Here is an exercise: Tell your beloved that you need their help. Tell them to get a paper and a pen. This is a writing exercise. Ask them then to think about you, and more specifically, your body and how you look and that includes how you express yourself – your sense of style, your clothes, how you carry and present yourself. Ask them to write ten things that the simply adore about you – no copping out and writing about your intellect, humour and all the other things that make you. Those can be a different list, a different exercise for another day. This is just about how you look.
Let them take their time. Don’t peek and let them keep that list with themselves till you do your part. You too need to think about yourself, your body, your clothes, hair, appearance, makeup and everything else about how you look. You don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror, or record yourself and play it back – this is not about looking at you in a completely factual manner. This is just a simple exercise. Now, you too write down ten things.
The catch is, make your list about ten things that you DON’T like about yourself. Things that you wish you could change or are already working on changing. Perhaps it is that nose, or those extra-huge earlobes that dance with their own momentum. Maybe it is your dorky glasses which you wish to lose and get lenses instead. Maybe it is your hair. Or lack of it. Whatever it might be. Just let it flow. We want ten, and if you find you are writing a lot, allow it to be maybe twenty, but stop at that.
Now, here comes the fun part: Take your beloved’s list about things they adore about you, and take your own list about what you don’t particularly care about yourself. Look through it, item by item, and see what’s the overlap.
Chances are that there are at least a few items common to both your lists though you both wrote it from wholly different perspectives.
Think about that. How is it that our loved ones adore things about ourselves that we may not even like? Who is weird in this perspective then? Should you recast your own assessment, or do you feel like dismissing your lover’s perspective as coloured with their love for you? And if indeed it is coloured with their love for you, what does that tell you?
Of course, you might be among the small set that has no overlap whatsoever. You could take that as a sign of a really true self-image, or just that it has no importance. That said, for far too many of us, our loved ones see us so much better than we see ourselves.
What if you could really see yourself the same way your loved one sees you? Would you adore more of you? Would you be less self-critical? That would be nice, wouldn’t it.
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
The initial period when you are falling in love can be quite heady. You are seeing someone, and they seem just perfect, you are both doing everything you imagined you would be doing, and all is swell in the world. You are floating through your day with a smile so big that nothing can shake it. Your time away from each other is spend dreaming up ways to spend time together, and it is so difficult to keep your hands away from your mobile to just check your messages, or look at their insta post or somehow just connect. It is such a beautiful and content place in the privacy of the cozy little world of just the two of you.
Love can be addictive like that.
It takes a while, but eventually, you recognize that your worlds need to integrate, or maybe it is just that your friends pester you to be introduced to your special someone, and you give in. You will probably do a whole lot of preparatory talk on both sides – talk about your new love to your friends and tell your lover about each of your friends, their quirks, interests, their weirdness and all that you can think of, before engineering a situation where both worlds can collide and you can do nothing more but stay back and watch how things unfold.
It is one thing if everyone loves each other right away, but what when not all your friends don’t seem to be OK with your new love? In fact, some of them are a lot more than not OK – they seem to see a whole different person than what you see and love. Where you see a charming, goofy person, they see an intrusive, obtrusive person. Where you see a naive, guileless person, they see a self-absorbed, social climber. Where you see a spontaneous, affectionate person, they see an aggressive, irritating person who doesn’t respect boundaries.
Or vice versa: your new lover has strongly negative reactions to people you have known for years.
You may not even pick up that there are some hostilities in the air as everyone tries to play nice. They probably give each other a fair bit of time, and you start to relax when – Boom! Things hit the roof, and everything is in the open, and it becomes one versus the other. You might try to mediate, but nothing works.
What do you do under such circumstances? How do you choose between a new love and old friends? There are many break-ups because the new love can’t stand your old friends, and possibly equal number of lost friendships because the two worlds just couldn’t see eye to eye. Is it the headiness of your love that blinded you to your lover’s unsightly underbelly? Or, are your old friendships so stale that they can’t see this new, bright light and seek to undermine it?
Short of extreme negative revelations, you just have to choose as you can and only time can tell which love was more true.
In the perfect world, kids treat each other with kindness, take turns, stand up to bullies and celebrate uniqueness. They also welcome outsiders to join their cliques until they are all one big happy family. Reality paints a different picture: kids fight, argue, make and break friendships, jealousies abound, tears are shed, personalities clash and parents draw battle lines to protect their children. As children begin their process of socializing, parents find that they are thrown into a brand new phase of adult socializing as well - a rite-of-passage they must endure!
