How to build self-esteem

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I have the wonderful ladies of the Mothers’ Union to thank for the inspiration for this post. I spoke at a Mothers’ Union event in Brockenhurst last week, after kindly being invited back following my first visit there a year ago. You may recall that I spoke from my heart last June, despite fearing I’d taken the wrong speech, and my vulnerability went down well. (Last year’s blog is here: Being Real.)

This time, the women, and the few men present, were as welcoming as ever, and once again I felt humbled as I listened to the amazing work they do, bringing support, love, healing and lots of delicious cake to families in need.

This time the remit of my talk was a bit more specific. Yes, I would tell my story and be as genuine as before, but they also wanted to hear about my work in schools on eating disorders, self-harm, perfectionism and stress, as well as get some tips on how to use social media to connect with and grow an audience.

As I shared my story and talked about the message I deliver to school children, I touched on my own eating disorder and the various other forms of self-harm I’d engaged in over the decades to escape from my feelings and manage anxiety, stress and fear.

My sharing prompted a specific question from a lady in the audience, which I want to address here.

What are the causes of low self-esteem?

As we know, the reasons are complex and, for many of us, the roots go deep.

One possible reason is that we didn’t grow up with a secure base, or as secure a base as we needed to feel safe (because we are all individuals with different needs and levels of sensitivity).

As a child, we have an innate need to feel safe, secure, held and supported. If we know we are fundamentally safe, we can step out into a world that, for a small person, seems quite scary. We can go into unfamiliar situations, speak to new people, push our own and others’ boundaries, safe in the knowledge that we have a secure base to return to when it all gets a bit much. When things begin to feel too unfamiliar or we have feelings we don’t know how to process, we can rush back to the safety of our parents’ or caregivers’ arms. That secure base, in our early years, is like a crutch or a safety net. If we don’t have it, we may look around us for something else to give us that sense of security we crave.

Food is an obvious crutch or source of comfort for many because it’s so accessible. It’s easily available and we can disguise our erratic eating behaviours to a certain extent (especially if, like me, you work off many of the excess calories with compulsive exercise). As we get older, we may graduate to using alcohol as a crutch, or drugs, or we may seek highs through sex (often with inappropriate people as that can increase the high). Or we may seek to escape any uncomfortable feelings by getting external validation through high achievement, success or overworking.

Basically, we want to feel OK, safe and secure and we search for this safety in all quarters. We also avoid rocking the boat or speaking our truth in case people get angry with us, which can feel very scary for someone without a secure base.

My therapist describes codependency, which is something I’ve been recovering from for years, as an addiction to security and safety at all costs. So we either stay in our comfort zone, avoiding situations that might frighten us, or we step out of our comfort zone but use unhealthy crutches like food, drink, drugs etc to shore us up and to try and simulate some sense of safety.

I did a bit of both. I stayed in my comfort zone for many years in some ways, sticking to a job I knew well and could do well, even when it no longer fulfilled me. I also avoided speaking my truth or being real in situations where doing so might invoke others’ anger. I still struggle with this. I still struggle with knowing it’s safe to be me, to say what I feel (it’s much easier to blog it than to say it!).

In other ways, I moved well out of my comfort zone, travelling the world on my own, getting myself in dangerous situations, hitchhiking along on huge highways, jumping off bridges and rocks, being bold and brave, but always with my crutches to support me (excess food, alcohol, male attention and so forth). Yes, always with my crutches.

So if we haven’t started out with a secure base, how do we recover?

Firstly, we have to try to divest ourselves of our crutches. Often we have no choice, as the crutches stop working. In my case, there came a time after many years when the pain I used to feel after overeating was greater than the pain I was trying to avoid by bingeing on sugar and carbs.

babywalkingIt’s scary to let go of a crutch.

Imagine a child starting to walk without the support of a parent, a table, a wall or a stroller to hang on to.

Wobble. Wobble. Crash. Cry. Eventually, though, that child finds balance within itself and its muscles and core grow strong enough to keep it upright.

If we let go of our crutches, we too must find a new balance and develop a strong core. I have done this over many years, through meditation, by developing a relationship with a power greater than myself (in my case, God) so that I can let go of my tight grip on everything, let go of control, surrender and find some peace, and by gradually learning to trust myself rather than lean on some false crutch.

I have become my own safety net. I can step out into the world. I can take risks, like publishing my book – a big risk for someone who traditionally craved affirmation and hated any form of criticism – or doing the work I love. I can get into a relationship and get engaged, because I know I have the inner resources and a supportive network that will help me cope with any feelings that come up, with any fear, panic, anxiety, stress or crisis.

There’s another aspect of self-esteem I’d like to talk about – the idea that children think it’s their fault.

I remember a story my therapist told me a long time ago about a family who came for therapy. This is how I remember it, which may not be exactly as he told it. The father was a drinker who used to get angry with his kids when he’d had a few too many. He especially didn’t like the sound of his son munching crisps – too loud when he was drunk or hungover. The parents split up and the father moved out. In therapy, the child asked, “Is Daddy leaving because of the way I eat my crisps?”

Children think it’s their fault.

When parents argue, split up or divorce, many children assume they’ve done something wrong to cause a row or drive a parent away. When a parent dies prematurely, some children may think there must be something truly wrong with them for their parent to leave for good.

This is especially the case if we haven’t grown up with a secure base, as explained above, and we haven’t learned to process strong feelings. It’s also especially the case if our parents or caregivers don’t have the emotional intelligence and maturity, through no fault of their own (they were parented too), to explain to the children what’s going on and reassure them it’s not their fault.

If, as a small person, we think it’s our fault, we may decide there’s something fundamentally amiss with us. We think we’re flawed. We think we’re unloveable. We think we’re not good enough.

Feeling this way, we’ll spend much of our lives trying to feel good enough, trying to prove our worth, trying to please others to win their affirmation and validation, perhaps working too hard or bending over backwards or hiding our truth.

How do we reverse this sense of being flawed? How do we counter this deep feeling of being wrong or bad? By teaching ourselves we are loveable, good, special and worthwhile. By doing lovely things for ourselves. By treating ourselves in the way we would treat a best friend or a young child who depended on us.

