Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The struggle

Most of this year has already gone. It's a year that started with me returning from a short stay in Manila. I love the Philippines, and one current inhabitants of the islands in particular, so it's not unusual for me to return to the UK carrying a strange mixture of gratitude for the time I spent on the other side of the world, and some sadness that it can't continue.

This time, I heard that some of the people with whom I'd spent time had experienced me as quiet, and had wondered if something had been wrong. My knowledge of the Tagalog language is unfortunately still limited, and they were concerned that I had felt excluded where they didn't speak in English. My thoughts on this were that I was a guest, and it would be wrong to expect anyone to make unreasonable adjustments due to my presence.

On the last full day of my visit, I met with a friend I'd known for a number of years. The woman I love pretty much carried the conversation, however. There hadn't been time to fully process it, but the description of me as quiet and withdrawn had shaken me. Unfortunately, the way this interaction with a friend went reinforced a feeling that was gaining strength.

Within days of my return to the UK, there was a dance event I would usually attend each month. I drove there, walked in, looked at the people who were present, and decided to make the journey back home instead.

Through an interest in Japanese pop music that I'm not going to explain here, I came to watch an episode of a related show that featured a young woman called Kaoru Goto (後藤郁). The show was focused on her, and her relationship with the other members of a band in which she was a member. As the show opened, the host worked his way to finding humour, in various ways, in the difficulties the other members in the band were having in their interactions with Kaorun (her nickname, which I'll use for the sake of brevity).

The focus of the show shifted to a segment where members would talk to Kaorun, and the conversation would be timed. At the point where the host felt the conversation had become awkward, Kaorun would automatically be judged to be the cause, and he would push a button which fired a cold jet of carbon dioxide at her face. In those interactions, I saw that her personality was eerily similar to my own. There was a point where the show became difficult to watch because, to some extent, it was like someone had held up a mirror to how I relate to others, and how they see me.

Something I heard many years ago, but which has strangely been said a few times this year, is that conversations with me tend to become philosophical in nature. Maybe it isn't intended as criticism, or maybe it is. Here, it's easy to see an internal conflict. If a fundamental part of our nature makes it difficult for others to identify with, and communicate with us, is it something we should change?

This inner conflict is common to us all, to a greater or lesser extent. Do we present an edited version of ourselves, even to those closest to us? Do we learn to accept our inherent nature, and hope to find others who are able to accept it too? Maybe there has to be a balance between the two, but where is the balance to be struck? All I can really say is that, right now, this feels like a lonely place to be.

Interestingly, in the show I was watching, and in other episodes of the same show, there was a suggestion that Kaorun often said things which others found difficult to understand. Actually, her willingness to talk was a surprise for me. This gap in understanding is one of the main reasons I don't talk so much. That's a learned behaviour. Where I do interact with others, I can appear slow to respond, as internal thought processes are translated into the kind of language I hear around me, or withheld. I suppose I admire her for not changing.

As an aside, the makers of another show, centred on another girl group, made an episode centred around Tsumugi Hayasaka (早坂つむぎ). Tsucchan appears to be the INTJ type, rather than an INFJ as Kaorun seems to be. Both have now "graduated" from their respective groups to pursue other interests. Knowing what I know about these personality types, if my life had been different and I had somehow become a TV producer in Japan, a series of programmes featuring these two would be something I'd try to make happen. If you were to set them a challenge or series of challenges where they'd have to work together, the results would be interesting.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

It will all come to pass

Strange anniversary yesterday. It was two years to the day since they buried my sister. A lot of things came to the surface in the time following her death and, in my mind, the emphasis fell on her being my half-sister, from a different father. Yeah, a lot of things came to the surface, and led me to the decision that I would no longer have contact with my family.

I didn't go to her funeral. A problem already existed that threatened to turn the occasion into a farce, had I been present. It was then suggested that my absence was a great shame, because I would have provided some emotional support to my family. In truth, a confrontation with members of my family, some months earlier, had provided me with a moment in which I'd realised that our relationship had not been based on any measure of respect, on either side. The full implications of that had become apparent during my sessions with a counsellor, which had been a required part of my course of study at the time.

