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Are you too Cruel to be Kind? A guide to being both Authentic AND Kind in a Modern World…

Have you abandoned Kindness in your quest for Authenticity?

Authenticity. To be authentic is apparently nowadays a highly desirable way to operate in the world. To be authentic is an elusive yet very impactful way to lead, accordingly to HR directors and executive recruiters across the globe. To be able to be authentic is seen as key to enjoying fulfilling relationships and vital to feeling a sustainable sense of emotional balance. But what is it to be authentic? How do we do it? How do we juggle it with keeping people happy, with maintaining friendships, and with actually staying employed? And what is it not?

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Recently I’ve witnessed people fall off their authenticicty pedestals and also abandon kindness or compassion in the mix, and as a result I’ve asked myself this question more and more. How can we communicate authentically and purposefully, so we feel true and aligned with our beliefs and feelings, without acting cruelly and causing pain for someone else.

Here’s a guide based on what I’ve observed from many years in a corporate career, from what I’ve officially learnt through training and working full time as a coach and therapist, and from the insights which have fallen softly in to my awareness over the last few years of my own daily meditation practice.

The irony is, that it seems ( if feedback was ever to be believed ) I was pretty consistently credited with the authenticity badge right from the early years of my career. Yet in reality, I know that whilst I was probably rarely knowingly inauthentic, only the last few years have I made a more honest acquaintance with my own self….never mind dared or cared to share it with others.

So let’s start with a brief definition. Here when I’m talking about authenticity I mean expressing yourself honestly, expressing yourself in a way which really reflects how you feel about something.

Let’s just linger on the ‘how you feel’ part of that sentence a little longer. That’s the important part. We’ll be coming back to that later.

So should we be navigating some sort of territory, some grey, ill defined border between speaking our own authentic truth on the one hand and blatantly abusing the honesty card on the other – as an ill considered license to just say whatever the heck we want, with little or no regard for the welfare of others?

Well in the spirit of authenticity at this point I’m going to answer yes to that. That’s my current opinion. It is only my opinion. And it would have been an uncomfortable opinion for me to hear about 10 years ago, when my own personal brand of communication was what was politely called ‘cutting’, but in reality it often took the form of character assassination – in the name of ‘authenticity’.

If, like the old me, you are tempted to be brutally honest and your ‘authenticity’ is giving you the green light to go ahead without any regard for the welfare of others, you may be fooling yourself.

Can we express our opinions authentically in ways which benefit, instead of harm others?

Firstly, let’s remember that what true authenticity really is. Back to the ‘how you feel’ comment above.

Authenticity is a sharing of YOU, a sharing of your feelings and your vulnerabilities.

Many people, just like the old me, are completely bypassing their own feelings – either on purpose because the they don’t feel comfortable to share them – or by accident because they are so stressed, so routinely distracted from their feelings by their mental analysis or by what their ego wants them to portray – that they do not know or express their true feelings at all!

Authenticity is about you. It will sound something like this: ‘I feel alone / judged / compared / under attack / singled out / threatened / scared / out of control / ashamed……’. You get the gist…. This is the sort of authentic commentary we hear…….never. Right?

Now I’m not suggesting that we all want to start pouring out our hearts to others just to be seen as authentic. But what I’m drawing your awareness to, is that you can be authentic with yourself first. Quietly. Get to know yourself first, and own your ‘stuff’. It makes a difference.

However, what we are used to instead,  is mirroring and modelling our ‘authenticity’ on something else. What we usually mistake as ‘authenticity’ is the defence, the deflection the distraction, and these versions of authenticity end up being judgements and opinions about how others are wrong / bad / stupid / irresponsible / not enough / hurtful / thoughtless / not up to the job / crazy / too much…etc.

Very often what we assume is authenticity is simply an act of passive aggression ( I was the expert in that ), a defence mechanism, or a thinly veiled justification for a blatant personal attack.

So if you would like to bring your awareness to authenticity, to observe it in yourself and others in a new light, maybe even from the curiosity of what you might learn or change, you can start to ask this.

What is my genuine intention for sharing this? If I share this opinion right now, who will benefit, me or them?

To admit that sharing our opinion is actually in our own best interest rather than someone else’s takes a great deal of awareness, and a little practice. As a coach it’s what I’m trained to do. In fact my earliest memory of my coaching training was back in an executive capacity, in my corporate career, and I’ve held on to this simple rule.

Is it truthful AND useful?

If it is both truthful AND useful go ahead. If it feels truthful, but will not be useful, that’s the red flag to stop. Go ahead by all means, but do be prepared for the ensuing conflict and hurt ( or the detrimental effect on morale and performance in a corporate setting ).

