Sunday, 21 December 2014

Gratitude : T2 article dated 21st Dec' 2014

In the popular TV show The Simpsons , Bart Simpson offers grace at the family dinner table " Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing." 

Thank you! An essential part of our verbal interaction, from family dinners to diplomatic negotiations, which we say often but seldom mean it. Maybe deep inside we tend to dismiss gratitude as a simple, obvious sentimental feeling not worth serious attention. Instead we overlook the privileges that we enjoy and keep ruminating about what we've lost and what we do not have.
Gratitude is not about being thankful to a greater power but to be appreciative and thankful to the people and things that we already have in life. It in turn induces the feeling of wanting to give back to them or to contribute.
Recent research suggests that people who practise gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure.
  • Higher levels of positive emotions.
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion.

Studies in the field of psychology also suggest that: Gratitude helps us savour positive life experiences, it boosts our self- worth and self- esteem. It helps us deal with stress and trauma; it minimises negative thinking, reduces anger and makes us feel more connected and less lonely. It also helps us receive more from each moment.
Most of us have a cup of hot coffee from the tea/ coffee vending machine after reaching our workplace. We never think much of it. Only when it breaks down and we don't get our cup of coffee, do we realise how much we are used to it.
As humans, our ability to adapt is the reason we get ' used to' things and it may create in us a tendency to take things for granted. As we get used to everything quickly, we develop a need for a constant supply of ' more' to feel happy. At times it can become a compulsive need for ' more'. This chase perpetuates the cycle as we go on taking what we have for granted, leaving us feeling empty and ungrateful.
One of the challenges to feeling grateful is hedonic adaptation, an interesting characteristic of the human mind. It is the tendency in most of us to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness ( or unhappiness) despite major positive or negative events or life changes. When we lose something emotionally significant we have the ability to adapt to that loss. The incident of losing a loved one, which we thought we would never get over, also lessens in intensity. But at times this very same coping mechanism can also keep us from feeling joyous and happy in our day to day life.
Let's say you absolutely want to have a particular thing, maybe the latest model of a car, dream house or the job you have been eying for long.
If you get it, you may be ecstatic initially but soon your mind would adapt to the newly acquired object and it will become a part of your mundane routine. Studies show that the happiness levels of when we do not have the object we desire and the happiness levels a few months after acquiring the object are nearly the same.
The antidote to this hedonic adaptation is the practice of gratitude. Not just the one that we feel occasionally but practising it consciously. Cultivating the attitude of gratitude for all the things ' we have' can go a long way in helping us stay happy and joyful.
We can train our mind to feel gratitude. Here are a few ways to do that... ..

Keep a gratitude journal: 

At least once a week reflect on the good things that you have received from life. Jot down three to five things in detail, from the most mundane like finally getting hold of your plumber to something magnificent like your baby's first step. Write about your feelings in detail and appreciate people who are directly or indirectly involved in it.
Occasionally go back to this journal to read about these ' good things'. ..

Express gratitude: 

Once in a while express gratitude to the people who have contributed positively to your life. Again they can be from any sphere of your life, from your co- workers to your parents. After a few months of practice, try to appreciate people you are slightly upset with. Maybe you can be grateful to them for something else. Say 'thank you' or write a letter describing how they have positively influenced your life. It's even better if you can deliver this letter personally. Give a token gift to somebody to express your gratitude. You can start with your partner or spouse.
Encourage your children to be thankful and appreciate the resources, including those which they get from mother earth.

Encourage ' enough- ness' within:

Teach yourself to see ' enough' in what you already have.
Practise gratitude — reflect on the good things that you have received from life. Once in a while express gratitude to the people who have contributed positively to your life. For this at times you may need to say ' no' to the part of you which wants more. Attitude of 'enoughness' and gratitude go hand in hand." Entitlement", " wanting more" and gratitude do not gel. If you are a parent, help your children to appreciate ' enough' and discourage entitlement by occasionally making them listen to " no". Learn to say no to yourself as well. A little tantrum or transient sadness is actually a good price to build this attitude of appreciation and gratitude for wholesome happiness and joy.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at :
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Forgiveness and letting go : T2 article dated 7th Dec'2014

It bothers me even now to see him laughing and fooling around with others. I almost feel a physical pain in my abdomen when I see him. I feel angry and suffocated..."
Supriya was talking about her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her; they broke up two years back. She has since been unable to be in a relationship or move on. She is preoccupied with what had happened in the past, and in the process she finds herself unwilling to enjoy her life. On probing further, she said that the only way she can ever be peaceful is by avenging her humiliation and " teaching him a lesson".
Our instinct for revenge has a strong evolutionary background.
When confronted by predators it was necessary for us to make the offender see or learn that attacking us was not " profitable". So we would seek revenge, often at the cost of sacrificing our own lives to serve the greater good of the herd.
Revenge, retribution, retaliation have an underlying agenda of "teaching a lesson". This instinct of revenge may have helped deter predators and offenders within or outside the tribe from committing repeated acts of aggression against our ancestors.
Research in some primates shows that in a group, the offender is likely to get severely punished in order to make its members rule- abiding. Similarly, revenge may have evolved as a teaching tool owing to its ability to teach that crime, offence or wrong- doing does not pay.
So, is it possible for Supriya to overcome this vengeful bitterness, regret and hurt? Is it possible for her to let go of this responsibility of teaching her ex a lesson at the cost of sacrificing her own life? Can she choose to forgive her ex- boyfriend? Forgiveness doesn't mean condoning an act of offence. In fact, it often involves taking a strong stand against it. Forgiveness does include letting go of the feeling of retaliation and retribution in the personal space.
Innumerable studies have been published suggesting the long- term health and relationship benefits of forgiveness. In contrast, unforgivingness can take its toll on physical, mental and relational health.
Contrary to popular belief, it has been found that people who are forgiving in interpersonal relationships are better able to uphold justice.
Evidence showed that friendly behaviour is actually quite common after an aggressive conflict between chimpanzees. Frans de Waal, an evolutionary biologist, and his team of researchers observed 350 aggressive encounters in chimpanzees and found 179 in numbers or 51 per cent of the total observed encounters were followed by friendly contact. There was more friendly contact after conflict than it was during conflict- free periods. Chimps kiss and make up in the same way as humans. It turns out that as we are hardwired to be motivated to seek revenge so are we to forgive and reconcile. In fact newer evolutionary evidence suggests that empathy, compassion and reconciliation are what gave us the edge in the evolutionary process.
In group workshops for emotional healing and personal development or individual therapeutic set- ups, we've observed that one of the most common reasons why people are bitter and unhappy in life is because they hold on to past grudges, be it against parents, friends, partners, business associates, relatives and in some cases life itself. It is sometimes very crucial to reset our mental set- up and choose to let go and forgive. The challenges people face in doing so are...