I decided to go dancing last night. I'd made a promise to a friend, who didn't turn up. The bar poured my drink into a dirty glass, and I complained about it, only realising when I got back to my table that I had handed them a ten pound note, and they had given me change for a five. It was too late to bring the mistake to their attention. Leaving early, so they'd get no more of my money, became the preferred option. Dehydration wasn't an option.

Before going out, I'd known that I was going to simply watch the dance class, rather than take part. A woman who'd tried to coerce me into sleeping with her, and had spent the time since harassing me and telling anyone who'd listen that I'd messed with her feelings, deliberately placed herself in my line of sight. Internally, I laughed at her childish behaviour. Sitting at a table across the room were people who had welcomed her with open arms to the Salsa class I once attended regularly, and had turned a blind eye to her attempts to eject me from that class and the wider dance scene.

Sometimes I question my commitment to not refusing a dance. I knew that, strangely oblivious to my contempt for them, those ladies who'd enabled the bully would ask me to dance. Leaving early became more set in my mind as the only option.

The few dances I had after the class had ended reminded me that feelings are temporary. The smile on my face was genuine, despite everything. Maybe that's the lesson that was learned. Everything is temporary. My half-sister's presence was temporary. My connection with my family was temporary. Friendships, also, are temporary. It's in our nature, however, to shrink back in terror in the face of impermanence - to pine for what once was and become anxious about what will be. We hold on to the things we should let go, and maybe all too easily let go of the things to which we should hold on.

Really, the only thing we have at this moment is the present.

Monday, 18 February 2019


It's Jeet Kune Do tonight. Even thought I had the courage to start taking part in Salsa classes again last week, and even started attending Yoga, I'll probably make every excuse I can come up with for not going to JKD. It seems strange, because martial arts have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember - well, since I was seven years old anyway. So, what has changed? The answer to that question seems to be that I have.

The break from formal martial arts practice (in a class) was far longer than the break I had from my work. Even in my work though, I struggled after taking that break, and found that I had to adjust my way of working to account for no longer being quite the same.

In Salsa too, there's the sense of now being a very different dancer - not just in the way I dance but in the person who's present on the dance floor. Sometimes I wish I was still that awkward guy who was learning to dance, but said little and was really only there for the lessons. By slow degrees, I was pulled into the social aspects of the hobby, and there are friends in the dance scene who I wouldn't change for anything, but interacting with others is also at the root of many of the difficulties I'm now having with Salsa.

It would be all too easy to hide away from the world at the moment, becoming increasingly isolated and, to be honest, feeling a lot worse for it. What I'm currently reading about the effects of trauma, however, is that taking such action would be detrimental to my recovery. Another drawback of becoming isolated would be the negative impact on my health of the tendency to become more sedentary when alone.

I keep telling myself that it's just an hour of my time. Something else is going on though. There's a reluctance to spend time with other people, and the difficulty is in understanding why that should be. Maybe there's a vague feeling that I have to come to terms with how I've changed and am still changing, before feeling fit for the company of others.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019


It's not easy to admit to feeling lonely: It's something that seems to affect many of us, though we suffer in silence, suspecting we may be seen as pathetic or pitiful should the truth be known. All the while, technologies which were apparently developed to maintain connections between us and those we care for seem only to create distance between us.

When I happen to catch the news, or log in to social media, there's a lot about politics, religion and other things which highlight how we differ. Some publicly state that those who subscribe to certain beliefs lack intelligence. That feels strange to me: I've always held that, once we start to believe we're superior to another, we prove beyond doubt that we are not.

Everywhere I look, I see evidence for Henri Tajfel's Social Identity Theory. As much as we define ourselves by what we are, we passionately affirm that there are things we are not, whether that voice is held internally or we share our thoughts with the outer world. At our worst, we demonise, and recoil from, those who differ from us in ways we are unwilling or unable to accept.

There's a clear focus on the things which separate us, rather than the things which connect us. The result, unsurprisingly, is a feeling of separation, rather than connection. We learn that loneliness can be felt just as much in the company of those who don't understand or respect us as it can when we're alone - perhaps even more so.

The rare opportunities I find to spend time with friends are beyond value, but also feel increasingly like an act of rebellion against current social norms. I've seen nothing to suggest that people no longer wish to connect with each other, but it seems that so many of our interactions are now through the glass wall of technology. We experience those who mean something to us as words or pictures on a screen, or a voice transmitted electronically.

