‘There is a damn good reason why people are struggling. We are not raised to understand ourselves. In fact, we are raised misunderstanding ourselves and fearing the very thing that makes us, us.’ Dr Soph. Do you want to believe in yourself and your ability to be content with who you are? If the answer is yes, then A Manual for Being Human is the book you need to read. Do you want to understand how your childhood affects who you are today? How it affects your relationship with yourself and others? How school, bullying, gender expectations and even the social media you consume each day affects your emotional wellbeing? Do you want to know what your emotions actually are, where they come from and how to manage them when they threaten to overwhelm you?...
Publisher: Gallery UK (8 July 2021) Hardcover: 480 pages ISBN-10: 1471197468 ISBN-13: 978-1471197468 Dimensions: 13.5 x 3.1 x 21.6 cm
This book is for the human-curious, psychology-curious and therapy-curious – it is for humans unable to access therapy and also those who are paying for long-term support.
I wrote this for people who are looking for an answer to how they are feeling. For those who are interested in understanding themselves more fully and for those who are hurting and have no place to turn to make sense of their experience. I am writing it for the thousands of people who speak to me each day on Instagram, the brave souls that reach across the electronic divide sharing how lost they feel, at sea without a framework to underpin and explain their experience.
What caused people distress was not so much their own mistakes, inadequacies and illnesses as the powers and influences that bore down upon themfrom the world beyond their skin.
Introduction: Why People Are Struggling
Hi, I’m Dr Soph.
You can call me Soph or Sophie.
I’m a clinical psychologist.
A few years ago, I was working in a London hospital, in a brain injury outreach team for adults. One day I was driving away from an appointment with a new patient and I realised something. I realised that over the previous eight years, across all the services I had worked in, I had witnessed the same thing in all of my new patients: people in extreme distress who had sat on a waiting list for a long time (sometimes for over a year) and had never been given the fundamental psychological ideas that are considered common and obvious among psychologists.
I realised I was spending the first few sessions with every person I saw destigmatising their experiences and giving them the same basic information.
If this information had been accessible much earlier on, it would have eased some of their anxiety and pain while they were on the waiting list.
I thought about what I’d heard on the news that morning about rising numbers of people seeking help, the overwhelmed mental health services trying to manage, and concerns that the mental health of the population of the UK, and the world as a whole, was in decline.
I also thought about the questions I was hearing among my friends, my family and the people who contact me each day on Instagram: Why do I feel so bad? How did I get here? How do I move forward? Who should I listen to? How can I afford to help myself when therapy and other forms of support are so expensive? I too have asked these questions. That’s actually why I trained as a psychologist.
And then I suddenly understood.
There is a damn good reason why people are struggling. We are not raised to understand ourselves.
We are not taught to understand our emotions or who we are at a young age. Instead, we are raised to fear them and experience shame whenever any kind of distress arises. Rather than being taught simple and effective coping strategies, we are usually taught to put on a brave face; told to ‘be good’, ‘snap out of it’, or that ‘it’s no big deal’.
Instead of being encouraged to embrace all of who we are, including imperfections and weaknesses, we are expected to create a personal brand to show to the outside world at all times. We hide how we truly feel, even from ourselves.
This means we are totally ill equipped to manage the stresses of life and what it means to live inside our emotion-filled bodies.
Without knowing how to understand ourselves, the odds are stacked against us. When distress inevitably comes knocking at our door we have no useful ways to respond. We pretend everything is fine. We keep busy, burying ourselves in work. We use sex, alcohol, drugs or Netflix as fun but temporary distractions. Distractions that don’t solve the problems or help us move forward. Distractions that just delay the inevitable for a little while, until the next wave of distress hits.
We then blame ourselves for the way we feel, which makes us feel worse, and the cycle continues.
I think we have been set up to struggle.
Well, not anymore! On that day of realisation, I pulled my car into a layby, grabbed a pen from my bag and wrote a list of all the things I’d cover off in most initial sessions with clients. This book is the result of those notes and the answer to the questions I hear every day.