Willingness to forgive:

It is not that people are unable to forgive, but they are so driven by the motivation of " teaching a lesson" that they are unwilling to do so. If one understands that forgiveness does not mean agreement with or approval of the act of offence, people can choose to set themselves free from the hurt and bitterness.

Perception of forgiveness:

Contrary to the evolutionary evidence, people are often culturally conditioned to see forgiveness as an act of weakness. " Come what may, I am never going to forgive him/ her" is the common sentiment. In fact, people hold on to the grudge and pain as a reminder to this resolution at the cost of great personal suffering and sacrifice.

If one chooses to, forgiveness can be learnt and one can choose to release the past hurt and trauma and be open to receiving more from life.
Supriya attended one of our workshops and came for a couple of follow- up sessions where we helped her with the forgiveness process and reconciliation of the past. She is now in a happy, fulfilling relationship.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Matters Of The Heart Q & A: T2 Article dated 23rd Nov'2014

Being in love can be joyous, fun and fulfilling. It can also cause confusion, pain and a sense of vulnerability. Some of our young readers have written in about this confusion. Here are some suggestions that can come in handy for all.

Reader 1: 

I had a crush on a friend of mine who was a senior in school. Eventually that crush turned into love ( at least, I believe it was love). However, when he came to know that I liked him, he went his way. Last year I came across a guy via a social networking site and in a month, I began to date him. But after a few months, I broke up with him and now when I look back, I realise that I had never loved him, though at that time he was the ' love of my life'. Of late, I have developed a strong liking for a boy in my neighbourhood, who is a year senior to me. We haven't interacted much but I like him a lot and think of him all the time. I can't concentrate on my studies, and friends think that I'm in love with him, which I strongly deny. I just want to know, can this be love? Also, how to get rid of this feeling? Because it's very depressing... 

Dear.... About you being attracted to a boy from your neighbourhood, whether it is love or not is a debatable question. What we call ' love' and our definition of love changes as we grow older and gain experience.
We believe love is that which one continues to share after the initial attraction has waned.
When friends tell you that " you are in love", it means that you like that person and are attracted to him. As you've already experienced this earlier, perhaps you need to stay with this feeling a little longer to see if there is something more to it.
A longstanding loving relationship depends on compatibility, mutual respect and cooperation, where attraction plays only a part.
You say that it is " very depressing". Ask yourself what about feeling attracted is depressing you? There's no quick solution to get rid of this. Instead of being in denial of the fact that you like this person, accept that you do. Also, know that it is normal to feel this way. Accepting your feelings does not mean you have to act on them or get into a relationship. Once you accept your feelings, you can rationalise with yourself and act in your best interest.
For example, if you want to move a particular object, the first thing to do is to acknowledge that the object exists. Only then can you move it. Similarly, if you want to get rid of this attraction, you need to accept that you have certain feelings for this person. And then if you want, talk yourself out if it. This process may take some time. A good way to reduce the time it takes is to concentrate and engage in other activities.
Focus on your studies. That will determine a large part of your future. Hope this helps.
Take care.

Reader 2: 
I am 15 years old and I am in a relationship for the past few days. We love each other a lot. But somehow I am not sure about this relationship.
I want to know whether this relationship will last forever? Am I doing anything wrong by being in a relationship at this age? Please help me.

There is no way to know if a relationship will last forever.
" Forever" is an extremely long time, especially since you are so young. We all, irrespective of our age, want to know about our future. But the future is not always predictable. There are many factors that are constantly influencing our lives and that is what makes it surprising, interesting and exciting.
The best we all can do is to put our best foot forward, be aware, be cautious, assess the situation realistically and accept that there is always the possibility of making a wrong choice. As long as we can learn from our mistakes, it's okay.
There is no right or wrong about being in a relationship. It depends on how you deal with what happens. But some of the questions to ask yourself could be:  Is the relationship empowering you?  Is there mutual respect?  Is it helping you to stay more focused on your other goals, or is it a distraction? You are at an age where your studies play a crucial role in determining your future. If you can keep your focus on your studies and not let anything interfere with it, then we believe it is fine.

Reader 3: 
I am a 20- year- old girl who got out of an abusive relationship a few months back. I was looking for love but I ended up being terribly hurt. I am trying very hard to concentrate on my job and studies but in vain. I feel lonely and tend to shout at my parents to vent my frustration.
Every time I see, read or hear anything romantic, I cry. I have tried to find a match for me on some dating websites but was afraid to go and meet those guys, fearing rejection. I used to be a very fun and lively person, but now I think I have lost myself. I want to find my way back into love, but I just don't know how and with whom. I don't want to marry now but be with that someone special till the time is right. I want to get my life back. Please help.

