si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: relationships

Wasting Energy

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it – Henry David Thoreau

We all have only so much time, so much life. Most other things can be expanded (more or less) – money, energy, effort. Only time itself can not be replaced.

But then, what is our life?

It’s partly the time spent (how many minutes, how many hours), but it’s also what we do with that time. How much thought we’ve dedicated to any given subject or person. How much energy. How much effort.

In this context, relationships are the easiest place for some big wins.

In any healthy relationship, both parties are putting in roughly the same amount of effort.

Now, there are always exceptions. We all go through rough patches where we may be struggling to even get out of bed. People in chronic pain or with life long illnesses are necessarily limited in how much they can contribute. This isn’t through lack of desire on their part though, they just can’t. Kids, of course, are a huge mess.

Those extremes aside though, when you find yourself endlessly making efforts to connect with someone (either physically or verbally) only to receive minimal reciprocation? If you’re the one always reaching out, or you’re fully engaged while they’re staring at their phone? Something is out of whack.

Spending time thinking about people when there’s this level of imbalance is only adding to it. That’s your life, wasting away, when you could be thinking about, well, something better.

You’re pouring your energy into a sinkhole. You’re pouring your life down a sinkhole.

Now, with some people it’s obvious there’s a massive imbalance. You put tons of effort in; they put none (or near none).

It’s like a firehose of energy from you to them, with the occasional drip in the other direction.

Similarly, people may ask for help – which you willingly give, only to realise (after you’ve spent the time and effort) that really, they’re not interested in it at all.

With some people it’s even more dire. You come away from them feeling actively worse.

Why do we waste our energy on these people? Mostly because we don’t stop and think, reassess, and ask ourselves “Is this really good for me?” or just as importantly “Is this still good for me?”

I had a brief email chat with someone the other day. I went back and looked at it, and of the two emails they sent me, every single sentence (that wasn’t about them) was some form of criticism or attack. I’m sure they’re capable of having healthy relationships with others, but for whatever reason, things between us? Toxic. We shouldn’t be wasting our energy on people like this.

With another person, I’d say roughly 40% of the time we interact, I come away feeling significantly worse (of course, this is my responsibility to heal/manage, but still).

Someone else I know, after months of “Yes, let’s hang out, but not right now, I’m busy”, when we finally got together, they spent the time subtly probing if I wouldn’t mind if they went and hung out with someone else instead.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I think sometimes it’s just old relationships. People we attracted into our lives when we were in very different places. E.g. unconsciously much less self-loving, thus attracting people who would fulfil that belief and harm us.

Sometimes, they’re familial obligations. To be fair, these can be much harder to manage – you can’t always cut family out of your life, although you can work wonders through healing.

Workplace relationships can be similarly hard to manage – although really, if the whole company is that toxic (as is often the case if the boss is bad news), even no job can be a healthier choice. Trust me, I’ve been there.

There are lots of other ways to waste energy, of course.

A common one (for me) is watching TV (or movies) where really, I’m gaining nothing from it. They’re not inspiring me; I’m not learning anything; they’re not lifting my mood. It’s super important to chuck these things from our lives. Otherwise all we’re really doing is killing time until we die. “Five more seasons to go, and then I’ll be free!” Even having a nap would be more beneficial.

Now, if your mood is lifted, you’re inspired, encouraged, supported – then sure, go ahead, watch that TV (usual caveats apply). But if you’re not? There are plenty of other activities out there.

Ditto books you’re not enjoying, learning from or being stimulated by – why bother?

See also the myriad of mundane little tasks we mindlessly fill our days with. How much of our life is spent doing things that don’t need to be done, or could be better done by others?

Really though, our relationships are the key area where we can get unbelievably dragged down, pour untold time and effort into something with neutral or negative return, and potentially massively negatively impact our life.

It’s worth taking a little time, just every so often, to keep a gentle eye and make sure things are in balance.

