Those of you who have read my previous articles, seen my work or connected with me online know that I use my own lived experience of mental illness, mental health challenges and adversity to help increase engagement in solution-focused support.
I am not solution-focused – in fact, I’d make a rubbish counsellor, coach, or advisor – I’m far too empathic for that. For me, the gap is engagement because, without it, nothing changes. This is in part why my work resonates so well and I’ve been so greatly welcomed into the HR community – as I have said previously, who looks after the people who look after people? Who looks after you whilst you look after everyone else?
You can only spend so long not being anybody before you lose your identity
One of the insights I have shared many times, but never written down until now – is why I got to the point in my life – personally and professionally – where I had a breakdown.
I would say there are two main reasons, in hindsight – which is a wonderful thing, right? The first is the self-protection piece – which I have covered extensively before. But the second one I’d like to take a deep dive into.
I am referring to ‘masking behaviour’ and the real reason we do what we do, or don’t do what we want to do: the fear of rejection.
At my worst, I was a different person at home than I was at work. A different person at work than I was with my family. A different person with my family than I was with my friends. And so on and so on. None of them was me – I was just being what I thought people wanted to see in me – ‘masking behaviour’.
You see, you can only spend so long not being anybody before you lose your identity – we try to be what people want to see in us, we try to be what situations demand of us but we sure don’t damn show ourselves. That’s when the F.E.A.R. kicks in: False Evidence Appearing Real.
We are hard-wired to look for danger, we are hard-wired to look for fear. So guess what – we find it! We talk ourselves into a losing game. Why do we fear? Rejection.
It’s the home of people pleasing – we don’t feel we have the courage, confidence, or conviction to have an opinion, live a life, run a business, have a career or have an education on our terms. If you are not doing these things on your terms – whose terms are you doing them on?
Let’s take reincarnation off the table here (I’m open-minded) – if you get one go ‘round at this – why aren’t we making this OUR go ’round? For me, that is the most negative experience of poor mental health; the impact it has on our sense of belonging – we don’t feel we can aspire to be any better than who we are, greater than where we are or deserving of ‘success’.
Rejection is also the home of procrastination. When you have that proposal, project, pitch, or idea close to your chest – no one can get at it – it feels safe, warm, untouchable – but when we let it go it’s there to be critiqued, criticised, judged or…rejected. It’s also the home of Imposter Syndrome.
You know you are wearing a mask when you leave any conversation or relationship and your body, soul and spirit drop
Imposter Syndrome and self-belief
Weirdly, anyone I have ever spoken to who says that they struggle with Imposter Syndrome is extremely successful at what they do. However, the difference is that their self-esteem, confidence, and self-belief cannot keep up with the reality of their success – so they are constantly waiting to be found out. They are afraid of being rejected.
You know you are wearing a mask when you leave any conversation or relationship and your body, soul and spirit drop – the performance has ended.
If there is one thing that we can all work on to improve our personal and professional lives – this is it – overcoming the fear of rejection. And if you ever eliminate it completely, do let me know – it’s a constant work in progress for me.
Here are some pertinent questions to ask yourself – call it a lived experience playbook for building self-awareness:
1. Who are you when no one is looking?
When there is no one to get permission from, accountability from, or reassurance from – who are you at that point – set out on a mission to get to know yourself again.
2. That thing you are doing/saying – is through compulsion or choice?
Very often, especially as my challenges were linked with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) – we give ourselves away to appease other people, other events, and other situations. Are you people-pleasing acting ‘on your terms’?
3. Manage the manageable – marginal gains!
If procrastination is your thing – break everything down into marginal gains – a term sports coaches use to achieve high performance. What’s the smallest thing you can do to point yourself in the right direction? It’s the same principle as Couch to 5K – run a little bit faster, a little bit further every day – eventually, you run 5K! Daily incremental consistent changes.
Life is not a Disney movie
Remember, anxiety commonly comes from regret from the past or fear of the future. Tackle everything you can for the day ahead and let go of the rest. We do not live in a Disney movie – you will get knocked off your feet, and things will blindside you. However, by keeping our eyes on what we can manage – we can let go of the rest.
We always look externally for help but in my experience, we have all the answers we’ll ever need
When clients book me to speak, they get a three-page booking form. Not because I am a diva, I promise. It’s so I can manage anything that potentially could go wrong, all the factors I need to know – so that when I turn up on the day, all I have to worry about is what is playing out right in front of me.
Finally, recognise that F.E.A.R. is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’ and is not based on fact. Set out on a mission to get to know yourself again, ask yourself searching questions and break down your conditioning to get to the truth.
We always look externally for help but in my experience, we have all the answers we’ll ever need. We just need to ask the right questions!