I’m going to share with you the information usually kept behind therapy room doors, in the ivory towers of academic buildings and in dusty old textbooks.
If you have ever asked the same questions my clients, friends, family and I have asked, this book will help you answer them and will give you the information you need to understand the very core of who you are and how you came to be, well… you.
What you will find in this book
This book is a manual for the human experience. It is not a dry and dull psychology compendium (don’t worry, I read those for you). It’s a book filled with psychological ideas from a mix of traditions, including my own theories and tips that you can put to use immediately. It starts with our earliest experiences and moves through to adult life.
For example, do you want to understand how your childhood affects who you are today? How it affects your relationship with yourself and others? Do you wonder why there are experiences from that time that you feel you should be over but don’t quite seem to be able to let go of? If so, you’ll find the explanation here. Do you wonder how social media, marketing and the advertorial content you consume each day affects your emotional wellbeing? Do you want to know what your emotions actually are, where they come from and how to manage them when they threaten to overwhelm you? I will give you useful advice for how to have a healthier relationship with these facets of life. Do you want to believe in yourself and your ability to be content with who you are? If the answer is yes, then it’s all in here.
Part One: How You Got Here
This first section of the book will help you understand how you developed to be who you are. It will also help you identify problems arising from your past experiences and current life events that we know cause distress. This part starts the moment you come into the world.
Part Two: What’s Keeping You Here
This next section will help you identify what you are doing right now – the very normal patterns, bad habits and negative cycles that may be keeping you stuck and holding you back in your life.
Part Three: How You Can Move Forward: Your New Toolbox with Go-To Techniques
The final section in the book offers scientifically backed techniques that you can put to use immediately. You will find some quick tips littered throughout the book, but the majority of them are in Part Three.
This book is not a quick fix
It isn’t for times of crisis and it’s not to be used in place of speaking to your local mental health service. It also isn’t a diagnostic tool or even a book about specific diagnoses. This book will convey the foundation of the human experience. It will offer you an insight into yourself through the mind of a therapist and will give you the tools you need to understand yourself and to heal from whatever it is that has been causing you pain and keeping you stuck.
This book isn’t just about healing yourself; it is about getting to know yourself intimately so that you can get the most out of your life. It is also about creating community and joining voices with others so that we can stand up against the structures and life events that undermine our ability to be human.
How to use this book
Within these pages, you will find theories that resonate with you, and others that don’t so much.
To help you personalise your experience I have filled each chapter with questions for you to answer as you go along. They are the kinds of questions I would be asking if you were in a therapy session with me. They are the kinds of questions I ask myself when I’m trying to understand why I feel or have behaved in a certain way. They will give you a chance to really investigate your lived experience.
Equip yourself with a pen, highlighter or other tool that will help you mark out the sections of the book that mean something to you. If you mark up this book with your own notes you’ll be able to return to the bits that speak to you. The longer you stick with an idea the more likely it is to sink in. So, don’t be afraid to make a real mess as you go along. Grab a notebook too. The answers to the questions in this book may not come to you in a flash. They may emerge slowly, and a notebook is a great way to capture your thoughts.
I have interspersed the chapters with recommendations of related books that I love, just in case you find yourself hungry for more information on a topic.
Also, look after yourself as you read through. Take your time. It may bring up emotions that you don’t expect, as it is a deep dive into your past and present. If certain topics or questions bring up upsetting thoughts or feelings, I recommend putting the book down for a moment, or longer, and trying a breathing exercise (see Chapter 12) or another self-soothing strategy from Part Three. Come back to reading whenever you feel ready, as it will always be there for you.
This book comes with a trigger warning
In these pages we will touch upon serious issues, such as bullying, prejudice, death. At the top of each chapter I will let you know what, if any, sensitive themes are going to be discussed and then you can choose how to proceed.
Please remember, if you are struggling with something, if it ever becomes intense, speak to someone. Consult your GP or your local mental health team, and know that there are 24-hour crisis lines available, and you are not alone.
Trigger warning over, are you ready to begin?
Dr Soph xx