Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Seeking The Self - The Adolescent's Quest for Identity

To be, or not to be, that is the question!

This famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, sums up beautifully, the chaos and confusion that most adolescents go through, in their quest to figure out who they are.

Am I a child ….. or a grown up already?
Do I know my mind ….. or am I confused?
I want to be a musician …. No, a scientist ….. or do I wish to be a gardener?

This confusion, this not quite knowing who you are, is very much a part of growing up, very much a part of the saga of being an adolescence. We have all heard of parents who wonder where their little bundle of joy had gone, and who this unknown stranger was, who was impersonating as their child!

As parents, it is important for us to understand that as children enter their teens, they start a process of discovering themselves. It’s a period of upheaval, and while some may make this transition smoothly, for most it is a roller coaster ride. And we get to ride with them for free! How we can make this transition easier for them and for us, is to understand what it’s all about.

The term ‘identity crisis’ was coined by psychologist Erik Erikson. He believed that it was an important developmental crisis that most humans experienced in their adolescent years. In simple words, adolescence is a period when individuals start questioning the beliefs, values and ideas that they have so far been accepting and following. As a child, we always accept what our parents, teachers, community, peers tell us. No questions asked. It is now, in this growing up period, that we start asking questions, start asking what we want for ourselves. Naturally, we experience a period of confusion, as we no longer blindly believe what we have believed so far. If we sail through this period, we will have formed a clear identity for ourselves. However, if we are unable to do so, then we experience identity confusion.

What are the things that can help a growing adolescent form a strong and clear identity? Here are a few things that can help:
  • Encourage Questions and Doubts: Your teen will ask you a lot of uncomfortable questions, about values, about God and religion, about principles and ways of doing things. Encourage this. Don’t put it down by saying “that’s the way things are done!” Answer his questions to the best of your abilities, and if you cannot, direct him to the right source.
  • Be Non Judgmental: This is a tough one. It’s hard not to be judgmental about the clothes your child likes, the hairstyles, the music, the friends …. The values. But have patience. Your teen is going through a phase where he is exploring, experimenting, trying out different things to see what fits best with the person that he or she is. Give him the space to do so!
  • Have Faith in Your Upbringing: If you have instilled the right values in your child, or even if you are a teacher, in your students, you don’t have to worry much. While, the adolescent will go through this stage of questioning and rejecting, if she has a strong foundation and base, she will come around. She may not believe in all the things that you do, but sure enough, what she believes in, she will stand by!

Doing the above will help your teenager feel comfortable and confident in going through this process, and your patience will bear fruit. Before you know it, your pricky, irksome teenager will have grown into a beautiful human being with values that he stands by!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Work From Home????

A few days back, both me and my hubby were to be 'Working From Home'. This is such an amazing concept, the facility to occasionally work from home (WFH), especially so for women .... well that is what I always thought, until that day!

This is how my WFH day went:
6.30 am: Wake up a whole 45 minutes later than a work day, and feel ridiculously happy at having had that luxury!
7.00 am - 8.00 am: Put in an hour's work already, before the household wakes up 
8.00 am - 9.00 am: Usual morning household chores - offfice or no office, these have to be done!
9.15 am - 10.30 am: Actually work!
10.30 am - 11.30 am: Since I happen to be home, family makes demands for Aamras Puri, so, hibernate the laptop, and go into the kitchen to make the Aamras (while in the mind, churing out recommendations for the report I have left half way).
11.30 am - 1.00 pm: Work again.
1.00 pm - 2.00 pm: Lunch yourself, get the kids and the rest of the family to lunch
2.00 pm - 2.30 pm: Put the little one to sleep
2.30 pm - 5.00 pm: Work (Phew! All is calm for a few precious hours, the family sated and resting after a hearty lunch)
5.00 pm: Aryaveer wakes up, and its time to shut down the laptop for the day. And that's the end of my WFH for the day ....

