh. Which rendered me immobile for the rest of the day.
So I sat on the sofa. Analysing some cancer outcome data for work, watching daytime TV and twiddling my thumbs.
Looking around, I could see all the chores that were waiting for me. The chaotic piles of toys, dusty floors, mountains of dirty dishes were mocking me from afar.
It upset me that I couldn’t tackle the mess or cook dinner for my family. I felt guilty because my husband had to cater to my needs and take over the child care. And I was disappointed that I would have to suspend my newly-established yoga practice.
As I brooded over all the things I should do, ought to complete or was missing out on, I started to feel angry.
“You stupid, idiot thigh,” I grumbled. “If you weren’t hurt, I wouldn’t be so restricted. I wouldn’t be such a burden to others. I wouldn’t be so useless!”
And the moment I said it, I knew how wrong it was.
Joy is the Holy Grail of feelings. We all strive to be joyful, yearn to find joy in our lives.
But, if you are honest, when did you last feel really joyful? When did you last “jump for joy”? When was the last time your heart was bursting with love, happiness and the sheer joy of being alive?
For most of us it’s so long ago, we can’t even remember. Maybe in early childhood, when life was less complicated and serious. Before our struggles and responsibilities beat all the joy out of us. Before too much suffering, rejection, abuse, neglect sucked it from our injured hearts.
And yet, we never stop searching for it. We sense that it should be a natural part of our Being. Its complete absence from our life bothers us, causes us pain, distress and anxiety.
What are we doing wrong?!
We listen to celebrities and gurus tell us about what joy feels like. Describe how they rediscovered it and how “you can do it too”. Every day our minds are flooded with TV commercials implying that we can find joy if we buy a trendy perfume, a fast car or certain brand of dish soap.
And we try. We buy. But still, joy eludes us. A new exercise regime, meditation practice or purchase may give us pleasure for a while, but it never lasts.
And we start to think: “Maybe I’m not good enough? Maybe I just don’t deserve joy in my life? Maybe joy is only for people who are better than me, more spiritually inclined. Who cope better with the trials and tribulations of life?”
But it has nothing to do with your deservedness, your societal status, scent or level of enlightenment (or lack thereof).
In fact, there are only 3 simple (yet tragic) reasons why joy is absent from your life.
When your life just doesn’t feel right. When happiness, contentment and fulfilment seem far away.
Yet, you don’t quite know why.
Generally, your life isn’t all bad. And you feel that you should be happier. That you should be grateful for what you have and make the best of it. But too many struggles, anxieties and worries darken your days. Too much negativity circles in your mind. You feel unbalanced, out of control. Stuck.
You have trouble believing in yourself and your own abilities. Somehow, other people always seem ahead of you. More important. Their achievements superior to yours.
We tend to believe that we are born to be socially awkward, a procrastinator, people-pleaser, push-over or under-achiever. We think we are doomed to live with fear and anxiety because of our inherent nervous disposition.
We are convinced that we are condemned to a life of mediocrity, inferiority and “just getting by”. That’s just what it is. Not everybody can achieve greatness, stand out, matter. Not all of us are destined for happiness, purpose and abundance.
Not all of us are good enough. Bad luck, right?
But has it ever occurred to you that all of your struggles might just be signs of low self-worth?