,

Is altruism truly altruist?

altruism (ălˈtro͞o-ĭzˌəm)

  • n. Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.

One of the traits we most admire in humans is altruism.

We reward and revere the most altruistic in society and recognise our desire to be that way ourselves – but usually as an unattainable goal.

So what makes the most altruistic of us capable of such acts? Well, it’s not selflessness! On the surface it appears to be, but there is a deeper motive in every human – self-worth.

We do good, selfless things because at the foundational level, they make us feel good about ourselves. We make sacrifices, go out of our way, to help others without thought of our own needs. We do have genuine empathy and compassion for others – absolutely! But that’s the emotion triggered by our paradigms and not the core motivation. Ultimately we do good because we feel good.

Sure, we can do it as an act of discipline, actively denying our need to feel good about it – which pretty much amounts to masochism and self flagellation, LOL. Or we can recognise that feeling good about doing good is why we keep doing it. And the more we do it, the better we feel, which inspires us to keep doing it!

So stop pretending that we are being a martyr – to others and, more importantly, to ourselves. Recognise and embrace our need for self-affirmation and self-worth that really drives our altruistic actions anyway. This avoids the false humility and builds integrity and honesty in ourselves and our relationships.

Sadly our conditioning (especially when religion is involved) regards this as unhealthy and even sinful.

We have a lot to unlearn!

,

The problem with triggers

Yesterday the Auckland Pride Festival board announced the Police will not be allowed to march in the parade in uniform, and if they wish to participate it must be in t-shirts or fancy dress.

The backlash was swift and brutal and continues to grow with calls for a boycott of the parade.

There are issues of internal politics and how the wishes of a tiny minority can hold the rest to ransom. But that isn’t the crux of the matter.

It comes down to trying to help people who are “triggered” by things that cause mental distress. For some LGBT people, the presence of police causes this because they have had extremely traumatic experiences with police abuse. It makes total sense, and my heart goes out to these people. We are all very familiar with instances of abuse by a tiny minority of “bad cops”.

But here’s my take…

I get triggered by religious stuff – seriously! When I see a cross I can feel a churning and anxiety inside, and it always throws up memories of my experiences in church and conversion therapy. When I see religious organisations marching in the Pride parade, I get the same reaction, even if they are in t-shirts and are obviously loving genuine LGBT inclusive organisations! If I had my way and followed my gut feelings I would try to get them banned from marching.

But I recognise that the whole problem is mine. I’m the one getting triggered by my experiences. It’s my responsibility to face the issue and take full responsibility for it and be brave enough to work through my problems – NOT project them on to other people and demand they “disappear” so I can feel comfortable.

So, going back to the parade, the reactions of the vast majority of people is that the police are 100% supportive and work hard to protect us. Sure, we all get that twinge of anxiety when we see a cop in the rear view mirror, or walking towards us on the street, but that’s something we all recognise and dismiss as our own problem. If we discriminate against the police because a handful of people are basically projecting their fears onto to the rest of us we are not doing anyone a favour.

I daily face my triggers, but never do I demand that people stop doing something because it triggers me – and of course, this has nothing to do with abuse in any form, which I will address in no uncertain terms!

So to all you beautiful LGBT folks who are genuinely triggered and don’t feel safe seeing police in uniform – I get it! I really do! I genuinely feel compassion and empathy for you and support you 100%. But that support is towards your healing and growth into personal wholeness. I won’t actively trigger you, but neither will I shelter you from triggers, because avoiding them will never, ever bring the peace we crave.

It’s time to “get real”, and that can be bloody hard. It can hurt and cause distress, but in the end we have to face it. For me, no matter how much I get triggered by my own abuse issues, I refuse to demand others change to pander to my problems. I will speak out against religious abuse, I will present alternatives to the prison of religion, but I have no right to expect religious organisations to conform to my expectations.

We are one glorious species of amazingly complex creatures. Let’s work together, recognising that rejecting others because of our own fears builds division – not unity.

, ,

Live Loved!

Live Loved – it’s my favourite tag. But I realise it sounds a bit glib and clichéd. I’m sure that those who are familiar with my work, however, would realise I wouldn’t say something that lame without having a good reason!

On the surface it’s simply saying live as though you are loved. But there’s a lot more to it than that!

It’s not “as though” you are loved – it’s “from a place of” love. Love from God? (some Christians use the expression to mean that God loves us so we should live with that as our foundation), Love from others?

Nope.