We are sorry that you had to go through a difficult relationship.
It takes time to get over a relationship, whether it was good or bad. You say that you were a fun and lively person. Use this time to rediscover that fun side of you.
Having come out of a bad relationship, it may not be wise to get into another relationship so soon, specially when you are feeling frustrated and lonely. To find your way back into love, you need to first reconnect with yourself. Instead of focusing on who your partner will be, prioritise yourself, focus on your life — be it studies, work, friends, family — and try to excel or improve your opportunities there. Initially it may seem tough to do but as you keep trying, it will become easier. You can explore various aspects of yourself by taking up a hobby.
Bring the fun back in your life by constantly choosing it. You may not " feel" like having fun, but make an effort nevertheless. Try to feel independent and complete within yourself.
Eventually these things will help you build your self- confidence and and help you understand better whether the partners you choose are good for you.
You can also go for personal counselling sessions to deal with your past traumas and to focus on and enjoy your present.

( A few details have been changed to protect identities) 

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Unhealthy stances of Love: T2 article dated 9th Nov'2014

Of late many readers have been writing to us about matters of the heart. To try and define love would be a fool's errand, and we don't claim to understand it fully. What we can do is explore the dynamics of " love" in relationships and what it tells about us when we fall in love.
Love, as we all know too well, is a complex, multi- layered emotion which is experienced differently by every individual. It is not always the same experience for two people in the same relationship.
In daily life, love is not only an emotion but also a constant dynamic between two people. When it is of the romantic kind, we are very often fooled by our unaware intentions and hidden desires. Where a healthy inner stance can help a relationship blossom, an unhealthy outlook can eventually spoil the relationship.
Here are a few common unhealthy ways of looking at love... 

Looking at love to fulfil our need for self- worth: 

When our sense of self- worth comes from being able to help others, we may be drawn to partners who are needy, demanding or " need to be fixed". We tend to take on the role of a helper or a rescuer. A relationship between partners is essentially of equals. When one partner gives more than the other, it tends to create an imbalance. The helper takes on the role of being the bigger or more mature person in the relationship.
This can eventually lead to them feeling burnt out, exhausted, uncared for and the partners may feel patronised and suffocated. The helper is often a very caring and giving person. The different variations of this inner stance is being a martyr, problem solver, the go- to person, an agony aunt or even of being a parent to the partner.

Looking at love to escape from the situation we are in: 

Here, we tend to use love as an escape from the current situation.
Many times in our country, women, more than men, see marriage as an escape from their circumstances.
This is common in both love and arranged marriages. Often it backfires as we are so hell- bent on getting away from the present condition that we are blind to assessing and noticing what we are getting into.
Case in point, Neha, who is all set to marry early next year. She always had a contempt for her father as he was " aloof and emotionally disengaging" which caused a lot of emotional trauma to her in the form of " rejection". In Neha's words, her relationship with her fiance has been topsy- turvy and emotionally intense but they loved each other.
She is now realising that her fiance is too emotionally volatile to provide her stability and she is now unsure and scared, after four years of being in that relationship. Neha was " in love" to escape her cold and unfulfilling relationship with her father. Not a healthy way to start a relationship in the first place. Yet, not everybody is as lucky as Neha to wake up to reality and get a chance to choose differently.

Looking at love to satiate our previously unfulfilled needs: 

These people can come across as two types. Type 1 keeps asking for more — more attention, more love, more support, more security. They do not acknowledge or appreciate what they already have in a relationship. Here the inner stance is that of a needy person. A needy person enters a relationship looking for a particular aspect of love which they feel they did not receive or have missed out on. They may be overtly demanding and clingy and may leave no space for the other person.
Type 2 will constantly feel there's something missing in the relationship they are in. No matter how " perfect" or how " right" the person is for them, they are always looking for something else in their partner. It is quite likely that the partner may never be able to fulfil what they are looking for.
Both these sets are looking for something that a partner can never give. They are so caught up and focused on feeling fulfilled in one particular way that many times they are closed to receiving what is available to them. This stance of neediness ultimately creates selfpity, self- loathing, a feeling of being a victim, or a feeling of meaninglessness and purposelessness.

Sometimes, a needy person can also be the one trying to escape.
Sometimes, a needy person finds a helper to form an unhealthy, intense but long- lasting relationship till one partner gives up.

The best way to look at love: 

A healthy initial stance to a relationship can help establish strong, long- term stability. For that, be okay and comfortable with yourself the way you are.
It would be ideal to be at peace with your past. If not, being aware of your needs and fears that may be coming from the past can save you many an argument. A healthy stance in a relationship is where there is an equal giving and receiving. Where there is appreciation of each other and a healthy respect for differences.
There is also an openness to explore things together as individuals. This stance is of balance and integrity: towards oneself and towards the partner.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Manipulated by Past: T2 article dated 26th October 2014.

In our practice we often come across a phenomenon called " transference". It has been observed since the beginning of psychotherapy practice that many a time, the client projects his/ her unhealed emotions from a particular relationship on to the therapist. A simple example: If the client feels neglected and unseen in his relationship with his partner or spouse, it is quite common for him to feel the same way with his therapist, especially if the therapist is of the same gender and age as the partner.
Most often it happens without the conscious awareness of the client.
And it can be seen in our other interactions too.
If we observe our thoughts and emotions, we will see how we are constantly manipulated by the experiences we've had in our relationships, and how these form the basis of our inner stance in new relations in many ways. We may also see that when we are in a relationship, we often demand those things which we thought we did not receive from our parents.
Often we are making choices based on our past experiences with another person, another relationship. Unknowingly, we try to fill the "lack" felt in one relationship through another. Our ability to trust, to be open, to receive and our expectations are constantly moulded by our past relationships, be it with parents, teachers, friends or a partner.
Niharika, a businesswoman and single mother of a 14- year- old boy, came with feelings of uneasiness and conflict with the man she was currently seeing. The following is a part of the conversation with her.

