A counsellor on how she battled emotional pain

[Book excerpt] The most heartening aspect of getting trapped in a loop is that breaking it at any one point can end that behaviour forever.

 |  4-minute read |   28-06-2017
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My loop, for example, in the case of dealing with family gossip was:

Stimulus: Aunt making a comment about my father.

My reaction (part of the childhood belief system instilled by parents): You should not answer back to elders.

My reaction as a small child: Feeling small and unworthy.

My behaviour: Keeping quiet.

My resulting feeling: Resentful and helpless.

My belief about myself reinforced by my behaviour: I am helpless and worthless.

battl_062817011706.jpgBattles in the mind; Anna Chandy; Penuguin Random House

The behaviour I stimulate: Invite people to ridicule my parents.

This behavioural loop repeated ad infinitum because people who needed to get a payoff by sitting in judgment or belittling others found me the most fruitful target. And I, unknowingly, egged them on with my silence.

The most heartening aspect of getting trapped in a loop is that breaking it at any one point can end that behaviour forever. For me, after I broke out, I no longer felt small and unworthy, so I no longer kept quiet. Helpless little Anna Alexander had finally been laid to rest.

And the only ones who mourned were those who could no longer feed their own needs by preying on her. Yes, I felt the loss of the ever-present circle of aunts, uncles, cousins and more, but I also felt the gain of my own sense of self.

Of course, therapy cannot wrap everything up neatly in bows. It cannot save a couple that has already decided to separate, it cannot mend a fractured boss–employee relationship, and it cannot make friends out of people who get their sustenance from persecuting each other.

What it can do is help you live your life with authenticity, and find strategies to handle situations wisely and well, in a way that is aligned to your own needs and benefits.

The woman who never stopped giving I was privileged enough to be in a position to help a woman of about 35 who aced a similar situation. Driven by her internal need to feel recognised and important, she had a rewarding career as an alternative educationist. However, she had taken up a role playing second fiddle to another person.

She felt consistently resentful and complained constantly.

In addition to her career, she cooked for the family, cooked separately for her in-laws, according to their prescribed diets and special needs, and was always available for sex with her husband. Still, after all this, and many years of marriage, she didn’t have anything in return, not even any shared property in her name.

When asked, her husband would tell her that she was such a fool that it was for her own good that nothing had been bought in her name.She had to work hard at first in recognising her behavioural loop. It was:

Stimulus: Wants recognition.

Response (part of the childhood belief system instilled by parents): You should serve others if you want recognition.

Response of the inner child: Feeling ignored.

Behaviour: Working hard.

Resulting feeling: Resentful and taken for granted.

Belief about herself, reinforced by her behaviour: I have to serve people to get love.

The behaviour she stimulates: Invite people to walk all over her.

Reinforced feeling: Unloved and ignored.

We worked together to help her recognise her own needs.

Even if it was something as simple as allowing herself an afternoon nap, or cooking what she liked to eat, for a change.

It was hard to do so for her because she had given herself up for others for so long. But in time, once she learnt that the only recognition she needed was from herself, she was able to take the leadership position she deserved, and focus on her career like she had always wanted to but didn’t believe she deserved. In a very short time, she was doing so well that from a "fool" who couldn’t be trusted to have property in her name, she discovered a side to herself that was pure Midas.

Her husband, in fact, began to ask her for money.

As it happens in some cases of empowerment, there was a fallout. The man who had remained married to her for so long, readily disrespecting her and insulting her on a daily basis, could no longer handle this confident, empowered woman.

The one-sided marriage ended. But for my client, a beautiful, new life had begun.

(Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House)

Also read: Remembering 'Mapu' Martand Singh: My mentor, India's textile revival hero


Anna Chandy Anna Chandy @counselloranna

Columnist, author, counsellor, mentor and coach to senior leaders and executives as well as to individuals from diverse walks of life. She also serves as the chairperson of the board of trustees of The Live Love Laugh Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation working in the area of depression, anxiety and stress, which was founded by actor Deepika Padukone in 2015.

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