Week 24: The Most Underrated Super Power

Indian families are experts in annihilating the self. They zealously express their disapproval and contempt in everything that ‘young people’ do because they believe that ‘young people’ know absolutely nothing about the world. I don’t know any young person who has ever claimed otherwise. Nonetheless, growing up in an Indian family means listening to the sentence – “You don’t know anything about anything” every single day of their life from the time they start developing a smidgen of a sense of self.

A commonly used phrase and I daresay, quite emotionally distressing one is – “Do as you please”. This is usually uttered when the parent has tried all ways and means possible to make them do something they don’t want to do, or stop them from doing something they want to do. When the young adult still refuses to budge from their position, this is the passive aggressive parental way of saying, ‘You know what I would like you to do but if you still insist, then you will be held responsible for the consequences’. The consequences can range from a shouting match at every given opportunity to a full-blown cold shoulder for an indefinite length of time. At this point, the child/teenager usually succumbs because no one wants an angry, sulking, passive aggressive person roaming the halls, rooms, pretending that you are invisible. But nothing compares to the sentence – “Log kya kahenge?” or (very) loosely translated as “What will people say?” It is the most venomous, debilitating, soul-crushing sentence in the history of one-liners. It is incapacitating and is known to have caused confusion, frustration, anger, resentment, and sometimes deep, irreversible psychological damage to one’s self-esteem.

The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.

Swami Vivekananda.

Now, if you are unfamiliar with this phrase, then you would not understand the gravity of it. It is the predominant sentiment that has ground the nation to a halt. It is the single-most destructive sentence that does not allow Indian society to progress. Every individual decision is subject to the scrutiny of an invisible ‘society’ out there which is to my imagination, perennially ready to gasp and shudder in horror. To elaborate, if one has a mind of one’s own and chooses an unusual career which is not acceptable/reputable/profitable by social standards, or as in most cases, about which your family does not have enough information, then — ‘What will people say?’. If your self-respect leads you to opt out of a harmful relationship and you want to file for a divorce, then — ‘What will people say?’. If you’ve had the, ahem, “audacity” (read guts) to ask “Who are these people?”, then either you will receive the “You’ll only know when you’re a parent” comeback or the dead end “Do as you please”; which will bring you back to “Start”. Unfortunately, what we have as a result of this constant denial of the self are individuals with approval-seeking behaviour. Our sense of self is external to us. We never let ourselves off the hook. The only way out of this never-ending cycle of self-destruction is to cultivate self-compassion and that is the super power I wish to have. Here’s my plan.

Break the beliefs supporting self-criticism

First, I need to break away from the thoughts that question self-compassion as a self-supporting tool.

I am merely pampering my ego: There is a big difference between self-compassion and self-indulgence. Self-indulgence is about succumbing to each and every whim and fancy. Self-compassion is about being aware of what is good for oneself. Self-compassion prioritises one’s health and wellbeing.

I need to be self-critical in order to push myself to do something: Motivation might come from a negative comment by a negative relative/friend, but that cannot be the norm. In order to get inspired, we cannot depend on an inner voice that is always critical about us. It is simply not healthy.

I am being selfish: Here we go! The S word. Women, especially, are taught never to think about their own needs and desires. They are to be selfless. They are to serve selflessly. They are to put the needs of others first. ‘Others’ in this case, may extend as far and wide as the woman is able to stretch her time and energy. This does not guarantee the kindness and compassion of others, mind you. But, showing compassion towards oneself is unthinkable because we are putting ourselves first. I want to turn the question on its head. If we are compassionate towards ourselves first, then won’t we be more authentic in our compassion for others?

I am being weak: Weakness is when we start believing in all the negative inner backtalk. I have listened carefully to these voices and I have identified quite a few of my loved ones’ voices in there. I am sure they believed one or more of the above when they were being critical of me and my abilities. I am also certain that they believed they were meaning well. But over the years, these voices have crystallised and now I am working on breaking the hardened mass with a chisel, one thought at a time. The more I chip off, the stronger I feel. Being tough does not mean that we have to beat ourselves up. It means that we need to be nurturing and accepting of ourselves, warts and all.

Tame the negative thoughts

We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.

Swami Vivekananda.

> Listen to your thoughts. Never believe anything negative that you hear about yourself.

> Trust your own judgement. If the voices say anything negative about others, then trust your own judgement about those people.

> Don’t judge yourself. Ask yourself if you would say the same thing about your friend.

> Be your best friend. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, like you would your best friend.

> Focus on your strengths. Just like you would focus on the good things in your friend, focus on your strengths. You might feel that you have no strength. Then it is time to take the next logical step.

> Ask yourself if what was true yesterday is true today. Do not dwell on the past. Times change, circumstances change, and we evolve along with the times. What might have been true yesterday may not be true today.

> Unstuck yourself. If you feel stuck by your experiences of failure, then focus on where you are at today. If not anything else, you might notice that you are wiser today because you know today what led to your failure in the past.

Believe in Yourself

All power is within youyou can do anything and everything. Believe in that, do not believe that you are weak […] You can do any thing and everything, without even the guidance of any one. Stand up and express the divinity within you.

Swami Vivekananda.

Give yourself permission to fail. Accept that there will be failure. That does not mean that your entire life is a failure. Nothing is ever final.

Stop listening to people who doubt you. Break away from the shackles of “what will people say”. People (whoever they are) have other things to do. They will move on and so should you. Best not to pay them much attention. You are the only one in charge of your life.

You are enough. You do not need anyone else to validate your successes. You do not need anyone else to point out your mistakes. You are enough. With all your strengths and weaknesses.

Stop thinking and start doing. I have noticed that by focusing on little things that are in my control, I can return to some semblance of calm.

… what I want is muscles of iron and nerves of steel, inside which dwells a mind of the same material as that of which the thunderbolt is made.

Swami Vivekananda.

Recent events concerning the suicide of a Bollywood actor made me think about how much self-doubt we all undergo in our everyday lives. It made me angry to think that society can inflict so much pain. Let me correct that. I realised that we allow society to dictate how we feel about ourselves. It is time that we realise that all our strengths and weaknesses are inside our heads. We are the strongest or the weakest as we would want to be. Self-compassion is the secret weapon that we all should wield because when we realise that our minds are made of the same material as that of a thunderbolt, then alone can we become the best version of ourselves.

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