Let yourself off the hook!

How often do you hear yourself say things like “I am not good enough for this” or “I am so lazy” or “I can never get this right”?

Our inner voice is supposed to be our compass, helping us navigate life circumstances, guiding us through our daily decision making and reassuring us of the collective inner wisdom stored in our human DNA. But what if this inner voice no longer serves us as an ally? That’s when we constantly evaluate ourselves harshly, allowing it to slowly corrode our sense of self-esteem and self-worth. This creates a downward spiral, stagnating us and impeding our growth.

Given that we already know this by virtue of our experiences, why do we still criticise ourselves? Rewind into your childhood, think about your relationship with your parents or caregivers. Think about the times when they used harsh or cruel words in order to improve your behaviour e.g. chiding you to study hard and leading you to believe that only if you succeeded academically you would receive their affection.

Did this help you or sow seeds of a limiting belief? This is where the punitive act of self-criticising began. We still believe that self-criticising can help us right the wrongs of our past, be acceptable by others and live up to higher standards – all conditions that are pretty unreasonable and often impossible to accomplish. Being overly self-critical also makes us vulnerable to stress and anxiety, and the shame that comes with it makes us avoid our issues and isolate ourselves.

But why is that we rarely take a similar stance for others, maybe say things like “You are stupid” or “You are a loser” to our colleagues or friends? We stand by to encourage and support them through tough times but when it comes to us, we don’t comfort ourselves. What if we extended a deliberate dose of kindness to ourselves to let ourselves off the hook?

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The polarity to self-criticism is self-compassion which helps us see our limiting beliefs and overcome them with practice. Self-compassion means being okay with our flaws and knowing that mistakes are normal. It does not mean that we are giving in to negligence as a way of life, but only that we are acknowledging we are human and that we have the power to make different choices. Self-compassion helps us build resilience and leads us to a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.

10 Steps to let yourself off the hook and cultivate self-compassion

Build a sense of commonality with others. Everyone needs to have a support circle that they can rely on in tough times. Opening up to others can enable you to be your true self, build emotional connections and know that you are not alone.

Be aware of what you feed your body and mind. Knowing what makes you feel good or healthy is important. Taking care of your physical and mental health indicates that you are being compassionate in your choices.

Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings by experiencing them as they are, without trying to suppress them or judge yourself in the process. Knowing your experience is a form of kindness that can help you understand what you truly need.

Examine your mindset. Even though you may have taken decisions Understanding that no-one is perfect and you may have taken decisions which may have not worked out well is the key to help you retain your confidence in your choices. Vulnerability is a strength which when acknowledged can help us change unhealthy behaviours.

Recognise if your self-talk carries negative connotations or labels that make you feel worse about yourself and unravel the feelings behind these inner dialogues. Using compassionate and kind words when you speak to yourself can help you discover your strengths and enhance them.

Recognise if you judge yourself often and give yourself the freedom to be your authentic self. Assumptions can only lead to more self-limiting beliefs.

Let go of the need for external validation. What others think is not as important as what you think. Loving and respecting yourself in the manner you want others to treat you is one of the pillars of self-compassion.

Forgive yourself for your mistakes. The past cannot be undone, what helps is to realise that you did the best you could at that time. Cut yourself some slack for what went wrong and be willing to start afresh.

Engage in self-soothing activities that shower you with compassion. Journaling, using a sensory experience to up the happy feelings, relaxing, pursuing a hobby are some examples of self-soothing activities you could try.

Revisit your day with kindness. Making a note of what you need, offering the same advice as you would to a close friend or loved one and choosing a compassionate response can help you take a leap towards enhancing your wellbeing.

Why Psychologists Ask You To “Sit With It”

‘Emotion’ is a word we all understand but find it difficult to describe. Behaviour scientists and researchers agree that the definition of ‘emotions’ must include three key components about them:

1. They are subjective
2. They generate a physiological response in us
3. They generate a behavioural response in us

With years of research, our knowledge and understanding of emotions have grown immensely. Emotions have been classified and catalogued in many ways – by a degree of intensity and even as being ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’. A ‘primary’ emotion is what we feel in relation to an external event. These are typically – anger, fear, bad, surprise, happiness, sadness and disgust. Whereas a ‘secondary’ emotion is how we feel about our primary emotion itself. These are typically – shame, guilt, interest, boredom, rejection and humiliation to name a few.

Our minds almost instinctively jump to classify these emotions (primary or secondary) as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and that is where our preferential treatment of some emotions over others begins. Some emotions bring with them physiological responses that we enjoy hence we like experiencing them. Whereas, some bring with them physiological responses that we don’t particularly enjoy and hence we rush – and sometimes even avoid – our experience of them.

This disparity is also a taught or learnt behavior rather than only a felt or experienced one, which means that while growing up we have learnt to process certain emotions (like happiness and surprise) better than the processing of certain other difficult ones (like sadness or anger) and as adults, we often lack the agency to navigate through them exhibiting a variety of behavioural and somatic concerns as a result. This is why a big part of the work that mental health professionals who deliver psychotherapy do, is retraining people in feeling these ‘difficult’ emotions.

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It is crucial for one’s emotional development to acknowledge, feel and address all emotions as all emotions are important. A lot of therapeutic work is done around learning to process difficult emotions – to acknowledge them, address them and simply to “sit with it”.

A term which most mental health professionals advocate, it is considered to be very helpful. So why is “sitting with it” considered to be beneficial for our emotional development? Because it is intrinsically linked to resilience.

Being resilient comes from our ability to overcome adversity – to fall and get up, to grow despite hardships, to endure and thrive. Resilience in all forms is important – physical and mental – and a big factor in becoming mentally resilient is dependent on our ability to “sit with it” and grow our tolerance for uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings.