In striking contrast, this is how Nilesh's WFH day went:
9.00 am: Wake up, a whole 2 hours late!
9.00 am - 9.30 am: Bath and a leisurely breakfast
9.30 am - 5.30 pm: Shut yourself with your laptop and your cell in one of the bedrooms, and start work!!!! Venture out for lunch in the afternoon, and shut yourself back up again!!!!!


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mirror Mirror on the Wall ...... Understanding Inferiority Complex

“Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Who is the prettiest of them all……”

We all know the story of Snow White, and her wicked step-mother, who could not bear the idea of anyone else being more beautiful than her. The idea that someone else could be more beautiful was enough to drive her to murderous thoughts. Some would say this was because she was vain and selfish. However, if we pause to think about why she guarded her beauty so fiercely, we will realize that at the root of it lay a strong feeling of inferiority, a belief that her beauty was the only thing that was worthy in her, and if someone else was found to be more beautiful, it negated her identity. She was not comfortable in her own skin, and always worried that someone will surpass her. To put it simply, she had an Inferiority Complex.

People with an inferiority complex often believe that they are not as capable, as efficient, as popular, as others. This feeling is so deeply ingrained, that no amount of evidence to the contrary, no amount of assurance from others can truly make them change their opinion about themselves. Essentially, they have a low self-esteem. Self Esteem is nothing but the belief that each one of us has about ourselves, and our ability to deal with life’s challenges. It is the opinion that you have about yourself. If you have a good opinion about yourself, you are said to have a high self-esteem. In contrast, if your opinion about yourself is poor, you have low self-esteem. A lot of people suffer from low self-esteem. These are people who have a very low self-image, low self-confidence, and feel they are good for nothing.

Self Esteem is largely shaped in childhood, and parents play a crucial role in this process. You must have heard often enough that a child’s mind is like wet clay, waiting to be shaped and moulded. Children look at parents as their mirrors, and they believe that everything parents say is true. So if we were repeatedly told as children that we are adored and loved, we will grow up feeling loved and adored, and feeling good about ourselves. Similarly, if a child repeatedly hears how ashamed parents are with her behaviour, she will soon start feeling ashamed of herself, and there her self-esteem will plummet. Think back to your own childhood, and try and remember what is it that you most remember your parents saying to you.....how much of it is still part of what you believe of yourself? After parents, all the other significant people in your life contribute to building our self-esteem: siblings, relatives, teachers, friends….. all contribute to shaping our thoughts about ourselves.

Once we grow up, we often continue with the same ideas and opinions about us that all these people had – we internalise these and firm up our belief about ourselves. Later in life, we keep viewing everything that happens from this perspective, further creating experiences and situations which will strengthen this belief that we have about ourselves. Thus, a person who grows up feeling inferior will always feel inferior, in every situation. And a person who grows up feeling capable and confident, will face even the most challenging of situations with a sense of confidence.

Now, you may think that there are several situations in which you feel nervous and unsure about yourself. Does that mean you have an inferiority complex? Not necessarily! During challenging, difficult and stressful situations, it is natural and normal to experience some amount of uncertainty and trepidation. Similarly, in novel situations too, one is somewhat tentative. So, if you feel nervous when you go for a job interview, while giving an important exam, when attempting a tough task, it’s really fine! However, when lack of self-assurance becomes your second nature, when you constantly doubt yourself and your abilities, no matter what the situation, then it is something you need to look into, and change about yourself.

So how can one fight this constant feeling of inferiority? Is there any way to get out of it? Sure, there are plenty of things that you can do to change this about yourself. Let’s look at some of these:

Accept Yourself As You Are: Self-Acceptance is the key to resolving your inferiority complex. We all know that each of us is unique, and as such, we each have our set of strengths, weaknesses, qualities we are proud of and qualities we are embarrassed about. Love and accept who you are ….. it goes without saying, if you don’t accept yourself, how and why will the world? Self-acceptance brings a sense of peace, which pervades your aura, and can shine through your body language, your posture, your tone of voice.