It is very tempting to share opinions which might be damaging to others in the guise of authenticity, and to convince ourselves it is actually for the benefit of the other person, when in fact it is simply an act of selfishness. Sometimes we act selfishly in what we communicate to others for our own release, a sense of freedom or relief, a need to express ourselves, or because we have got triggered back into our own personal wounding. There will be times when this is unavoidable, but there will be many times when we can make a conscious choice if we want to.

How do we know whether or how to share our opinion for the good of others?

So if we are conscious and intentional about authentic communication for the good of others, rather than just to make ourselves feel better, how do we do it?

1/ Gauge their receptivity – Did they ask? Do they want advice? Is now the right time? If you were them, in their shoes in their life right now, with all they have going on….how would YOU react?

2/ Be aware of your HOW – Delivery is everything! Are you being KIND? Are you being cruel? Is this coming from a place of love and respect? Are you being critical?

Authenticity from love and kindness will look, sound and be received differently than authenticity from your own fear, anger and judgements. Tune into yourself, and pay special attention to your tone, your language, and your body language. Consider removing the shoulds, musts and oughts from your language, and  when asking questions ask HOW rather than WHY – all of the above, although very much a part of everyday language, can be implicitly ‘finger-pointy’ and allude to a sense of blaming or shaming.

Remember, to be truly authentic is to express and own up to your own experience. As we begin to seek to understand and be understood through our communications, rather than to be simply be right and to assert our opinion, some of our old automated responses can be looked at, challenged, and may begin to fall away completely, when we repeatedly and intentionally hold them in our awareness and shine a light on them.

What I have have witnessed in myself, and through working one to one with clients, using techniques like Meditation and EFT which both build awareness and honour our wounding, is that we can become more present to, and authentic about all of our triggers. In myself I have found the more authentic a relationship I have developed with my own ‘stuff’, feelings, stories and patterns, in turn the less I need to rely on expressing my opinion to feel good, connected or validated. To some degree, many of my old opinions are simply redundant. What my clients report, also reflect my own experience, we are able to observe and tune in much more to ourselves and others in a neutral way, which means we are less likely to get pulled off track into opinion based content which ultimately serves no real useful purpose or may even cause damage.

Lisa Bardell is an Executive Coach, Integrative Therapist, Life Coach and Accredited Mind CALM Meditation Coach working from private practices in Cheshire and London Liverpool Street. Lisa runs regular Mind CALM Meditation Workshops across the UK, Corporate Programmes and Personal Development Workshops, as well as Meditation Retreats in Bordeaux and Ibiza.

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Top Tips to Manage ‘Secondhand Stress’

Did you know you other people’s stress is contagious? You may have heard the term ‘secondhand stress’ already….

Secondhand stress is the stress we experience from being around other people who are stressed. Seeing others under stress or in distress triggers our own stress response. Neuroscientists have measured neural activity in the brains of observers. When they observe an emotional response in others, their brains ‘light up’ with a ‘mirroring’ of electrical activity in the same areas of the brain. In fact the neurons involved have been named ‘mirror neurons’ for that very reason!

This mirrored, or secondhand stress can then become a physiological state, in the observer in the same way as it would for the person actually experiencing the emotion for themselves ( albeit less intense ).

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Can we still empathise without taking on others stress?

We can’t control life, so inevitably we will be around other people who are stressed and not coping, In our relationships and jobs, sometimes we don’t have the choice to remove ourselves and it is not appropriate to do so. In these instances there are some useful guidelines as to how to strike a balance

  • Listen and Acknowledge – do this without ‘going into the pit’ with your friend or colleague. When we are stressed, we want to be heard, maybe even want to ‘vent our spleen’. Take a few moments to be present, listen and show that you’re listening without stepping in with opinions, advise or taking sides or reinforcing the emotional content.
  • Remember – Don’t Gossip – don’t get drawn in or ask questions about the details, or who did what etc, even if it is interesting!! – you will be setting yourself up for the continuing saga
  • Keep emotional language to a minimum – instead of getting personally involved, choose something neutral yet engaged like ‘yes, these things can be so frustrating can’t they’ or ‘I can imagine how you feel’
  • With close friends do not be tempted to make strong statements about other parties especially partners of family members. Once the situation is resolved, you may live to regret these comments.
  • Remove yourself from the conversation politely after you have acknowledged and listened. Also remove yourself from the setting as well if you can for a little while, draw the conversation to a close by physically changing your proximity. Close your your body language and move on.
  • We teach people how to treat us – by what we stop, what we allow and what we reinforce. Sometimes we are unconsciously encouraging people to actually seek us out to spill all their emotional frustrations. We can become more conscious and intentional of what we are allowing and reinforcing and in order that we subtly shift the dynamic and send out a different message. It is possible to do this with empathy and good manners too.