This idea of growing our emotional ‘tolerance’ comes from Window of Tolerance (WoT), a term coined by Dr Dan Siegel. He conceptualised that there exists an optimum emotional arousal level within which humans learn to operate without any difficulty. But when we are aroused too much or too little and go outside of our WoT, we have difficulty in navigating those emotional experiences.

For example, if one has not learned to acknowledge and express anger, one may get easily displaced from their WoT and feel too emotionally aroused in a situation that made them angry. This may make them turn to behaviors more focused on coping with being hyper-aroused rather than coping with the anger itself. But learning to “sit with it” will allow them to increase their WoT of the emotion ‘anger’ and then allow them to focus on the situation itself. This is how sitting with it and allowing yourself to feel and acknowledge all feelings allows for the growth of our WoT which in turn helps us to become emotionally resilient beings.

“Sitting with it” is a process that not only enables the development of an empathetic stance towards oneself but also allows for the growth of emotional resilience. It is best done in a safe space with a qualified mental health professional.

To summarise, in a therapeutic setting, the mindful and intentional act of “sitting with it” allows one to:

● Identify the presence of all feelings that arise in varied situations

● Develop an understanding of the reasons for their existence

● Accept the existence of these feelings in a non-judgemental manner

Home Sweet Office – the new normal

As time passes by, work from home is becoming our reality. Globally our living room couch seems to have become our new workspace, but is this new normal a healthy norm?

Work from home is not a new concept, outside the pandemic as well many organisations have used this form of work to function across time zones and continents – a win-win situation considering the benefits in terms of talent, productivity and costs.

What makes it such an engaging discussion suddenly? What is the difference now?

At the onset, the pandemic has left many of us with no choice – work from home has become the need of the hour to ensure business continuity, sustain livelihoods and in one sense help us retain our sanity through meaningful occupation.

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But in reality, this mirage is but illusionary – many professionals and organisations are not equipped to work remotely. The traditional office set up was a source of motivation and an ecosystem where focus and persistence seemed possible as against the home environment where a pile of laundry awaits silently in the corner and a wailing child beckons the already weary individual who is trying so hard to get a piece of work completed on time.

The current scenario seems to have stripped the positive image of ‘working from the beach’ associated thus far with the concept of remote working. Here are some of the common challenges that crop up at this time for many and some quick tips that could help individuals make their remote working effective:

  1. Connectivity issues

It is not always easy to assume that everyone would have access to the internet, let alone have a connection with a decent speed. This can be a bane for teachers and students trying to sustain student education through online learning. In some areas, perhaps even access to devices could be a challenge just as much as if both parents are working and would require to share the device or rely on the same connection.

Tip: Make sure you devise an ‘internal’ plan of how and when the family uses the internet to prevent overburdening and are aware of the best spaces for connectivity inside your home.  

  1. Frustration and burnout

For most people leaving for work each morning was a break from a possibly stressful home environment and likewise for the family members and children to step out for their own tasks. With everyone cooped up indoors and all household chores to be done, managing multiple responsibilities can result in the candle burning at both ends and perhaps a constant bad mood which ultimately impacts productivity and work quality.

Tip: Taking some ‘Me-Time’ once in a week or even a few minutes a day could help you refresh and function better.

  1. Adapting to technology

For many of us, work from home is comparatively a very new concept. Teachers that have spent decades taking classes in physical presence may find it challenging to grasp the virtual platform as a medium of instruction. Similarly, individuals who are not so strong in their technological skills may feel at sea while carrying out their work duties.

Tip: This requires us to be more open to shifting our perspective and being more open to learning new methods of working. Picking up the new work trends can be taxing, but can surely help in the long term perspective.

  1. Managing space

It is especially struggling for many in confined spaces to attend to video call meetings without their children popping in, a pet demanding attention and background noises minimised. In the same breath, it would be equally difficult to find some personal space to concentrate or even unwind after work. Confinement is also a potential breeding ground for conflicts given the blurring of boundaries between home and work. 

Tip: Setting up a small corner at home will make you feel inclined towards working more seriously and give you a sense of your personal space. 

  1. Following a routine

The home front is at times unpredictable – with the possibility of anything coming up at any time. For those who are staying home alone, this also means taking care of multiple things single-handedly, and in such cases adhering to a schedule can become taxing. Fixed work timings and the ability to ‘switch off’ from work as individuals earlier did by simply walking out of the office is no longer evident and this has thrown the idea of a routine out of the window.

Tip: Trying to squeeze some exercise and eating healthy could be a way to deal with daily fatigue. Also giving your eyes healthy breaks is very important, as the screen time is only increasing.

  1. Lack of physical contact  

As social animals, humans crave connection and physical contact (well most of do!). Working from home means missing out on those short but significant conversations with colleagues, the office lunches and jokes shared over coffee. In terms of time, these may seem irrelevant however in terms of the cathartic value they added to our day they were priceless. Besides, being able to hop over to the colleague’s desk for any assistance was a blessing we have become grateful after experiencing waiting long hours to get an email or text response.

Tip: Set aside some time to ‘e-connect’ with colleagues, friends and family. A video call or watch party can help you feel less isolated and keep the conversation going.

It would be fair to conclude that home or office, it is imperative to cultivate an environment that best suits your needs and helps you be productive and achieve your goals. Just as every coin has two sides, one cannot completely overlook the benefits of working from home. At this time, most businesses are becoming more understanding of people working from home and the challenges they face managing both fronts. This has also opened up an opportunity for individuals to restart their career again from home.

It seems that this hybrid work environment is here to stay and as the current COVID-19 situation lengthens individuals will grasp the capability of taking on the challenges one day at a time. While inner reserves are explored for newer ways of working effectively, it is imperative that attention be paid on physical and mental wellbeing.

Needless to say, if you still seem to be struggling do not hesitate to seek professional support.

A destiny determined by choice not by shape

‘You should eat less rice at night’, ‘Go on a date only after you have lost some inches’, ‘This shade of lipstick would look great if you were a little lighter’, ‘No one will marry you if you don’t do something about your weight’. Heard these and more? Probably even said them!