Niharika: I always feel that Amit (current boyfriend) keeps a distance from my son Rohan and that bothers me. If we have a future together, he has to include my son.
Therapist: Do you know why you feel that way? 
N: Yes, he is never excited to see Rohan. He just talks to him, never hugs him or shows his affection. I am just not sure how he feels about Rohan.
T: I see. So with you he is all right? 
N: Well, I don't expect him to be like a teenager. I don't have complains about our dynamics. We give each other space and we are comfortable.
It's just his relationship with Rohan I am worried about.
T: How do you think Rohan feels about it? 
N: Rohan likes him very much. On many occasions I've asked him directly. He is a loving boy. But I feel Amit does not share the sentiment.
T: Okay. So what I hear from you is that though your son is all right with the new man in your life and has accepted him, you fear that this person may not be an ideal father? 
N: Yes, exactly. Though, when you put it that way, it sounds kind of odd.
I keep seeing glimpses of my ex-husband, Rohan's father Rohit's behaviour in Amit. He sometimes behaves as cold as Rohit. I can't subject myself to the same emotional trauma of neglect and coldness that I have gone through and I definitely do not want Rohan to suffer.
T: I understand. So in your perception, your ex- husband was emotionally cold towards you and your son? 
N: With Rohan, Rohit was very caring, but he was more like a teacher than a father. We separated when Rohan was six years old. In those six years Rohit never did any " fun" thing with him. With me too, it was a passionless, very monotonous, relationship which both of us were dragging. I felt neglected and it was as though it did not matter whether I was there. ( Pause) I can't believe I am talking about my ex- husband…. I thought I'd dealt with it years ago.
T: I see... so with your ex- husband you felt neglected and did not feel the emotional connect.
N: Yes. Actually he was my father's student. I was only 19 when I chose to marry him, I had a very emotionally scarring childhood. My father was a strict disciplinarian and used to impose army rules. It was so claustrophobic that all I wanted was freedom. When I met Rohit he was this calm, soft- spoken person and I fell for him. He was not controlling like my father but emotionally he was very aloof.
T: Correct me if I am wrong, you felt unloved by your father as he was very strict with you, and in your perception that was not how love should be expressed. You then married someone who was the opposite of your father but you still felt unloved. And now you want to make sure Rohan gets a particular kind of love from your partner so that he feels loved, though Rohan himself is apparently all right.
N: ( Long pause) I can see the connections. My father used to say that he was strict with me because he loved me and knew what was best for me… I did not see it that way... I feel I am behaving like my father… May be like him I too want only "my way". 

Freedom of choice :

The only way we can get more freedom of choice is by understanding ourselves and the unconscious motivations of our choices. This week, sit with yourself and try to find out how your current relationships and your expectations and needs from them are being influenced by your past or other relationships. Share with us your realisations and findings.

[ Case studies are modified and names changed to protect the identity of our readers and clients] 

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches.

Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Guilt: T2 article dated 12th Oct'2014

One of the important aspects of improvement and growth is receiving feedback and readjusting, altering, redoing a few things based on that feedback. Pain is a very important feedback mechanism for our body. If something is wrong in the body, it draws our attention through pain, be it a fracture, burn or cut. If one gets acidity and heartburn after eating spicy food, the simple and smart solution would be to learn to avoid spicy food and develop a taste for non- spicy food.
But we would rather have spicy food and pop a pill for acidity than adopt new food habits, wouldn't we? 

Psychologically, guilt is supposed to act like a similar feedback mechanism. When we do something which should not have been done, we feel guilty, so that we can learn from that mistake. But instead of learning to do things differently, we devise ways and strategies to cope up with the guilt, or to not feel guilty at all.

Niyati, a 42- year- old mother of two, came with a problem concerning her 14- year- old daughter and 17- year- old son. A part of our conversation went like this... 

Niyati: I cannot handle my children…. I don't get them at all. At times I completely lose it.

Therapist: I see. What happens? 

N: They don't listen to me at all! They don't give a damn! I feel very frustrated and hopeless.

T: Can you give an example? 

N: Three days ago I heard my daughter swearing on the phone. I ignored it for a while but then I really got irritated and asked her to stop.
She just told me off and slammed the door of her room. I felt so angry and helpless… 

T: So when you heard your daughter swearing at somebody and you did not like it, you chose to ignore it till it was too much for you? 

N: Yes.... I told myself I would just ignore. A week before that we had a huge showdown and my daughter said I was always judging her and overreacting... so after that I decided not to say anything to her at all… 

T: So you tried to ignore her swearing on the phone as you promised yourself not to tell her anything.

N: Yes. But then it was too much for me and when I reached my threshold I just went and blasted her.

T: I see. So when you overreacted earlier and it didn't end well, you decided not to tell your daughter anything even if she did something which she should not do.

N: Exactly! Because when I overreacted I felt very guilty, I felt terrible. I don't want to feel that way and I didn't want to overreact next time.

T: But that did not work either. So not only did you choose not to ' overreact', in order to do that initially you chose to not act at all… 

N: Yes... and I guess in the process I ended up doing the exact same thing which I did not want…. I shouted at her and she responded violently. 