We give ourselves hugs, good rest and nourishment. We build a support network for ourselves – of friends, family, faith, spirituality, whatever works for us. We try to act in our best interests, to value and respect ourselves, to say Yes when we mean Yes and No when we mean No. We teach others how to treat us by the way we love and respect ourselves. We esteem ourselves by doing estimable things. We care for ourselves.

Those are just a few reasons why we, our friends, or the young people we know or care for may struggle with low self-esteem. So let’s build up our self-esteem. Let’s act in our best interests. Let’s learn to trust ourselves. Let’s be true to ourselves. Let’s speak our truth. Let’s value ourselves in work and in relationships. And let’s extend that love, care and respect to those around us.

How does this apply to our romantic lives, if we are single, dating or in a relationship we’re unsure about?

Well, you can imagine that without a secure base, you will be drawn to seek safety in the arms of others. You may crave the support and affection of a man or woman and while there’s nothing wrong with getting that support and affection, it’s the craving that’s the problem. If we are desperate, if we are looking for a rescuer, someone to make things better, make us feel safe, restore the losses from our childhoods, or take us away from all this, our judgement may be skewed. We may end up chasing men or women who aren’t good for us. We may end up ignoring our intuition and our better judgement because we’re so desperate to feel safe. We may actually end up in situations that aren’t safe because our need has blinded us to the truth.

Similarly, if we’ve always believed everything is our fault, we’ll turn a blind eye to a partner’s behaviour. We’ll accept less than we deserve. We’ll rationalise away any bad behaviour. We’ll let him off the hook. We’ll ignore that tap on the shoulder or that feeling in the gut that tells us to walk away. We’ll override our better judgement.

If we believe we’re flawed and if we don’t love and accept ourselves, we’ll also struggle to love and accept a romantic partner. We’ll pick holes. We’ll judge them. I could say a lot about how I did this but that’s for another day, or you could read my book.

So this is why creating our own secure base and understanding that we’re not fundamentally flawed, that we are loveable, are so important, in love and in life. If you didn’t get your needs met as a child, you can learn to meet them as an adult or to ask for them to be met.

You can build your self-esteem from the inside out.

So let’s do it. Let’s start today.

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For more thoughts and support on this topic, hop over to my free Facebook group for women: Being Real, Becoming Whole. If you like what you’ve read here, you may enjoy my book: How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. I also have a How to Fall in Love course running at the moment. We began a week ago but the course runs for six weeks so there’s still time to join and catch up if you’d like to. Drop me an email (katherine@katherinebaldwin.com). If you’d like to hear me speak, I’ll be delivering a workshop on the topic of How to Fall in Love at the Festival of Change in London on August 6 at 3 pm. It would be wonderful to see you there. There’s also a dating event that same evening for any singles with a social purpose, so do sign up if you’d like to meet some like-minded people.

Thank you for reading and for your support.

Posted in Addiction, codependency, Dating, Eating disorders, Faith, Love, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seize the day!

carpediem1I feel like I’ve written this blog before, or one very like it. I thought about going back through my previous posts to have a look, to avoid repeating myself, but I didn’t want to. I just wanted to write. So here I am.

I’ve just taken my mum up to London on the train and then across London to Euston Station on the tube. I sat her down on her train back to her home in North Wales and then headed back to Waterloo. I’m writing this on another train heading south.

I led her, sometimes by the hand, through London’s crowds, on and off the Underground and up and down stairs. She shuffled along behind me, a look of fear in her eyes, almost quivering, like a tiny animal that had just been separated from its mother. Bless her.

Watching her, I felt sad – sad that she has aged and lost the ability to do what she used to do. It wasn’t that long ago that she used to get the train from Wales to London then hop on a bus to my North London flat, then make her way back to Euston on her own a week later. Now, even by my side, even holding my hand, the crowds and the noise were too much for her.

Watching her, seeing her fear, I wanted to cry. But then I had to ask: how much of that sadness is about her and how much of it is for me, because I’m heading that way too, if I’m lucky enough to reach old age.

Yes, dear readers, there’ll be a day when everything I take for granted today will no longer be there. There’ll be a day when I won’t be able to do as I did this morning – leap out of bed, wash and hang up two loads of laundry, dye my hair, make breakfast and lunch, pick up mum’s suitcase, check train times on my phone and use an automatic ticket machine (without having to put on glasses).

There’ll be a day when I won’t be able to jog down the steps of a Tube station with a heavy bag in one hand or deftly navigate hoards of fellow travellers. There’ll be a day when I won’t be able to swim front crawl through the sea or manoeuvre my paddle board off the roof of the car (I can only just manage it now). There’ll be a day when I won’t be able to see this screen or when my brain or fingers won’t move at this speed.

I don’t think about it much. I take my ease of movement and the speed of my mind for granted. But I can’t help but think about it when I see my future reflected back to me by my increasingly frail and vulnerable mum, more scared than ever to step out of her very small comfort zone.

Nor do I spend much time thinking about who’ll lead me by the hand through the London Underground when I’m old and frail or put me on and off long-distance trains. I have no sons or daughters.

Call it denial. Call it avoidance. Or maybe it’s quite normal not to think about it much. But it seems I still have that sense that I’ll live for ever, and that my partner will live forever, and that I’ll always be able to do all this stuff that I take for granted, on my own, without a helping hand.

I still feel that way even though I have evidence that I’ve already aged. I’m not as robust as I was when I was younger, my joints already show signs of deterioration, my mind isn’t quite as sharp and my capacity to spend time among the bright lights, loud noises and hectic crowds of London is vastly diminished.

Yes, I have aged. I have changed. I just don’t want to age any more. Who does?

But there’s an upside to having these thoughts and feelings – they inspire me to make the most of these days, of my mind, of my body, of my age. They inspire me to seize the day.

And they inspire me to urge you to do the same.

So whatever it is we want out of life, let’s go for it.

I accept we can’t have absolutely everything we want. That’s life. And I find accepting that reality makes life much easier.

