That some people are ‘copers’, while others collapse in a heap at the slightest setback, has always interested me.
A marvellous book called The School Of Life — An Emotional Education (edited by Alain de Botton) suggests resilience has much to do with upbringing: ‘One kind of person, the bearer of a solid emotional inheritance, will tend to be resilient . . .’ whereas another person’s ‘backdrop of shame and self-contempt’ will always reconfirm itself. I wonder if that resonates with you.
Perhaps you were brought up to expect too much of yourself and the world and learned a habit of criticism. If that’s the case, disappointment is inevitable. Instead of the lessons in happiness people chunter on about, we all need to understand that nothing will ever be as we want it to be.
Growth happens when we start to come to terms with that fact, when we decide we can take control of our own lives by resolutely putting one foot in front of the other.
You segue rapidly from personal frustration and disappointment to angry, sweeping statements about the world — the sort of catastrophising which is hardly good for mental health, common though it seems.
The ‘change in your mindset’ needed here is not about the fairness or otherwise of your life. It is about how you deal with setbacks — and how to re-configure the face you present to others.
Please read your letter again and try to see it through my eyes.
Here we have a young woman, with her whole life before her, angry that her investment in a degree brought none of the benefits she expected, disappointed with her present course of study, already expecting rejection, furious we have left the EU and contemptuous that so many people are indifferent to the environment. All adding up to an intense feeling of bitterness, which must surely tinge everything you do. All so sad.
Suppose we try to change the tune of this litany of woe? Like many graduates, you didn’t find paid work or a PhD, but showed admirable initiative in working in a hotel to save for your master’s degree. That’s the best thing in your letter. Now you criticise your MA, but who likes every aspect of a course or job?
Learning to compromise is a key part of education. Finding something good within every single day is the only way to survive in life. Who knows, when you have finished you may walk into a job? But such good fortune depends on you embracing hope, not negativity.
Sorry, but nobody wants to give a job to — or work and socialise with — a moaner. Tell yourself the sky isn’t grey, it’s pearly.
Jumping out into the wider world, to call Brexit (which in practical terms hasn’t happened yet) a ‘catastrophe’ is harmful to you. A catastrophe is a tsunami, an earthquake, the Australian bushfires. Making an intelligent decision to shift your mindset and realise that politics is a slow, changeable process will relax you, opening your eyes to infinite possibility, at home and abroad.
I am so tired of wilfully sad people predicting disaster, when the only honest response in the present is to say: ‘I haven’t a clue what will happen next year.’ Lastly, each day the people you think don’t care about the planet are recycling, picking up litter, buying less meat, telling their supermarkets not to use plastic, and so on.
Of course, others are chucking rubbish, scoffing burgers and not giving a damn — and there are always going to be those polarities. But the trajectory of humankind is towards slow-but-sure betterment. It really, really is.
Yes, we have many problems —and governments are waking up to the need to take environmental issues seriously. But I’m afraid that won’t stop people chucking rubbish in rivers, here or in India.
If you despair about everything, you throw away the gift of life.
You’ll help yourself if you quit bitter sorrowing and clench your fists, ready to take life on.
Embrace the powerful message that the sisters can indeed do it for themselves and the brothers can take up arms against a sea of troubles and, in so doing, we will survive. Join Extinction Rebellion! Volunteer! Allow a fearsome wonder woman to whirl into your psyche and give you a good shaking and dusting down, followed by a pat on the back so hard it takes your breath away.
Stare into your mirror and tell yourself you can make your own life good. Who else is in charge of it?
Although your email is distressing to read, I am grateful for this chance of highlighting here a very real problem in society – the mental and physical abuse of men.
It was the subject of an excellent recent article by Tanith Cary in Femail (29th January: Hidden shame of the men abused by the women they love) which I strongly recommend, to help you understand a little more.
Although it’s inconceivable to somebody outside why any person (male or female) would remain in an abusive relationship, it happens all the time.
The number of domestic attacks carried out by women have more than tripled in a decade. In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 786,000 men suffered domestic abuse, yet men are three times less likely to report their abuse to anyone. Why?
Shame is one obvious reason – as well as the utter demoralisation of a person dominated by a controlling partner. Yelled at, abused, subject to all sorts of orders and restrictions, they believe they are worthless.
You say you have always looked after your younger brother – and this is not the time to stop. It’s vital not to isolate him still further. It doesn’t sound as if he is living with this woman yet, so I hope you have many opportunities to talk to him.
He needs to be made to see that this relationship is coercive and damaging, but this might take time and needs to be approached with care.
My advice is to contact the charity Mankind Initiative (www.mankind.org.uk). They have an excellent website which you should study thoroughly. Their list of psychological control symptoms will seem familiar to you. The helpline (01823 334244) is for male victims, but I am sure you will find helpful advice on the whole site – and seek the opportunity to look at it with your brother.
Immediately, you should certainly stop being the Bank of Sister. About that you can be pretty blunt – asking why he thinks you should help fund the girlfriend’s selfishness.
He must know you disapprove of her (a normal response in families, after all) and I don’t see why you should hide it.
But you’re right: confronting her would be a step too far. Does he have a close male friend you could take into your confidence? It is vital that those who care about him are ready to support him, in the hope that he will soon be able to break this woman’s appalling hold over him.
I’ve been gently rebuked by reader Valerie H in Devon, and I deserve it! Two weeks ago, celebrating ten years in our beloved home, next to my son and his wife, I wrote that we live in ‘a rather ugly little village towards Bristol’ — and Valerie objects.
She lived here for a long time 25 years ago and reminded me of the best aspects, like the pretty part around St Mary’s Church. Obviously, the whole area is more built-up now — but her email is a reminder that beauty means different things to different people. Instead of ‘ugly’, I should have written ‘plain’.
Yes, I wanted to make it clear we don’t live in a chocolate-box spot. Honestly, if this village were on a dating website, you might well swipe it away!
Yet — as with new people — affection develops with familiarity. We have a film club (‘Flicks in the Sticks’ — cheap wine and such fun!) once a month, run by the Residents’ Association. There’s a Gardening Club, the WI, events such as jazz in the church and soon there’s the first meeting of a new nature club.
When the village shop was robbed, everybody rallied round. The church is warm and welcoming to all — and was my way into village life ten years ago. (You don’t have to be ‘religious’, just a human being).
With the Mail’s great anti-litter campaign in mind, I’m proud our village organises litter-picking. And in the spring volunteers stand in our chilly lane in the darkness to rescue the little frogs from their suicidal bid to cross the road.
Does all that sound a bit country-bumpkin to you city folk? What matters here are good neighbours and a sense of community — precious things which can be found in most places — if you step outside your door and look.
Not always (of course) but more often than you’d think. Country, suburb or city . . . a location — like a person — can be very ordinary-looking and yet full of goodness and warmth. And earn your love.