Under the thumb
Before the days of little blue pills for impotence, a bashful young man asked me for help with his sexual problems. He had a forceful and enthusiastic wife, and he felt inadequate.
We finally agreed that a course of injections would help. All went well, the desired effect was achieved and I asked him to report back the following week.
When he reappeared he looked sheepish. He had indeed left the surgery in a state of eager anticipation and had rung his wife to tell her the good news, whereupon she told him to pick up a Chinese takeaway on the way home. He arrived home with a cold meal and a deflated sense of self-esteem, which only set his wife off on a tirade.
When I asked him – incredulously – why he had not gone straight home and eaten later, he replied, ‘I couldn’t have done that, I can only do what my wife wants me to.’ My suggesting that this pattern of compliance had led to his impotence, lack of self-esteem and a miserable marriage had little effect. To this day this couple remain in separate worlds and bedrooms.
This is only one example of an extremely common problem, which causes immense stress – feeling unable to stand up for yourself.
Learning to stand up for yourself
For most people, a guaranteed way of generating stress is to feel you are living with decisions that have been imposed on you.
This can range from being married to the wrong person to hating the colour of your kitchen units – the problem is immaterial, but the effect is always the same. Resentment simmers and eats away at the fabric of a relationship, whether at work or at home. There are a number of ways this can be overcome:
• Be honest with yourself. Write down what is important for you at home, at work and in a relationship. If decisions are being taken out of your hands, who is making them for you? What right have they to do this? If you’re being bullied, learn how to deal with it.
• Be honest with people. Don’t keep quiet in discussions when you disagree. That is exactly the time to speak up.
• Don’t be too dogmatic. We all change our minds and we all make bad decisions. Accept that things won’t always go your way, but if they always go against you ask yourself why.
• Be prepared not to follow the crowd. Peer pressure is a highly potent force in persuading people to go against their usual principles, and I see dozens of young men in prison who are there simply because of this.
• Accept compromise. It oils the wheels of business and relationships more than we think, and should not bother us provided we know why the compromise has to be made.
Remember Shirley Valentine?
The film Shirley Valentine gives one of the best examples of suppressed individuality I know, and many people who watch it relate to it. You don’t have to talk to the kitchen wall or go to a Greek island – or a psychoanalyst – to free your identity as an individual. You alone know yourself better than anyone; you know who you are and what you want. Don’t lose sight of that.
Be prepared to stand up for somebody important you. Don’t be forced into other people’s orbits. Instead, hold on to your personality and concentrate on your priorities, aims and values.