‘…our close identification with our children means we can feel every trivial snub and jibe our kids experience all too keenly…’ Dr. Stephen Briers, ‘Playground politics for adults’
Here are some ‘Playground Issues’ you may be facing as a parent:
So. What can you do as a parent to survive playground politics?
Although there are no perfect answers, here are some guidelines that can help:
1. Think about what your child really needs:
Remember that your child will undergo some growing pain as he learns the ropes. This can be very hard to watch, but allowing him to experiencing these trials under your caring protection will equip him with lifelong skills. If you unable to handle a situation or it is getting out of hand, reach out to community resources/ friends/ a counselor for help.
Recent social media campaign #MeToo brought to light some intimate and troubling stories, as well as those with courage and strength. But could sharing these personal anecdotes affect your relationship?
On a good day, parenting looks like a hallmark card, the kids rosy and well fed, smiles and laughter around the table.
On most days, parenting is about dealing with piles of dirty laundry, kids of varying ages vying for attention, getting things stuck up their noses, school boxes to be packed, tears to be wiped, potty to be cleaned and homework to be completed. On the truly bad days, it is a lot of screaming and crying, and people looking disapprovingly and judging on what poor parents we are, and suggesting we should be better at our parenting.
Is 'Parenting' something to do?
We speak of parenting as an activity to be done perfectly, and all on our own, but as the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to bring up a child.’
Parenting was never meant to be a job for just the one or two people responsible for bringing a child into the world. It takes the labour of an entire community to bring up a human being. Without this essential support, parents are left emotionally, physically and mentally drained and the children don't necessarily know how to belong in the community. It was all well and good when people lived in small communities where everyone knew each other and child support was not a special service - everyone pitched in for each other.
In the urban jungle where more and more of us live, and where we don't know who are our neighbours, parenting as a village is something else altogether.
How you can create the village:
With some conscious effort, you don't have to be a stranger in an urban jungle trying to get by. You can make your own village:
If you are dealing with chronic sleeplessness, anxiety and depression or something just doesn’t feel right, talk it out - meet with a doctor, counsellor, or both.
1. Spiritual Parenting by Gopika Kapoor
2. What Do You Really Want for your Children by Wayne W. Dyer
3. Don’t have a village? How to create one.
4. In the absence of a village, mothers suffer most.
5. When the parenting village doesn’t exist.
Is there no need for exchanging thank yous or sorrys between those who love each other?Salman Khan’s first movie Maine Pyar Kiya set this notion for the 90s kids with its catchy “No sorry, no thank you between friends” dialogue and that has stayed on in our general culture for a while now. The idea that friendships and especially love meant that things just get understood and appreciated automatically, and that no real expression of apology or gratitude was needed, has stuck for such a long time. There are literally hundreds of movies across languages reflecting that sentiment now.Does love really not require expressions of gratitude or apology?Should your lover just trust and have faith that you know and appreciate everything they do for you, and should they automatically forgive any and every transgression in their ever-loving generosity of spirit because they know that deep within, you only love them?
It can seem such a romantic idea – this notion of implicit trust and faith in love for one another, but it is actually quite a harmful notion. One that hurts both people individually, and certainly hurts the relationship. As with everything else, trust has to be built and maintained over time, and the way trust gets built is by open expression of all feelings, including hurt, anger, joy and happiness.
So, how do you say thank you to someone you love? Are words enough? Do you need to show your gratitude – like “I scratch your back if you scratch mine?” Do you need to be public about it – let their friends and family know how grateful you are?
What constitutes gratitude and exactly how much you need to be thankful before it becomes creepy or icky can get tricky. Too little and you might get a sulk, and too much and you might freak them out.
With apologies, the intensity and frequency aside, there are a few things that are quite important: One, no apology is worth its salt if there is a ‘but’ attached to it. That will nullify it altogether and only get you a kick in the butt. Two, the apology needs to be specific about what behaviour you think has been offensive. Just saying, “Whatever I have done to offend you, please forgive me – I was just being playful,” or something like that just won’t cut it. In fact, it only means that you haven’t a clue as to what was offensive and you aren’t taking accountability for it whatsoever.
Don’t be surprised if you get a severe lashing in response for such ‘apologies’. Third, don’t make the person to feel awful if they don’t immediately accept your apology and forgive you. Real apologies and real gratitude is vital in strengthening loving relationships. In love, it is, “ No sorry? No, thank you!”
