Ask Sadia: Self-Acceptance

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Dear gossip girl, 

From reading your submission, it sounds to me like you might be an empath. You are attuned to and absorbent of others’ emotions. This can be immensely rewarding – it can make you a better listener, and a more nurturing friend – however, understandably, it can also be a rather draining attribute to have. Sometimes it becomes hard to separate our own emotions from others’. And often it is difficult to stop ourselves from caring deeply about others’ feelings (especially those of our loved ones) even at the expense of our own ones.

I would say that the secret to separate our own needs from those of others is to set emotional boundaries: sometimes, when my brain is congested with multiple thoughts and feelings that I cannot easily categorise into what comes directly from myself and what comes from others, I sit down with my journal and scribble out these thoughts. This helps me to understand myself better, to put things into perspective, and to delineate between my genuine emotions, and the ones I may have simply absorbed from those around me. Of course, doing this will not render you completely indifferent to others’ feelings; instead, it will (hopefully) allow you to create some emotional boundaries, which will benefit both you and them in the long term.

You cannot pour from an empty cup, and if you want to fully embrace the nurturing aspect of who you are, you must nurture yourself first. Maybe come up with a list of things to do that will help you to recharge when you find that your emotional capacities are depleted: this might include a day spent sat outside with some books, or a weekly bike ride, or even cleaning your room (I find this last one to be very therapeutic).

Ultimately, in terms of self-worth and self-acceptance, it all comes down to knowing thyself: if you know who you are, it is easier to accept yourself, and to care for yourself, and, by extension, to have healthy relationships with others. By this, I do not mean attempting to completely define yourself or put yourself into descriptive boxes. I mean, you must come to know your own strengths and weaknesses, what you like, what you don’t like, and the signs that indicate when others’ emotional pressures are becoming a bit too much for you (this is when you need to refer to those emotional boundaries, and back off a little). And then, you must embrace all this self-knowledge, and grow into yourself.

The way that it sounds like you are willing to love others: you really need to save some of that love for yourself. Cringe-worthy as it may sound, loving yourself (without developing an egotistical obsession!) is the most worthwhile thing to do. You must give yourself the same nurturing energy that you offer to other flawed, albeit still deeply lovable, people. Remember that we only criticise ourselves so much because we have the most direct access to our own insecurities and inadequacies.

And, adding on to the topic of emotional boundaries, you really need to ask yourself: the amount of care and attention you offer others – is that same level of support offered back to you? And do you seek it when you need it? 

It is worth bearing in mind that most of us are driven by a desire to prove ourselves, and to escape the feeling of not being ‘good enough’. But once again, we are all flawed, and we each possess our own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Given that our time on this earth is rather short in the grand scheme of things, you may find it worthwhile to embrace and make the most of the brain, the beauty, and the personality you are fortunate enough to possess now. Perhaps none of us will ever fully meet our idealistic expectations of what being ‘good enough’ entails. But it is never not worth it to wear this all on your sleeve, to love irrespective of flaws and to be loved in the same way in return, and to exude your unique and powerful energy with pride. 

Sincerely,

 

Sadia.

Ask me a question (or tell me what’s on your mind) here


Sadia Ahmed, 2019

Ask Sadia: Impostor Syndrome

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Dear lish, 

I have definitely felt (rather intense feelings of) Impostor Syndrome in the past. In particular, when I first started at my sixth form (where literally everybody is very smart) I remember often wanting to speak in class, but being too terrified at times to do so. I would constantly go through a frantic process of editing what I would say in my mind, asking myself, is this even worth saying? They probably already know all this, and more. They’ll think I’m stupid. They’ll scoff at me and find my opinions laughable. Even despite the evidence that suggests that I deserved my place there, and my grades, and to express my thoughts and ideas, I would see myself as an anomaly, as intellectually inadequate. This problem reached its peak when I went on a residential trip to Cambridge for the first time. We had the chance to participate in an introductory seminar on imperial history. I came up with many points (which, in retrospect, were valid and fruitful) and many questions to ask in my head, but there was a giant lump in my throat stopping me from saying anything, for fear of what they – these superior academics – might think.

