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