Maybe I see things differently. Maybe that's because I'm an INFJ, an empath, a highly sensitive person or any other label which marks me out as different and serves to separate me from those I care about. Maybe that's why I feel so lonely.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Leaving the scene?

When I first started learning to dance Salsa, I heard something with which I disagreed, and continue to disagree. An instructor stated that every mistake during a dance was the responsibility of the lead. In the time since, I've heard this many times - sometimes the word "man" has been substituted for "lead".

At the club where I first learned Salsa, I disagreed with the instructor about this. I said that dancing with some of the ladies was akin to wrestling a bull. She responded that, if the ladies were feeling tense, it was my responsibility to put them at ease. I was astonished that she couldn't see the ridiculousness of what she had suggested. It seemed that she genuinely believed that a male dancer was responsible for the feelings of the women with whom he danced, which was unbelievable in itself, but even more so when you consider that people arrive at dance classes with whatever feelings they've felt during the course of their day.

In the interests of fairness, I have to say that some of the male instructors, pandering to the lady dancers with whom they were hoping to dance later, didn't help matters. Along with repeating the line about men being responsible for any mistakes, I heard other things:

"Okay, ladies. Move round to the next man. We tried moving the men around in the past, but it didn't go well. You know what men are like."

"Women just tend to pick this stuff up more quickly than men. I don't know why. They just do."

"I happen to know that the ladies were all perfect, but ladies, how were the men?"

"Men! Watch where you're putting your hands with this move! Women don't need to be told, but for some reason, you guys are in the habit of grabbing things you shouldn't." 

"Yes, ladies, you know the men's moves. You may know them better than the man you're with, but let him make his mistakes. You don't want to injure his fragile male ego, do you?"

There were many other examples, from both male and female instructors. If I were to list them all, this would be a VERY long post. One female instructor, in particular, seemed to use her classes as a vehicle for airing her grievances with the opposite sex. After taking part in one of her classes at an event, I vowed to never do so again. I stuck faithfully to that vow.

After a while, it started to get to me. Reflecting on the fact that I paid just as much as a woman to be there, I started to feel a whole lot of resentment towards those who were saying these things.

At the same time, the behaviour of a few women had started to irritate. One woman, even when I only knew the basic steps, would lead herself through complicated movements, doing her own thing. Another criticised me constantly throughout one dance, even though I was a beginner, and twice abandoned me during dances because line outs were happening which "looked like fun" - more fun than dancing with me, clearly. Well, maybe that's my "fragile male ego" talking.

A number of times, my behind was touched or slapped during or after a dance. One woman sat on my lap, without checking how I'd feel about this, when I was resting between dances. During closer dances, like Kizomba or Bachata, some of the ladies chose to "grind" against me. At the start, I kept a respectful distance during these dances - I have to admit that I was more than a little uneasy with the close proximity myself. Unfortunately, the hold or "frame" of these dances affords little protection to male dancers, and a few of the ladies chose to close the distance themselves.

On one occasion that I've tried hard to forget, a woman brushed my genitals with the palm of her hand as she was starting to go into a turn. The number of times women have been verbally inappropriate during a dance is also higher than the instructors would seem to realise.

At first, I accepted the idea that women, for some reason, generally learn to dance more quickly than men. Then, however, I started to hear that a number of the women had taken ballet or some other dance lessons in the past, whereas learning to dance was relatively new to most of the men. One of the instructors then acknowledged that learning to lead was more difficult. What I also realised, after a while, was that leads are confined to the moves they know, whereas followers learn from dancing with more experienced leads.

There was something else going on, though, and it took a while before I realised the negative impact it was having on the scene. In a rush to learn ever more complicated and "fancy" turn patterns, a number of the ladies were moving to more advanced classes before they had really learned the basic footwork and other skills which were needed to perform the more advanced movements correctly.

When I started going to the weekend events, I realised how damaging this rush to learn the more complicated moves was. I'd wake up the following morning with pain in my back and shoulders. I, too, had gone along with the idea that I was responsible for correcting the errors of my dance partner, and I was paying dearly for it. I held the idea that I shouldn't be a forceful lead, but aching muscles told me that I'd had to be exactly that with some of the ladies.