Oh, and the most important part of the equation? Spend more time with those who lift our spirits. Those who make us feel better about ourselves. Who make our hearts sing. Who inspire us. Who make us believe anything is possible. Who make us believe in ourselves.

I know a few people like that. You’re where I want to invest my life.


    Punching Above Your Weight

    Yesterday a friend joked that I was punching above my weight always dating models (his description not mine – and a little ironic given that I’ve been single – by choice – for the last 1.5-2 years).

    I couldn’t figure out if it was a compliment or an insult, so I asked a few friends about it on Twitter. @snarkattack mentioned she’d had a similar conversation with a friend of hers, and here’s what HE said about it:

    There’s no such thing as punching above your weight. That implies that people are inherently better than others based on our own purely subjective and subjectively objective determinations and constructs of what makes someone better or more “worthy” of whatever it is that we see as valuable… Value yourself and let attraction and connection just be. Conceptions of superiority and inferiority are so flawed as to be complete fallacy… Word to the wise. Stop underselling yourself.

    Which I thought was brilliant, and needed to be immortalised.


      How To Spot A Sociopath

      It’s estimated that sociopaths (or psychopaths as they used to be called) make up anywhere from 1-4% of the population.

      They can be INCREDIBLY destructive to your life, and it can take years or decades to recover (in my experience). So, knowing how to spot and avoid them is a damn useful skill.

      If you have the misfortune to find a sociopath in your life, they will

      • Happily lie to you to about anything and everything
      • Take everything of value that they want (you time, money, effort, self-esteem)
      • Manipulate you in any way they can
      • Completely destroy your life without a second thought
      • Promise you the world (in the future), in exchange for giving them everything they want now

      … all while believing that their behaviour is completely reasonable, and not worrying in the slightest about what they are doing. Once they’ve got everything they possibly can from you, they will drop you by the wayside with no hesitation at all.

      I recently read an excellent book on this subject (The Sociopath Next Door), and have since realised that I’ve known several sociopaths very well indeed, both in my professional and personal life.

      First, a quick explanation. Put very simply: a sociopath has no conscience.

      This means they can do or say ANYTHING, with no regret, no shame and not a care in the world. They’ll lie as easily as breathe. If they get caught in the lie, they’ll double down and lie even further. They’ll take every cent you own and sleep soundly at night. They’ll happily have you working thousands of hours for them, and when it comes time to pay you, they’ll beg off claiming “poverty” or “hardship” (all lies and part-truths, of course). Somehow their needs and wants become the focal point of your time together. Their desires are always the thing you’re working towards – them first, you after. Maybe. (Which of course never quite happens).

      I cannot state this strongly enough:


      Generally speaking, they’re incredibly charming people (at first) – after all, it’s a key way to get people to do things for them. Once they’ve got what they want, they will just as quickly disappear… until the next time they want something.

      Where this all gets tricky is, sociopaths are very good at hiding what they are, at least initially. When you first meet them, they may seem “perfect”, charming, witty, and most commonly of all, nice. They have to be good at this. How can they manipulate you if you see right through them?

      The reason they’re good at charming people is, while they have minimal emotional depth themselves, they are highly skilled at understanding other people – their strengths, weaknesses, needs and wants. They succeed in being charming because they know exactly what to say to flatter you or make you feel great about yourself. This is all part of their game. Once they have you convinced that they’re “nice” or “wonderful”, then they can start to manipulate you to their own benefit.

      Of course, once you believe they’re “nice”, it’s a natural tendency to try and “explain away” their aberrant behaviour (violence, manipulation, lies). It’s also normal to try and help them improve their situation (after all, this is what they’re manipulating you to do – pour your energy into helping them). However, notice that they only listen to you when it suits them, and otherwise are perfectly happy to ignore (while placating) you completely. That’s because underneath it all they have zero interest in listening to anyone other than themselves.

      To a sociopath, you only exist as a way to get them what they want.

      So, what are the key characteristics of a sociopath?