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Most of the time we don’t even battle an eyelid before commenting on someone’s appearance even if it is in a picture. These very matter-of-fact comments can leave a lasting impact pressuring us to behave in a certain way and shaping unrealistic notions of what society sees as a perfect body.

Our virtual world has a parallel dark side, along with inspiring us in many ways with ideas and opportunities for growth or entertainment, it also influences our vanity by setting idealistic benchmarks for our appearances and ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ of what is beautiful and therefore acceptable versus what is not.

Our secret desires of ‘I wish I had a body like him/her’ or ‘I wish I had a perfect body to wear that’ make it easy for self-criticism and a distorted body image that we carry throughout our lives. Even if there was no intention to provoke this in someone, they may still be left feeling bad about their physical attributes. Incidentally, this is seen in men as well as women.

This trait of mocking or humiliating someone on the basis of their physical attributes is called body shaming and can dent their self-esteem, traumatise them and give rise to feelings of anger, shame and frustration.

Body shaming happens everywhere, at any age and with all of us, at work and at home sometimes indulged in by our parents and siblings without realizing the consequences. There is an expectation of an ideal body type or beauty as per the standards set by society and media though this is not possible with our differing personalities, lifestyles and exposure to stress. The very fact that we have different bodies based on various factors like genetics, nutrition, metabolism etc. makes it illogical to assume that there could be an ‘ideal’ body type.

The insatiable thirst for selfies that every person seems to be consumed by lately has its own woes – the filters that come with it typically reinforce our unrealistic beliefs of having a perfect body or face – one that is worthy of being ‘seen’. Add to this scores of comments from public figures and feeds about quick weight loss, getting back into shape after pregnancy, the six-pack toned torso all of which imprint comparisons in our mind and fuel our deep-seated need to fit in or belong. Furthermore, characters in television serials, advertisements and movies strengthen our perception that being fat or skinny can make one the subject of ridicule or mockery. This idea captivates the old and young alike with youngsters taking to extreme dieting or unhealthy behaviours to ascribe to these set standards of beauty.

Body shaming can give rise to the stigma around our appearances and has some detrimental effects:

  • A marred sense of self-worth and low self-esteem
  • Development of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia which can worsen over time
  • Social anxiety, becoming conscious of appearance or feeling judged by others
  • Risk of developing physical ailments due to unhealthy behaviours
  • Reliance on substances (smoking, drinking) to lose weight
  • Body image issues are linked to teen suicides

Some things that can help steer us away from these false ideals:

  1. The first step begins with acceptance – of who we are and the way we are.
  2. Remembering that body shape/size is not equal to health and working towards staying healthy is a slow and gradual process – question the concept of perfection or beauty and check for any unrealistic standards.
  3. Discovering our identity beyond our physical attributes – engaging in enjoyable activities, discovering our strengths and talents.
  4. Listening to our body, appreciating it, tapping into how we feel about it and practising self-compassion can do wonders for our self-esteem.
  5. Quitting comparisons and negative self-talk that reinforces body shaming – loving our body and focusing on what we like about it can make us happy
  6. Staying around people who are body positive – call out the shamers and don’t engage in shaming anyone.

People are waking up to the effects of body shaming and there are a few filmmakers and agencies working with the concept of plus size models as against following conventional beauty standards. Recently the branding of a popular face cream was changed to suit the Indian skin tone.

Social media can be a place to call out the shamers as well – let’s stop valuing ourselves based on how our body looks and more on how we are as a whole person. Let our destiny be defined by our choices, not our shapes.

Know More Boundaries

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Having a good bond or a close-knit family in today’s time is no less than a blessing. With family members spread across the globe, having a place to call home is a security that most people crave for. However, this might not be the case for everyone. While we often hear and talk about how not being close to one’s family has affected individuals differently in their life span, on the flip side how open are we with discussing the side-effects of being too close? 

We often associate a close family as one having open lines of communication with each other, which may not be true for all families.  

Salvador Minuchin introduced the concept of ‘Enmeshment’ to describe families where boundaries are blurred and over-concern for others can lead to a loss of autonomy.

Enmeshed families may look like this:

  • Parents inappropriately emotionally dependent on the child
  • Parents self-worth dependent on a child’s success or failure 
  • Children are not allowed to move out and have an independent life
  • One always feels responsible for making others happy
  • More than a normal sense of involvement in each other’s lives
  • A sense of shared emotion, where one’s mood affects the entire family’s or family’s collective emotions overpower individual feelings
  • A sense of guilt or anxiety if one wants to do something different or independently
  • Never-ending expectations waiting to be met
  • Tough conversations or healthy conflicts are not easily engaged in
  • Developing interests and choices of your own can be looked down upon
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With the following emotional or behavioural traits:

  • ‘Being connected’ may feel suffocating
  • Fear of abandonment 
  • Co-dependent relationships
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Engaging in self-harm
  • Constant feeling of frustration or irritability
  • Constant seeking of approval
  • Lack of sense of self
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Family reunions feel ‘emotionally draining’

These traits may seem ‘normal’ and we all might have experienced similar things at some point in time, but when this happens repetitively or makes one feel constantly guilty for being around family, this is when it gets alarming. When we think of the word ‘family’, words like ‘oneness’, ‘attachment’ or ‘security’ are often associated with it, but there is a difference in being ‘connected’ with one’s family and still having one’s space and respecting each other’s boundaries. Many families may find it difficult to believe that being too involved in their child’s life can adversely harm their self-esteem or give rise to anxiety – so enmeshment can operate on intangible levels of individual thoughts and beliefs affecting an individual in their adult life, maybe years after moving away from their family or even while starting a family of their own.

