What to look for in a relationship

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To start with, I don’t think you should look for a relationship.

Also, I slightly disagree with the concept of ‘a relationship’, in the sense of it being a socially-recognised pair bond that begins with dating, mating, committing, and ending with home buying, marriage, kids and an old-age pension plan.

If that’s the kind of relationship you’re thinking of, then I don’t have any clue what you should look for. Someone with money and the potential to make even more, probably.

If you’re thinking of an authentic connection with another human being that is rewarding, enriching and helps you grow, is more happy than sad, brings interesting experiences and makes lasting memories, then I have a few ideas.

  1. Stop looking outside yourself for this person and start building an authentic relationship with yourself. Translated, this means thinking really hard about your values and priorities and combining this with doing what is fun and spiritually rewarding. Being conscious of the way you live your life, the person who *you* are in the outside world will come to reflect your inner world, and you will start to attract the right people as a result.
  2. Get rid of everything in your life that drains your energy and makes you unhappy. If you can’t get rid of something, then at least try to find ways to deal with it positively so it has the least impact on your life.
  3. Make sure you think about your past relationships. Reflect on where they went wrong and why, because otherwise you will keep making the same mistakes again, attracting the same sorts of people until you learn your lesson.
  4. Take steps to deal with all of your emotional issues to make sure they don’t keep coming up in your relationships. Remember, every relationship is a chance to grow and develop in a deeper way than perhaps you might be able to on your own, so try to see problems as potential learning points. If your partner doesn’t want to learn as well, it might be time to get rid of them.
  5. Make an amazing, beautiful and inspiring life plan so have a clear idea of what your goals and ambitions are. This way, you can see if current or prospective partners fit in with your goals, and perhaps could even help expand them in a way you wouldn’t have thought of by yourself.
  6. Be the type of person who you want to hang out with, and also be as happy as you think you’ll be once you find someone. That means you don’t need to wait to have fun and have the best experiences, because going on holiday with friends is amazing, and volunteering at exciting events is a great way to meet people. There is something invigorating  about having all your spare time to yourself, since you can get a lot done and won’t have time to think about relationships.
  7. Make sure there is space in your life for a person to come into it or it will never happen. Make sure your social calendar is not so full you don’t have time to meet anyone new. Make sure you’re not hanging on to photos of your ex that will make someone run a mile when they see them. Check if your social media profile is up to date.
  8. Forget everything you ever learned about not being good enough – you don’t need to be prettier, smarter, more intelligent or richer, you just need to have fun being yourself and then your spirit will be infectious. You don’t need to surround yourself with anyone who makes you feel like you have to make a transaction for them to spend time with you. No one else is perfect and neither should you be.
  9. Stop seeing people you want to be romantic with as fundamentally different from you. You want to look for someone who appeals to you as a human being, and who is drawn to you as another fellow human being, rather than feeling like you have to impress them with your feminine or masculine charms. You’re awesome and the right person will see that.
  10. Remember that ‘being in a relationship’ – whatever that means – is not the default setting. Everyone is born with the potential to be a complete human being by themselves, while you have to actively *choose* to form a bond with someone, so anyone who remains ‘single’ is in a perfectly good default setting.
  11. Remember that people don’t exist for you to make use of them in a dating game. Everyone is a unique human being with flaws and feelings just like you, so just have fun getting to know different people rather than searching for the ‘end goal’ of a relationship. People aren’t goals.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes visual art, Eastern practices, adventures and being in nature. 

Mindfulness

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From intellectual purism to populist fashion following, there is an underlying assumption that if something is fashionable it is somehow less special. Take mindfulness, now all the rage in women’s magazines, we’ve got mindfulness colouring books in Foyles and Waterstones, it’s both lauded and derided in the national news.

My first instinct is to wrinkle my nose, that something as fundamentally basic as mindfulness can be packaged up and sold for profit, especially as I’ve been using it since 2012 to deal with emotional struggles.

And yet, if the population at large is interested in being more mindful – that is, paying more attention to what is actually happening rather than incessantly exerting the will of the rational mind, isn’t that a good thing?

Popularity suggests the thing is somehow polluted, diverging from its natural state. But no one should want to live in their ivory tower of intellectual purity, where the only good ideas are the ones hardly anyone knows about. Maybe we need to make our deal with the devil to ensure as many people as possible know about important life enhancing ideas like mindfulness, and hope that the central message doesn’t get too lost along the way.

However, the problem comes when we begin to translate the abstract into the physical, as happens when something becomes ‘fashion’.