As published in:
What is the role of work in our life? Is leisure really the opposite of work, or more correctly, is work merely the means to finance a life of leisure, if not right away, then in the future? The parable of the small fisherman and the big businessman captures some of these questions. We have versions of the story as one between a Mexican fisherman and an American investment banker, or an African fisherman and a British banker (as in the video linked here), or a Mumbai stock broker and a Goan fisherman - multiple versions of the same really. We could have a conversation on the class/ colonial/ race subtexts of these stories another day perhaps, but for now, taking the parable as is, does one look at it and say if work and ambition is about attaining a certain kind of leisure, then why not seek a measured leisure right away?
Then, on the other hand, is the idea of Ikigai - of what work can really be. Work as a life's journey, a way of being where what one loves to do, what is needed, what pays the bills and what one has the capabilities for meet in this wonderfully utopian space of Ikigai, where work is no longer a trial or a sufferance, but a joy that is worth the effort and the pain, and brings rewards and impact as well. Ah! What a space to live in where work is beautifully satisfying. Like the perfect curd rice, or that right on the dot tenderloin steak - or whatever rocks your boat, that keeps you going for more and more and you can stay engaged in it forever.
Then again, is it worth it if this search for Ikigai overshadows everything else? Should work be a priority over home, family, health etc? One would hope that one can have Ikigai but still be alive and happy in other ways as well.
Within this conceptual diagram of what Ikigai is, the idea of a 'Professional World' is where many of u find ourselves: Professional workplaces with people working to get better and better at what they are doing and getting better and better compensation for it.
This is also where much of the discussion on Mental Health in the Workplace happens. For a large number of us, the things we love and things we know the world needs become hobbies or social projects/ weekend volunteering, and the professional workplace is the mainstay that provides security and safety, and satisfaction to the extent it does.
Who we are at the workplace, and how the workplace is to us both are key for mental health. If we are but shadows of ourselves in the workplace and/or if the workplace is a tyrannical grindstone, work soon ceases to be even a profession and descends into drudgery, or worse. The tango between the worker and the workplace needs only either of them to mis-step for it to quickly cease to be the dignified profession it seeks to be and become a mockery of it at extremes being a slave-house or a den of ineptitude dragging a once-great idea into bankruptcy, in the tug between the 'Professional Life' and the 'Personal Life.'
Listening to her and thinking further about it, there are a few things that seem really key to good mental health in the workplace for the individual:
1. A keen respect for one's work, including an ongoing spirit to learn and improve
2. A balance between work with other passions, including love and joy, and letting one defer to the other when needed.
3. A willingness to fight against injustices, and win allies in the process that can help change unjust systems rather than stay under its tyranny
4. An ability to take help when needed, and to hold the longer-term view on life and living.
Mental health in the workplace is more personal than about personnel. When we know what place work has in our lives, and can expect and influence our workplaces to care about what's personal to each of us and help as they can, we will see greater mental health in the workplace.
We Indians are a nosy bunch. It does not matter where you are – school, college, family function, railway station, security check, maybe even public toilets, people are bound to ask personal question. Very often, intimate questions are asked as if they are a conversation starter, and there is genuine surprise if you take offense at it.
Even with close relatives and family, the questions never stop. Are you single, why aren’t you dating, why aren’t you married, why no kids, why only one, why three kids, why no pets, why dog, why cat, why divorced, why together. There is nothing that cannot be questioned, and no stage in life that one can be perfectly conforming to some mythical standard of life.
A guy friend who looks like he is somewhere in that indeterminable age bracket of 25 to 40 given his looks and how he carries himself, often finds himself being asked, “Do you have any kids?” It really annoys him. It was one thing for the neighbourhood uncles and aunties to ask when he is out buying vegetables from the street vendor and they are also there. He could excuse it thinking they are trying to see if they can pass on their kids to his home for play dates and give themselves a free hour or two. It is quite another when random people come to him in the gym or in the metro and ask, as if it is a filtering criterion for making friends.
Of late, he has been answering such queries with, “None that I know of,” or “Why, has anybody been claiming they are my child?” and other such responses, finding that by having a sense of humour for himself atleast he gets a laugh out of it.
The ability to make a joke out of this and just laugh one’s way out of it is not easy and is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. When you are dependent or in a socially difficult position, or in some other way vulnerable, these questions can be really scary. It can be hard for someone with nothing to report, and equally scary for someone whose love is different, for example, someone in love with a person say eighteen years older and/ or from a different community or any of the other dozen odd parameters, questions can be really scary and causing one to hold their love secret even when you know that it is a perfectly consensual, adult relationship.
Keeping something as powerful and as personal as love a secret is never easy. We are social creatures after all, and want to share, want to be visible with our love, want to celebrate it and live the relationship with a sense of being accepted if not encouraged.