How will I know if I’m experiencing secondhand stress?

Stress is stress, it is a physiological state in our brains and bodies, at a cellular level, whether it is secondhand or our own! No matter how you arrived at this state it will feel the same. Here are some common examples:

  • Raised heart rate, palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Churning stomach
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Loss of appetite – or cravings for high calorie food when it returns!
  • Problems getting to sleep or poor quality sleep
  • Fatigue

However, with secondhand stress we can assume that if we are personally not in the stressful situation, the emotional charge and thus the resulting stress will be less.

We might also find that with stress caused by others, we feel like we want to avoid those individuals who are stressing us out, spend less time with them. Maybe we get nervous about being in their company – Do they become the people whose dates we ‘blow out’ even when we are usually pretty reliable?

Why is this term ‘secondhand stress’ becoming so widespread and talked about?

There is a stress epidemic at the moment, people do not have effective stress strategies, and the neurology of stress can become very well established – literally the neural pathways in the brain and body which put us into stress become so well used, that they become etched like a neurological ‘groove’.

We are creating stress with our thoughts as a result of our ‘triggers’ and years of conditioning. Until we learn new strategies en mass, we will all continue to be stressed, and will ‘catch’ the stress of others.

Are there some strategies to help relieve some of the pressure? How and  why would we implement them?

Yes, all of the below strategies are about us becoming more consciously aware and taking personal responsibility to take actions and make changes in our lives.

What we are ‘conscious’ of, we can begin to have some control and influence over….Whereas what we are ‘unconscious’ to can begin to control us.

Top Tips to Manage ‘Secondhand Stress’

  • Surround yourself with positive people – Begin evaluating the experiences you have with people in your life. Simply decide who makes you feel good, supports you and allows you to feel you can express yourself authentically without having to put on an ‘act’. SPEND MORE TIME WITH THEM!!. Conversely, who causes you stress, judges you, constantly talks about themselves and their issues and doesn’t seem that interested in you and your life? Spend less time with them or eliminate them from your life if you can.
  • Remember you often ( aside from work ) have a choice how you spend your time and WHO you spend it with. Choose wisely – energetically we can pick up on negative emotions just by being in the same room as someone, the human electro magnetic energy field is easily as big as the average room. This energy field transmits the emotional and physiological states of other people and can directly affect our own emotions.
  • Notice the language people use – people who are negative, pessimistic, moaning, judgemental and in a passive ‘victim mode’ can drag us down. Some people have coined the phrase ‘energy vampires’ or ‘toxic friends’….it is definitely worth re-evaluating your friendships and networks and making some tweaks where you can.
  • Create some distance – Creating boundaries and physical distance both work. Physically getting out of the energy field means you are not influenced by the negative and emotionally stressed energy of others. Creating new boundaries and teaching people to expect less of you also works well. Always remember: You TEACH people how to treat you…by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce. Think about how you can handle certain people differently.
  • Take less on – We wear stress and being ‘busy’ like a badge of honour nowadays, it has somehow become a benchmark of success…IT IS NOT! Always ask yourself these questions “Is this working for me?”, “What am I getting out of this that is positive?” and “How is this supporting what is important to me?” – This type of question can help you evaluate and choose what you take on and strike a balance between what is genuinely enriching and important, and what you are doing through duty or obligation or out of fear of what other people might think of you.
  • Focus more on yourself – Many years of conditioning, and early programming from when we are children can cause us to struggle to form healthy boundaries with others which serve us as well as them. The result of this for many people is that they put others first ( which of course we all need to do sometimes ) and themselves last. Often this is linked with low self-esteem, not feeling we deserve to put ourselves at the top of the list and a fear of being judged or becoming unpopular. Actually how I often help clients to re-frame this, is that by looking after ourselves, by giving ourselves time to rest, to exercise, to eat healthily and take breaks and time off, we are investing in ourselves, our health and our ability to be emotionally resilient. By nurturing ourselves we can bring the best of ourselves to our lives, jobs and most importantly our relationships with other.

If you would like any professional support in managing stress, take a look at these pages of my website for all of the information you will need. Or book onto one of my UK Mind Calm Workshops which take place most Saturdays all over the country:

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12 Habits of Emotionally Resourceful People

What is it that allows some people to bounce back, and to remain resourceful, positive and inspired despite the chaos of their circumstances or the stress of those around them?