      • Very charming
      • Take much more than they ever give
      • Promise the world to get what they want, then somehow fail to follow through later
      • Lack of shame
      • Things are never their fault; blame is always on other people
      • No remorse
      • Minimal emotional depth
      • Near zero empathy
      • Have a very inflated sense of self worth (they’re “obviously” better than everyone else)
      • Strong sense of entitlement
      • Often quite narcissistic
      • Often very intelligent
      • Will hurt anyone in order to achieve their goals
      • Would run over you in a bus if it made them look better
      • Can be needy, wanting you to be there for them whenever they want
      • Know how to make others think they’re the victim while actually being the aggressor
      • Can be very violent
      • Extremely manipulative

      These characteristics do differ from sociopath to sociopath. The more boxes that are ticked the more likely someone is to be one.

      [Obviously only a trained professional can provide a definitive diagnosis – I’m only telling you this to try and help you to protect yourself.]

      That said, there is one key characteristic that every sociopath has: they want you to pity them.

      The reason for this is, pity is the strongest emotional state that instinctively compels us to provide assistance. In other words, it gives them the most power over us.

      Often this pity will be emphasised in the same breath as bragging about some great achievement of theirs (no shame or empathy, remember?)

      Eg, “Oh, this work we’ve (you’ve) done is amazing, but I can’t pay you just yet, because…”

      Of course, they won’t want you to pity them all the time. You will see pity come out if you ever want anything from them (as a defence to not give it to you), or if they want something from you (to manipulate you into giving it to them).

      Another thing to watch for is lying. Remember the rule of threes.

      1. One lie may be a misunderstanding
      2. Two lies may be a serious mistake
      3. Threes lies, get the hell out of there

      Oh, and in this context? Broken or endlessly delayed promises are lies.

      Do not give your time, affection, money or work to a three time liar. Ever.

      What should we do when we spot a sociopath?

      • Get the hell away as quickly and peacefully as you can
      • Do NOT tell them they’re a sociopath. You do NOT want them angry (no conscience, remember? Which means they can and will do ANYTHING in retaliation)
      • Do NOT believe anything they tell you about changing, needing you etc
      • KNOW that they will lie, or try to make you feel sorry for them in order to keep control over you
      • KNOW that they will turn the charm up to 11 if they think it will work
      • Quietly warn others (one reason I’m writing this post)
      • Think for yourself. Sociopaths prey on people who struggle to think for themselves
      • Not all sociopaths are violent but it’s still safest to keep as much distance as possible

      Sociopaths are incredibly destructive to everyone around them. Fortunately, very commonly their lives do eventually implode.

      In the mean time, all we can do is stay aware, stay safe, and stay the hell away.


        You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You

        I’ve been on a dating site recently. Not with any significant expectations (I trust the universe to look after me), more just about “keeping the door open” and passing the time.

        However, I noticed myself slipping into compulsive behaviour. Checking the site way more times than strictly necessary. And really, how often is “necessary” anyway? Once a year? Once a week? Once a day? Once an hour?

        But I digress.

        As with most forms of escapism, once I spotted it, I wanted to get to the root of it, and clear it out.

        After I got quiet and focused in on what I was feeling and what my motivations were for constantly checking the site, I realised Dean Martin summed it up perfectly decades ago.


        See, the real problem is, this concept is insidious. It’s everywhere.

        How many films are there where a couple start out together, then breaks up and are happier being single at the end of the movie?

        How many adverts involve someone being perfectly happy being by themselves?

        Versus, of course, the exact opposite.

        The media tells us, constantly, that we can only be happy if we’re in a relationship. That really, we only have value, that we’re only lovable if we’re in a relationship.

        None of this is news to you, I’m sure. But holy crap, how twisted is that?

        And of course, I realised this was exactly the rabbit hole I’d fallen into.