So, what do you do if the questions keep coming and you don’t want to answer them at all?
The simple answer is: Don’t answer them. Learn to say No in the way appropriate for you in your social situation.
As published in:
The question of ‘type’ comes up every now and then. Mostly on lazy Sunday brunches with friends or late night after-parties. Some people are very clear about their type, and others claim they have no type at all and that they are quite versatile when it comes to their choices of who they might be with.
When there is a lot of time to kill and enough goodwill, the latter usually finds themselves the target of a whole lot of ‘What about X person’ questions, starting with celebrities and public figures, and narrowing slowly to inner circles, waiting for tell-tale blushes, stutters, throat clearings and other giveaways which can then lead to some proper ribbing of the ‘ A and B, sitting in a tree, K I S S I N G’ types, till finally some sort of confessional emerges or people just get bored and move on to the next entertainment.
Thing is: Do people really have a certain ‘type’? What is this ‘type’ anyway? It is about looks? Age? Social life? Culture? Fitness? All of these?
What one is attracted to is often so unpredictable till it happen, and when it happens over and over or you find that attraction sticky and it refuses to go away, there you go – you have a type. It would be simple enough if we could just have that ‘A Ha’ moment and go on merrily with our lives, meeting our types and just having a good old time.
It is never that simple, is it. Somehow, social norms develop around what ‘types’ go with what. In sitcom language, the jocks go with the cheerleaders, the nerds stick together, the brainiacs do their thing. There are laws in the jungle, so to say. It is all nice and easy when the types all fall right in line, but that is so often not the case. The exceptions to the norm are so many that one questions if there is even any real ‘normal.’
If you find yourself different from your general peer group in the ‘types’ that you are into, it can lead to some serious heartache. You might hesitate to introduce one to the other, keep things secretive and private as much as possible till inevitably the worlds collide and you have no option but to be out with it, or suffer for eternity.
Negotiating your social circles when you have an unexpectedly different love interest can get tricky. It can be met with curiosity, humour to downright discrimination and hostility. It can really test you – are you really committed to this person and the lifestyle it means? Can you bear with social differences and awkwardness till people get used to it? Can you help those around you understand and accept your particular choice, and treat you and your love with respect?
It does take some effort, and the only thing that makes it easier is the ability to first be quite comfortable with your own type. If you aren’t, well, you got some work to do on yourself.
As written for:
In one of my favourite movies, at the start of the movie, our hero is with his lover, who after a whole day’s romancing and after the inevitable outcome of all that, as they hang around in bed together, asks, “Do you know what you could do to improve?” Our hero, still flush from his exertions, smiles indulgently and asks, “What do you think I should improve?” expecting some sweet romantic nothing. “Your obliques. Right now, you are flabby. You really should work on it.”
They split up soon enough, and as movies go, our hero meets another person and again a whole lot of romance later, the scene repeats itself. This time when the question comes, our hero warily asks, “What?” to hear this time, “Nothing at all. You are perfect as you are!” At the movie hall, a collective “Aww” went up, leaving everyone feeling warm and mushy.
That’s the movies for us. In real life, often it can be quite another story. When someone tells us we are perfect as we are, we often think they don’t know what they are talking about. They are blinded in love, or are saying sweet lies just to get you hooked. Or worse, that they are really undermining you - this person actually wants you to be unattractive to others and therefore is saying you are already perfect, so that you don’t work on yourself, don’t get better and they get to keep you forever.
We are often unable to take a real loving compliment because we just don’t love ourselves enough. We see our imperfections a lot more and so we can’t accept it when someone loves us enough as we are and are brave enough to say that we are actually quite ok.
It isn’t our fault, really. For the most part of our lives we are told to aspire to higher and higher standards of looks, fitness, academics, employment, art and every other aspect of human life. We are not just told that, we are actively told that we will be lovable only when we attain and maintain those standards. Like in the movie I am talking about - if the first lover’s words hit our hero hard, he might not be able to take the second lover’s overtures, and instead of pulling into a grateful, loving embrace, he might quickly say bye and hit the gym, wondering if those obliques he had built up had thawed back into gentle love handles.
We want our lover to be a source of motivation, of strength and support in “becoming the best version of me,” and yet, we also hold the entirely opposite of “I want to be loved as I am.”
Which is it? On the face of it, they seem such opposite things.What if the answer is something different: Can we love ourselves as imperfect, striving people? Can we then allow ourselves to be loved by imperfect people as imperfect people, all striving together?
Perhaps, that is what is really love.
( As written for The New Indian Express)
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.