Enmeshment can occur due to a broken home or as a result of past traumatic experiences and the overbearing impact of culture – and we may not know it, as it becomes a ‘normal’ part of our lives. Even if one individual realizes the dysfunction or deeply ingrained patterns, there is always scope for change.

Admitting the dysfunctionality can feel vulnerable but pushing it away is not healthy. It is important to have open conversations around it rather than simply allowing the practice to continue.

A few basic concepts that can help you understand and take steps to break this cycle:

1. Caring ≠ Smothering 

Caring is a beautiful and rare attribute in today’s times, but there is a difference between being a caring parent and being a helicopter parent, continually hovering around your children. Parents need to keep a check on their over-involvement as this could have serious side-effects such as children lying to maintain harmony at home or losing their individuality while fulfilling parents’ expectations. 

2. Boundaries ≠ Pressure 

Boundaries make it easier for individuals to know their roles and individual purpose. In a family setting where boundaries are blurred it becomes difficult to get a clear sense of what is expected and the possibility of a never-ending list of responsibilities placed on one person. Setting boundaries can help you gradually develop a sense of self-control, a fair share of accountability as well as prepare you for any adversities. Setting boundaries with teenagers involves trusting them so that they can learn to develop a moral compass of their own. 

3. Change ≠ Instability 

There can be a greater incidence of anxiety, self-esteem issues or toxic relationship patterns in enmeshed families and it may be difficult for members to spot the red flags for initiating change. Or they may believe that change would cause the family system to collapse. A good place to start would be to become aware of the patterns, accept that they exist, share your feelings from past experiences and be assertive about your needs. Remember small changes can help you feel liberated.

4. Space ≠ Separation

Giving family members space does not mean that members are getting distant from each other. Space allows members to step out and become themselves instead of using each other to meet emotional needs. Participation in responsibilities would build self-esteem and create a sense of satisfaction. You get a chance to individuate without the fear of upsetting others and in this space still feel connected and loved by others.

5. Close ≠ Happy  

Humans are social animals, we crave closeness. However, being close does not necessarily mean that we are happy with each other, sometimes the closeness can suffocate the individual and to opt-out of the relationship may not be possible. Relationships built on trust and mutual understanding can help us feel safe and enable us to evolve yet remain connected and for this open conversations are the key. You can pursue your goals and still be there for each other during tough times. 

6. Thinking about self ≠ Selfishness 

If your family needs are always taking precedence over yours, it is important to take a closer look. Feeling guilty for putting yourself above others is a common experience in enmeshment and you would need to focus on doing what feels right for you. Focusing on yourself does not mean breaking ties but learning to untangle yourself while developing your interests, nurturing balanced relationships or reducing self-criticism to become the authentic version of you.

Examine all your relationships for patterns of enmeshment, hidden or obvious, and try to find healthy ways to dissociate from these patterns by consciously making small efforts.

Bringing about change, especially in families with deep-rooted customs and practices can be challenging, hence it is important to be mindful by using kind language and ensuring that you assert your individuality in a calm state of mind.

If you still feel that you seem to be stuck, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support. 

Understanding Therapy Modalities & Lenses

Being in therapy is a very rewarding process. It is a journey of gentle self-discovery where you are supported by a trained professional to understand yourself and achieve your identified goals, but beginning this rewarding journey can be a very intimidating experience for many of us. For one, seeking help itself is something that is against the grain for a lot of us, possibly because it requires an admission of a sense of ‘loss of control’. Or seeking help means verbally acknowledging our felt distress in front of another, putting ourselves in a vulnerable spot not knowing if we will be understood.

The causes for this intimidation are aplenty and along with our emotional reasons, there exists a cognitive one – not knowing which therapy modality to pick. Which one would you best benefit from? Is it CBT or REBT? Or is it Psychodynamic?

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This article aims to alleviate that cognitive distress for you, by explaining – in just enough detail – a few therapeutic approaches you can choose from by explaining the basis of these approaches and for whom or what type of concerns they are typically best suited for.

Understanding the difference between therapy modalities & lenses

First off, let’s differentiate between therapy modalities and lenses. Modalities are the primary or basic training that your therapist has done which will inform their therapeutic style. A ‘lens’ on the other hand is a stance that your therapist holds. A therapist can operate with multiple lenses and may or may not have additional qualifications for the same.

Some different therapy modalities you can choose from:

  1. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) – This therapy modality has a structured and directive approach of challenging the clients’ unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours to bring the desired shift and change. Like the name suggests, the therapeutic work happens on the ‘cognitive’ or ‘intellectual’ or ‘thinking level’ with little to no time spent on the ‘feeling’ or ‘emotional level’. This approach aims at providing better emotional regulation tools to the client & aids the development of helpful coping strategies that target solving current problems.

CBT focused work is usually short term (8-12 sessions) and best suited for children and adults who are looking for quick behavioural modifications.

Concerns CBT can help you manage and cope with are anxiety, depression and low self-esteem to name a few.

2. Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) – Like CBT, this therapy modality too has a directive, structured approach of first, uncovering the clients’ unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours, then, challenging them to bring the desired shifts and changes in behaviour. But unlike CBT, REBT acknowledges the role emotions play in the clients’ unhelpful thought patterns, so those are addressed too.

REBT focused work is usually short term and best suited for individuals who are looking for quick behavioural modifications with some consideration for the role of emotions in their behavioural patterns

Concerns REBT can help you manage and cope with are anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and extreme anger to name a few.

3. Psychodynamic/Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy – This approach draws its basis from psychoanalysis. It is an insight-oriented therapeutic approach wherein the focus lays on uncovering patterns in clients’ emotions, thoughts and behaviours to bring change and understanding in the clients’ life. The importance is placed on the clients’ early childhood experiences and how the client relates to their external world. This approach focuses not only on the present but also on how the present is being affected by the past.

Psychodynamic psychotherapeutic work is long term and best suited for individuals who are looking to make deeper shifts within themselves by uncovering the real sources of their distress.

