Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The bad sister

There is a film many of us have watched. It's called 'Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?' and it was released in 1962. It featured two of the foremost actresses of the time, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. It's a powerful and gripping movie. It's also pretty disturbing. As a film it was very popular at the time. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won one. It's the story of two sisters who live together. One was a child film star - Baby Jane. The other watched on from the sidelines but late became a film star herself. This sister ends up paralysed. In the mansion where they live Baby Jane psychologically tortures her sister. Isolation, abuse and hatred spew forth from Jane. As you can see this is not a film for the light hearted.

We hope that this doesn't happen between any sisters in our society. We do know however that something similar does happen in one place to a lot of people. That place is our own mind. In these inner spaces thoughts of self doubt can invade, occupy and abuse us. They can live with us and the abuse can go on for years. A friend of ours suffers from self doubt. This is someone who is one of the most wonderful human beings you could meet. She is kind, caring and helpful. The sort of person who makes the world a better and brighter place. She shared with the writers how these self doubts affect her. This expresses too her courage and strength in being prepared to share. The following are her words.

"Self doubt to me is something that I would describe as a negative feeling."

"It makes me question everything that I am doing in a short period of time, why am I doing it, am I any good at what I do, can I change anything I am doing to make this horrible sickly feeling go away?"

"I feel very worthless at the moment, I feel like I am underachieving, and I am cross with myself for this."

"I feel worthless, out of my depth and very very lost!"

This friend suffers from thoughts which undermine her confidence and blind her to all the good she is and does. This is the iniquitous nature of self doubt. It is never a friend and always an enemy. We are not talking here about deciding whether we can do something or should. We mean an unwanted sense of unworthiness that paralyzes us and makes us feel and think the worst. It's something most human beings probably have at some times in their life.

In mythology we find some fascinating figures. There was the figure of Medusa in Greek mythology. She was a female creature with snakes as her hair. If you looked at her and she gazed at you, you would be turned to stone. In European myths there was also the creature called the basilisk. If the basilisk gazed at you it would bring death. To look at Medusa or the basilisk wasn't something we would advise. These thoughts of self doubt are the mental equivalent of Medusa and the basilisk. They freeze us and psychologically slay us. They rob us of life, energy and hope. In the film the one who should have cared for her sister became her tormentor. These thoughts of self doubt are our bad sisters. And we need to find ways to deal with them.

Some people need counselling or therapeutic help with this. Others may be able to create their own strategies on the ground to work through this. We would like to recommend two practices that may help. They are based on our friends experience. They may not be for you so maybe talk them through with a GP or professional first. The first one is to go easy. It's very easy to get into a battle with these awful thoughts. To fight them and try to beat them back. This approach while understandable can easily backfire. The more fire we aim at them the stronger they get. It's as if these thoughts absorb whatever is aimed at them. They get more ingrained and deep seated that way. Our friend records this phenomena, "the more I fight it the harder it becomes to control." So to step back, try to relax, let go and find a place of being at ease will put one in a good place to address the problem. A parallel might be if we have to face a person we are in dispute with and have a discussion with them about the conflict. It's much worse if we approach the meeting full of anger, resentment and thoughts of lashing out. Being calm, collected and in control is best from all points of view. Likewise to go calm puts us in the best position.

The other practice is to look towards the sun not the shadows. We don't mean this literally. We mean focus not on the negative self doubts but rather on positives either within or outside us. Rather than allow the shadows to surround and engulf us we look to where the light is. Our friend spoke of "lots of happy thoughts always do me the world of good." Exactly. This is creating new inner hardware for the mind. It is creating new patterns and connections. It links us to the good and the best. It gives us hope and ideas for the future. Focusing on the good and happy can be a good way to sow seeds to undermine the weeds of self doubt. It's like a dark room. We din't have to push out the darkness. We have to rather turn on a light and the darkness goes.

These bad sister thoughts can plague many but there is recovery and hope. Self doubt is an old problem for our race. Shakespeare wrote about it, "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

We hope you take from this post that these 'Baby Jane' thoughts can be dispelled although it might take time. We conclude by dedicating this post article to our friend. We thank her for courage and sharing with us. She later let us know she was feeling somewhat better. We believe her words here will touch and help many. And that's what human life and goodness are all about.

John Walsh. Support Manager. York Street Health Practice  
Louise Goodyear. Student Nurse. Wolverhampton University 

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