Drop the Comparison! We often create and flame feelings of inferiority by comparing ourselves with others. It’s good to have a role model, a benchmark to follow; however, remember, you should always compare with your own past performance. If you keep comparing yourself with others, you will never match up, because once you match up with one person on one quality, there will be several others who will be better, and it becomes an endless struggle then. Remember Snow White’s step mother; despite having so much beauty herself, she could never have peace because she always wanted to be the better than others.

Change Your Self Talk: While our self-esteem is shaped by others around us during childhood, once we grow up, we are the ones who propagate the inferiority by constantly putting ourselves down. Start watching your own internal dialogue and you will realize how many negative messages you give yourself throughout the day. Starting today, resolve to change your self talk. Use positive statements, affirm to yourself that you will try your best and succeed, and break the cycle of negative thought patterns.

Build Perspective: Setbacks and failures happen to everyone, and you are no exception. It is important to keep the right perspective when things don’t go well. Instead of beating yourself up and further fuelling your inferiority complex, take a realistic stock of the situation. Assess your mistakes, see what you need to do differently, and most importantly, MOVE ON!

Most importantly, every time your internal voice tells you that you are not good enough, or inferior in any way, don’t just accept that! Question, confront, and resolve it there and then. You have been accepting that voice for long enough, it is now time to challenge that voice, and once and for all, defeat that self-defeating approach, which may make you feel inferior in front of others.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Forever Grateful Mom

So many messages circulating on WhatsApp, about child robbers, kidnappers, and dangerous people with potential to harm our kids. The first few of them instilled such a dread in my heart – as I am sure they did in the heart of every mom and dad. As these messages continued to inundate, the fear started changing to something else ….. Paranoia? Obsession? And suddenly, I realized what was happening to me; I was looking at every other person as a potential threat to my children, and falling into the trap of being a Permanently Suspicious Mom.

That is when I decided to stop right there. Stop and look around me, look around at the world I live in, that I am raising my kids in. Is it really filled with so much danger, that I cant have a moment of peace, that I cant let my child go out of my sight without worrying about all the dangers that can befall upon him? Or her?

And this is what I found when I looked around at this world:
  • For every kidnapper standing outside the school gates, there are several concerned didis, maushis and security personnel ensuring my child is safely delivered to me.
  • For every molesting bus cleaner, there are scores of others who lovingly ferry children to and fro every day.
  • For every stranger eyeing my child with bad intentions, there are guardian angels in the form of friends, relatives, teachers, sometimes pure strangers protecting not just my child, but humanity itself!

I don’t mean to sound complacent and smug. There is a very real danger and threat that our children today face in the outside world. Of course there are kidnappers and abusers and molesters, many of them getting fearless by the day. As parents, we must to more than our best to protect our children from such evil minded and evil intentioned people. And yet …… this should not blind us to the presence of goodness in the world. Let us stop and appreciate all the good people who share space with us – in our families, in our children’s schools, on the roads. Everywhere. Let us give gratitude, every passing day, for all the good people that touched our child’s life today. For while it is true that crimes against children are increasing by the day, it is thankfully equally true, that goodness still abounds as well! While remaining alert and aware to the dangers in the world, let us also acknowledge the good, and appreciate the good people do, which sadly, goes unacknowledged in today’s world.

I have decided to convert myself, from a Permanently Suspicious Mom to a Forever Grateful Mom. I have made a promise to wake up every morning sending up an affirmation for my children’s well-being and safety, and thanking the Universe and all its beings for helping me keep my children safe. Every night, I go to bed acknowledging and appreciating every person who shared space with my children and ensured their well-being in whichever capacity they could.

For yes, I do believe that despite all the bad things happening, the world is still a beautiful place! And that’s the belief and feeling I want my children to grow up with.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Soul Mate

A short story written a few years back, was published in HT Cafe ......