Concerns psychodynamic psychotherapy can help you manage and cope with are severe psychological distresses like anxiety depression, interpersonal or relational conflicts to name a few.

4. Expressive Arts Therapy – This therapy modality uses imagery, storytelling, dance, music, drama, poetry, movement and visual arts together to foster healing, change & growth within an individual. It combines the use of talk therapy with expressive arts to engage with a client.

While Expressive Arts therapy uses multiple art forms, there are specialized therapeutic approaches among specific art forms like:

  • Dance Movement Therapy (DMT)
  • Drama Therapy
  • Art Therapy
  • Book Therapy or Bibliotherapy
  • Music Therapy

An expressive arts therapeutic approach can be both short and long term. It is best suited for children and adults who are looking for both deep self-understanding and for behavioural shifts.

Concerns expressive arts therapy can help you manage and cope with are distresses like anxiety depression, interpersonal or relational conflicts to name a few.

5. Narrative Therapy – This is a therapy modality in which clients are encouraged to view themselves as separate from their problems. This distance allows them a fresh perspective which helps to not only identify their values and skills but also to live these values so they can effectively confront current and future problems. Emphasis is given to the stories clients develop and carry throughout their lives. It is a non-pathologizing approach to understanding the meaning we attach to these stories and how we see ourselves within the world around us.

A Narrative Therapy approach can be both short and long term. It is best suited for children and adults who are looking for both deep self-understanding and for behavioural shifts.

Concerns narrative therapy can help you manage and cope with are distresses like anxiety depression, interpersonal or relational conflicts to name a few.

6. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – It is a structured, mindfulness-based psychotherapeutic approach that works with memories, body sensations, core self-beliefs, and emotions to eliminate emotional, somatic (body), and cognitive remnants of past painful experiences.

An EMDR approach can be both short and long term. It is best suited for individuals who are looking for both deep self-understanding and for behavioural shifts.

Concerns EMDR can help you manage and cope with are severe psychological distresses like trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

7. Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) – This is a broad form of psychotherapy modality in which therapists work with more than one individual as clients. Focus is put on the whole system and each person’s contribution within the bigger system (dynamic). These systems can be both whole families or couples.

Some specialized therapeutic approaches within MFT are:

  • Systemic Family Therapy
  • Interfamily therapy

An MFT approach can be both short and long term. It is best suited for groups of individuals who are looking for deep self-understanding and or for behavioural shifts.

Concerns MFT can help you manage and cope with are couple conflict, parent-child conflict, sibling conflict and eating disorders to name a few.

8. Eclectic or Integrative – In this approach your therapist is trained in a variety of the aforementioned modalities and provides you with the approach you require in the moment. It adapts to the unique needs of each client, with a view to empower them.

An Eclectic or Integrative approach can be for both short & long term therapeutic work. It is best suited for individuals who are either looking at doing deep inner work and hoping to utilize tools and techniques to shift or change in their behavioural ways.

Concerns an Integrative psychotherapeutic approach can help you manage and cope with range from mild to severe psychological distress like interpersonal conflict, anxiety, depression and trauma to name a few.

Different therapy lenses

  1. Queer Affirmative – This is a lens of affirmation (not friendship) that a therapist has, with regard to queer lives and realities. This would indicate that the therapist is well informed about the queer emotional landscape and the context within which queer lives are lived.
  2. Feminist – This lens would indicate that the therapist has a feminist stance and he/she/they are aware of the impact that social structures like patriarchy have on the psyche of persons – of all genders.
  3. Trauma-focused lens – While this one is also a therapy modality that therapists train in, a trauma-focused (or trauma-informed) lens indicates that the therapist works with the awareness of the body and mind’s response to trauma.

This is a comprehensive – albeit not an exhaustive – list of therapy modalities and lenses. It aims to provide you with a basic understanding so that you can make an informed choice about your mental health practitioner and aid your overall mental, emotional and psychological health.

Impact of Gender Based Pay Gap on Women’s Mental Health in India: A Critical View

By Ashika Jain & Krupa Naik

What is a gender-based pay gap? It is the average difference between the remuneration for men and women working the same job.

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Research indicates that for every rupee earned by a man in India, women earn 81 paise for the same work done, interestingly this widens across higher skill level dropping down almost up to 70 paise for the women for high skilled occupations.

Some glaring statistics indicated by the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap 2020 Report, there are 72 countries where women are barred from opening a bank account or obtaining credit, and there is no country in the world where men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work as men, countries with the lowest ration it is still 2:1. This brings us to an important aspect of the gender gap – unequal pay.

Gender-based pay gap is an all-pervasive phenomenon affecting women in all industries – from the glamorous movie industry to the hourly labour industry. The basis for such an unequal pay scale lies in the stereotypical gender roles enforced on ‘females’. The social power imbalance perpetuated by these stereotypes is always working against individuals identifying as female.

Let us examine how this came to be. Historically, women have been considered to be the gentler, ‘weaker sex’ who are required to focus their energy on unpaid work of caring for their spouse, children, other family members, home and then if they wish, they may or may not be allowed to invest some energy into paid work. Now because women traditionally have not always been available for full-time paid work, their wages were understandably lower than that of their male counterparts usually doing full-time work. The disparity, based on the patriarchal assumption that women are not available to invest their full energy and or resources into paid work as they are mandatorily having to invest some (if not most) of their energy into the unpaid work demanded of them, became more glaring when more and more women were getting into full-time roles.

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This false assumption stood the test of time and failed hardworking women time and over again. The patriarchal society has made it difficult for women to thrive outside of their traditional role within the household.

Over time, these stereotypical gender roles have given rise to multiple biases which additionally work against women. One such bias is the ‘Brilliance Bias’, which assumes that men are promoted based on their ‘potential’ versus women are promoted based on their ‘current capability’. Simply explained, women have to work much harder to be recognized and seen as capable of rising through the ranks whereas men simply have to “show promise” to be seen and monetarily rewarded/validated.

