If a week in politics is a long time, ten years of writing a weekly column is an eternity! Not that I’m complaining; on the contrary I enjoy writing; it focuses my attention and provides me with the opportunity to examine closely the chosen topic and, most of all, it challenges me to reflect on where I am in myself, towards others, in my work and towards the environment. When the editor informed me of the supplement’s upcoming 10th anniversary and requested I write on something that would mirror the celebration, what sprung to mind was ‘what are the ten personal truths that have influenced my living and writing over the last decade? When I reflected on the question a lot more than ten truths presented themselves so what I decided to do was choose the ten that have had the most influence:
- Unconditional love is the singular most important aspect of a mature relationship with self and with others.
- Separateness is the basis for togetherness.
- My most important responsibility is to inhabit my own individuality.
- What I feel, think, say and do are 100 per cent about me!
- What another feels, thinks, says and does is 100 per cent about him or her!
- Communication is about getting through to myself, not through to another.
- Individuals who are troubled and troubling are not out to make life difficult for others but are unconsciously trying to show how difficult life is for them.
- There is no greater wisdom than human kindness.
- A life examined is a life lived.
- Illness may be a creation to heal a deeper dis-ease.
In one way or another I have written on each of the above truths. Certainly, unconditional love is critical to the wellbeing of all individuals, no matter where they live, work, play and pray. The darkness of the Catholic ethos powerfully blocked the emergence of this essential aspect of human relating. The irony is that Christ’s message was totally about the unconditional lovability of each person and the responsibility of each person to unconditionally love self and others – the former being one of the best kept secrets (alongside so many others) in the Catholic Church. It is important to understand that everybody suffered as a result of this serious omission. Psychology has shown very clearly that low self-esteem – a lack of loving of self – is the cause of most, if not all, human misery. In my own life the realisation of this deepest longing of the Self hugely changed how I felt about myself, others and the world; it transformed too how I work therapeutically with individuals.
The notion that ‘no man is an island’ never sat comfortably with me. My own sense is that each of us is an island and that in our relationship with another – parent with child, husband with wife, lover with lover, teacher with student, friend with friend, manager with employee – that we keep a clear boundary around our own island and do not seek to occupy the territory of another. Enmeshment in relationships bring about considerable pain and conflict as each tries to control the other either by acting-in (passive or passive-aggressive relating) or acting out (aggressive and manipulative relating). The resolution is for each party to the relationship to appoint the other the guardian of their solitude so that spaces in togetherness are maintained.
Related to the second truth is that each of us is an individual and that our most important responsibility is to inhabit our own individuality. In the earlier years of my life I tended to occupy the lives of others by over-caring for them so that my identity was tied up with what others needed of me. I had no appreciation that my individuality was a matter of my getting to know and occupy my own solid and unique interiority and to live my life out from that inner stronghold. Viewing life from the inside-out is a totally freeing phenomenon and the consciousness that my individuality is a given of my nature dissolves the pressure to have to prove myself to others.
The realisations that utterly changed how I live my life was that everything I feel, think, say and do is about myself and that what another person feels, thinks, says and does is about him or her. There is no confusion, no blaming and no judging when I own my own verbal and non-verbal actions and, in the kindest possible way, I maintain open communication when I return to another any blame, judgement or attempt to control me as belonging to him or her. Anything that arises in me is about me and for me; anything that arises in another is about and for him or her. Now communication flows freely because each person takes responsibility for their own lives. Wow!
Regrettably I have run out of space but I will consider the other truths in next week’s column. Happy anniversary.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist/Author/National and International Speaker.
His new book co-authored with Helen Ruddle is The Compassionate Intentions of Illness and is available in bookshops. Tony’s website is www.tonyhumphreys.ie