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That's not the way you feel. Turning off the outer voices.

Harsh experience is one teacher; self-belief is another. And somewhere in between fall other people and what they have to teach us about ourselves.

A good friend can stop a meltdown in its tracks and make you feel it's worthwhile to get up and try again. Never underestimate the power of someone else's faith in you and their ability to help you when you need it most, and in the small things scattered along the way.

And still, I have to say, also be aware of people who do less to help, who speak of our difficulties and triumphs in terms of what they think and feel, and not because of what we need. They can be right alongside the calm voices and also sound calm. They can be on the phone right after the soft words and their words sound soft.

Soft words, though, they are spoken softly - we should be aware of what is said in that voice, the one which sounds like it has our best interests at heart. The difference is in the words used and how they make us feel, rather than in the tone.

One friend might tell you that you can succeed the next time, you can make it better, you will manage. Another friend might say never mind, at least you tried; it's okay, you don't need to do that anyway; don't worry, you can do this other thing instead - that one didn't suit you anyway.

It's a subtle difference. One voice is there with encouragement to try again, the other with consolation that you failed. It's really hard to discern the difference between them at the time, the clues lie more in the way you feel after hearing the words.

You may be angry with yourself and feel like a failure; you may want to hear you are a rubbish, useless person just so you can be even more angry with yourself. The supportive friend may say the kindest things and still be wrong, at that moment, because right then you want to be against yourself.

Later, given time to soak in, the words which build you up are still there and they carry you on to the next time. Once you are over your anger and disappointment, the right words help you feel strong enough to have another go.

The other words, those of consolation, they can trigger your feelings from anger into self-pity and a justified type of distress. You are right to be upset! Why did you ever think you could do it? At least this person understands how hard it is and, because they are kind, they give you a way out of having to upset yourself again. They are only thinking of what is best for you, after all. If they think it's better to leave it and do something else, then perhaps they are right.

And afterwards, when their words have had time to soak in, you feel a deeper sense of loss because you really did want to succeed this time, you really hoped you had it right and could go on to a new phase in life. How sad to be proven wrong again. And even though this consoling friend is there for you, you feel let down and alone.

I'm not saying the consoling friend doesn't care about you but I want to point out they may have a fixed view of you and what you can do. More importantly, they probably have a fixed view of themselves and judge what you can do to change and grow compared to their own capabilities.

The consoling friend covers two bases: they shore up their own self-esteem by patting you on the head and telling you to get back in your box and they also make themselves feel more secure by seeing that you are going nowhere fast.

Meanwhile, the encouraging friend will try again and you are faced with these two points of view, these two images of what you are. It can be frustrating to have people you care about say different things about you and expect you to act on them. It can be easier to fly off the handle and stomp off, hoping they won't be around when you come back.

You know, if you do that, one of them won't be there when you come back. The consoling friend doesn't like it when you show your doubts by having an emotional episode. They only expect emotional episodes when it is appropriate. They will divert off and wait for you to calm down and be reasonable again.

The encouraging friend is the one at the door with light spilling out from behind them as you come back. They've waited around, got someone else to pick the kids up from school, done a load of washing for you while they waited and they have the kettle on, ready for your sorry self appearing at the door.

Without a word they step back and let you into the warm, bright room behind them.

'Let's have a coffee,' they say and fill one of the cups they already set out for you.

Quietly, you pick it up and are soothed by the warmth. Sometime later there will be talking and it could take a long time, but the encouraging friend has the patience to wait while you work your way back round to where you started, ready to try again.


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