Since a lot of women’s self-esteem and self-confidence is derived from their work – after all, they spend a great deal of time and invest a lot of energy in the workplace – it can be deeply upsetting to see their time and effort being undervalued and underappreciated simply because of peoples’ ingrained biases.

This gives insight into the incorrect and unhealthy set of roles and biases that are failing women and their brilliance every day. The unequal social structure we live in breaks down resilience and hampers the wellbeing of women world over. Add to this, unequal reward structures can potentially impact women’s mental health as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) comments that risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include income inequality. The extent of harm and suffering caused by a simple act unequal pay is grave – affecting not only women but also adversely denting the lives of those attached to them. A 2016 study by Columbia University has found that when women make less money for the same work compared to their male counterparts, they are 2.4 times more likely to experience depression and four times more likely to experience anxiety.

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When we speak of equal opportunity, addressing and bridging the gender gap is a non-negotiable area. There is much need for social reform in this area and some silver linings have been witnessed. Along with activism led by women, crucial support has also been received by those whom this pay gap does not directly affect – the men. Some men belonging to the movie industry have refused to accept movie offers until the female leads were promised equal pay. These are much needed acts of solidarity that women the world over need, after all, one of the key factors highly protective against the development of mental health problems issupport from family, friends and peers.

Living in a world where there is a lopsided representation of one half of the population in economic participation and opportunity, we need legislation to change along with changes in societal/cultural attitudes towards unpaid work and childcare – starting with educating the younger generation. As long as this is not corrected, women’s career opportunities will continue to be undermined and the resultant gender pay group will be left unresolved.

Resources:

  1. ‘Brilliance’ Bias Favoring Men Affects Gender Parity At Work: Study
  2. How the gender pay gap affects women’s mental health
  3. Gender Pay Gap Contributes to Increased Rates of Depression and Anxiety Among Women
  4. The gender pay gap is harming women’s health
  5. Gender and women’s mental health
  6. Uncovering the hidden impacts of inequality on mental health: a global study
  7. Unequal Depression for Equal Work? How the wage gap explains gendered disparities in mood disorders
  8. The missing 235m – Why India needs women to work | Leaders
  9. Global Gender Gap Report 2020

The Queer Life: An unfair journey in a distorted hetero-normative world

By Kavina Kothari and Kajal Makwana

Sexual orientation is a person’s sexual identity concerning the gender assigned at birth and sexual attraction. LGBTQ++ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and stands for all the sexuality which is non-binary, questioning, and non-confirming included in the community. LGBTQ++ community till date is trying to find a voice and acceptance as many cultures still believe that heterosexuality as normative. The LGBTQ++ community tends to face many issues (physical, mental, emotional and verbal) due to their gender identity and sexual preference not being considered as normative by the society despite being supported by scientific evidence.

Studies have shown that youth from the community are at elevated risk of facing mental health concerns, suicide, abuse, and violence and in the current pandemic times they may be facing more concerns than ever. Being stigmatized by major societies in the world, facing a lack of acceptance from family and peers and societal pressure threatens their overall survival. They ail from ‘minority stress’ that is faced by individuals at margins.

Family acceptance plays a huge role in the lives of queer individuals, who are often at the receiving end of homophobic family members attempting to disapprove, deny and dismiss them. They may even resort to conversion therapy. Such unethical conversion practices are traumatic and founded on the faulty belief that the queer individual’s gender or sexual identity is not normative and needs to be corrected. Family support and acceptance is imperative to stop bullying, violence, abuse and even conversion in the community.

Due to lack of acceptance and insecure attachment traits, queer individuals may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as co-dependent relationships or substance dependency or spending their lives pretending to be heterosexuals. This may have devastating effects on their psyche, ranging from isolation, fear and ignorance of being seen as different, depression to social exclusion. The lack of safe spaces then extends beyond their home to the locker room, school washroom and gym where they may encounter unsafe practices or be cornered for their identity.

In early childhood parents need to allow children to experience gender without stereotyping. Family members need to know it is okay if a boy tries on his sister’s dress or mother’s lipstick or that girls are not ‘supposed’ to do household chores only. Instilling shame in children for trying things different from their assigned gender is in effect violation of their person and sense of self. Similarly judging a boy for being too sensitive or a girl for not being sensitive enough can cause them to question their emotional capabilities or suffer in silence.

It would do well to remember that just like health, sexuality functions on a continuum. It is not static and may change throughout one’s lifetime, varying from person to person. It cannot be boxed into predetermined categories irrespective of our assigned gender.

Whatever be the assigned gender by birth, parents can assume a supportive role, assuring children, being there to validate them and make them feel safe and comfortable about their choices.

Some common issues faced by the queer community at large:

1. Lack of acceptance

Parents and family are the primary caregivers and children rely on them for acceptance and attachment. A queer child that has been made to feel otherwise or where the primary caregiver was inaccessible or rejected them is likely to suffer from mental trauma and may turn out to be avoidant or rebellious. They may even conceal their true identity for fear of being rejected or grow up with feelings of shame and self-loathing.

2. Bullying and harassment

Bullying is quite prevalent in all social institutions towards any individual who does not adhere to the binary interpretation. Bullying ranges from verbal, physical, emotional to cyberbullying. It is quite certain that almost every individual of the LGBTQ++ community has at some point faced derogatory remarks or name calling around their appearance, starting from their own home. This experience of bullying in the formative years, rejection from their primary care givers and abandonment in their own home is a scar they often carry throughout their life time.

3. Marginalization

Being on the receiving end of negative public and societal attitude, queer individuals are marginalized with little control over their lives and lack access to resources, including education and health services, income, health and justice facilities, leisure activities and employment. Lacking other means of support can also push LGBT youth further onto the margins.