Perhaps because for something to become popular it has necessarily been distributed by mass media and marketing, which is motivated by profit rather than the elevation of the soul and senses. Profit is usually driven by greed, and marketing achieves its goals by appealing to baser human motives like lust for sex, eternal youth, power.

But does mindfulness escape this charge? Perhaps it is no bad thing to wish for improved well-being by doing something that actually costs nothing: stopping for a moment, paying attention, perhaps meditating for some length of time. Indeed, the wellbeing industry is worth billions of pounds with books, spas, courses – you name it. We can indeed pay for happiness.

Perhaps, ultimately, it all depends on motive. If we, as individuals, seek wellbeing and we pay for it because we are striving to become better people, live more fulfilling lives and help others, then that is probably one of the best ways to spend our money. If we just want to consume wellbeing products as fuel to increase our productivity for its own sake, to buy more things and obtain that illusory security, then it’s all a huge scam.

When does something stop being intellectually pure and pass into consumerism? If I buy a book by Rousseau because I want to read about his ideas, carry it around and show it off on the tube, do I become a consumer of ideas and lose my integrity? Or is my motive still pure?

If I want to grow my beard because I enjoy facial hair, have the necessary masculine hormones to do so and I think it will be comely on me, does that make me a populist trend follower because beards are now in fashion? You can buy beard cards, beard manuals and beard baubles.

It’s hard to know where the person ends and capitalism begins, but we can go back to where we started and employ a bit of mindfulness.

Take a moment to disengage from the endless thoughts and impressions, reflexes to think about what is happening and the urge to do, think more, act, move. It’s like unhooking a heavy mental weight and suddenly you are aware but not thinking. All of your autonomy lies in this moment when you are no longer being washed along by ideas or urges. You can simply be, and realise it doesn’t matter.

Read this incredible article on Creative Review by Silas Amos about the impossibility of authenticity in branding. Or my article about how we need a new language for self-development

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash

Gender and mental health talk

Being Human festival

This is a slightly different blog post about a talk I went to called ‘Gender and mental health: what can history teach us?’ that was part of the brilliant (and free!) Being Human festival of the humanities, now in its second year.

Consisting of a panel of highly intelligent and compassionate academic speakers, the talk’s topics ranged from the gendered environments of the mental asylums of the Victorian period and early twentieth century, to modern constructions of masculinity, mental health and “madness”.

This talk was hosted by publisher Palgrave Macmillan, who are the biggest publishers of humanities books, and the central purpose was to bring the relevance and importance of the humanities (such as history) to wider public awareness.

It focused on the perspectives that history can bring to modern discourse on mental health issues, how related social constructs such as masculinity change over time, and how our current models of mental health and illness are almost certainly inadequate.

I have to say, I haven’t heard anything as mind-blowingly true since university, when I found out I had been a victim of sexism all my life (who knew?!).

The speakers perfectly fused the near-crystal clarity of a historical perspective with far muddier modern discourse on mental health issues. It seems that with regard to Victorian “sanatoriums”, these institutions were presented as almost holiday resorts for the slightly deviant, before eventually morphing into the far darker “aslyums” that were prevalent until the 1980s. You can find out more in a book by Jane Hamlett called At Home in the Institution

It was fascinating to learn from another speaker, Louise Hide, that sanatoriums attracted former members of the armed forces to work there, due to their regimented structure, and emphasis on the physical burliness needed to restrain patients not under the control of modern psychotropic drugs.

Tim Lomas spoke about the relationship between masculinity, meditation and mental health, which is basically that increased emotional intelligence in men as a result of their practicing meditation techniques, though helpful, can often lead to unexpected social consequences such as peer pressure to return to their old, unhealthy ways of dealing with their emotions. I am sure this research study must be groundbreaking.

The panel, though dazzlingly interesting, was satisfyingly short to keep one wanting more, with most of the evening taken up by an audience Q&A. Psychologist Peter Kinderman was a fantastic chair and speaker, keeping up an exciting flow of conversation that gave lots of people a chance to speak.

All questions were interesting and relevant, testament to the intelligence and compassion bristling in the room. It was particularly delightful to hear from a recently-qualified mental health nurse, who successfully brought the less “academic” world into the discussion by revealing how mental health professionals in the NHS are bound to make diagnoses for people they treat, in order to receive payment for their time.

And of course the entire talk was about why psychiatric labels like “social anxiety disorder” and “depression” are unhelpful at best and potentially dangerous at worst, naturally presenting a huge challenge to any kind of call for change.

But we mustn’t forget the real people who are at the centre of the whole discussion who have actually suffered from a mental health problem, and that’s pretty much everyone. Many people know what it’s like to struggle with their own mental health issues or to support a loved one, and how it can be so hard to fight a system that frequently operates by reducing the variety of human experience to black and white categories.