But there are things we want or dream of that we can have if we find a way, if we work for them, if we do our inner work and tap into our courage. I am living proof of this. So whatever it is you desire – that home by the sea, a partner to love, a book in print, a thriving business, a healthier body, an exotic holiday, a decluttered home (my challenge for the summer!), a stronger heart, whatever it is – can you go for it?

Try to stop procrastinating (I am oh so guilty of this). Don’t live in regret (I can waste time wishing I’d done things differently). Yes, mourn your losses and disappointments but move on as soon as you can. Move forward. (I’m writing this for myself as much as for you).

If it’s love or a different life you’re looking for, why not read my book or sign up to my 6-week How to Fall in Love course that starts this Monday? Or find someone else or something else to support you on your personal development journey. The key, I believe, is to recognise that we might need to do some work on ourselves in order to have what we want – and then to sit down and do that work, with whatever support works best for us.

If you want your voice heard out there in the world, if you want a blog like this or of a different sort, why not come to my blogging workshop on Tuesday if you’re near Bournemouth or sign up to my online blogging bootcamp? Or find another type of support so you can throw off the shackles, write from the heart and share your message with the world.

You don’t need me to tell you that life is short. You’ll have ageing parents of your own, or parents or other relatives who’ve passed away, or you’ll have aching joints or eyes that don’t work as well as they used to. It happens to us all.

So identify your dreams, find a way to make them happen, then go for them. Take baby steps if you need to, do your research, go and explore that place you want to move to (as one of the ladies on a previous How to Fall in Love course is doing right now), check it out, test the waters and then when you’re ready, leap.

It doesn’t have to happen overnight. It took me a few years to move to the seaside after declaring on this blog that I was leaving London. But I had my goal in sight and I made it happen. It took me many years to work through my dysfunctional relationship patterns before I was ready to fall in love, but I knew I wanted a life companion so I kept trying and failing and trying and learning and changing until I got it right. This blog is testimony to my growth as are the two guest blogs I’ve written for Gateway Women – the first in 2011 on The Power of Testimony and a blog I wrote yesterday, asking if love can heal the pain of childlessness (thanks to Jody Day for the space to share).

For many years now, I’ve been moving forward, growing, developing. I still am. I have a long way to go. But I’m committed to growth and change. I’m committed to achieving my dreams. Sometimes I need to rest. Sometimes I need to take a break. But when I’m ready, I’ll pick those dreams up again and start working towards them. I wish the same for you. You have dreamed those dreams for a reason.

One life. Create your best one. Make your miracles.

I’ll end on the quote I began the final chapter of my book with:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover” – Mark Twain

 

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If you like what you’ve read here, you may enjoy my book: How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. It’s for men and women who want to heal and transform their relationships with themselves and live fulfilling, wholehearted lives. You can download the intro and first chapter for free on my website if you’d like to try before you buy. My How to Fall in Love course begins Monday and I am planning a one-day retreat later in the summer. Check out my website for more details. You’ll also find details on my website of a blogging workshop and a blogging bootcamp if you’d like to start or develop your own blog. Finally, have a think too about joining my free Facebook community for women who are committed to living wholeheartedly: Being Real, Becoming Whole.

Posted in Childless, Dating, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding love

“I’m delighted to see you so happy,” Mum said to me this morning as we sat eating our breakfast in the sunny garden. “He’s a wonderful man. And he clearly thinks the world of you. It’s so lovely to see you two together.”

How did I reply?

I cried.

Of course I did.

How could I not?

Firstly, it’s true. I am happy – incredibly happy in my relationship. In fact, sometimes I’m flabbergasted and amazed that I got here, that I created this, that we created this.

Secondly, even if I know it in my heart, I found it moving to hear Mum reflect my happiness back to me – someone who’s so close to me, someone who can tell just by the tone of my voice, the look in my eye or my general vibe whether I’m upset, angry or content. There’s no fooling Mum. She’d know if I wasn’t happy, if I was hiding something or if I’d made a bad choice but was trying to dress it up as a good one. She’s hyper-sensitive like me, highly attuned to the feelings of others, which, as you’ll know if you’re the same, can be both a blessing and a curse. So Mum knows.

Mum is also amazed at the beautiful place in which I live – the beach, the sand, the sea, the harbour, the rolling hills on the horizon, the peaceful, sunny garden. As I am too, often.

I did this. I got myself here. I followed my heart. I made some tough choices. I walked through my fears. As you can too.

Reading this, you might be thinking that life is a bed of roses. Yes, I have so much to be grateful for but when has my life ever been a bed of roses, or when I have allowed it to be?

This morning, I cried. I cried because mum is getting old, sick and forgetful and I can’t make her better. I’ve never been able to as much as I’ve wanted to, my entire life.

I cried too because sometimes I still feel like I’m battling and striving and trying too hard with my work and my life, because my heart wants even more freedom, more peace, more rest and more joy than I am able to give it at present.

But it’s OK. It’s OK to cry, to feel, to let the emotions out. It’s a good thing. They’re there anyway so I can either run away from them, hide from them, bury them or distract myself from them – or I can process them, let them flow through me and out the other side. Once I do that, once I’ve done that, I can breathe easier and smile again, as I’m doing now.

Because miracles abound. Dreams have come true. Much of my life is beyond my wildest dreams. I am in love, I live by the sea and I get to use my life experience – some of that pain, some of that grief, some of those crazy twists and turns, those dysfunctional relationships, those past breakups and all the buckets of tears – to help others. I get to counsel and coach. I get to connect to my intuition and speak from my heart to guide others towards love and a life of their dreams. What a privilege.

The fact I am doing this love and life coaching at all is a miracle. I trusted my heart. I followed my intuition. I listened to those who told me that I’m good at this, that I have a gift for this. I took a leap of faith.

Amazing.

Yes we can create the life of our dreams. Yes we can do work that we love. Yes we can share our gifts with the world. We’re allowed. We can trust ourselves. It may not come easy. There may be some setbacks along the way. But it’ll be worth it in the end.