4. Heterosexual bias in language

Heterosexual bias in language is very common when people address queer individuals, using unclear terminology or associating it with negative stereotypes. This may entail jokes, name calling, creating a hostile environment and even negative media representation. Such bias prevents visibility of queer individuals. In the same way that our names, identities and pronouns hold importance, for queer individuals too these are a symbol of their identity

5. Homophobia and discrimination

Homophobia is at the root of bullying and discriminating against people that do not fit into their box of ‘normal’. Discrimination may begin at home and continue in the outside world in various forms – treating one child differently from the other, asking the child to leave home, mistreatment at school, disowning the child, unequal job opportunities, being denied homes on rent etc. Homophobic family members can create challenges for queer individuals, suffocating their existence with regressive beliefs that are further endorsed by religion or culture e.g. terming queer practices as ‘evil’, ‘satanic’ or ‘paap’. The normative definition of gender, sexual identity, and relationships is at best a distorted one, failing to take into account the scope of gender that spans beyond giving birth or binary practices.

6. Psychological distress

Queer individuals can cope with the daily stress in their lives with the support of family, friends and social networks. Facing stigmatization, discrimination and harassment can have a negative impact on their mental health leading to psychological distress, self-harm and even suicide, particularly in younger individuals who may be more vulnerable having faced challenges at a critical time of their social or emotional development. Anxiety and depression is more common among the community than their heterosexual counterparts. Being gender variant in a patriarchal society can cause them to feel intense sadness, loneliness, discomfort in social situations. Similarly facing rejection, being closeted in some or all aspects of life can cause them to have poor emotional health.

Some guidelines that could serve as basic LGBT manners to help us become more inclusive of gender and sexual diversity in our personal and professional life:

Modify the ‘normative’ in your head to consider the existence of non-binary individuals and freedom of gender, sexuality and expression

  • Be aware of and understand your own sexual orientation and your comfort with it
  • Educate yourself about sexual diversity, LGBT culture and norms so that you can dispel myths and address misinformation
  • Educate caregivers so that the child learns to be self-reliant and unafraid of exploring at the correct age and the home becomes a safe space to enhance their confidence and resilience
  • Ask a queer individual how they would like to be addressed, for their preferred name and pronoun, acknowledging and respecting their unique identity
  • Use inclusive language and take an anti-heterosexist stand to show your support for the community
  • Affirm and respond with sensitivity if a LGBT person comes out to you, similarly respect their choice if they wish to conceal their LGBT identity
  • Avoid probing their sexual practices or expression or questions like “When did you know you are queer?”, remember no-one ever asked you “When did you know you are not queer?”
  • Avoid presenting a moral judgment of what you think is correct or incorrect, it may adversely impact their self-esteem or instil self-hatred in them

Despite the decriminalization of homosexuality by the Supreme Court in 2018, a lot is yet to be accomplished for the community including the change of mindsets of individuals around us.

The law can help normalize the situation but cannot eradicate the stigma – which is in the hands of each one of us if we really wish to be an ally for the queer community.

In conclusion, we can say that gender and sexual identity is not a personal failure or abnormal, it is a colossal human failure if we are unable to recognise and respect differences. As Chris Colfer rightly said, “There’s is nothing wrong with you, there’s a lot wrong with the world you live in.”

Creating safe spaces

By Kavina Kothari & Krupa Naik

The pandemic has shown us the importance of mental health in a more alarming way than an inspiring one and our intrinsic need to reach out seems to be at an all-time high.

As social animals, we seek validation, approval and reciprocation for all our actions from others and at this time of social distancing the lack of being able to see or touch our loved ones is causing tremendous distress and feelings of isolation; add to this the fear of economic loss, unemployment, constant news of death and we have damaging repercussions on our psyche. Each one of us may feel differently about the situation, some may be usually stressed or anxious while others may be sinking into depression.

Some people may not even realise they are suffering from depression or may try to conceal it from others. Typical symptoms that all of us need to be aware of include changes in eating or sleeping patterns, persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness, isolating oneself, lack of interest in pleasurable activities, severe mood fluctuations, heavy reliance on alcohol or substances, giving away possessions, passive death wishes and engaging in self-harm.

The World Health Organisation has predicted the rise of a mental health crisis, more specifically anxiety and depression, due to the current situation – a prediction that seems close to manifesting with the number of suicides taking place nationwide.

While there is no definite cause of suicide, it may result from many aspects including genetics, socio-economic factors and underlying mental illness. It is easy to link suicidal tendencies to socio-cultural or economic factors, what is hard is to break the stigma around seeking help.

Suicide is a cry for help which often goes unheard. Each time we hear of someone dying by suicide, it is a wake-up call reminding the world of the temporary vanity that we are living in where there’s more than we see behind the mask.

As we are propelled into a fast-paced world that has no tolerance or appreciation for ‘less-thans’ or ‘trying-to-make-a-marks’ or ‘not-there-yets’, a single judgmental comment or rude glance or mocking joke can hurl us into dark dungeons of loneliness with no return.

And when we don’t know how to deal with issues around our mental health or rely on healthy coping mechanisms, we may feel most vulnerable. What we need from the world is ‘normalisation’, a ‘safe space where we are comfortable to be who we are’ without the pressures weighing us down and forcibly fitting us into acceptable moulds. We can help ease each other’s burdens by simply reaching out.

We also require a shift in perspective each time we hear of a suicide from ‘why did they do this…did they not think about others in their life?’ to ‘what if we let them down or overlooked the signs that were there all along?’