But over time, this has certainly improved. I feel more confident in myself, and in participating in discussions, projects, and such, and I really hope this follows me into the world of work. I, and you, have the same right as anybody to at least participate. Since that initial university residential trip, I have been on a few others, where I have attended lectures and seminars in which I have managed to successfully remind myself that my perspective, my taking up space, and my words, are just as valuable as anybody else’s. I feel far more confident in classroom discussions too, second-guessing myself considerably less, but still asking myself, is this a useful thing to say? I have noticed that many people simply contribute to discussions in a decorative – and not a substantial – manner. But we tend to trust what they are saying if they speak with self-assurance: a bit of confidence goes a long way, and confidence gives rise to even more confidence. A multiplier effect, if you will (judging by your alias, I am assuming I know who you are, and that you do Economics).

With the exception of narcissists, I am almost certain that everybody experiences this feeling sometimes. Feelings of professional or academic inadequacy are no different to every other type of insecurity we self-impose when we over-analyse and over-criticise ourselves. I find that what helps me overcome such feelings is reminding myself that I am curious, I love learning, and that in learning environments, both my unique perspective and my unique mistakes are equally useful. I can benefit myself and others by speaking my mind, and if I mess up, I can crack a dad joke at my own expense. But I, like those around me, am in the process of learning. They have much to teach me; I have much to teach them.

Last year, when my personal experience of ‘Impostor Syndrome’ reached its peak, I too was worried that I would not progress to where I wanted to be, because of my own anxieties. But we are our own worst critics. If you were to look at yourself from another’s perspective – at your unique way of thinking, shaped by your unique experiences, in addition to your qualifications and other achievements, you would probably be rather proud of yourself. ‘Impostor Syndrome’ is irrational: wherever you are now, your own hard work and capability brought you there. Sheer luck can only help us so much. Also, the people you might compare yourself to – the ones who you think deserve the academic or professional positions they find themselves in – probably experience the very same feelings as you do; the ones at ‘the top’ have been in your position at some point, feeling insecure and inadequate. But to achieve your goals, and to grow into the person you have the potential to become, you must tune out the noise of critics – and that includes the cacophony of the shitty committee in your head.

And besides, as one of my friends frequently points out to me, all you need to get through life and be successful is the self-assurance of a mediocre middle-aged white man. If their overconfidence can be conducive to their (immense levels of) success, your realistic confidence – a trust in yourself and your cerebral abilities – combined with a bit of productive work can get you to anywhere you want to be in life.

You need to do this for yourself. 

Sincerely,

 

Sadia.

Ask me a question (or tell me what’s on your mind) here


Sadia Ahmed, 2019 

Ask Sadia: Childhood Trauma

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Dear Wedasameppls (???) ,

I wish that I could have replied to you personally, only…  I don’t know who you are. But I am truly sorry to hear that you have had to endure, and are still forced to endure, this much pain. You were hurt by someone who you trusted, and who was meant to protect you from harm, at such a delicate and impressionable point in your life.

It’s scary just how much our childhoods, and childhood trauma, can affect us later on in life. But whoever you are, I am so proud of you for carrying on, in spite of the scars, and in spite of the panic attacks. It’s truly unfortunate but not at all surprising that your dad still finds a way back into your thoughts. When we are very young, we are constantly in the process of learning about and attempting to decode the world around us, and that includes absorbing feelings of danger as a survival mechanism.

Panic is irrational, but tends to have a rational basis. In your case, you were abused, when you deserved the absolute opposite: gentleness, nurturing, and protection. The blame is entirely on him, and the scars that you are left with are his imprints. To slowly combat the psychological trauma, it would be wise to try to rationalise it all, gradually. Those moments are in the past; you are (I hope) safe and loved now, and he is gone. I don’t want to romanticise the scars whatsoever; sometimes they do not truly make us stronger. They make us, understandably, weaker and more vulnerable, more worthy and deserving of care.

And that is okay. You are not an attention-seeking teen: anything but. Everybody deserves attention for their mental and emotional health, but in your case, given your past and the flashbacks you get, you deserve it more than anybody. The people in your life will probably not be able to fully empathise with your situation, but they are there to make you feel safer than you were made to feel when you were younger. If you trust them, know that your fears, your panic, and your pain, are not irrational, and it would probably relieve some of the emotional burden if you discuss your feelings with them.

Given the gravity of your situation, I would really recommend seeking professional help; doing so does not make you weak nor dramatic. You do not have to pretend that you are completely fine, especially not for others’ convenience. Your loved ones will listen, and NHS therapists and counsellors are qualified to guide you through the process of healing. It may be hard, and perhaps you will not see the positive results immediately, but if anything, what you deserve right now is to get your biological father and those insidious thoughts off your mind. You – that eight-year-old child who was unjustifiably abused at such a fragile point in your life – deserve to be free of them, but first you may need to confront them fully, by talking about them.