This is what has been happening.... Instead of telling her daughter calmly to mind her language, Niyati waited till she hit her threshold and reacted. She typically goes through these stages in her guilt cycle: 

1. Act of ignorance: When we do something without knowing the full consequences, in this case Niyati's first confrontation with her daughter.

2. Realisation of consequences: The daughter feeling judged, angry and Niyati overreacting.

3. Emotional consequences: Guilt.

After this point, the next mature step could have been: 
4. Learning: Recognising the overall consequences and learning to act more skilfully. Niyati could learn to talk to her daughter without making her feel judged and vulnerable. 

But Niyati responded with an immature coping mechanism to deal with guilt and perpetuated her guilt cycle further as... 

5. Act of overcompensation: Completely going overboard and choosing to do the opposite of stage 1 — in this case stopping herself from correcting her daughter calmly and trying to ignore the issue.

6. Emotional meltdown and consequences: In this case, doing exactly what she wanted to avoid, resulting in more guilt and helplessness.

We all go through Niyati's psychological pattern of ' guiltovercompensation- emotional meltdown' guilt cycle without even recognising it. Sometimes we can also be in denial and keep fooling ourselves by saying that there is nothing to feel guilty about as ' I am right'. As a result we suppress this feedback mechanism. The key to be able to use it to our benefit is selfawareness.

Change your perception: Don't look at guilt as a negative emotion.
Look at it as a feedback mechanism and learn from it.

Be aware: Be vigilant and careful about your strategy to not feel guilty.
Is it overcompensation? Is it denial? Keep asking yourself — what is my guilt telling me? Am I learning? Be patient: Every learning process needs constant effort and time.
Accept yourself: Accept your flaws and don't feel shame as long as you are ready to learn and grow.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Connect: T2 Article dated 21st Sep' 2014

Reader 1: 
I just started college and I feel lonely. There are students from reputed schools in my college and I feel inferior and inadequate in class. I want to run away. If I am feeling this way now, how am I going to sustain the whole course up till graduation? 

Reader 2: 
I am 15 years old and I hate my elder brother. He has always been the good boy. My parent's favourite child, he is a bully. He always teases me and makes fun of me. I feel humiliated in front of my relatives and friends. My parents always support him and I hate them for that. I feel nobody cares for me. I feel lonely and rejected.

Reader 3: 
My younger sister does not participate in any household activity. She was getting isolated, aloof and was keeping to herself. I then started giving her responsibilities and told her that if she wanted to be in the house she needed to take part actively. She is now angry at me and accuses me of making her feel that she is not a part of the family.

The festive season is almost on us.
Every day there are more people on the streets, busily shopping for their loved ones. There is a hint of celebration and joy in the air already. One of the important aspects of festivals is socialising, or connecting with fellow beings. It's a time to come together, to belong to and celebrate something greater than our individual self. But behind the celebrations, there are many faces struggling to suppress their tears, feeling lonely and miserable. And the stark difference between their inner worlds and the outer environment makes it even more difficult for them to step out and participate.
Recent research in psychology shows that one of the crucial elements for a person to feel happy is to feel connected, to feel that they " belong". If it is in our genetic and cultural make- up to reach out and be connected, then why do we so often struggle with loneliness and isolation? Let us try to understand this from the three letters we got.
Reader 1 is a new college student who feels " lonely" in his new environment.
Of course, there are many people around him but something stops him from connecting, making him feel isolated. And since he cannot fit in, he's unable to make any connections. He reveals that he feels inferior to the other students. Even if we assume that every student in his class is smarter than him, can that be a valid reason to not belong? It is possible that in his mind, Reader 1 has created a rule that goes " I can only connect if I am on a par with others", or it could be " If I am not on a par with others, they will mock me". This may be the self- imposed condition which is making him feel isolated and lonely.
In the case of Reader 2, it is not very difficult to understand that when siblings make fun of each other, it is unlikely that they are disconnected.
They are engaged but maybe not in a " positive" way. But Reader 2 does not perceive it as an effort to connect; on the contrary, he believes that by teasing and making fun of him, his elder brother is cornering him, leaving him feeling lonely.
Similarly, in the case of Reader 3, the elder sister may have perceived that the younger sister is isolating herself and to engage her and help her feel connected to the family, she put some rules in place. And this act has heightened the younger sister's disconnect from her.

As we see in above cases, one of the hurdles we need to overcome to connect to people are the conditions we put, such as " I need to be understood" or " I need to be like others". Along with this, we often unconsciously burden our connections ( relationships) to satiate our personal needs, like our need to feel loved, secure, powerful, respected or successful.
Our hidden agenda to connect becomes " so that I can feel loved" or " so that I earn awe and respect" or " so that I feel secure". These agendas can take away our freedom to explore and make new connections or celebrate and enjoy our old connections.
If we can try to discard our needs, go out and try to connect with genuineness and authenticity, not just to feel better or superior but just to connect, it may be very fulfilling. These connections can teach us openness and inclusiveness. As social beings, we are biologically wired to connect.
Maybe all we need to do is celebrate our differences. This festive season let us do that. 
Happy Puja! 

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches 

Share your problems with them at  dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Questions and Answers :T2 Article Dated 7th Sep' 2014

Reader 1: In one of your articles, your advice was to " connect" to people. I find it extremely difficult to do. I feel everybody judges me. I hate talking to people. I feel uncomfortable when I need to face a group. I think I am much more at peace being by myself. Meeting people makes me anxious.