So can we create such a shift? Here are a few ways in which we can start in this trying time:

  • Call or text friends or family you haven’t spoken with in a while
  • Check-in with a loved one to see how they are doing or coping and help them open up or even introspect on their thoughts
  • Be someone in their circle of support in case they need to reach out
  • If someone has a pre-existing mental health condition, don’t mock them or discriminate against them
  • If someone is taking medical treatment for a mental health condition, ensure you encourage them to continue to follow medical advice
  • If someone shares their feelings, don’t dismiss it listen non-judgmentally
  • Don’t hesitate to ask them openly about suicide, if they share a need to give up on life
  • If something looks amiss, seek professional help immediately
  • Prepare a list of helpline numbers in case you need to manage an emergency

Remember any one of us can undergo a mental health condition at any point in time, and it’s okay to seek help. When each one of us starts to normalise issues related to our mental health and remains available to lend a hand, we can create a world that is a safe space for everyone to be.

Are you stress drinking?

By Ashika Jain & Kajal Makwana

Coping with the pandemic has served as a challenge for us all – neurotypicals and neurodivergents alike. For some of us, old concerns and distresses have resurfaced, while for others, pre-existing concerns and distresses have been aggravated. With reduced access to support some have struggled, faltered and succeeded in supporting themselves, others have found recourse to professionals and some have found support in the bottle. Turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism for emotional/psychological distress can only drag us downward spiralling from distress to despair.

An occasional drink isn’t harmful – in fact, we have all heard of the benefits of red wine for the heart – but the mindless, unrestricted consumption of alcohol needs to be addressed. Interestingly, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), one of the most severe complications of COVID-19 and therefore it is imperative to understand when and why we are turning to alcohol.

So, are you drinking to unwind? Or are you stress drinking? Here’s a quick checklist to help reflect and evaluate if you are drinking alcohol as a coping mechanism to elude difficult feelings or manage stress at this time:

1. Do you find it hard to stop drinking after you have had the number of drinks you intended to have?

2. Do you find yourself drinking when you have been thinking of something distressing (the future, the past) and or are in an uncomfortable situation?

3. Are you drinking because you have a lot of stock of alcohol at home?

4. Are you drinking because there are repetitive thoughts in your mind due to the uncertainty around the pandemic?

5. Do you drink alcohol to numb yourself from the situation or because you want to end your day joyfully?

6. Do you think your alcohol consumption has increased in the pandemic time?

7. Do you think you are consuming alcohol as a coping strategy?

8. Do you often feel bad the next day for consuming more than the expected level of alcohol?

9. What would be your core reason for drinking?

10. Do you often think of drinking during the time when you are at work or in unusual/unexpected times (while cooking, on a walk etc)?

(Note: These questions are not a screening tool)

If you found yourself in the affirmative for most of the points, it may be time for you to reconsider your coping strategies. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.    Set healthy drinking boundaries: Firstly, be aware of your reason for drinking alcohol, – is it to relieve stress, frustration, overcome boredom or uplift mood? However, here is the warning sign, this is a common way to form an unhelpful pattern and in worse cases, get addicted. Hence it is important to set some boundaries. Avoid drinking in order to cope with stress. When you drink, set a limit on how much you are going to consume and do so slowly. Set up external controls (family members, friends etc.) to help you stay on course and stop after the designated count. Do not get influenced by the sheer availability of alcohol.

2.    Find other ways to cope: Drinking alcohol is not the only way to cope with your stressors, even if it may seem to be the easiest route. The truth cannot be denied – the pandemic has brought with it a lot of personal and professional stressors. While drowning away your problems in a bottle seems like a good idea, it is a short-term avoidant strategy which will not bring us any closer to problem-solving. Delay giving in to your craving, one day and one hour at a time. Try other strategies like distraction and mindfulness to help you cope.

3.    Logical analysis: This is an important tool to help look at a situation as is – realistically & rationally. Ask yourself, “Is my approach towards dealing with the stressful situation efficient? Or is the incorporation of some healthy tactics required?

4.    Reframing: Make attempts to reframe the distressing situation positively. Use the “helicopter view” to see your situation from a third-person perspective. See the bigger picture of your situation, and evaluate objectively things that you find helpful and unhelpful. Looking at your problems from a distance can help you find a healthier perspective.

5.    Adapt practical problem solving: Drinking will not make the problem go away, it will just allow you some respite in having to deal with it. While some time away from the problem is great to analyze, it is wasted time if your mind has been too consumed with alcohol to analyze. It is advisable to problem solve by – understanding the practicality of the solutions at hand by evaluating the outcomes of each, mobilising your resources and using your strengths to your advantage.

6.    Emotional management by seeking support: If you find that alcohol has become your preferred manner of dealing with emotions and you are finding emotional regulation by yourself too overwhelming a task for you, please reach out to qualified doctors and mental health professionals for support. There is no shame in admitting if you are struggling to kick the habit, seek help immediately.

Lastly, it is important to understand that, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” John C. Maxwell 

Disclaimer: This article does not substitute medical advice for people with prior addictions or dependence on alcohol/any other substance. It is general guidance intended for those who have recently found themselves turning towards alcohol more than usual and wish to examine why that could be.

Resources

1.    https://www.newhopereha.com/3-best-tips-to-avoid-alcoholism
2.    https://books.google.co.in/books?id=VtxW_NtYm2QC&pg=PT331&lpg=PT331&dq=%22stressed+drinking+alcohol%22&source=bl&ots=3VOJLu8Nc8&sig=ACfU3U2-qdZF23VOvwmunhULuAsPkq_DoA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj_rYqMn5XqAhXlxzgGHWUxCrgQ6AEwDXoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22stressed%20drinking%20alcohol%22&f=false
3.    https://www.sandstonecare.com/resources/substance-abuse/alcohol/alcohol-use-as-a-coping-mechanism
4.    https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisfurnari/2020/04/30/are-americans-drinking-their-way-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic/#4d5e898a3195
5.    https://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_p0xim6x3
6.    https://nationalpost.com/life/food/if-youre-drinking-more-during-the-pandemic-youre-not-alone
7.    https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200507-why-you-might-be-drinking-too-much-during-lockdown