Thunder and lightning.....rainbows and stardust.....the instant recognition of your soul mate. These were things that happened to giddy teenagers when they first met someone special, mused Kaveri.  Not to 42-year old happily married women with kids. Yet, amazingly, this was what was happening to her. She couldn’t believe it. She, Kaveri Raje, the always-cool-and-rational librarian, wife to Parag and mother to 17-year old twin boys.

Kaveri and Parag had a strong marriage, one founded on mutual love and respect, shared values, and a lifetime of shared experiences. True, she had always felt that she did not really love Parag as wholly and completely as he loved her. But then, she had always been practical and down to earth, never romantic like Parag. She had simply believed that she was incapable of feeling strong emotions or passion the way others did, that she was too much of a realist to get swept away by love. But look at her now. Here she was, completely swept off, by an unknown man at the age of 42. Wasn’t it strange how Life caught you unawares?

She remembered the first time Ajay walked into the library. She was busy working on the catalogue, when he approached her desk with a request for ‘The Good Earth’ by Pearl Buck. She was struck by her reaction to him, from the moment their eyes met. He was a perfect stranger, yet, when she looked into his eyes, she felt as though she had always known him.
“Her books don’t get issued very often, so they’re probably on one of the back shelves,” she explained, as she put a search in her computer catalogue for the accession number. The attempt at conversation was more to divert herself from the way every cell in her being was clamouring excitedly. Cellular recognition, her brain told her amid all that clamour. She panicked at that.
“That’s a shame,” he said, in response to her statement. “Her books are so relevant even today, I wonder why people don’t read her,” he said with a rueful smile. That smile devastated her. As did his rich, deep voice.
Over the next couple of months, their friendship grew. It started over a discussion of Buck’s books. Very soon, Kaveri was amazed to realise how alike their thoughts were, and not just about books. Their thoughts were uncannily similar on music, on people, on life, on relationships. And that was the other thing. Kaveri found she could talk to him about anything on earth, and she could talk to him so easily. It was as though they were both always tuned in to the same frequency, so perfectly their thoughts aligned with each others’.

She had told Parag about the friendship right in the beginning. Parag was not the least bit concerned. After all, they had been married for 19 years now, and had known each other for 5 years before getting married. Parag often said that he trusted Kaveri more than he trusted himself. Kaveri was so clear headed, and had such firm opinions about right and wrong. It was unthinkable to him (as it had been to her till now), that she would fall for another man. ...What was she to do? Her extreme honesty meant that keeping her feelings from Parag was increasingly becoming difficult. Yet, how could she tell him that she had finally found her soul mate in Ajay? She had always had a sense of something being missing between her and Parag, and had always felt it was her, because she could never give herself up as completely as he had in the relationship. Now she knew that she too, was capable of complete abandon, of loving someone beyond all bounds. She determined to think things through and arrive at clarity about the whole issue. She knew that given time, she would be able to.

It was obvious that Ajay felt equally strongly about her. He didn’t have to say anything to her, but the way he looked at her, the way he read her thoughts, perceived every subtle nuance in her moods was enough to tell her that the feelings were mutual.

They met for coffee at Barista every Friday evening. That evening, Ajay was in a pensive mood.
“What’s up?” she asked him. He looked into her eyes with a serious expression and sighed.
“Why didn’t you come into my life earlier, Kaveri?” he asked. He didn’t say more, but she understood. Understood that he felt the pull as strongly as she did, felt that they belonged to each other in a way they never had and never could to their respective spouses. She smiled, as she had thought about the very thing he had asked her.
“Because Ajay, in this lifetime, this is all we are meant to be to each other. Dear friends.”
“Don’t you want more?” he asked, troubled.
“No Ajay, truly I don’t. I am just so happy that I have met you in this lifetime, that we have both recognised each other as soul mates. After all, tell me, how many people do you know who have truly met the one meant for them? We have, and when we are together, I can see the promise of all that we can share, that we have perhaps shared in many past lifetimes. The echoes of those distant memories of lifetimes of shared happiness reverberate all around every time we are together. But Ajay, in this lifetime, we have met when we were both married, with families of our own. This is the way it is meant to be. And I am happy with it. Let’s not spoil what we share.”