They hadn't learned the fundamentals, and I was the one, along with my fellow male dancers, who was paying for their lack of patience. It struck me that, really, both partners were equal in the dance - a lead simply "suggested" a move, and then the follower interpreted that, however she wished to interpret it. Some of the ladies were anticipating what leads were going to do - wrongly.

No one had ever asked how I felt about being hugged. When it became clear that I wasn't entirely comfortable with it, there was no sense that the ladies were going to back off. Instead, they found it comical that I was uncomfortable. The message I was receiving was that, as a man, my physical boundaries weren't important and were to be ignored.

Initially, the hugs were to thank me for dances, but at some point became a standard greeting. When my sister died, and I clearly wasn't okay, the hugs increased in frequency and, after a brief acknowledgement of my loss, a few of the ladies chose to tell me at length about their own experience of losing someone they loved. Again, there was the feeling that, as a man, my feelings were of lesser importance.

Before I started learning Salsa, I'd spent some time learning to dance Modern Jive. There, one of the women had assumed that I was there looking for something I wasn't actually looking for. When she discovered that I was engaged, she became angry, and shouted loudly that I should have told her. On learning that my sister was at that time terminally ill, she assumed that my feelings would be easy to manipulate, and on one occasion firmly stated her desire for physical intimacy. When I didn't respond in the way she had wanted, threats and lies became her weapons of choice.

"Correcting" my movements during classes, so that I would forget what had actually been taught, was another method used in shallow attempts to remove me from the dance scene. I've since seen her employ this with other men at events - in one class, "instructing" virtually every man she came across. When she appeared at my regular Salsa class, after apparently deciding it would now become her regular dance class, she immediately accused me of hurting her during one movement. It was a killer move on her part - I already knew enough about the relative place of male and female dancers in that club to know that, had she continued to say I was hurting her during classes, it would not have gone well for me.

To be honest, I wasn't sad about going to learn at another class. As it happened, the quality of instruction was orders of magnitude better. Also, people I'd thought of as friends had been all too eager to welcome a bully into their midst, and were indifferent to my plight. Later, I was to learn that a bunch of lies had been told behind my back, and those I'd thought of as friends had played a part in perpetuating those lies.

Even in the new class, some of the old problems soon reared their head. During a class, one of the ladies deliberately forced her arm into a position from where I had no hope of performing the move being taught. When the inevitable happened, she turned to the man with whom she'd just danced and asked him to show me how to do it "correctly". Embarrassed, I abandoned the class and watched from the bar area. I moved down from the intermediate class to the improver level class, in the misguided belief that I'd be confident enough in those moves, and the ladies not confident enough, for me to be able to avoid a similar situation again. I was wrong.

There had been gaps in what I'd learned previously, which were being filled in the improver class. Unfortunately, I soon came into contact with another lady who led herself through the movement, wrongly, and was able to do so because of my refusal to be overly forceful as a lead.

"He's doing it wrong!"

The instructor looked around, as did other dancers in the class. She asked me to go through the movement again. There was nothing I could do. I knew that, with everyone watching, my thankfully temporary partner in the class would lead herself wrongly through the sequence again. I took the instruction without complaint, and simply nodded. I didn't attend for a few weeks after that.

There are plenty of arguments that one dance scene is better than another, or more friendly. I have the Kizomba scene for comparison. At a Kizomba event, one lady danced no more than two steps with me, after reluctantly accepting the dance. After those two steps, she said "Nope" and released her hold. Before she walked away, she fired a shot:

"I feel sorry for you, because I can dance."

At another Kizomba event, the lady with whom I was dancing cast my left hand aside and gripped me in a bear hug, informing me that this was also an acceptable hold in Kizomba. Internally, I disagreed, because it was a clear boundary violation. She compounded the error by then switching to a lead hold and leading me. I hadn't learned how to follow, but didn't disgrace myself. After the dance, however, I left early. The night was being run by a friend, and I felt sorry to be leaving early, but didn't feel comfortable enough to remain.

All of this had an effect. I would drive to classes or dance events, and would often drive away again. Things were going on in my life away from the dance floor and, unusually for someone so introverted, this was a time when I would have appreciated some company. What turned me away was previous experience of how these nights could go.

I recently turned up at a dance, chose to give the class a miss, and was careful about who I chose to dance with. I'd been absent from the scene for a few months, and wanted a positive experience. What I'd come to realise in my time away, confirmed by how things turned out on my return, was that I now had issues with physical contact.

