The Paradigm Shift

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We’ve grown up being told to avoid lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. But as time and technology have taken their toll, these evils have taken a new form. Negative emotions, such as greed, anxiety, stress, instant gratification, anger, envy and impatience and the backlash they cause are a part of daily life. They warp your thinking and cause reactions that you sometimes don’t even recognise! And in this era of fleeting moments, the malcontent spreads like wildfire. To get to the bottom of overcoming the negativity, we spoke to our readers and asked them for instances where they were faced with a downpour of pessimism to find out how they rose above it

Stress

/stres/- Pressure or worry caused by the problems in somebody’s life.

I‘m basically an easygoing person, happy to lounge on your couch for hours, sipping coffee and watching sitcom reruns. And I don’t mind the company. This pretty much summed up a relationship I shared with an upstairs neighbor, who lived alone and was dog mad, like yours truly. Well-read, lucid and intelligent, we connected on several levels. It didn’t take very long though for her to bring her own unique concoction of drama to the table. Now, herein is where I must accept my share of the blame. I am a problem solver. I’m not the person you need around you to listen and wipe your tears. I’m the one to call if you need a solution or solutions, and you need them fast. I’m so driven by solving other people’s problems (because, God knows, I never can solve mine) that it also becomes the surest way to grab and hold my attention. She cottoned on to that very quick and from that point on, every day brought its fair share of drama. She loved playing the victim and I loved playing the vizier.
So far, so good.

A few months into this fabulous mutually parasitic relationship, it started becoming apparent, even to the naked eye, that the relationship was starting to conjoin at the hip. Now, that’s uncomfortable in any situation. Her dress sense started to change, along with her language, interests and general world view. In addition, I suddenly found myself having to sneak and lie about where I was and with whom. Not funny, but still manageable. I started to distance myself (since I’m basically a non-confrontational person). She wasn’t having any of it. She reverted back in spades where her issues that needed solving started alarmingly becoming of the life-threatening variety; hospitalisations for unknown stomach bugs, neurotic meltdowns over betrayal from friends, temper tantrums… you get the idea. Fortunately for me, around this time, I shifted to Dubai. The distance was now real – over 2000 kilometers of it. Phone calls now became the order of the day, with some days clocking in at 8-10 phone calls. I was at the end of my tether. Every withdrawal from my end was greeted with fabricated medical issues and accusations of insensitivity. This was seriously exhausting because I felt like I spent most of my time calming her down and bolstering her spirit. No prizes for guessing what it was doing to mine. And then one fine day, I decided to get off this treadmill for good. What was really amazing is when it finally happened, it only two little alphabets to do it in. Having cancelled a plan with her one evening, I was the recipient of an insanely accusatory message (par for the course). The usual way this would play out is I would calm her down and this would go back
and forth till she found her ground zero. Not today though. Her rant ended with the phrase that she needed some time out. I typed in ‘OK’. That’s it. From that point on, I didn’t read another message (even though my phone was pinging incessantly).

I cannot begin to tell you how that changed my life. My days freed up. My friendships; both old and new had the space to grow, work got easier and my family thrived the most. Did she go quietly into the night? Not a chance! It took over a year of acrimonious emails, messages, cyber stalking and slander before she got the picture. But, any less and I would have been surprised. She’s not a horrid person – and I apologise right here if I’ve made her seem as such. She is just excessively clingy and a drama addict and those two character traits hold no truck with me. Like I said, I’m happy to vegetate on your couch with multiple cups of coffee and old sitcom reruns – basically I’m low on the drama. Very, very low.

Briar Jacques, Counselling Psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia, explains, “When we have an acute stress reaction our body is simply helping us rise to a challenge. It has registered threat and is getting us ready to ‘fight or flight’. The problem is that we overestimate threat and bring on this type of response in various forms by habitually thinking about our world in rigid and distorted ways. We need to interrupt the stress spiral. When we get caught in uninterrupted stress, we wear ourselves down. When we are able to step back we are also able to remember who we really are – including our strengths and resources. We can also consciously connect with what is most important to us. That helps us gain some much needed perspective.”

Anxiety

/aŋˈzʌɪəti/- A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

Relationships are overrated. No no, I’m not bitter or cynical or jaded. I just know better. I know no one alive has ever claimed that relationships are easy, but they aren’t supposed to be soul-sucking pits of hell
either. And that is exactly what mine was. But I digress. Let’s go back a bit. The way we started was typical; a college romance that blossomed in the last semester and continued strong for a year or so after. Since it was my first serious relationship, I did everything to make sure that the bubble of romance didn’t burst. His life became my life. His friends became my friends. It didn’t work the other way around. I realised much later that that shouldn’t have happened. But again, I digress.

