The Radical Self-Care Free Online Course - Step 1: Unplug
Unplug from society's expectations of you. Unplug from the need for external validation. Unplug from messages that you need to be rail thin, younger, smarter, more beautiful, rich, and clothed in expensive designer-wear to be worthwhile.
We are constantly bombarded with messages that we are not good enough on a daily basis. Really! It's everywhere. It permeates our advertising, and often our interactions with each other. And each and every year, new maladies are created or "discovered" as Madison Avenue tries to sell us more "stuff."
Consider: What on earth did we do before Crest Whitestrips? Well, actually, we put up with brown teeth. Have you ever watched an episode of Bewitched? Elizabeth Montgomery had exceptionally brown teeth by today's standards, yet back then she was considered to be an example of a beautiful woman and "perfect" housewife.
Today, teeth whitening has become a multi-million dollar industry, and woe to you if you let your teeth turn into any shade except blinding white.
Forehead wrinkles are another no-no. Before Botox, they were considered a normal part of aging. Now, we are told to inject actual botulism into our faces in order to stave off a frown line.
Previously, when men got older, it was normal that they "slowed down" a bit. Now, with the advent of Viagra, men are expected to "perform" well into old age. If that's not enough to create performance anxiety, then there's a spam email on the way to tell men how women will reject them if they aren't big enough.
As women, we're expected to be young (under 35), skinny, and smart - but not too smart or outspoken. We're told to be sexy, but...don't be a slut! We're supposed to be perfect mothers, perfect wives, and perfect employees.
Men still have pressure to be the perfect breadwinner. A man is not seen as being successful if he doesn't have a high paying, high profile job. And more and more, men are being pressured over their looks and particularly their sexual performance.
It's Not Just the Media
We also have expectations for ourselves. A large stock portfolio proves you've "made it." Success means a big house, a new car (the bigger the better), and some sort of cache in your job. Doctors are deemed higher up on the totem pole than insurance salesmen. Corporate executives get compensated in the millions, even while their companies fail. But they supposedly "earn" that pay due to their vast experience and "resume."
We strive to look good to our family and friends. Or maybe we're trying to pick up the hot chicks - this is why some guys suddenly buy a BMW at 40, even if it's beyond their means.
The self-help industry doesn't help. The self-help industry tells you that you need to become a "winner." That there's something wrong with you if you are not a millionaire yet. We're told that somehow rich people know this "secret" to wealth and happiness we don't know - never mind that many rich and famous people are emotionally broken, proving the point that fame, success, and money does not automatically bring happiness. (Witness the celebrities getting sent to jail for drunk driving and other addiction-related problems.)
We're constantly trying to make more money, lose more weight, and look as young as possible.
Now, in and of itself, some efforts to make more money aren't bad. Losing weight can be important for your health. And looking younger isn't a bad goal, if taken in stride.
When we confuse these things with the ultimate goal of life, however, we've lost our way.
Conscious People Still Need to Unplug
Many people are living their lives half asleep and don't notice the effects of media and expectations on their own lives. But you, reading this, perhaps consider yourself a conscious person. "I know all this stuff already," you may say.
Certainly, I consider myself a conscious person as well. Yet, I still own anti-aging cream.
You may also think you are immune to outside messages because you don't watch TV or read women's magazines. Yet, we are still bombarded, by outdoor advertising or even just by standing in a check-out line with the tabloids staring at us.
Unplugging yourself from the outside messages takes time and sometimes effort. It's hard to completely unplug. Sometimes we make compromises in order to fit in or get what we want. I, for example, hate wearing high heels, but I will wear them sometimes because they do make me look sexier. Compromise.
The key is to acknowledge the "brainwashing" and then consciously choose what we will accept and not accept as a personal guidepost. For example, women have tremendous pressure to be young and thin. We may think our bodies aren't good enough the way they are.
A conscious approach would be to acknowledge that we have this pressure, and that while we do want a nice body, we aren't willing to kill ourselves over it. We work on feeling healthy, not being stick thin, and we put our attention on filling up our self-esteem with things other than male attention.
YOUR HOMEWORK - DECONSTRUCTING THE MESSAGES
Your assignment for this lesson is as follows:
1. Collect news stories, magazine articles, and images that create an unrealistic image of who you should be.
If you are a man, you might find pictures of handsome, well-groomed men next to a red shiny convertible, complete with bimbo on the hood. If you are a woman, pretty much any woman's magazine should give you more than enough fodder.
2. Try to find positive images and stories that create a realistic image of a person you might aspire to be like.
Please note the "realistic" in that statement. If you are a large woman, don't pick out an image of a skinny supermodel. Find a woman your size in a positive environment (if you can). This part may be tougher.
3. Take a look at the items collected in #1 and write down how they affect you.
E.g., "when I see a skinny model, I put pressure on myself to diet."
4. Take a look at the items collected in #2 and write down how they affect you.
E.g., "reading the story of that man who left his corporate job to become a park ranger really inspired me."
5. Write down a statement of who you would be without any outside pressure or expectations.
This might take some time and thought, so feel free to revise and reword as you go.
Remain mindful of the images and expectations around you. The main purpose of this step is to get you aware and conscious of all the external "junk" that is being fed into you on a regular basis.