And of course, it’s so important that new ideas like “the mental health system needs to change” are given a public platform, because inadequacies in our current system harm people every day.

In my opinion, the mental health system is one of the biggest problems in our society today, and Peter Kinderman presented an elegantly simple solution: fight inequality and poverty, and you also combat the causes of mental health problems, in line with all the evidence from research studies. So obvious, and yet so often ignored.

And that’s why it’s brilliant that Palgrave Macmillan were behind this particular talk (in partnership with the Being Human festival). It never occurred to me that such a big publishing house could be an agent of social change – and yet with only subtle branding hints present at the event – but my view has been forever changed.

This talk was a perfect example of a profit-motivated organisation like Palgrave Macmillan wielding its economic power to do some good in the world. They achieved this by teaming up with compassionate and insightful academics, and supporting an exciting, inspiring and forward-thinking cultural festival like Being Human that is promoting some real change in the conversations and thoughts of the public.

Not once did the atmosphere become angry or tense or judgmental, as it was totally inspiring and uplifting. It gave voice to an idea that begins as a quiet suspicion in one’s mind, which then grows to an obvious truth that no one else seems to be speaking – until now. And whether it’s a case of being preached to as the choir, or the joy of being in a room full of people who share your rather unusual (!) opinion, doesn’t really matter.

Another great thing about Being Human festival is that the events programme spans over 250 across the UK, with many taking place in universities, and thus deftly avoiding the tempting trap of focusing only on London.

It must be emphasised that this was a free event, and yet so well-organised with lovely staff too. I am very much looking forward to reading my signed copy of Peter Kinderman’s book A Prescription for Psychiatry and absorbing the amazing common-sense insights it certainly contains, though it must be said I would have bought all the books on sale last night if I could have afforded it.

This talk was free and held at The Stables in King’s Cross on 18th November 2015. Find more free events to go to for the Being Human festival or support its partner Palgrave Macmillan by buying one of their super interesting humanities books.

The nature of the “true” self

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By Catherine Julianne

I want to deal here with some questions about the nature of the “true self”. What does this mean and why do we need a self?

Well, there is an implication that a purity of self is desirable as a bastion against the multitude of outside influence.

No matter what happens, the self is a reliable constant, remaining long after you’ve left that job, split up with that partner, or abandoned those plans for self-improvement…!

In a slightly more negative way, there is an innate desire to “find” ourselves, to connect with something transcendent that allows us to escape the drudgery of mundane existence.

We are on a search to uncover our authenticity, to make sure that we don’t waste a drop of finite, fragile life.

Google defines it as:

a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.

Some synonyms Google provides are: ego, I, oneself, persona, person, identity, character, personality,psyche, soul, spirit, mind, intellect, inner man/woman/person, inner self, one’s innermost feelings, one’s heart of hearts.

So, there are a lot of options here for locating the “true” self: within a kind of metaphysical soup of mind, ego and spirit, containing dashes of thoughts, feelings and impulses – as distinct from the physical body.

This all sounds rather ephemeral so far. I would venture to say that Google is not really sure what the true self is. 

What we’ve done is establish that to have a “true” self, we must go beyond “thinking man”, from self-aware to self-reflexive.

The self as mind

Having established this, perhaps we are to equate the self with the mind: that collection of thoughts, emotions and memories that makes each of us unique.

Being material creatures, we are often tempted to think of abstract concepts spatially, as though the self is lurking somewhere in the dark depths of our organs, lodged perhaps between the lungs and the heart.

In reality, we are conceptually removed from the weight of flesh and bone.

My mind can be floating in a country far away from my physical location, conversing with people I no longer know or will never meet, or simply raking through abstract ideas that have no visual form.

It also changes so much over time: I am not the same person I was last year, last week, probably not even yesterday. So much can happen in a day.

Why should we even bother looking for it?

Why would we even want to have a true self at all? Why not have a false self, or live with multiple selves (as long as that didn’t warrant us labelled with a mental health disorder)?

It could be rooted in a need to have an anchor, an enduring essence within the constant sea of uncertainty.

Perhaps it is part of becoming an adult and individuating away from one’s parents, background, friends, inherited traditions and behaviours.

However, some say that the self is already here, comfortably hiding inside until one should only look properly.

So does this mean that we are born with a core self that has been obscured by the influence of others and the environment, and we must find it again? Or, that the self we were given by others is false and inauthentic, and therefore we must find a new one?

Probably a bit of both.