So dear readers, right now I need a bit of help raising awareness of this wonderful work I’m doing. If you know anyone who might benefit from my experience, who might need help creating a life of their dreams, building solid foundations of self-care, self-love and self-worth and finding a loving partnership, could you send them my way? Send them to this blog, to my free Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole, or suggest they check out my next How to Fall in Love course, which starts this Monday.

Can I tell you a little bit about the love course? If it isn’t for you or anyone you know, feel free to skim over this bit. This blog has always been a heartfelt missive – I don’t want it to become a sales page. But I’m so passionate about this work I’m doing and I really want to share it. To quote one of the lovely ladies (I call them my Love Ladies) who’s done the course and continues to work with me, six months on, “it’s exceptional – it’s exceptional because it helps you in so many different ways besides intimacy and finding love. You pay for the title of the course, but you get so much more.”

hearttree

It’s about self-worth, self-esteem, self-love and building our inner oak tree so that we’re deeply rooted in our truth and strength and can withstand any emotional storms. It’s about knowing who we are and what we want and deserve. It’s about identifying and honouring our needs. It’s about creating a wonderful vision for our life and taking steps to follow our dreams, irrespective of our relationship status. It’s about becoming someone we really want to date, someone we would want to fall in love with – someone who loves and cherishes themselves, follows their heart and honours their deepest desires. It’s about creating boundaries so we can interact with those whom we find attractive without losing ourselves before knowing whether they’re safe or good for us. It’s about joy, freedom and fulfillment. It’s about making bold choices.

I think it’s special. And that’s all I’m going to say about it!

We all deserve love, relationship and companionship (if that’s what we want – some of us may be content being out of relationship and I fully respect that). But I know love, touch and intimacy are so vital to my wellbeing. Waking up laughing with someone, going to sleep laughing with someone, touching and being touched, comforting and being comforted, sharing life’s joys and trials. What a privilege.

You deserve a wonderful life. We all do. But sometimes that life doesn’t come to us. Sometimes we have to create it. Sometimes we have to go through the growing pains. We have to face our fears, cry some tears, bump into some obstacles and find our way around them. It may hurt a bit. We may bruise. We may feel scared. But we’ll learn and grow and develop and we’ll get there. We will get there.

That’s all from me for today. Sending love x

 

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If you’ll allow me, a bit of sales patter:

If you like what you’ve read here, you may enjoy my book: How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. It’s for men and women who want to heal and transform their relationships with themselves and live fulfilling, wholehearted lives. You can download the intro and first chapter for free on my website if you’d like to try before you buy. My How to Fall in Love course begins Monday and I am planning a one-day retreat later in the summer. Check out my website for more details. You’ll also find details on my website of a blogging workshop and a blogging bootcamp if you’d like to start or develop your own blog.

Have a think too about joining my free Facebook community for women who are committed to living wholeheartedly: Being Real, Becoming Whole.

Thank you! x

 

 

 

 

 

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A Bed Full of Memories

bedmemories

I’m staying in my old flat in London this week, the flat I lived in for 13 years, from the ages of 31 to 44.

As I got under the covers last night and wrestled with sleep – my washing machine head full of a very long To Do list involving decorating, DIY, workshops and a wedding – I couldn’t help but reflect on everything this bed and I have been through over the years.

For a start, I imported it from Brazil, where I bought it together with my then boyfriend to furnish the bedroom in our São Paulo apartment. I was in my late twenties. Writing that word – twenties – makes me pause. How young? It seems a lifetime ago. Was that really me?

Right from the start, my bed bore witness to the emotional twists and turns of my life and it soaked up my tears. If it had a memory (I don’t have memory foam), it would remember the times my then boyfriend and I slept on opposite sides of the bed, a gap between us, as we slowly and sadly drifted apart and our relationship dismantled itself. For the best in the end – we’ve both found happiness elsewhere – but it didn’t feel that way at the time.

Then there was the morning, here in London, when I sat on the edge of this bed with a man I barely knew alongside me, watching as he hastily got dressed. I’d met him the night before in a club in Central London when under the influence of too much booze (both of us). I’m not entirely sure he knew my name, or if I knew his. It was back in the days when I drank to excess and felt an irresistible pull to unavailable men – this guy was a backpacker from Down Under and would be off on his travels again very soon. I remember wondering if I’d see him again as he pulled his clothes on. I remember hoping I might. And I remember how crushed I felt when it became clear, as he left, that I never would. I had looked for love in the wrong place, as I’d done before and would do again, before eventually coming to my senses. I had fallen for the good-looking nomad who’d soon be on his way. I had gone for the adrenaline rush, the quick fix to take the pain away. But I’d ended up with more pain on top. I felt sad, lost, hungover and full of shame.

I remember kneeling by this bed the year after my dad died, looking up to the ceiling, tears streaming down my face, pleading, “God, if you’re there, if you exist, tell me what’s the point. What’s the point of my life?” I was single after a recent break-up that had exposed unhealed wounds from my dad’s death and opened the floodgates on my grief. I was also in a job that gave me status and a good salary but that left me feeling soul dead. I’d stopped binge eating by then, something I used to do to numb my emotions and escape the pain, so I was finally able to feel the hole and the emptiness inside. My bed was there on that dark night, albeit facing in the other direction, parallel to the windows.

I remember sitting at one end of it a while later, on top of my pillows, notebook in one hand and phone in the other, tears present once again. I’d been signed off work by the doctor with stress, anxiety, bereavement, depression and something else I can’t recall and I was desperately trying to explain to someone from Reuters’ employee helpline that I had broken down and had no idea how to fix myself but really wanted to as fast as possible.

Then there was the morning of my 41st, sitting cross-legged on my bed in my Calvin Klein pyjamas as tears dripped onto my knees, silence all around (a scene I describe in my book). How on earth did I end up here? How on earth did I get to 41 without a partner and without children? What have I been striving for? Will it always be like this?

Of course, there were good times too – long lie-ins and early nights with a book when I felt so lucky to live here and felt happy to be single, to have time and space for me and to have this little haven of a home up amongst the tree tops. And there were good, healthier relationships as I steadily recovered from my self-sabotaging ways – long mornings when a boyfriend, a laptop and I (my version of a threesome) would plot holidays or buy concert tickets.

