Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan Confidence Coaching, Training and Consulting


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The Secondary Gain

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on June 21, 2017 at 9:05 AM Comments comments (0)

The Secondary Gain.

‘In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight’ Ram Dass

I follow Ram Dass on Facebook and I really enjoy his posts. This picture regularly appears in my feed and every time I see it, it makes me laugh. Each time I see it I start to think about what aspects of my own costume I am currently trying to maintain. Is it the one where I am a nice person or the one where I rarely lose my temper or get annoyed. Maybe it’s the one where I am insecure about my skills and need reassurance that I’m good enough or perhaps it’s the one where I don’t need anyone to help me, because, I am capable of looking after myself. Whichever one it is, you can be fairly sure, I am suffering some level of stress as I try to convince myself that these facts are true about me and that everyone else can confirm that they are true too. I am happy to say I can laugh at my ridiculousness but it always forces me to consider why I do these things when it obviously creates a level of anxiety, as I try to live up to my own expectations.

Jason Silva recently posted a video about how we perceive ourselves through the eyes of another. He was referencing the work of Charles Cooley and his Looking Glass Self Theory. Cooley believed that we are not who we think we are or even who other people think we are, but are who we think other people think we are. What this means is we construct our sense of self through what we imagine other people think of us. I like this idea as I believe that much of the stress we experience in our lives occurs because we have expectations of ourselves based on what we think other people expect of us. For example, if in your mind you think people think you are a nice person then you are more likely to suppress the times you are annoyed or have negative thoughts or feelings about others. This suppression of emotion can lead to stress responses both physically and emotionally. You can experience headaches, IBS, neck pain, heart palpitations and all manner of ill health and that’s not to mention the emotional reactions of stress and anxiety, excessive worry and low self-worth. In my experience working with clients, and when training, I am always amazed at how many people think they are horrible people because they have negative thoughts or because they imagine they should be one way because of what they think other people think. So, they portray the social media version of themselves, ‘everything is great’, even though they may be struggling and don’t know how to deal with it. So why do we spend so much time maintaining our identity and how we imagine other people experience us?

I believe there are two things at play, one is that familiarity is safe and the second is the secondary gain, both are intrinsically linked. Staying within our comfort zone or sticking to what’s familiar allows you to have more time to deal with threats or danger or problems that appear more pressing. Sticking with the identity you have created throughout your life and not questioning it frees you to focus elsewhere. Unfortunately, by not bringing awareness to the aspects of yourself that bring you stress through difficult relationships or conflict or feelings of inadequacy or insecurity in the long run causes you more problems. I think it is probably why when you have achieved a certain level of external security or comfort in your life then you start to question who you are and what your values are, the typical midlife crisis. Staying within the safety of who you think you are and who you think you need to be causes you additional stress, so why do you do it? The secondary gain. Every action you take, every thought you have, every engagement with another person, gives you something. You are not always aware that you are gaining, especially when the situation is difficult but you are. When you have an argument with someone the secondary gain can be that you get to feel right or justified, which funnily enough gives you a hit of the feel-good hormone dopamine. You can also confirm that maybe you are a nice person, that you would ‘never do or say something like that’. This interaction confirms that your costume is on straight. If you spend your time always saying yes to people and feeling overwhelmed because you never have time to yourself, the secondary gain may not be that obvious but if doing this allows you to feel that you are a good person, that you put other people first or that you are somehow a victim and feel justified in feeling sorry for yourself, then you are experiencing a secondary gain. This can be difficult to face which is why you usually go for the safe and familiar and handle the stress as best you can or look for some other way to alleviate it through food, alcohol or more helpful activities like exercise.

For those of you who are interested in meditation or have read about losing the ego through your practice then you will understand how meditation can lead to a loss of ego as you begin to realise that much of who you think you are is really based on who you believe you are, whether that is through the eyes of the other as Jason Silva described, or confirmed by the other when they reassure you that your costume of identity is on straight. What is liberating about all this is the fact that we can change. When you begin to notice that certain behaviours are leading to stress, then you can take the time to check in with your beliefs about who you are or how you create your map of the world. Once you start to realise that your beliefs are influencing your behaviour as well the way in which you perceive others then you have a choice, do you carry on or do you make a decision to change? I believe that everything you do should lead to greater happiness and a reduced level of stress. You can’t control what happens around you but you can control how you react to it and who you chose to be. By bringing awareness to how you recreate your sense of identity every day and use other people to confirm its’ validity, you can start to make a more useful one, one that is less attached to the story of who you are and more driven by the story of who you can be.