We are assuming that this uncomfortable feeling or anxiety of meeting new people or a group is a problem for you. If you are comfortable with not meeting people and are happy staying alone, it is not a problem at least for now. You have not mentioned your age, but whether you are a student, professional or self- employed, it is difficult to imagine any occupation which will allow you zero interaction with others.
If you feel judged by others, you need to explore why you feel so. You also need to ask yourself that even if your perception of people judging you is true, then what about it? People are entitled to their opinions. Do you start judging yourself too and question your self- worth because of others judgement? If the answer is yes, then you need to challenge this.
Maybe you have faced strong opinions of yourself from others and you want to avoid experiencing that. It could be that your way of ensuring you don't face their judgement is to avoid facing people altogether.
You can choose to face your fear, use the criticism to help yourself grow and learn, instead of holding on to it and being bogged down by it. A force can be used as " push" or " pull". You can decide how much you are going to allow other people to control your life. When you are trying to avoid judgement, you are still being controlled by the same judgement.

Reader 2: I have very low self confidence. I dread meeting people. I feel I will make a fool of myself in front of others. I am getting isolated and I feel lonely.

Low confidence usually makes us feel unsure of things, a course of action or the probable consequence of an action. However, most often we feel inhibited because of our fear of how others will react to us. The sure shot way to gain confidence is to practice being in the situation which challenges you. If you " dread" meeting people, go meet people. Face your fear. Gradually you will be able to desensitise yourself of the fear and gain confidence.
At the same time, start believing in yourself. Excess criticism towards oneself is counter- productive. Don't let your past experiences dictate your present and future. Be yourself, listen more, observe more and slowly you'll find that you are feeling comfortable.

Reader 3: I am a 16- year- old girl; most of my friends are into smoking, drinking and partying. I feel that if I want to be a part of the group, I have to behave like them.They say it will make me feel better. I feel confused and lonely. My parents don't understand me.

We understand your confusion. The question is not whether these things can help you feel better or not ( they cannot), but why you need things to make you feel better about yourself.
It is natural to want to be a part of a group. But that does not mean you have to do things that you do not want to.
We want others to accept us but we don't want to accept ourselves the way we are, or for who we are.
We look for approval from others.
Many of us don't feel good enough.
We find numerous flaws with ourselves.
We tell ourselves that we are not worth it. Challenge these ideas.
You are always worth it. Believe that you are enough, you are acceptable and lovable the way you are. Be with people who are able to understand you and are there for you without pressuring you to be something you are not.
But irrespective of whether you find such people or not, just be comfortable with who you are. If you are able to do that, you will see that others are also starting to accept you, and a group is forming around you. Make new friends, join hobby classes. Most importantly, believe in yourself and your strength. You may also consider taking professional help if things get too difficult.

(Readers' names have been withheld for confidentiality) 

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Connections T2 Article Dated 24th Aug' 2014

"Love is just a word, the reality is the connection it implies."

— The Matrix Revolutions 

Much of our lives revolves around two major implicit fears — " I am not good enough" and " I am not loved". If you dig deeper, you'd realise that both these fears have an underlying theme — a need to " belong or feel connected". The unconscious thought is " I am not good enough to belong to this family/ parents/ society" and " I am not loved / accepted as part of the family/ herd". These fears can be manifested in a range of issues in our head, like fear of rejection, loneliness, isolation, low self- esteem and self-belief, feelings of not being lovable or deserving.

All our lives, we either fight these fears to prove them wrong, or we give in helplessly. Paradoxically, both choices often lead to the same outcome. For instance, if you have a predominant belief that you are not good, you may try to fight it by pushing yourself harder, aiming for higher goals or by becoming a perfectionist. But all this can actually put a lot of pressure and become the very reason for you to feel like a failure, as now no success is good enough for you. Or you may completely give up and not try by succumbing to the fear of " not being good enough". Similarly, you may become clingy, possessive, insecure and controlling when you think " I am not loved", and in turn may push love away when it knocks on your door! These fears are mostly fed by our childhood memories and experiences. 

Rizwana, a homemaker, is always panicky about her children, aged 11 and 8. " My happiest moments were when I first saw my children after they were born. But now I am always bitter with them. I shout at them, raise my hand and then feel terribly guilty. I feel I have forgotten to love them," she told us.
Rizwana wants her children to do well in life. She wants to make sure they are accepted and respected by her family, friends and society. What she is actually trying to do is ensure that her kids feel they "belong". But her children are feeling unloved by their mother and disconnected from their family. They show defiant behaviour and their mother's worst nightmare seems to be coming true.
We all may have encountered Rizwana's struggle, either in ourselves or in others. Yes, this problem may arise in any bond of love.
When we love someone, we fear losing the connection. We want to fit them into our idea of "how it should be". We want to change them to make sure they accept our point of view, our ideas, our needs, so that we feel connected to them. And this approach severs that very connection. As we operate from our own fear of disconnection, we contribute to the same fear in our loved ones.
Meaningful connections don't always happen naturally, but we can try to create them. Here are some tips on how to do that... 

Make an effort to bond with your family, friends and colleagues. Believe that you " belong" the way you are. Meet new people, make new connections. Don't try to prove anything, just be a part to share. Join a group class — painting, dancing, yoga, movie or book club; anything that you fancy. If you can't find one, you can start a book or movie club yourself.

Make friends: 
Across age, race, class and culture. Be open to learn newer ways of thinking. You don't have to agree on everything to be friends. Agree to disagree. Challenge the limits of your acceptance. Try not to judge, not to fix according to your value system. Greet more, listen more. Be more inclusive.

Do something meaningful: 
Join a cause or an initiative. Try to take out time for something that you consider is meaningful or for the greater good.