It’s love from ourselves – love from the core of our being – self love – self worth. It’s recognising that external love in any form can only ever be an affirmation at best and a crutch at worst. Until we discover our own sense of beauty and wholeness – unconditional acceptance of our entire being as it is – treating ourselves as we would treat someone we love – we will never really understand the power of love.

That’s a pretty radical statement, and I can hear all the objections screaming at me as I type this, lol. We are taught through the media and religion that we are really crap and need something outside of us to make us better. We need “stuff”, we need “romance” (someone who completes us and makes us whole), we need God (because we are born broken and sinful). You get the idea. And yet we say that kids are born so perfect and innocent, full of love and trust.

Everything we experience from birth shapes our entire self image, and that is then passed on to our children and society in a self perpetuating cycle of self denigration.

But what is there in me that really is loveable?

Let’s turn the question around – who told you that you aren’t loveable? We are taught to judge ourselves harshly, and judge each other. Sure we have the obvious judgement around actions that are destructive and affect our personal safety, but I’m talking about our internal judgements. We are presented with some elusive goal of “perfection”. We are lead to believe we are never good enough and the road to this goal is a carrot dangling in front of us that we can never reach. We struggle with guilt, shame and remorse, always comparing ourselves to the perfection that eludes us all.

Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries
Carl Jung

So the question really becomes about simply recognising everything that makes us who we are without judgement and accepting it. From that place – and that place ONLY – will we ever grow past what we perceive as flaws. When we try to wrestle with our “demons” we give them power and they become the centre of our focus. But if we allow the “bad” to simply be a part of who we are and unconditionally accept it to the point where we refuse to judge it any longer, we can love ourselves – right now! The paradox then becomes clear, that change will begin from the inside out. We treat ourselves as someone we love – really love! Someone who we would pamper and express our undying love for, shower with affirmations of their worth and beauty and constantly affirm, completely disregarding (and not even noticing) their faults.

Yep, it’s a paradox, and flies in the face of all we are taught. But it works. In fact it’s the only thing that works. If we give the focus to change and growth over to an external force (God or another person) we are abdicating our central and exclusive role in the process. We must do this for ourselves. In fact some of the doctrines of religious beliefs that say things like “more of Christ and less of me”, “I’m a sinner saved by grace” etc are actually very destructive.

So when I say Live Loved, I’m saying to let go of all self judgement, unconditionally accept yourself right this second, and treat yourself as you would treat a lover, because you are love incarnate.

 

 

, ,

The long term reality of religious abuse

In my book (It’s Life Jim…) I cover the subject of mental health openly but fairly lightly.

Although these days I help many work through the debilitating trauma of religious abuse and it’s impact on LGBT people, I realise I haven’t actually shared much of my own struggles – only snippets really. I was wondering why I’ve avoided it, and I realise it’s because of the stigma. I’m afraid that it will invalidate me – that if I share too much, I will have no credibility in my work with Silent Gays and just be relegated to the rubbish heap of nutters!  But life is about facing our fears, so here is my day to day reality… (pull up a comfy chair, it’s going to be a long one)

The first layer of fear was from very young, realising I didn’t fit the expectations of family and society (although I couldn’t express it as that at the time). I was ADHD but it wasn’t a “thing” back in the 60s so I was constantly being judged for being a space case and a dreamer. I couldn’t focus for long on anything, always wanting something new and getting bored far to quick and most of the other classic “symptoms”.

The next layer was hitting puberty and finding that I had zero attraction to girls and it was the boys who would send my hormones on a rampage. But it was taboo to even talk about it. So I lived a conflicted dual life in my most formative years.

The next layer was the impact of religion, enforcing the stigma that anything outside of “normal” heterosexuality was living a dreadful sin. This drove me ever onwards to find a “solution”, get healed/cured/changed/whatever – anything but live in the excruciating pain of guilt and shame caused by the religious beliefs. This became the most damaging part of my life, as I pursued every imaginable way of becoming straight.

During all this time, through two marriages, numerous different church denominations, doctrines and theologies, and endless counselling, I fell deeper into depression and suicide ideation. But I couldn’t even let anyone know that either! I was already a “loser”, if not to those around me, most certainly in my own mind – I was a failure.

Finally, I embraced the “gay conversion therapy” practices of Living Waters for 15 years, clinging to the hope that this was going to finally change me and bring the freedom I was so desperate for. But of course, it didn’t. The depression became worse and I would become crippled with anxiety, but still I had to hide it and use every ounce of strength I had to live day by day. My marriage was an absolute sham, and my wife constantly shamed me. So often I felt like I would “explode” – what exactly that meant I’m not sure, but that was the feeling.