But it’s the sad times I remember most.

I took to this bed in the daytime once after I’d split up with my boyfriend – my now fiancé, the man I’ll marry next year – with a box of tissues and a Downton Abbey box set installed on my laptop. I’d ended it because he’d said he didn’t want children and couldn’t promise he’d change his mind. I was 42 and believed I still had a shot at motherhood. I also thought that’s what I really wanted. I’m not so sure now, although the question is often there.

I returned to this bed with my now fiancé after we got back together. One Valentine’s Day, we swapped kisses and chocolates and marveled at our good fortune because we’d finally stopped messing around and had committed to being together. On another occasion, I cried myself to sleep next to him after working myself up into a tizz and convincing myself that our relationship was all wrong – a reminder that sometimes I just need to let the tears flow, the feelings pass and process what’s really going on deep inside, and then the attraction and my love will return.

Two years ago, I packed up my stuff but left this bed behind as I took a leap of faith, followed my heart, committed to seeing if my relationship could work out and moved out of London to the seaside – some 13 years after I’d arrived.

So much had happened in those 13 years – all the events I’ve catalogued above and so many more. I changed. I transformed. I went from a binge-eating, overworking political journalist who flew on prime minister’s planes and worked out of parliament, to a more courageous, more authentic woman who blogged, wrote about the stuff she cared about in the press and aspired to publish a book. I went from a single woman to a woman in love. And in the two years since I’ve slept in this bed, there’s been more change. I am now the proud author of How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart and I am doing work, some of the time, that’s beyond my wildest dreams: coaching others to create healthy and loving relationships with themselves so they can have long-lasting relationships with emotionally well partners. I’m engaged to be married. I own a house with my man. The floor of my mini is covered in sand and I recently bought a paddleboard so I can get out on the water whenever I please. What freedom.

And now I’m back in this bed, for a brief stint, as one tenant moves out and others move in, for another twist in the tale, another memory to hold.

This morning, I peered underneath the bed and found a book, left by the lady who’s just moved out, the lady who’s pregnant. The Complete Book of Baby Names. Plus there’s a John Lewis Baby catalogue. I winced a little, just for a second, and then I smiled. Yes, dear readers, a baby has been living in my flat and sleeping in my bed for the last few months, inside her mother’s tummy, and someone has been reading about baby names right here, in the very place I sat at 41 and watched my tears soak into my pyjamas as I mourned my age and stage, my singleness and my childlessness, as I wondered how on earth I had ended up here.

So how did it feel to find that book of baby names? How does it feel? It felt OK. I thought it would feel worse but it felt OK.

IMG_5460I’m 46. I’m in love. I have a wonderful life and a sandy home by the beach in Dorset. I am building my dream career and my dream life, something I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. I’m still me, of course. There’s still a heap of anxiety and I still have some self-defeating behaviours I’m doing my best to let go of, one day at a time. I still have sleepless nights. But I am, by and large, very happy. In fact, some days my heart is so full of joy and love for my man that I want to cry. There are mornings when I step onto the beach, before anyone else is there, and tears spring to my eyes. I did this. I created this. I live here. Could it get any better?

So, as I go to bed tonight in this bed, I’ll slide once again into its memories but I’ll also gently let them go. In a few days, I’ll be leaving this bed behind again as I return to the seaside. I’ll be moving on. Moving forwards. And that feels good. I’ll also be going online to search for a new bed – I think it’s time to let this one go for good.

* * * * * * * * *

If you like what you’ve read here, you may enjoy my book: How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. It’s not just for single women. It’s for men and women who want to heal and transform their relationships with themselves and live fulfilling, wholehearted lives. I also have an online course and a one-day London workshop coming up so check out my website for more details.

If you like my work, have a think about joining my free Facebook community for women who are committed to living wholeheartedly: Being Real, Becoming Whole.

Thank you! x

 

 

 

Posted in Childless, Dating, Happiness, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Turning it around

Turningitaround

I posted this picture in my Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole, the other week and I wanted to share what I wrote with you too, as well as to remind myself of the magic that can happen when I choose to turn my day around, take positive action and connect with other human beings.

What I realised the other day is that I can turn my day around at any point. And the same goes for my week, my month and my year.

Here’s how I arrived at that conclusion …

I’d had a really full-on day. I’d been up since 6 am for a networking breakfast and had spent the rest of the day at my co-working space. By the time I got home at 6 pm, I was feeling tired and overwhelmed.

I was feeling overwhelmed by all the things I needed to get done in my work, by how hard I was finding it to make a consistent income and by the prospect of a challenging week ahead. I was heading up to London for a few days to sort out some complicated life admin, then travelling on to North Wales to spend some time with my ailing mum and to take her to the doctor.

As I drove home, there was one thing on my mind: I wanted to lie on the sofa and comfort eat. I thought I might cry too.

The thing is I knew eating was a really bad idea. As many of you know, I’ve been recovering from compulsive overeating for many years so comfort eating, for me, can be a slippery slope. Once I start, I often can’t stop, and even if I can stop, comfort eating pretty much always leaves me feeling worse off than before.

I knew what I needed to do but I didn’t want to do it. I knew I needed to exercise in the fresh air. I knew that would turn things around for me. But the pull of the fridge was so strong.

Anyway, what would I do if I exercised? I could walk, but what about my dodgy ankle that had been giving me grief? I could cycle, but that involved getting the bike out, which seemed like a real faff. I could swim – I knew a sea swim would work wonders – but what about the hassle of getting in and out of my wetsuit and of rinsing and drying it afterwards? Groan.

I was dragging my heels, dragging them slowly in the direction of the food cupboard, but then something stopped me and pointed me in the opposite direction, towards my wetsuit and the sea.

What stopped me? I think in part it was my Facebook group. I’d been encouraging the women in it to take care of themselves, to love themselves and to act in their best interests. I’d been encouraging them to do the things they love to do and to make themselves feel good. So was I really going to just talk the talk and not walk the walk? Was I going to encourage them to prioritise their wellbeing while I was lying on the sofa eating food I didn’t need to try and numb my feelings?

No, I was not. So I put on my wetsuit, got into my car and headed to the beach.