Thanks for reading. For more information on my coaching and training check out my website of Facebook page, Elfreda

What has Compassion got to do with Confidence? (What a day of sitting with the Rinpoche taught me)

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on June 15, 2017 at 7:45 AM Comments comments (0)

What has Compassion got to do with Confidence? (What a day of sitting with the Rinpoche taught me)

I recently attending a day of sitting with the Venerable Panchen Ötrul Rinpoche at Jampa Ling Buddhist Centre, Bawnboy, Co. Cavan. The day was an opportunity to learn from the Rinpoche, and to ask questions about meditation and Buddhism. Those in attendance were a mixture of Buddhists, long-term meditators and complete novices to both meditation and Buddhism.

The day began with the Rinpoche speaking about the role and purpose of meditation as a Buddhist but also for those who wish to use it as tool to have a better understanding of oneself. He explained some of the fundamentals of a regular practice as well as the importance of compassion as a key component of Buddhism. This lead on to several questions, one, on whether we should indulge in the more pleasant aspects of a sitting such as mind wandering or whether we should return to the pursuits of ‘nothingness’, as the questioner called it. The answer, as always, was ‘return to the present moment’ whatever that may be for you at the time. A second question was whether we should seek to be happy or how important happiness is to living a full or good life. This lead me to wonder about the whole idea of compassion and whether this is something you should actively engage in or whether it is something that naturally arises through your meditation practice. Feeling confident, I asked the question.

According to research, long-term meditators show significant changes in the structure of the brain. These changes are most notable in the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala. Through extensive fMRI scans it has shown that these changes significantly improve the level of compassion experienced by the meditator. This would lead me to believe that compassion is a natural by-product of meditation. I was extremely curious to see what the Rinpoche’s take would be.

The Rinpoche stated that, yes, some people do experience elevated levels of compassion over time and, in his experience, some people are naturally more compassionate than others. I would guess this is related to greater activity in these parts of the brain already. He did, however, say that it is also important to nurture our compassion and then strengthen it with actively practicing compassion when dealing with others. He gave the example of how easy it is to be kind and compassionate when we around a ‘sangha’, (community of meditators), that are naturally more kind and compassionate towards us. Yet, when we are surrounded by those who are plagued by more negative emotions it can be more difficult to maintain our level of compassion and so we need to nurture it more, rather than just to rely on our meditation practice alone.

I was quite satisfied with the answer and was inclined to agree. In my experience, I have found that compassion does seem to arise more naturally the more I meditate as do feelings of gratitude and kindness towards others. I am sure this is related to the gradual changes that have occurred in my brain due to my daily meditation practice. I would love to say that my level of compassion is significantly elevated but it is something I have to actively work at too. What has been the most notable for me is the way in which I experience others and how I am much quicker to try to understand behaviour that is challenging or appears negative. I think this has come through my greater awareness of my thoughts. I am much quicker at noticing when I am criticizing or judging others but the biggest difference is in relation to how I experience myself. This is where I feel the role of compassion lies when it comes to confidence.

In her book, Self-compassion, Kristen Neff explores the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. She believes that self-esteem is not something that we should be cultivating in ourselves and others. She explains how self-esteem programmes in the US have increased the number of narcissists but has not decreased the levels of self-harm, suicide, teenage pregnancy or drug and alcohol abuse among young people. This, she blames on the nature of self-esteem, which in her mind is about elevating ourselves above others to feel good. Even the word esteem brings about images of elevating someone or something or placing them on a pedestal. When you hold someone in high esteem you are placing them above others. The problem with this is that if you are above someone else then someone else must be below, and this leads to comparison and judgement which is so common today in social media; we’ve all heard of internet trolls. So why is self-compassion better?

Neff believes that self-compassion is better because it allows you to make mistakes, to be flawed and still be loved or accepted. If you have compassion, which incorporates feelings of empathy, kindness, love and acceptance, you can be ok with yourself and others, despite your mistakes and flaws, as there is no measure of good or bad. This is a fundamental aspect of Buddhist compassion because compassion arises in the present moment when you are present with things exactly as they are, without trying to change them to be one thing or another. When you begin to experience greater levels of compassion for yourself, and others, it is easier to feel confident in the person you are and to develop an authenticity in your dealings with others. When you can be comfortable with who you are, and allow for your mistakes, you can begin to feel truly confident.

I believe confidence is something you experience based on how you feel in the present moment. A level of competence can lead to feelings of trust in your abilities or the potential outcome of a situation but if you can accept who you are and acknowledge your worth then confidence, like compassion, naturally arises in the moment. It is not what you can do that makes you feel confident but how you feel about who you are. This is why, cultivating compassion for oneself is integral to how confident you feel.

Thanks for reading. For information on my coaching and training programmes please check out the rest of my website, Elfreda