They didn’t say more on it that evening. Ajay was unusually quiet, and after she went home, Kaveri wondered where things would go, whether he would put pressure on her to change the nature of their relationship. Knowing him so deeply within her heart, she found that hard to believe, but she was disturbed nevertheless.

But the next morning, an sms from him cleared all her doubts. “Thank you, my dear soul mate. Thank you for helping me put things in the right perspective.”

Smiling, Kaveri busied herself with her morning chores. It was another ordinary day in her ordinary life, and she better not be late getting to the library. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Me ...... The Mosaic

Sometimes I think
All I am is a Mother
My growing girl and my little angel
To be my only bother

But that’s only half me
There are other things contained in my heart
My dreams, my hopes, my ambition
Each of them, of me is a part

Fused in me, they are not separate

Together they make, me the mosaic.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Breakdown

This short story of mine was published in DNA in July 2009

Confusion. Utter, complete confusion. Everything seems to be in motion inside my brain. Its like a gushing river; with thoughts, ideas, feelings, opinions, memories, experiences, expectations – all flowing as they will. Nothing to subdue them, there’s no structure, no rules. It is as if the structure inside the brain has broken down. As if someone has come and deliberately messed things up – like drawers rummaged.  Everything that you sort, categorise and compartmentalise – thoughts in one drawer, feelings in another, expectations somewhere in a back drawer, past hurts even farther behind. Imagine the chaos that could happen if someone were to pull all the stuff from all the drawers and dump them on the floor. That’s what the confusion in my mind feels like right now.

“She’s had a nervous breakdown,” I can hear someone say in the distance. In my mind, that voice is associated with pain. Every time I hear it, it is like a knife grating into my heart, cutting it to pieces. Yes, it is Raj’s voice.

Everything is disjointed; there is no flow to Life any more. Nothing makes sense. For me, the most real thing in my life had been my marriage to Raj. I derived all my security, my sense of who I was from being his wife. And yesterday, when he told me that it was over, that he wanted a divorce, my world came crashing down. He says its a nervous breakdown. The doctors say its a nervous breakdown ..... is it? Its not my nerves, I want to tell them. Its my heart, my identity, my belief in myself that has been shattered and broken to pieces. What a ridiculous term – nervous breakdown!

What does Raj know about what it feels like, this feeling that all that you have believed in has been a sham? What does he know about how one feels when the earth is snatched from below your feet, when the sky threatens to crash on your head? When Life doesn’t make sense any more, when nothing does? When all you want to do is bury your head into the vast arms of oblivion? That kindly doctor, a psychiatrist, I heard Raj’s voice, who has been treating me ...... does she know what it feels like when nothing in Life seems worth living? Can she really know even a fragment of the utter despair one feels when one even contemplates about ending one’s life, let alone take steps toward it? How can she claim to treat me, she who stands across me complacently, flashing her mangalsutra in front of me .... does she know what that mangalsutra does to me? Its a hoax, I want to yell at her, don’t be so smug about it. But I cant find the strength to utter those words, I feel sapped of all my energy. I feel tired, utterly, completely exhausted. Its as though when I slashed my wrists, along with my blood, my energy and will to live have also been depleted and all I can do is lie on the hospital bed and stare at the white walls.

In the eyes of my husband and the world, I have had a nervous breakdown. But I know the truth. I know that for me, Life will never be the same. I didn’t succeed in ending my life, but in every way that matters; this is a new birth for me. The canvas of my world is completely changed, is unrecognisable from what it was. Yes, maybe this is what it means to have a nervous breakdown.