We take what we like, and leave behind what we don’t like. What we have left is an adult self, a “true” self, something self-created and original. And it is not so much to do with the nature of the self we choose as the fact that we have made the choice. 

Defined by the social self

Having found our true selves, some would say that the true self is who we are when no one is watching. I disagree with this fundamentally because the idea that we consist of our purest essence when alone implies that we are somehow muddied by the presence of others, who distract and tempt us away from our true path of authenticity.

If the self is so easily influenced, then it makes for a rather flimsy and insubstantial anchor. I would argue that we only really become fully human in the presence of others, not just with those who are physically with us but also as part of the social web.

Many studies have shown how babies raised in orphanages where their physical needs were cared for, but never touched or held, suffer a much higher than average rate of death in infancy.

This is because the self, the “personality”, is not a static object but a dynamic process that requires the presence of others to find expression.

Is having a true self illusory?

Perhaps it’s not so much a case of finding our way back to ourselves as seeing past all the trappings of our individual identity to something beyond our own selves.

We might think of what we want as a “true” self, but really we want to step outside ourselves and connect with some deeper purpose.

It’s not very common to openly talk about a longing for a deeper purpose, but I don’t know anyone that this wouldn’t secretly resonate with.

Each person wants some unique aspect of their identity to become known and make a difference, whether that’s bringing joy to others through becoming an entertainer, or a fantastical ability to design bridges that help people get from one place to another.

That’s the crux, isn’t it? The true self isn’t lurking somewhere in isolation inside us, but manifests and becomes real when we mature and step outside ourselves.

It doesn’t physically exist as a static object but is a process of growth and expansion, becoming more than we were or thought we could be.

The true self is who we are when we authentically connect with others. We stop thinking about the “I” and starting thinking about “we”. But before we can see clearly we must become aware of ourselves, and therein lies the eternal paradox.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash

Coding for girls

Coding

I’m starting a new coding course tomorrow and I thought this next series of blog posts could be about this six-week experience I am about to embark on. I applied for the course because it was free and I wanted to learn how to become a front-end web developer. The course is hosted by CodeFirst:Girls and is aimed at helping women get into the tech industry.

What does this mean?

Well, for those of you who don’t work in “digital” for a living (i.e. web-based communications), front-end web development just refers to being able to make websites look nice and make them easy to use (as opposed to being overly concerned with the technical structure of the website). The tech industry is defined by WikiInvest as:

The technology industry provides the basis for chip production, information and communication systems, and computer systems. These companies serve as the developers and manufacturers of the products which drive the increasing efficiency and production of cell phones, computers, televisions, as well as other communication and information systems.

This definition was surprisingly hard to find on Google, suggesting that not all that many people would be familiar with the tech industry, and it has yet to be culturally validated.

The definition also doesn’t really mean anything to me, and I would probably translate it to: the creative industries relating to information, communication and gaming technologies; e.g. smartphone apps, social media platforms, or e-learning gaming software.

Interestingly, it was included as part of the umbrella of the “Creative Industries” that was defined by the British Council, and from what I could determine through the hail of jargon, it is related to cultural and intellectual capital within the economy that has the ability create jobs and wealth.  

Further, and not surprisingly, all of this “tech” talk can sound pretty terrifying, and I was just sort of wondering why that is.

I think it might be related to the fact that technology is such a pervasive part of our lives now, from miniature touch-screen computers, to contactless payments, to sat nav, and yet very few of us actually understand these technologies.

Crossing boundaries

As a writer first and foremost, I have been accustomed to manipulating words as part of the system of language, to achieve goals such as conveying meaning, creating beauty, inspiring emotions or exorcising emotional ghosts.

All that sounds very human and accessible to me, and to strip way the emotive element and just consider strings of characters for a technical purpose once seemed totally alien. It obviously doesn’t anymore, evidenced by the fact that I applied for this course.

I think this prior mental hurdle relates a lot to being a girl, and the tacit assumption that anything requiring technical understanding necessitates a significant lack of estrogen.

This attitude isn’t just limited to tech, but extends to areas like finance, economics, engineering, science, or anything outside the realm of “the humanities”.

Women are generally socialised to believe that something about the structure of their gender is incompatible with learning anything impersonal, rational, neutral or objective: therefore being cut off from careers in anything to do with technology.

The truth about technology

This is a huge shame because technology is actually very emotive.

For example, the idea that people from every country and section of their society can connect in a global network is amazing. Our concept of time has been warped and sped up, with news spreading in seconds. Space has contracted, and you can befriend someone living thousands of miles away, share their cat’s antics, or read someone’s deepest thoughts on their blog. Communications and media are much more (though not perfectly) democratic, with an internet connection all you need to reach an audience of millions.