        I had a whole raft of beliefs along these lines:

        • I need the love of a good, beautiful woman
        • I’m happiest when I’m loved – I feel I can kick ass and achieve anything
        • I have no value unless someone else values me
        • I’m not lovable unless someone else shows this by loving me
        • I’m somehow failing unless I’m in a relationship
        • I’m not important/don’t have value unless someone better than me loves me (whoa!)
        • I’m not attractive unless someone attractive/amazing wants me

        … and so on.

        You can immediately see how these beliefs both set me up for instant failure (default mode: unhappy, unattractive, unloved), but also are self-defeating. Why would someone else want to love me if I don’t love myself?

        Of course, the good news is – as always – the hardest bit is seeing these beliefs.

        Once you see them, you can very easily drop them.

        So, just to be thorough, how can we get all of these beliefs to the surface?

        What worked for me was asking myself questions like:

        • How would I feel if I never had another partner?
        • How do I feel about being alone?
        • How do I feel about being alone for the entire rest of my life?
        • What if no-one attractive ever wanted me again? (ie, I had to compromise or settle not to be alone)
        • What if I was never loved again?
        • What if I never experienced love again? (slightly different phrasing often helps)
        • What feeling will I have when I have this partner?

        (then imagine, and feel these feelings as strongly as you can – to really dig everything up. Tapping 2″ down and across from the beginning of your collar bone (point 7) can also help you “tune in” to these feelings more strongly)

        As well as these, there will always be the ever present feelings of “wanting or lacking love/approval.”

        To some of these, you may feel a general, non-specific energy coming up. To some you may get specific phrases or beliefs bubbling to the surface.

        To the non-specific energy, I’d recommend just letting the energy go – you don’t need to know what it is to get rid of it.

        Specific beliefs or thoughts are pretty straightforward to dump too. Use whatever tools work for you. These days I tend to simply choose to let the belief/energy go, or let the picture go. You could also tap them out, etc etc.

        Either way, once you can see/feel these things coming up you can easily drop them all.

        Then, just go back to the questions, and keep going over them until you feel completely at peace. Completely at ease. Completely loving about being alone.

        Take that, Dean Martin. You can be somebody, even if nobody loves you. Hello? Who should love us the most? US OF COURSE!

        The paradox here is that when you’re in this state, you immediately become more attractive. Why? Because you’re dropping any sense of neediness or desperation. You become more loving. You become more centred and connected with yourself. Less pulled around by the vagaries of other people.

        Which of course, makes you more attractive.

        Hilariously ironic really, this life of ours.

        Oh, and the dating site? Yeah. I’m now checking it 10x less, but more importantly, with a definite feel of “Well, this is very nice, but really, whatever.” Win.


          What Is Love?

          It’s a big question. What is love?

          For a start, the word “love” can mean a lot of different things. The ancient Greeks had five main types:

          • Philia – loyalty. Motivated by practical reasons; one or both the parties benefit from the relationship
          • Xenia – hospitality. The almost ritualised friendship between a host and their guest.
          • Storge – natural affection, like parents have for their child
          • Eros – passionate, romantic love, with sensual desire and longing
          • Agape – pure love. Soul love. For lack of a better description, God’s unconditional love.

          Mostly on this blog I’ve been talking about unconditional love, what the Greeks called agape. Why? Simply because this is a superset of all the other forms of love.

          If you have unconditional love for someone, it doesn’t matter if they are guest, child, an intimate or business partner – you’ll treat them as lovingly as (or more than) if you had only the first four types of love.

          Agape, unconditional love, is the deep root beneath all other forms of love.

          Ok. Well, that’s nice. Now what?

          I’ve always struggled to find a good synonym for the word love. How do we identify if we’re being truly loving or not? How can we look at it from slightly to one side, just to be sure?

          Up until recently I’d often described love as “unconditional positive regard.” However, this lacked something. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew it wasn’t the whole picture.

          I could feel myself feeling unconditional positive regard towards people I knew that I still thought were complete shitbags.

          Then, recently, I was (finally, it’s amazing) reading Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. In there, I found the missing pieces of the puzzle.