There, I swam, played around a bit in the sea, swam some more, waved at a woman who’d gone in without a wetsuit (brave!) and generally revelled in the freedom of it all and in the feel-good hormones that were flooding my body.

Hurrah. I had turned my day around.

I had spurned sugar and the sofa.

I had chosen the sea and surf instead.

As I left the beach, I began chatting to a lady coming out of the toilets. I thought the toilets had been closed so I asked her if they were now open for good. It turns out she was cleaning the toilets and she began explaining, in stilted English, that they’d been closed temporarily. I asked her where she was from, hoping I could speak her language. Brazil, she said. I speak Portuguese, I replied. And we proceeded to have a lovely conversation in Portuguese, aided by her cute bilingual daughter who was playing nearby.

I told her about my time in Brazil, living in Sao Paulo and Brasilia. She told me where she was from. And she filled me in on the saga of the toilets, how people vandalised them and left them in an appalling state, for her to tidy up.

When we finished chatting, I felt so connected, to other people and to the world. I’d spoken Portuguese for the first time in ages and had just about remembered it. I’d reconnected to the wonderful time I spent in Brazil and the lovely people there. I’d realised that while I worry about my business, there’ll always be another lady who is cleaning toilets, and in the case of this Brazilian lady, with such energy, positivity and good grace. I also remembered how far I’d come since the days I cleaned toilets while travelling in Australia in my early 20s.Connection. Gratitude. Laughter. Appreciation.  After our talk, this stranger felt like a friend. She and her daughter knew my name and I knew theirs.

Back home, I no longer needed to overeat. I had nipped that in the bud. I had chosen a different path. I just had my dinner, lay on the sofa a bit to relax, then collapsed into bed.

I had turned my day around. I had short-circuited the desire to medicate my feelings with excess food. I had enabled myself to go to bed with a clear head and the exhaustion that comes from exercise, rather than with a fuzzy head from sugar and feeling down on myself.

(If, on occasion, I don’t manage to turn my day around and I end up overeating on the sofa, that’s OK too. I can forgive myself and remember I have another choice next time).

The point of this story is to remind myself I can turn my day around.

We can turn our days around.

You can turn your day around.

The same goes for our weeks, months and years.

You can turn it around.


AreyoureadyIf you need support turning things around, hop over to my free Facebook community of like-minded women, Being Real, Becoming Whole. It’s for anyone who wants to live a more authentic, wholehearted life of freedom and love. It would be great to see you there.

Also, if you’re single and would like to join a small group of women on a journey to love, my next How to Fall in Love course starts June 12 – fall in love with yourself, your life and another. Just ten spaces and early bird ends Friday!

Have a great day x

 

Posted in Eating disorders, Fun, Health, Positive thinking, Recovery, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Let’s talk about shame

I wrote this post on a train a few weeks back, in one of those inspired moments when I just had to get the words down onto the page or the screen. I didn’t have wifi at the time so I didn’t post it and when I re-read it a few days later, it didn’t feel so urgent, so raw or so relevant. In fact, it felt exaggerated and self-indulgent.

But last night, I had what I can only call a shame attack. Something triggered me and I felt so small, so in the wrong, so not good enough, so like crawling back into my shell. I felt I didn’t have a right to be here. What was I doing, pretending to be grown-up in this world full of grown-ups, pretending I can hold my own? What was I thinking? How could I dare to believe that I could navigate this world, do normal things like normal adults do, speak up for myself, assert my rights, be seen, be heard?

onion

Peeling the layers of the onion

Beset with shame but needing to cook dinner, I opened up my laptop and re-watched Brené Brown’s TED talk on shame while I chopped onions, peppers and mushrooms. I then re-watched her talk on vulnerability, then clicked back to her talk on shame again.

Tears came and went (and not just because of the onions), but I grew calmer as I listened. I felt less alone. I heard how shame is the swampland of the soul, how it’s fed by secrecy, silence and judgement, and how empathy is the antidote to shame. I understood that others felt as I feel sometimes.

I then promised myself I would post what I had written a few weeks ago about shame, with some tiny edits and additions, and I would share it with you. Because that’s one of the ways I have learned to deal with my shame, with that sense of worthlessness and wrongness that comes and goes, with that deep feeling that I’m flawed or not OK. By writing it down, working it through on this page, speaking my truth and hopefully connecting with some of you on a deep level, I can heal, I can feel less alone, like I belong, like there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with me, like I’ll be OK and it’ll all be OK.

So here it is.

Let’s Talk About Shame

Shame is a topic I’ve only skimmed over to date, on this blog and on my personal development journey.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was scared, scared to explore just how much shame I carried, scared to go there. But lately, I’ve been getting a strong sense that I need to go deeper with shame, to get to the root of it and to understand how my shame has impacted my life and continues to do so and to find ways to heal from it. I’ve been reading about shame, hearing about it and it’s been on my heart. I guess I’m shedding another layer of the onion, one that’s very close to the core.

So here goes. Deep breath. This isn’t going to be easy.

The bottom line is I’ve always had this sense that I’m irreparably flawed, that there’s something wrong with me, that I’m wrong, my life is wrong and whatever I do or choose is wrong.

I could say I’ve worn a cloak of shame all my life because that’s a nice metaphor, but it wouldn’t be true. My shame hasn’t cloaked me. It hasn’t been on the outside. It’s been on the inside, festering, eating away at me, hollowing me out, pulling the rug from beneath me, dragging me down.

I can see it now in a way that I couldn’t before. And it makes me feel sick. And angry.

I believe I inherited shame. I inherited the idea that there’s no space for me, that I don’t have a right to be here while others do, that there’s something wrong with me. I’ve just had my mum visiting and I could hear and sense her shame and it made me very sad. “I don’t want to be a nuisance”, “I don’t want to be in the way”, “Won’t I be in the way?”, “I’m going to be a nuisance”. She repeats these phrases often. Somewhere, at some point, she sadly got the message that she was a nuisance (what a horrible word), that she didn’t have a right to breathe her air or to take up her seat or to allow her truth into the world. I must have grown up hearing that or sensing it.