Help your kids to connect: 
As you discipline your children, also make sure to tell or show them that they are a part of the family and you love them. It is their behaviour you disapprove of, not them as a whole.
This needs to be conveyed often. Go on a family holiday and make a rule to not be on the phone during that period.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at  dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Comparison : T2 article dated 10th Aug' 2014

" Comparison is the thief of joy," said former US president Theodore Roosevelt

When I see my friend doing so well... happy... earning much more than I do, I doubt myself and question — did I choose wisely? I keep thinking that if I had stayed back and taken the same decision as him, I would have had the same life today."

That's Arnab who was happy with what he was doing and his future plans till he met a friend in Mumbai, who had started his own business, and began feeling unsure about his own life.
We keep comparing our lives with that of others. This can often be the reason for a lot of mental distress. More and more needs and wants are added in our life, creating disappointment, sadness and in some cases a sense of worthlessness.
The mother of a happy, healthy and active three- year- old girl came to us with the complain that her daughter was "not like others".
On inquiring, she said that her daughter only wanted to play with dolls and was not interested in any "extracurricular activities". Our conversation with her went as follows...

Mother: She is happy and obedient. If left alone, she is content playing with her dolls but she is least interested in drawing or dancing. I feel she is a little slow.
Therapist: What do you mean by slow?
Mother: When I see other children, they seem to be doing so many things.
They recite poems in front of others, are eager to show their drawings, but my daughter is least interested in any of this. She talks a lot but only with us. She does not behave smartly like the other kids.
Therapist: Is she not friendly with others?
Mother: She is very friendly and she makes friends easily. If you talk to her, you will adore her.
Therapist: So?
Mother: But she is not as streetsmart like the others.
Therapist: Who are these 'others'?
Mother: Other kids at her play school…. Their mothers are so happy with them and keep praising them.
Therapist: And how do you feel then?
Mother: I feel I am not doing something right. I feel frustrated and irritated and I take it out on her. Though she is a very nice child, I shout at her and keep pushing her. I can't even enjoy the time we spend together.

If this mother is not careful with her thoughts and expectations, she may eventually convince herself and her daughter that there is a problem with the girl, which can severely damage her daughter's selfesteem.
All this because her mother felt that the other kids were better than her.
From childhood we decide or are told how "mothers should be like mothers" or " fathers should be like fathers", comparing them with others' parents. Our ideas of parenting, love, life, success and several other concepts are often formed through comparison. The ability to compare is an important learning tool and is so second nature to us that the inferences we draw as a result remain largely unchallenged. We form judgements not only about others but also about ourselves.
Continuous comparisons can make us feel bad/ sad/ disappointed about everything. A good car is not good enough, a job is not good enough, our kids are not smart enough... the list goes on.
Product advertisements actually exploit this inherent human nature and try to nudge us to compare ourselves with the smiling actor and actress on TV. They lure us to buy the particular product so that we can be like them. The problem is that it very subtly but surely reinforces the belief system — " I am not good enough the way I am" — and in turn it creates self- esteem issues.
Regularly remind yourself that life is like an exam — you may feel that you can copy somebody else's answers but what you don't know is that everybody has a different question paper. Life is a work in progress and sometimes it is also important to know that you are doing enough.
Become more aware of the times when you make comparisons. Do this often so that eventually you can catch yourself when you are comparing yourself with others.
And each time that happens, just focus on what you already have.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at: dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Emotional Processing: T2 article dated 27th July 2014

Last week we had a funny experience. We ran into one of our students at a shopping mall and he seemed visibly upset. He asked us if we were angry with him.

Our conversation went something like this...

Student: If you are upset with me, please tell me what is my fault!

Us: But why would we be upset with you? We last met six months back when you came over and we had such a good time…. We haven't met since, so why would we be upset?

Student: I don't know! You tell me.… Last week you were getting into your car and I shouted out to you several times, but you did not hear me. I messaged you on WhatsApp but you didn't answer. ( Visibly upset and almost teary)

Us: We did not see or hear you. We must have been in a rush…. And my WhatsApp isn't working as I am using a different phone now. Don't you know that we care about you? If we were upset about something, wouldn't we at least let you know?

Student: I know you would! That's why I was upset when I didn't get any reply from you! I was so disappointed when you did not see me and I could not talk to you.

Us: Ah! You could have just dropped by. It's always nice to catch up.

We all are constantly processing information and the way we do it is radically different from one another.
As we gather information, we process it subjectively with our feelings. The problem is when we revisit a past experience, we think that we are witnessing the event itself. What we actually revisit are our "interpretations" of what had occurred.
Our student took it for a "fact" that we were upset, which was in reality a subjective interpretation.
Unfortunately, these interpretations bypassed his primary emotion of feeling disappointed at not being able to talk to his favourite teachers, and gave rise to secondary feelings of being rejected. This feeling of rejection can turn into the next "fact" — "they rejected me" — and give rise to a set of secondary emotions like anger, sadness or hate.

Primary emotions are often intense and short- lived; they make us feel vulnerable. To escape feeling vulnerable, we try to give ourselves reasons and justifications for feeling this way. And in the process we move further away from the "fact" and into secondary emotions. The closer one is to their primary emotions, the closer they are to the reality and in turn more empowered.
The major component of primary emotions is "I feel", while that of secondary emotions is " You make me feel" or " This makes me feel". Had our student acknowledged that he was feeling disappointed at not being able to meet us and stayed with those emotions, maybe he would have simply dropped in and met up.