There are likely a whole load of omissions in my narrative. What matters is that the experience has brought me to this point. I love to dance, but there's the feeling that my involvement in the scene is unsustainable. I made the mistake of accepting friend requests on social media from some of the lady dancers, and a number of the posts I see are surprisingly open about a poor attitude towards men. I'm not even sure they realise how offensive some of the things they post or share might be to males in their friend lists - it's likely that they don't even consider it.

Something I saw recently angered me:

"Too few men understand either boundaries or that “showing off” is not a great attribute especially when it is miss placed and they are not as skilled as they think they are and I don’t think all teachers point this out"

I've directly quoted the post, so grammatical errors within it are not mine.

As usual, the behaviour of men was highlighted. The message was from a female dancer, who seemed blissfully unaware that women are also guilty of the behaviours she describes. To me, it feels like yet another attack aimed squarely at male dancers. There's also the possibility that, when her criticism is seemingly aimed at the majority of men, she is yet another lady dancer who projects her own incompetence onto the leads who agree to dance with her.

How many men will fight their corner, and answer her? None, I fear. We'll continue to silently bear the weight of it all, until we leave the scene, silently.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Breaking the mould

A friend recently suggested that our sense of who we are is entirely dependent on what other people tell us we are. I was about to respond with some of what I've learned over the past four years as a counselling student, but then remembered something important.

As this was mentioned on social media, there was a lack of context. Taking a step back, questioning why I was eager to comment, and who that comment would have benefited, I decided to simply say that my answer would have been a long one (it would have - person-centred theory has a lot to say about who we are and from where our sense of self comes).

Recently, I've been looking at Buddhism or, more specifically, the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was during some extra training connected with my work that I finally made the decision to look into this although, strangely, it had appeared on the periphery of my consciousness in various ways in the preceding weeks.

Some of the principles of Tibetan Buddhism have helped me to better deal with some challenges to my emotional health. The important thing here, however, is that looking into this system of belief was my choice. Given that I was raised in a family which was traditionally Roman Catholic, it also felt like an act of rebellion.

The things we choose to do teach us valuable lessons about ourselves, if only we have the wisdom to understand.

Last week, I attended a martial arts class that I've been attending for a number of weeks now. During that class, we had to perform a drill in pairs, in which one person would hold pads and shoot a left jab towards their training partner. In response to this jab, the other person would slip to the outside while countering with a left to the midsection, followed by a series of further punches.

I spent six years learning Wing Chun. I still practise the forms, though not as regularly as I once did. The point is, when I was expected to slip the jab and counter, I was trying so hard not to respond with Wing Chun that I froze and was hit a few times.

When I had finally managed to switch off my previously trained responses to the point where I could slip the jab, my training partner changed the jab to a chop to the side of the head. I complained about this, and the instructor replied that it was better for me to be hit in that situation than out on the street, where they wouldn't be so kind. "Out on the street", they wouldn't have had the luxury of knowing what I was going to do, so the argument wasn't valid. More importantly, my training partner had deviated from what we were supposed to do. I hadn't, but maybe I should have.

Had I responded with Wing Chun or something from elsewhere in my history of learning combat arts, this wouldn't have happened. The last time I did this, however, it led to a situation in which the instructor seemed to feel that he had something to prove. If I'm honest, the irritation I felt regarding my training partner's behaviour and the instructor's response said something of my own vulnerability to the machinations of the ego.

You may be wondering what lesson is to be drawn from all of this. Well, one requirement of the last counselling course on which I was a student was that each of us had the experience of being the client of a counsellor. During those sessions, the counsellor said something I didn't initially understand:

"You've learned to hide your power, because it makes others feel uncomfortable."

My training partner hadn't hidden his power. My experience of the instructor in the class, so far, has been that he's not the type to hide his power either. Both of them have been practising Jeet Kune Do for a long time. Where is my power in that environment? It's a Jeet Kune Do class and, though I have some previous knowledge of Jeet Kune Do, I don't have their experience of practising the principles and movements.

In trying to fit in with what they were doing, and actively suppressing my previous training, I was putting myself at a disadvantage - I was hiding my power. How often do we do this? In an attempt to be liked, accepted, or to gain approval, we take on the rules of our social environment to the point where we hide our individuality. We learn to wear various masks or personas, according to the situation. When we do this, are we valuing or respecting ourselves?