          These pieces are: admiration and great respect.

          So now in total I understand that unconditional love means unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect.

          (obviously this may not be the entire thing, but it feels damn close. If it’s not complete, I don’t feel there’s very much to go.)

          Of course, as soon as we think about anyone like this, part of our brain will scream “Why the hell should I respect them? I refuse to admire them! They’re…” (etc).

          Well guess what? That’s us being judgemental. No matter how “right” we (think we) are, it’s not unconditional love.

          This is a tricky area.

          This is where Christians with their cries of “love the sinner hate the sin” start to slide – it’s still being judgemental.

          As soon as we say “this is wrong”, we’re sliding into judgement. It’s what makes it so insidious, and unconditional love so tricky.

          Think of the worst people you can imagine – typically something along the lines of a serial murderer, rapist, paedophile or Hitler. Or, closer to home, those that have harmed us in the past.

          Obviously these people have done some atrocious things. This is why they’re good examples. Because it’s so hard for us to unconditionally love them.

          If we put aside the rule of law (what should society do with people that commit atrocities), we can simplify this situation enormously.

          In terms of being (or not) unconditionally loving, what are we really talking about?

          We’re talking about how we feel.

          So, pick one of the cases above. What we’re doing by not choosing to be unconditionally loving is this: we are letting someone else’s behaviour decide for us how we are going to feel.

          In other words, we decide they’ve been awful, therefore we are going to hold negative (non loving) feelings towards them.

          We are giving our power away.

          Well, how silly is that?

          Surely we are the boss of us? Surely we decide how we should feel?

          Of course, there are people out there doing simply awful things. But why should we let them make us feel bad? Who gave them that power over us?

          Well, by choosing to be judgemental, by choosing to hold back from loving them (particularly when we feel they “don’t deserve it”), we did. We gave them power over us.

          So really, by choosing to be unconditionally loving, by choosing to give them unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect what we’re really doing is choosing to let go of their power over us.

          We’re choosing to feel as positively as humanly possible, no matter what they do.

          This is the ultimate power we have. As Viktor Frankl (who survived Auschwitz) said

          “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

          This is why unconditional love is so important.

          This is why understanding what love is is so important.

          Of course, if love as “unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect” doesn’t resonate completely for you – please do keep looking. I’d be most curious to hear your thoughts. I’m always eager to learn more.

          At this stage, this is the best I’ve found. It feels complete to me. Most importantly, when I think about applying that definition to people (or organisations) in my life I’m least likely to feel this way about, I feel challenged and uncomfortable. Which is probably a very good sign I’m stumbling in the right direction.

          Now obviously, the next practical question (and I do like to keep things practical, as much as possible) is what do we do with this information?

          Well, here’s what’s been working for me, it’s super simple.

          Basically, just imagine someone (or something) horrible in front of you. Then think the phrase “unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect” towards them.

          If there’s any part of you that disagrees with giving them these things, those are the parts of you that are holding you back from loving them completely and unconditionally.

          From there, you can simply let those feelings or thoughts go. Or tap them out. Or breathe them out. Whatever works for you.

          The key is to keep letting go of all the objections, arguments and generally non-loving reactions that come up in response to trying to feel unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect for that person (or organisation).

          Once you let go of all of these reactions, you’ll feel yourself naturally slip into genuinely feeling those feelings towards that person.

          In other words, regardless of that person’s behaviour, you are now feeling genuine unconditional love, agape (the highest possible way of feeling).

          You’ve stopped yourself (your emotions and energetic state at the very least) from being a victim of their behaviour. You’ve regained mastery over yourself.

          Now, I’m definitely not saying you should put yourself in harm’s way here.

          For example, you can cross the road safely (a very dangerous thing to do, statistically), but you can do that happily and at peace, or you can freak out and be full of fear. It’s completely your choice.

          For me, I choose unconditional love. I choose happiness. I choose peace. Oh, and I choose not to stand in oncoming traffic, human or otherwise.