As the graph shows, the more we process emotions and move towards secondary emotions the more we move away from the 'fact axis'.
Now let's look at it from a slightly different angle. Shiraz and Tanya have been best friends since college.
Tanya was involved with another man who cheated on her. During that phase of turmoil, Shiraz was a pillar of support for Tanya. Both fell in love eventually and got married.
Tanya is very grateful to Shiraz and acknowledges the fact that he was always there for her. But even after five years, Tanya is bitter about her ex- boyfriend. She keeps thinking about how she should have been more careful and how she could have responded. Instead of staying with the primary emotion of hurt and pain at what happened, she processed it to "I was betrayed". This led to the next set of emotions — anger and hatred. Instead of dealing with the pain, she turned it into hatred for that person. And as she revisits her past, she finds more justification to hold on to the hatred.
No wonder, Shiraz feels that Tanya is never there for him. Though Tanya loves Shiraz, her hatred for her ex consumes most of her mental space, making her emotionally unavailable for Shiraz.
In our hurry to escape our primary emotions, we end up complicating things even more.

Sometimes it's important to be present in the NOW and stay with the primary emotion and experience it fully. You can practise the following exercise to understand how we process, analyse, interpret and get carried away from the NOW. Only with practice, patience and awareness can one get better at it.

Pick up any mundane everyday object, for example a pen or a cup. Hold it in your hands and allow your attention to be fully absorbed by the object. Observe it. Don't assess or think about it, or study it intellectually. Just observe it for what it is. Each time your mind drifts to any association, memory, analysis or interpretation, gently bring your focus back on just "seeing". You can increase the duration gradually.

Conscious observation can really give you a feeling of " being awake". With time you may notice how your mind quickly releases thoughts of past or future, and how different it feels to be in the moment. Conscious observation is a form of meditation: subtle but powerful.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Anger : T2 article Dated 13th July 2014

A man is about as big as the thing that makes him angry 
Winston Churchill 

Anger is considered a ' negative' emotion. But when channelised for a higher or greater cause, anger can be used for transformation, as shown by Irom Sharmila, Subhas Chandra Bose or Raja Ram Mohan Roy. However, most often, anger is counterproductive and self-destructive.

Parveen came to us with a problem of angry outbursts. The following are snatches of conversation from the first of few sessions.

Client: Doctor, I cannot control my anger.
Therapist: Okay… can you please elaborate? C: Small things irritate me, and then I explode. I become abusive and I cannot control myself.
T: Okay… so, little things keep irritating you. They pile up and then you burst out.
C: Yes.
T: What do you do when these little things irritate you? 
C: I don't do anything! 
T: Can you give me an example when an outburst occurred recently? 
C: For example, last Sunday I took my daughter for an outing. I was anyway a little irritated due to my office work. My daughter started being very stubborn — she wanted a very expensive doll. I suddenly lost my temper and just thrashed her, said things I would normally never have said. I feel very ashamed of myself.
T: I see… what happened in office? 
C: They are just small regular things… I was irritated with my team as I had told them to do something, explained it to them… they said they understood and then produced something absolutely crappy… 
T: So, what were you irritated at? 
C: They said that they had understood and yet they did not deliver… 
T: So, if they don't deliver, what happens? 
C: It's not just about the delivery of the product. It's their attitude which irritates me.
T: What about the attitude? 
C: That they take their work for granted… that they cannot function maturely…. T: So you don't share a similar attitude towards work, and let's assume they behave immaturely.
What about it irritates you? 
C: I feel taken for granted. I feel helpless.
T: What did you do? 
C: I shouted at them and then made sure that they corrected the mistakes.
T: So, the shouting reduced your irritation? 
C: Well, not really. I just pushed my irritation aside for the time being to make sure that the work got done. But I was still very irritated. So, when my daughter was being stubborn, I snapped… 
T: What happened when your daughter was being stubborn? 
C: I just felt so taken for granted and just didn't know what to do… 

Anger can be of various types. Here are some that may resonate with you.

Anger as a coping strategy: 

Here, Parveen finds it difficult to cope with situations, she feels helpless and this triggers her anger. If she acknowledges her helplessness at the onset of an outburst, she can devise an effective strategy to deal with the situation. What Parveen thought of as small incidents in office were actually triggers for her anger. If she dealt with the irritation at the time she experienced it, she may have been more successful at preventing the outburst later.
Solution: When you feel " helpless", don't be ashamed of the feeling.
Acknowledge it and then find a strategy to deal with the situation that is making you feel helpless. In Parveen's case, it might be that she needs to communicate more effectively, or when she delegates, she needs to assess the work progress more closely. When you plan your strategy, also think of alternative strategies. A strategy might not give an instant solution. It is important to stay focused on the solution.

Anger as a grudge: 

When we hold on to anger towards a person or a situation long after the event has happened.
For example: " I can never forgive my sister- in- law for what she did to me immediately after I got married." It may not matter that the person has minimal contact with her sister- inlaw now. This grudge creates bitterness within and hampers one's ability to enjoy life fully. We feel " right" and " justified" in holding on to this kind of an anger even though we may be the only ones who are affected by it.
Solution: Is to forgive the person and let go of the internal pain.
Often when we say, "I can't forgive", we actually mean to say that, " I won't forgive". We can always choose to forgive and let go. It might take some time.

Anger to defend ourselves: 

When we feel personally attacked, we respond aggressively with anger. 'I am being attacked' is often a perception than a reality. A lot of times, criticism or others' behaviour makes us feel vulnerable, and we use anger to deal with this feeling.
Solution: Acknowledge your vulnerability. Understand the things in your environment which are making you feel attacked or intimidated. You can make a list to identify and recognise them in real time, and find another strategy to deal with the situation. Detach your selfworth from " others' response". Try to accept other people's behaviour as their problem.

Anger is only an emotion.
Though on the one hand it can lead people to do shocking things, actually it is an indication that something is bothering us. If we can go beyond this emotion and try to find a solution to either change or effectively deal with the situation, we would have used it constructively. Ultimately, it is our choice how we use it and deal with it.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com