Have you ever wondered how some people just seem to…..

  • Be able to operate in a happy, confident and resourceful way, even when all around them are having an emotional meltdown?
  • Come across as positive and optimistic whilst still living in the real world and facing into the challenges of life?
  • Be highly effective and attract in more of what they want from life?

We might call these people ‘emotionally resourceful’. If we study their habits and strategies, we can learn a lot. Here are some useful habits to adopt if you feel yourself getting bogged down or stuck in a negative cycle.

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By beginning to take a new perspective, and to consciously adopt some of these habits for yourself, you may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you notice changes in your own life.

  • 1. Take responsibility – Emotionally resourceful people don’t mope around feeling sorry for themselves, moaning about how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility for their role in life and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair, that sometimes they have to accept what they cannot change. We create stress by giving too much focus to what cannot be changed, to what ‘just is’.
  • 2. Understand you have a choice in how you respond – Resourceful individuals don’t have the impression that their emotional experience is controlled by the actions or words of other people. If you notice their language, it will not be passive or in ‘victim mode’ ….eg “My boyfriend takes away my confidence”. They understand that they have control over their own emotions and a choice in how they respond to external events.
  • 3. Embrace change – By welcoming change and being willing to be flexible, we can understand that change is inevitable and believe in our abilities to adapt and to learn life lessons from whatever the universe puts in our path.
  • 4. Choose what gets your attention – We feel what we focus on!! By giving the lost luggage, traffic jams or the annoying colleague our attention we encourage our feelings of anger, frustration or upset. Instead, an emotionally resourceful person will focus on what they can control in their lives. They also recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can really be in command of is their attitude and response to a situation.
  • 5. Be OK with people not liking you – Resourceful types recognize that they don’t need to please everyone all the time. They’re not afraid to say no or speak up when necessary. Whilst setting a clear intention to be kind and fair, they accept other people being upset and are able to form healthy boundaries in relationships which work for them rather than having them feeling used and trampled by the neediness of others.
  • 6. Take risks – Resourceful people are playful, and they realize life is an ongoing experiment from which we can keep learning lessons. When we lose our ‘over-attachment’ to ‘getting it right’, we free ourselves up from that old paralyzing analysis of what might go wrong. By taking risks, we take more action. By taking action we learn more and make more impact on our lives and others.
  • 7. Live in the present – The present is the only moment that you can experience anything directly. The mind, where we do our thinking, is only a ‘thinking about’ tool. By dwelling on past regrets or mistakes, or predicting the future, we sometimes become lost in thinking, and one step removed from the present moment. Emotionally resourceful people show up in the moment, take it in through their senses, and take part. Through showing up for the full experience of the present moment, we also remember and recall more.
  • 8. Do something different – If emotionally resourceful people are not getting the results they want, they dare to take a new action…”If you keep on doing what you’ve been doing – you will keep getting what you’ve been getting”. By accepting responsibility for our behavior and learning from past mistakes, we are less likely to keep repeating those mistakes over and over. Instead we can move on more freely and make better decisions and choices in the future.
  • 9. Teach people how to treat you – The resourceful person will teach others how to treat them. We are unconsciously teaching people how to treat us all the time – through what we stop, what we allow and what we reinforce. We can begin to be more conscious and intentional with what we are stopping and allowing, and gradually we form new dynamics and healthy boundaries with those around us.
  • 10. Know there’s no such thing as failure – What is failure? Look at all those examples of highly successful people who ‘failed’ many, many times before they hit their formula for success. Resourceful people do not view failure as a reason to give up. Instead, they use what some might term ‘failure’ as simply feedback.  Through allowing and accepting feedback in all it’s forms, we can expand our opportunities to learn, grow and improve. We can adopt a more innocent approach from which we continue to have ideas, make plans and take actions until we find our groove and our own personal recipe for success.
  • 11. Enjoy your own company – Resourceful people are just as happy alone as they are with a group. They embrace silence and stillness and use downtime to be productive. By enjoying our own company, we are less dependent on the companionship and entertainment from others to ‘make’ us feel good. Instead we become emotionally self-sufficient and independent.
  • 12. Know the world doesn’t owe you a favour – Emotionally resourceful people don’t feel entitled to things in life, they don’t adopt that mentality that others should take care of them or that the world owes them. If we begin looking for opportunities based on our own merits we can feel perfectly OK and satisfied with less expectation of others. This can free us up from eternal frustration and disappointment.

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