My wife died, and I collapsed. I had lost all my reference points, I didn’t know how to process what was happening and depression and anxiety left me needing “real” counselling (not Christian pseudo counselling) and medication. Thus began the slow climb out of the pit.

Here’s the reality though that so many of us who have been through something like this suffer. We “walk with a limp”. I don’t mean that in some nice wise sounding metaphor. I mean it as a limp with a bloody open wound that although it doesn’t stop us from getting involved in, and enjoying life, does mean we are always walking in the pain and effects of our injury. We do our best, and yes, it’s unbelievable better than what we lived through, but the wounds never seem to heal.

To put that into my daily practical affairs, here’s what my own “wound” is like.

I have ADHD, so my ability to focus is limited, unless I lock on to something that absolutely captivates me and then I can’t leave it. I am impulsive, get bored quickly, forget stuff, remember the wrong things at the wrong times, and all the classic ADHD stuff. But after the meltdown when Min died, these symptoms became heaps worse. I could pretty much work around them in the past, but now they are extreme. I have regular bouts of depression still, although not crippling like they used to be, and I’m sooo thankful for that! I get anxiety attacks too. At first they were pretty bad – things like freaking out in the supermarket and bursting into tears. But I still get them. I’ll start to get nervous and tense for no reason and keep thinking I’ve forgotten something really important.

I used to be pretty good with complex technical information and did well as a technical writer and instructional designer, but another aspect of my meltdown was that as the ADHD and anxiety had increased, I lost the ability to comprehend that sort of information any more. This has been a source of incredible frustration and sadness, especially as I was a bit of a wiz with electronic music and computers. I’m also a qualified trainer/facilitator but the thought of teaching IT or Health and Safety Systems (as I used to) sends me into a panic!

As a result, I couldn’t hold a job any more. I’m pretty much a liability, never knowing one day, or even one hour to the next, what my mental state will be. Pressure, expectations, deadlines etc cause my mind to go blank, which sets off anxiety because I can’t function, and become fearful that I’ll let people down. So I went on the sickness benefit (thank you New Zealand for your wonderful social welfare system – even if it does have it’s problems).

About a year ago I decided to try getting work again and coming off the benefit and the meds. It’s been one crazy year! I ended up doing security work, simply because its pretty chilled with low expectations, but there was constant pressure for long hours at crappy pay to cover the bills. 12 hour night shifts, brain numbing day shifts standing around, which for an ADHD person is living hell! I finally had to quit a couple of months ago because I could feel my brain falling back to the point of breakdown again.

This is my life – I never know from day to day how my mind will be. I’m really good at putting on a happy face, and I’m always the funny guy, but I’m broken. I’m happy, in fact life has never been better, but my wounds are deep and I simply can’t function in life as we are supposed to.

What happens is that the mind is deeply scared from having to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms all its life. A life of shame and guilt creates patterns of thoughts and reactions that simply don’t suddenly leave, especially as you get older and the responses are so ingrained. Things that may appear “normal” life to others trigger me into confusion and anxiety. I can start the day with the best of intentions and find that suddenly my brain has totally lost the plot and I can’t complete a single thing I’ve planned.

I can however, communicate! I can write with passion about religion and being gay. I can talk to a crowd for hours about it! I can take people on roads of self discovery. I can run workshops and seminars, and feel incredible compassion and empathy for the broken like myself. But ask me to sort out technical stuff like my website, and accounts and running a proper organisation and I grind to a halt – despite the fact that in my past life I was very capable and even had small business management qualifications.

These days I’m trying to find part time work that I can actually handle, that pays enough to cover the bills while I try to build some online work to finance my passion of helping others.

Anyway, I’ve rambled somewhat, but only in the hope that I’ve created a picture of the ongoing effects of mental illness. I’m at peace in many ways with it all however, as long as I allow myself to roll with it. If it’s a “bad” day, I try to just chill out in the knowledge that tomorrow will be different. Not always easy of course when I’m often faced with daily simple tasks, but I’m getting there, despite the niggling shame that persists for not being “normal”. Things like mindfulness meditation have been the biggest help, as well as long walks on the beach.

That’s my “limp”. That’s my life. It’s a good life, but only if I let it be a good life in the full acceptance of my limitations, embracing all that I am right now, with all its mess and unpredictability. I love who I am now. I have no regrets. I don’t live in constant shame and guilt any more. I want to live, and live that life to its fullest, which is amazing considering most of my life was spent figuring out ways to kill myself and spiralling through chronic depression and fear.

Yep, this is me, warts and all!