Neither the flashbacks nor the depression make you weak, and they should not be sources of shame. The trust issues are almost a given, and I am sorry that you have had to deal with the emotional consequences for ten years, and alone. The least you deserve now is a space to let the firewalls down, to admit, at least to one person whom you love and trust, that this is what you went through, and this is how it has left you feeling.

I think people are just obsessed with masks and having to pretend that they are okay and without any trauma whatsoever, all of the time. This just adds to the problem, making survivors like you afraid to tell others, for fear of being labelled frail or oversentimental. But think about it like this: if an innocent eight-year-old child came to you now and told you that they were being abused by a family member, what would you do? Would you call them an attention-seeker? Or would you do everything in your power to care for and protect them, and start and aid their process of healing?

At the core of all our beings is a child – our childhood selves, full of creativity and life, and often a great deal of suffering. Yours requires some extra attention right now; he or she has suffered immensely and unnecessarily, and, in this silence, is still suffering.

P.S. if we really are “dasameppls” as your alias suggests, I am always here to talk, and I have nothing but respect for you. 

Sincerely,

 

Sadia.


Sadia Ahmed, 2019

On Toxic Positivity

Artwork: Naajiyah Saarah-Sultana (Instagram: @naaajagram) 

You may have looked at the title of this article to find that the term I have used in it sounds somewhat oxymoronic: how could positivity – which, by definition, is inherently good – ever be toxic? Well, it comes back to the recurring message of this blog about good things only being good in moderation: even water, so integral to our existence, becomes toxic when over-consumed.

There is, undoubtedly, a point where negativity – cynicism, pessimism, a monomaniacal commitment to only seeing the bad in situations and people – becomes irritating and detrimental to the wellbeing of others. “Good vibes only,” some people declare in their Instagram bios, in retaliation to this seemingly trendy bitterness. And “No negative energy” forms the self-declared motto of many people’s lives nowadays – or, rather, what they choose to show of them. This resolve towards positivity at the expense of negative intrusions can be useful, of course: we do, at least to some extent, attract and manifest what we expect. However, if we unrealistically attempt to close ourselves off to all forms of negativity, we run the risk of concealing and suppressing our (rather normal, healthy) negative emotions.

Consequently, in doing so, we risk becoming bad friends. Good friendships depend on a mutual exchange of authentic expression, and if we fictitiously portray ourselves as being absolutely indifferent and immune to negativity, our friends may not feel comfortable enough to discuss with us their (once again, rather normal, healthy) negative emotions. Moreover, it is unbelievably selfish, I think, to (whether directly or indirectly) abandon our friends at their lowest points merely in order to fulfil our own unrealistic expectations of being surrounded by exclusively ‘positive chakras’.

There is no need to apologise for not smiling all of the time. Neutrality and negativity are essential components in any healthy emotional mind-set, and being real about such emotions is better than being dismissive and avoidant. Furthermore, oftentimes, responding to others’ occasional expressions of dispiritedness with well-meaning exclamations of “You’ll get over it!” or “Just be happy!” or “Good vibes only!” is comparable to endeavouring to treat deep and grotesque wounds with… little Peppa Pig plasters. When left unsubstantiated, these plasters of unhelpful advice are decorative and futile.

Granted, the toxically positive tend to have good intentions: they simply do not want to feel or indulge in any negative emotions whatsoever, nor do they want to accidentally absorb anybody else’s ‘toxicity’. Negativity in its extreme forms is damaging, but it is by no means an intrinsically toxic thing to experience. We all feel such emotions, and we do so for a reason; our brains are alerted to the fact that something is wrong, and, thus, that something needs to be done about it. And this is where friends return to the equation. Of course, we cannot expect too much from our friends emotionally; they do have their own lives and issues to tend to. But it is not immoderate nor audacious to expect our friends to help us combat our negative thoughts – at least some of them, some of the time. Unfortunately, some (notably, usually the ones who have not yet learnt to embrace and deal with their negative emotions in a healthy manner) turn away at the first signs of negativity in others. They are trying to protect ‘their vibe’ (whilst simultaneously concealing their own neglected emotional abysses) and come to perceive the victim as a villain attempting to infiltrate their own sphere of positive energy. Yes, emotional vampires certainly do exist and are unpleasant to constantly be around, but it is not healthy at all to expect ourselves nor others to be fully okay all of the time.

And, truth be told, the excessively, toxically ‘positive’ are just as irritating and unhelpful as their toxically negative counterparts.


Sadia Ahmed, 2019