Human ingenuity means that we have taken electricity and circuitry, wires and metal, and turned them into something that would have been unfathomable – i.e. a computer – just fifty years ago.

In the same way it used to be almost unthinkable for a woman to work in an office at the turn of the twentieth century, women now find it hard to enter the newly-developed tech industry – for reasons to do with lack of skills and confidence that are simple (and yet often difficult) to rectify.

I’m looking forward to taking this course and being part of something really wonderful.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash

The definition of happiness

Happiness

I wrote in another blog post that happiness is related to self-development, but neglected to define what I meant by happiness. I intend to rectify that here.

Popularist background to happiness

So yeah, a lot of people have written about this topic. It’s probably because your state of mind influences absolutely everything else in your life, and being in a good state of mind makes life better, more fulfilling, more fun, easier… etc.

Happiness slips and slides around. Everyone will have an opinion on it and yet probably no one except self-help gurus or philosophers would confidently attempt to define it.

I may be supremely unqualified to comment on the nature of happiness because proportionally I have spent probably only a small amount of my life actually feeling ‘happy’. I have however spent a rather larger proportion of my life in pursuit of this state (a mistake, naturally), so I definitely know what doesn’t work.

Recently I have begun to wonder whether being happy actually matters as much as you think it does.

However, definitions.

Dictionary.com describes it as:

noun

  1. the quality or state of being happy. [not very helpful!]

  2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.

So, it is associated with the value property “good” and the physical sensation of “pleasure”, also the mood “contentment” and feeling state of “joy”.

The levels of happiness

In this definition, happiness seems to permeate many levels of being, from our abstract awareness of principles and material possessions but also relating to the visceral experience of sensual gratification. It also relates to the positive feeling state of gratitude for one’s lot in life and also a buoyant, mental sensation of benevolent oneness with the universe (joy).

It makes me feel happy just thinking about it. Happiness is infectious, and so is a social, shared phenomenon. It is also a private feeling state that one can nurture in moments of reflective solitude.

The most accurate definition of happiness

However, all this implies that happiness is static and yet ironically immersed in fleeting feeling states, which I argue is wrong. In contrast, I believe happiness to lie in a certain mental stance that we can take towards our experiences.

I have read many things over the years that attempt to define and help cultivate happiness but the most accurate one I think surprisingly comes from Rhonda Byrne’s dubiously marketed book The Secret.

Despite a very cheesy cover and title, her central thesis is that gratitude, and only gratitude, is the most secure underpinning to happiness.

I actually agree with her (excepting the part that magical thinking can be utilised for material gain). Her contribution has been to put a profound and awe-inspiring idea into a simple and accessible form. Happiness is defined by our positive (and yet realistic) stance towards our lot in life, what we perceive of the world and within our own selves.

Whatever we may have or be, whether gorgeous, talented musician or average, moribund financial administrator, only gratitude will provide a sure and steady alternative to that ephemeral feeling state we refer to as ‘happiness’.

My definition of happiness and how to achieve it

A direction of attitude and intention towards personal growth, characterised by gratitude for all that we are and have, and will have and will be.

Thus, happiness is not a static state, but a fluid, responsive and ever-changing orientation towards life. When life moves, you move too. It can be experienced as a feeling state but is so much more: namely, a deeply held trust that ‘all is well and as it should be’.

Not everyone may agree with this definition but I would maintain that gratitude is the most universal foundation to happiness.

In my own musings, I also decided that gratitude is one of four cornerstones of the type of life that one should live in order to access that ongoing flow of what could be termed happiness.

This is the quickest how-to I will ever write, but the other three cornerstones of ‘the good life’ are:

    1. Creativity: a life permeated and uplifted by a continuous attempt to transform our experiences, express ourselves, and solve problems in offbeat ways.
    2. Connection: a fervent acceptance and knowledge that the people in our lives are what give everything meaning, we cannot and should not want to live in a vacuum, and that happiness shared is multiplied countless times.
    3. Growth: sometimes happiness is so sweet we want to hang on to it forever, but the tighter we hold on to a feeling state, the more elusive it becomes. Devoting ourselves to growth is adopting the attitude that we as individuals are not and will not ever be finished or complete, and that constant growth is what gives life its essence of meaning and joy.

I hope that makes sense. It’s a pretty long definition. I think I’m right because all the times I’ve felt happiest have been when I’ve lived by these principles, and remembered calmly that it has always been the hardest times that have made my life richer and more rewarding.

You can learn about Enneagram to help with your personal growth goals and ultimately live in a more conscious and self-aware manner, or read these 10 happiness tips.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash