Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Can we have it all?

I read an article by Anne Marie Slaughter titled 'Why women still can't have it all". She seemed to have it all…..a fantastic career, a supportive husband who was ready to take on the lion’s share of the parenting responsibilities, two healthy kids and the potential to grow more in her professional life as a full time career woman and a regular writer.  However, her article was an eye opener for me. She decided to go at a slower pace in order to deal with the hard time that her teen was going through.
For the first time in my adult life, I felt like I had read a real story about the real life of a career woman.

I grew up with a feminist and a super achiever all rolled into one mom. She had a fabulous career and kept a tight leash on things at home and on both of us, sisters. Well, that’s the accepted version, anyway. She believed it. Our extended family celebrated her for it and as her daughters we lived it. But the truth is, she struggled with it, as did most women of her generation and mine, too. It was a tightrope walk most of the time and I have been guilty of blaming her for not being around when I needed her. I can only imagine what she must have felt by that allegation.

Most young women with average intelligence and a modicum of ambition hope to have a career. In my growing years, I was fed on a diet of the importance of a career in a women’s life and how it was the most crucial element to our identity.  I am pretty sure; a lot of other women heard it multiple times from their female role models. Just like the woman in the article, we believed that we could do it if we tried hard enough. We could have a career and a great family life if we put in our best effort. Even as I write this article, I continue to believe in that myth…..but I am beginning to realize that I am wrong.

The flaw in this theory is the assumption that it is all about “Me”, that the woman with her supreme will can have it all. In this form, the precept mocks the presence of real human beings in her life and does not make concessions for their emotions, thoughts and behaviors. I may work hard to be successful at my work and put my best foot forward at home. But I cannot forget that my partner is human, too. He and my children could have differing and conflicting expectations from me. My boys, like all kids have their own personalities with the accompanying joys and foibles. The result adds some unpredictability in my life for which I cannot plan ahead.

The other hole in this superwoman theory is that it does not make any room for a woman’s emotional reactions to different variables in her personal life. That’s a big loophole. Most women are mentally much more involved and affected by the smooth running of a house and raising of children than their husbands. Ergo, anything upsetting the family balance will generate a host of negative emotions in her. Guilt, sadness or anger are not exactly conducive to seeking and sustaining a high flying career with a well adjusted, effectively functioning personal life. 

I think its time we set new standards and expectations from ourselves and our young women. It is important to talk openly about the real struggles of juggling a career and a family life….lest we continue to feel like failures for the inability to manage both, simultaneously or be miserable that we have lost our identities because we take a break to give birth and raise our children.

It’s important to talk about this issue to allow women to have the freedom to make choices for or against their career aspirations and feel equally fulfilled and content with it. Till then, the real liberation of women is a far dream.

As far as I am concerned, a career being equal to my identity is pretty much hardwired in my brain and its going to take some time and effort to get it out of my DNA. But, I live in the hope that the future generation of women don’t get chained down by this model of assessing self worth.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Self Awareness

My client recently said to me that her complaints about her partner are just a reflection of her own inadequacies. I have learnt it to be true in many personal conflicts. But it was only when she put it so succinctly that I ruminated over it. (For a moment our counselor-counselee relationship reversed)
Ask yourself the same question- How many of your complaints about family members, co workers and friends are in the same category. Are you really upset at your boss for not showing you enough respect? Or don’t you respect yourself enough and hence the need for reverence from someone else.
Here is my theory on this-
We know who we are to a large extent at a subconscious level. We know our faults, our strengths, our limitations and our skills. But to function in a fairly effective and efficient manner, we live in denial about a few weaknesses. The awareness is just below the surface but not yet out in the conscious mind.
It all starts in our childhood. We pretend to be better in order to be accepted and to live up to the so called social/family/moral standards. By the time we are adults, the pretense becomes our reality. This gap between the real self and the projected image is good to a large extent. I look at it as an evolutionary change. It allows us to function successfully and be masters of our destiny. But larger the distance between the two, more the stress in your life and more the conflicts in your relationships.
So, what is the prescription here? Does one express one’s inadequacies explicitly? That clearly wouldn’t do. Imagine talking about your diffidence in a yearly appraisal meeting! For a common man motivated by the usual human drives, it is difficult to be completely honest outside of self. Only a Gandhi can write “My experiments with Truth”.
What would help is being aware of these failings and living with that self-awareness. Being conscious about this knowledge while the required, almost obligatory pretence goes on, is the first step. Responding with that awareness in personal interactions is the next. The resultant change that you see in yourself is the seed for evolved living.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My leap of faith

I recently read “Code Name God” by Mani Bhaumik. It is about the spiritual voyage of a man of science. Mr. Bhaumik, (a Nobel Prize winning physicist) has tried fairly successfully to give scientific evidence for the existence of God using the precepts of Quantum Physics. I can almost see you nodding off but it is really not as esoteric as it sounds. It has been beautifully written. Though dizzyingly confusing at times (you can’t help the light headedness when the subject is such) it achieves its purpose.
I am a believer in God myself though I confess to needing a scientific explanation for pretty much everything else in life. My interactions with people have shown me that a majority of them think similarly. Over the last couple of years, I have begun to question the validity of this practice.
Are we so shackled to the rational and cogent part of our brain that we don’t acknowledge unsubstantiated things around us. Do we only look at the demonstrated truth because the untested is too much of a leap in the dark for us? In short, are we scared to believe the unusual inspite of the alleged extraordinary results/benefits?
I deal with psychological problems everyday in my work sphere. I have always depended on the psychiatrist and allopathy to take care of the all consuming symptoms through medications. All these drugs come with a lot of side effects. On one hand they take care of the offending symptoms but on the other they cause blunting of natural tendencies and emotional responses.
I had never really thought about exploring new/different categories of treatments. My conventional educational training did not agree to that. But, working on my own (without the fetters of a job in a traditional system) has led me to be more curious. And some innovation has followed. That was my leap of faith.
I now take the help of an ingenious homeopath who has worked wonders with some of my clients with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. She is also very resourceful when it comes to the treatment of insomnia. Her remedies give me the opening, for therapy to begin healing. My leap of faith in the direction of homeopathy has made me curious about other alternative therapies.
I no longer follow the classical therapeutic approach during counseling. I have often been asked about my methodology. I don’t have one. I don’t even have a favourite approach. I use a blend of different therapies suitable for the client. And as long as the client goes back more sorted and contemplative, I have done my job. For therapy and counseling is not about giving solutions but about setting the client on a path of self discovery and consciousness. Awareness is what I am aiming at.
Bhaumik did that to me.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ambiguity

As children, many of us had decisions made on our behalf. Choices and options were not easy to come by. Well meaning parents and guardians nudged us in the direction, they thought was best for us. Maybe it was. But for us, as teenagers, it was frustrating and stifling. As adults, it has rendered many of us incapable of taking decisions due to the lack of practice and dependence on the guidance from significant people in our lives.

But the bigger debilitating consequence is our inability to live in ambiguity, which is what life can be most of the time. New situations and evolving friendships come without any clear cut path of navigation. The lack of guided direction and the absence of the associated approval for following on it can be a confusing, unstable time and an emotional roller coaster for many. Primarily because they have never done it without the crutch of another friend/parent/partner to support, validate and approve. 

Imagine a situation when you are on the phone with your dear friend. She has been sounding preoccupied and distant for the last couple of weeks. Some calls have been comforting and encouraging but some like the one today are confusing. You wonder if she is upset with you. Did you say something to make her angry? Or is she just not so into you? Its disconcerting for most of us to not know. But if you move away from your own emotional reaction, you will know. Most of us confuse our own distress (in this case)to the fear of losing a friend but it is really about our inability to live in this ambiguous state, something we need to learn to live with. In this case, you will be able to ask your friend to clarify but its not always possible in other life situations. Life is anything but clear or stable. Things, people and relationships with their own priorities are often in flux, which causes ambiguity to evolve. It is important
to stay calm 
to allow the experience to take its course
be aware of your own emotions
to draw your inferences from the experience
Improved learning can be measured in your own decreasing emotional reaction
Growth can be measured in how you respond vs react to the next experience

When we have  clear instructions given to us, it is easy to follow thru. Much like using your Google Maps app on your smartphone. But it also handicaps us by making us dependent on it for directions. We fail to notice different landmarks and geographical features which will serve as markers for us to find that address again in the near future. And so, if we fail to bring our auto navigator app the next time, we will have a very difficult and maybe an almost impossible task of finding the way. 


 No matter how many instructions you have received, how much empirical data you have from non-self collective experiences, life has a way of throwing a curveball. Supportive elders get old and pass away, relationships go sour and friends move away to other cities. While it is important to learn from others' experiences, it is equally necessary to generate our own. You may falter, you may slip but after a few attempts, you will learn to stand up on your own feet......You will become stronger mentally, you will develop your coping mechanisms, you will be able to live and survive in ambiguity. And you will thrive on your own, independent of a crutch.

Ambiguity offers us a learning opportunity.....to grow, to learn and to live a life with self growth.You just have to embrace it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Self Esteem

A positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Children with high self-esteem feel loved and competent and develop into happy, productive people. To help build your child's positive self-image as he grows, consider these dos and don'ts.
Do give children choices. Giving children choices, within a reasonable set of options preselected by you, makes them feel empowered. For example, at breakfast you might offer your child the option of eggs or dosa. Learning to make simple choices while he's young will help prepare your child for the more difficult choices he'll face as he grows.
Don't do everything for her. Be patient and let her work things out for herself. For example, it may be faster and easier to dress your preschooler, but letting her do it herself helps her learn new skills. The more she meets new challenges, the more competent and confident she'll feel.
Do let him know no one is perfect. And explain that no one expects him to be. The way you react to your child's mistakes and disappointments colors the way he will react.
Don't gush or offer insincere praise. Kids are masters at detecting insincere praise or baseless compliments. Praise your child often, but be specific in your compliments so your words don't ring hollow. For instance, instead of reacting to your child's latest drawing with, "Wow, that's great. You're the best artist in the world," try something like, "I really like how you drew the whole family. You even included details like Daddy's beard."
Do assign age-appropriate household chores. Give children responsibility for tasks such as setting the table, walking the dog, and folding laundry. They'll increase their feelings of competency and bolster their problem-solving skills.
Don't draw comparisons between your children. Instead, appreciate each one's individuality and special gifts.
Don't call children names or use sarcasm to make a point. Never belittle your child's feelings. When you get angry take a short break so you don't say anything you'll regret. And keep in mind; you can dislike a child's actions without disliking the child. Be sure to illustrate the difference to your child.
Do spend one-on-one time with your child. Whether it's grabbing a bite to eat or taking a bike ride, try to schedule some alone time with your child at least once a week. This is a great opportunity to talk about what's on her mind and to cement the bond the two of you share