I forgot something important. Returning to martial arts, for me, wasn't about learning to fight. How easily I was dragged into valuing my experience on the terms of others! In that situation, all I had to do was avoid harm. Everything else was, as my recent exposure to Buddhism would suggest, a manifestation of the ego.

The condition of rigidly sticking to what has been taught is, I now see, unnecessary. It is imperative that we listen, observe and learn, but also that we respect and value our own experience. We are the sum of our experience, and so much more. Why, then, should we hide our power?

Friday, 19 October 2018

Resistance is useless

It's a strange irony. We may know the things which restore us - the things which make us strong - and yet we resist them. Usually, this is explained to us as a lack of motivation, and various "experts" line up to advise us on how to conquer this lack of motivation. Occasionally, however, this proves to be entirely the wrong approach, because a lack of motivation is not always at the root of this.

Each of us have our own beliefs, values and attitudes. To some extent (probably more than most of us would like to admit), these define who we are as a person, and anything that contradicts our beliefs, values or attitudes threatens, to a greater or lesser degree, our sense of who we are.

I went to my first big dance event in January, and felt at the time that it would be the last big dance event I would attend. The pass for the weekend had been won as a prize in a raffle, and I wanted to fully connect with the experience and enjoy it, but things didn't quite work out that way. The prize had actually been two passes for the weekend, and a number of ladies had thought that they might be the recipient of the second pass. For some, not getting that second pass caused some resentment.

Before the weekend even started, I'd decided to take part in some stretching classes which were an optional way to start each day. As a dancer of advancing years, I reasoned that it would probably be a good idea to get out of bed early in the morning to take part in these stretching classes.

It's my habit to turn up early for everything. The instructor found this a surprise, because her experience had been that dancers generally turned up for the last ten minutes of her classes at these events. Her experience was repeated on this occasion too, meaning that there were fifty minutes in which I essentially had a private lesson in how to stretch.

The instructor talked as we both held various poses, about how the weekend had been for her so far, and asked how I was finding the weekend. I felt something I hadn't felt for a long time - I felt at peace. The same was repeated the following morning and, when she asked if I would like to take part in a yoga class in the afternoon, I skipped a dance class so that it would be possible to be there.

Let's look again at our sense of who we are, and how that is often challenged by our experience. Just a few years ago, I wasn't a dancer. That wasn't something I saw as a part of my identity. That first dance class - modern jive, as it happens - wasn't something I would have chosen to do, although ultimately I did choose to go along. I'd been asked to accompany someone who felt uneasy about going alone and, against my expectations, found that I enjoyed partner dancing.

Salsa also felt like something I wouldn't do. The salsa scene had the reputation of being exclusionary and elitist. I'd like to be able to tell you that it's neither of those things, but I can't honestly do that. Let's say that there are people who are very accepting, and there are those who wish to exclude anyone who doesn't fit their idea of what a salsa dancer should be. Nevertheless, being a salsa dancer is now one component of my identity, however much certain individuals wish that wasn't the case. Apparently, I'm quite good, which further irritates those who think I shouldn't be there.

It's said that grief affects our relationships with others, but also our relationship with ourselves. That's another change to my sense of self over the past few years. Going for my first experience of counselling, as required by my course of study, added to this.

Going back to the things that restore us, the things that make us strong, all of the above has been a learning experience. As previously stated, we can have this tendency to reject the things which restore us and make us strong. We can tell ourselves that they are not an authentic part of our identity.

Attending martial arts classes again, as I've started to do recently, is an acknowledgement of the restorative effects of this activity for me. Taking a break from that was effectively denying a part of myself.

Most recently, a connection with Buddhism became the latest challenge to my sense of self. Yoga, salsa, Buddhism - these all say something about who I am, but they are saying something about a part of me I find it difficult to accept. That difficulty comes from the judgement of others - those values, beliefs and attitudes we unconsciously take on board and allow to shape our expression of our identity. Each in their own way, however, is a source of strength or, in the case of the challenging scene that surrounds salsa dancing as an activity, an opportunity to prove to myself that I'm capable of great inner strength.

I suppose the message in all of this is that our strength comes, ultimately, from being authentic, from shutting out all those voices which tell us that certain aspects of our identity are unacceptable.