I imbibed shame and then I grew it by doing things in my younger years that I was ashamed of: drinking to excess, throwing up, binge-eating so my body took on a shape I was ashamed of, striking up inappropriate relationships and always, always, trying to cover my shame, trying to compensate for it by being a good girl, by being perfect. That generally backfired. The more I tried to be the perfect weight through undereating, the more I binged and grew in size. The more work I did and the higher I climbed, the more I felt I was an imposter who didn’t belong, and the more I ate to cope with that shame.

I don’t do things I’m ashamed of anymore but the historical, deep-rooted shame is still there.

I feel my shame when I try to market by book or my work. I feel it in the way I phrase my offerings or price what I do. I am downplaying my talents and skills. I am undercharging. I am giving away my time. I know I am. I can see it clearly now. I’m out there doing what I love but not to the level that I could be or with the professionalism or price tag that I know, deep down, deep beneath my shame, that my work deserves.

I feel it when I interact with people who I believe have got things much more sorted than me or who are cleverer, richer or happier or who seem to have made better choices in their lives, which, in my mind, is pretty much everyone.

I feel it acutely when I’m around people who apparently have it all – husbands/wives/partners and children. I feel the odd one out. Despite now being in a lovely relationship and recently engaged, I still feel different. I feel like I got it wrong. I feel like this path I’ve taken and this journey I’m on can’t possibly be right. I got engaged at 46, not 36 or 26, and it’s highly unlikely I’ll have children. Whether I wanted them or not, I still feel ashamed.

I feel like others are judging me and feeling sorry for me, for the way my life has turned out and for the choices I’ve made, even if they’re not, even if they’re unhappy in their lives and envy mine.

How hard it is to embrace my path. How hard it is to accept that this life of mine, these choices I’ve made, the way things have turned out is OK, spot on, more than good enough. It’s easier to believe I got it wrong, to hang my head in shame.

You wouldn’t notice my head is hung but it is all the same, much of the time. It’s so hard to claim my space, my air, my right to be here. It’s so hard to believe I am equal to you and equal to everyone else. It’s hard to believe we’re both right and we both made good choices. It’s much easier to think you’re right and I’m wrong. It’s easier because that’s the way I’ve always thought.

I remember someone saying to me way back that shame is a useless emotion. While fear can keep us safe and sadness alerts us to emotional pain or hurt, shame just hangs there, telling us we’re no good, that we’re flawed, that we got it wrong. More than that, telling us we don’t belong here, to go back to where we came from, to crawl back under our rock.

Now at 46, without children, engaged to a man who doesn’t want any and understanding that I’ve always been ambivalent about kids (I had options to do something about it and I never did), I am beginning to accept and embrace this path of mine.

I really want to embrace it. I do. But it’s not easy. I am programmed to believe I am wrong. I am programmed to feel shame. Especially next to those who seem to have it all sorted. I feel like you pity me. Maybe you don’t, but it’s easier to believe you do. That’s my default. That suits my shame.

But I owe it to myself to stand tall in my life, in my choices and in who I am. And I owe it to myself to remember that I’ve had a wonderful, remarkable life so far and that I am blessed to be healthy and to be in love.

My therapist reminded me the other day what a remarkable life I had led to date. I may sully it with tales of binge-eating, self-harming, over-working and dysfunctional relationships, but there’s been so much adventure and joy and there’s been so much deep, deep friendship, love, healing and incredible transformation. Some of you reading this have been part of that story and still are.

What a privilege to have lived like this and to have the opportunity to continue to live and love. What a privilege to be me – someone who feels deeply, loves deeply and hurts deeply, but feels fully alive.

IAmRemarkable

We are remarkable. Remember that.

But it took someone else to remind me how remarkable I am and how remarkable my life has been. And that’s often the case. Maybe that’s the case with you too?

Whenever friends or colleagues talk about me or my work, they point out the remarkable stuff. I don’t, or at least not often. I’m ashamed to talk about that. I’m ashamed to own my life and my journey. I’d rather play it down and I’d rather focus on the negatives and the bad choices. It’s familiar. It suits my shame.

So how do I break this? How do I get the shame out of my body and soul? How do I rid myself of it?

I begin by talking about it, by writing it here and by seeing if any of you can relate. That’s a good start. That makes me feel less alone and lessons my shame. I can let go of what you might think of me when you read this blog and publish it anyway, confident that it’s important to me to be real. That is part of my journey to wholeness.

I could also keep returning to Brené’s talk on shame and I could read John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame That Binds You or watch his talks on shame.

That’s one approach. Honestly, though, right now it would suit me to hurl my shame across the room at great speed and with great force. I’m so over it. I’m so over this shame. I am so ready to be happy, precious and free. I am angry and that’s a good place to be. I’m angry that shame has dragged me down.

Enough is enough.

From here on, I will do my best to own my life, own my choices, breathe my air and take up my rightful space in the world.

I wish you the same.

********

So that is what I wrote, with a few small edits and additions. That’s how it felt then. It doesn’t feel quite like that today, right now, because I did a few things today to combat my shame – and they worked.

In the old days, my shame-management techniques were as follows: hide, eat, drink, overwork, self-harm, be perfect, keep quiet, stay small, be vague, undercharge.

Today, I am discovering more and more shame-defeating techniques: visibility, connection, support, clarity, knowing my value, stating my worth, fun, joy, playfulness, balance, self-care and spontaneity.

I am learning that to beat my shame, I usually have to do the opposite of what my shame-based mind wants me to do. If my mind tells me to stay home and isolate, I need to get out there and connect. If my mind tells me not to ask for support, I need to reach out for help. If my mind tells me to stay quiet, I need to speak up. If my mind tells me to be invisible, I need to do everything I can to be visible.

Mebookbeach

Being visible – an antidote to shame

Visibility happened by accident this morning. I headed to the beach to do a Facebook live video about shame, to share all this stuff in this blog and to get it out there into the world. But when I got there I saw I only had 15% left on my phone battery, which meant I couldn’t do a live video. I had my book in my hand, because I was going to mention it – I was going to say that after putting my heart and soul into writing it, I often felt too ashamed to market it – so I decided to take some photos and videos of it, and of me, and of the book, and of me, and of the book on the sand, on a rock and in my hand. In other words, I decided to shout about my book from the rooftops rather than explain why I was too ashamed to do so.

Bookstonebeach

Book looks great at the beach

It turned things around. The sun was out and warm, the waves were rolling in and I was being creative and having a lot of fun. I then posted those photos and video on social media – hitting right back at my shame.

Next, I went to a meeting of Creative Women in Business at my studio, The Old School House in Boscombe, Bournemouth, and talked openly about my shame with a group of supportive women, aided by the energy healing techniques of the wonderful Marie Houlden.

I cried, I shared, I cried and I healed – not all of it, but another layer of the onion. So again, I hit right back at my shame. I connected, I felt empathy towards others and I experienced empathy. I was open, honest and real. Shame didn’t stand a chance in that environment.

I wonder if you feel shame? I wonder if your shame holds you back? I wonder if you have shame-management techniques, such as perfectionism, overeating, over-working, drinking or hiding. And I wonder if you too can find ways to defeat your shame – through connection, empathy, support, visibility, honesty and courage.

Maybe we can do it together?

If you’d like some support with this, with beating shame, with being visible, with living the life of your dreams, or with finding love, have a think about joining my Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole. It would be amazing to see you there.

As the fabulous Brené said at the end of her TED talk, that’s all I have.

For today.

 

 

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Dating, Eating disorders, Love, Perfectionism, Relationships, Self-Acceptance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Talking About Love

In the hours after publishing my previous post – The Magic of March – I worried I hadn’t sounded positive or excited enough about my wonderful engagement news.

I read it back a few times. Had my realness and vulnerability tipped into negativity? Was it wise to share my mixed feelings? Should I have kept my grief, loss or sadness to myself and focused on the happy stuff?

But then some feedback started to come in. Some readers had found my blog moving, life-affirming and positive. For some, my words had affirmed their own journeys and made them feel less alone.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings and stories with me. Hearing from you makes me feel less alone. It helps me heal my sadness. It affirms my journey. It inspires me to continue to write and it gives me purpose.

I was heartened to hear I’m not the only woman who has felt somewhat thrown by a marriage proposal and who’s had to process a whole range of feelings, not exclusively joyful ones. We are complex beings and our lives, in many cases, don’t look like the storybooks we read as children or the Hollywood movies or British romantic comedies we grew up on, particularly if we’re in our forties or fifties before that proposal comes. A marriage proposal is one of those milestones that stops us in our tracks and prompts us to look back over our lives and assess the journey we’ve been on and the choices we’ve made, conscious or otherwise, as well as to look forwards to the new life ahead.

raspberriesSaying ‘Yes’ to marriage later in life, say at 46 rather than 36 or 26, and joining our lives with another also requires a bigger mental and emotional shift than if we were younger. In many cases, we’ve got used to our identity as a single person or as an unmarried partner. Taking on the role of wife or husband requires a deep breath and a leap of faith. If we haven’t been married before or been in long-term relationships, it may be we have a fear of commitment and that fear isn’t going to evaporate when a proposal comes. That wouldn’t be real.

I wonder, too, if my engagement news triggered some difficult feelings in some of you. I know I’ve felt triggered over the years when friends or acquaintances have shared their happy news – engagements, weddings, babies and so forth – particularly on Facebook where everyone seems to lead such a charmed life. When I’ve heard their news, as well as feeling joy for them, I’ve also been reminded of all the dreams that haven’t come true for me. I’ve felt pain. I’ve wondered when my time would come. If that’s you, I get it. I’ve felt it too. It’s okay. It’s normal. Can I suggest you allow the feelings to come to the surface, that you allow yourself some space to heal, to cry perhaps? Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. That’s what I’ve done in the past and it’s helped.

I believe it’s important to acknowledge all of our feelings, to accept that we are complex people whose emotional lives aren’t black and white. If we don’t, we’ll end up brushing the feelings we deem to be unacceptable under the carpet and they’ll stay there, festering, niggling away at us, sabotaging our happiness, enveloping us in shame.

So I hope my writing – either on this blog or in my book – somehow gives you permission to accept all of yourself and to love all of yourself. That’s how we heal. If my honesty can help you be a bit more honest with yourself and with others and to bring some of those hidden feelings out into the open, then I’m delighted.

Lunchtime Love-InIf you enjoy this blog and/or if it helps you, I wonder if you’d like to join me this week as I share some more thoughts on love – self-love and falling in love – via live video. I’ll be hosting a Lunchtime Love-In every every day this week at 1 pm for 20-30 minutes on my Facebook business pagewww.facebook.com/KatherineBaldwinUK/

Just like or follow my page to access the video. No cost involved. It would be wonderful to have you along. The videos will also be available on the page for you to watch at any time if you can’t join me live. I’ll be sharing some of the steps from my book – How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart – and discussing how to connect with our feelings, tap into our intuition, build our self-esteem, love ourselves and build the solid foundations required to fall in love and stay in love. I’ll also be talking about how to navigate the inevitable challenges of relationships – romantic and otherwise.

I also have a closed Facebook group – Being Real, Becoming Whole – so if you’re interested in living wholeheartedly and authentically and are looking for a supportive place to share your feelings and to discuss taking courageous action in your life, be that in dating and romance, in your work or in another area, do have a think about joining us in that group.

And if you’d like to go deeper and work through any obstacles to love as part of a small group of like-minded women, you may like to think about joining one of my How to Fall in Love courses. I have a four-week course starting April 24th.

Otherwise, do keep reading and do keep commenting if you feel able. It’s powerful to be heard and understood and I hope that you also feel heard and understood when you read thoughts or feelings that you can identify with on this blog.

This blog, in many ways, was the start of my own journey to love, or at least it was a milestone on that journey. It was the beginning of a new path, of a new realness and vulnerability. It opened doors to a new form of writing and journalism after years of writing daily news stories. It gave me freedom. It allowed me to express all of myself. It gave me permission to be me.

I hope that in some small way it gives you permission to be you too.

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