Anxiety

The whole process of me wanting everything to be perfect went on for quite some time, but I am only human and there is only so much I can do. It was gradual, but it happened. Slowly and steadily, things started changing. If I didn’t do anything he liked, or did something or went somewhere without telling him, the questions would start.

Where were you? Who were you with? Why didn’t you answer my calls? Why didn’t you tell me you were going?

The list goes on. Sometimes my answers were considered acceptable but more often, they were not. It started off with me forgetting because I had been caught up with work or was with my family. Eventually it happened because I knew what the reaction would be. The comments that were hurled my way were hurtful and derogatory to say the least.

My own mother wouldn’t ask me the kind of questions he would ask! To say he became possessive was an understatement. Suddenly, he had a problem with everything and everyone in my life that he didn’t have control over; the people I worked with, the hours I worked, my friends and such.

It got to a point where I was unable to sleep at night because the things he said to me would have sunk into my head. Having panic attacks became a regular occurrence and I was in a state of constant obsessive anxiety, just waiting for the next round of questioning to begin.

Over the course of our relationship, he had told me that he didn’t like my best friend; a girl I had known since
I was eight years old, a girl who I had grown up with and incidentally, the same person who had introduced us. Like I said, initially I wanted to keep everything perfect and so, I stopped talking to my best friend because he didn’t like her and he thought that she was a bad influence on me.

The reason I bring this up is because after a point, I thought to myself that it was time to take control of my life. I had reached the end of my tolerance level and decided to reconnect with my best friend because honestly, I missed her and I needed a sense of normalcy in my life. Initially, he was supportive, but that ended very quickly. Within a few days, he went back to being hostile towards her and making rude comments about her.

I still don’t know why or how it happened, but something in me snapped. I was finally done putting up with the
abuse. I had reached a point where I could not take it anymore and decided to call it quits. As you can imagine, he didn’t react well. It went from ugly to messy and everything in between. It took two months, a lot of fights and a few nasty exchanges of words, but it was over.

When it did end, I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I could finally breathe and be
myself without having to worry. It took longer than a lot longer to get the toxicity of the relationship out of my
head, but, in the end, I came out swinging.

Femida Hirji, life coach and therapist, says that feeling anxious is a reasonable response based on the situation you are in but it becomes a problem when it is out of context or prolonged and there is no resolution or relief from it. “Controlled breathing and applied relaxation are great ways to deal with anxiety. Hyperventilation is a side-effect of anxiety and can be debilitating. Learning how to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose and using your diaphragm can be calming and can help with preventing panic attacks. Taking your mind away from the origin of stress can allow the mind to refocus on less triggering factors. Challenging thoughts and questioning negative and irrational thoughts can be freeing and allow the anxious person to put things in perspective therefore helping overcome the anxiety.”

Greed

/gri:d/ Intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.

This was something that happened when I was a teenager and in my second year of University. We were a tight knit group of friends that did everything together. And we were so close that a person’s significant other automatically became part of the fold. Back then; one of the girls was dating this guy that, on first glance, seemed like a nice, decent and well-off person. But I don’t know what it was; something about him put me on edge.Greed

Now, I had just passed my driver’s test and was thrilled to be carrying a license with me. So, every chance I got, I borrowed my parent’s car. It could have been anything from a drive to the corner store to pick up groceries to going out with my friends after class.

One day, I decided to take my mother’s car to University so that I could hang out with my friends after class got over that evening. And even though most of the group had just received their drivers’ license and were in the habit of borrowing their parent’s car, it wasn’t always the case that we had enough vehicles to fit the whole group of friends. So, a bunch of us decided that we’d pack the cars with as many people as we could fit and in the process, the girl’s boyfriend ended up in someone else’s car. Now, here’s the thing, he wanted to sit in my car. I mean, he really wanted to sit in my car. From the moment he laid eyes upon the car I was driving, he wouldn’t stop drooling over it. But the rest of the group over-ruled his wish and sent him on his way.

Later that night, as we wound up and decided to go home, we split up passengers based on location. When this happened I found out that said boyfriend lived three blocks away from me so he sat in my car. I went along my way, dropping people home, dropped him home and then made my way down the few blocks to my place. But a few seconds into that final stretch, I heard a strange noise coming out of the car so I stopped to check it out. Turned out that I had a flat tyre. So, strapping on my big girl boots, I made my way to the nearest garage. As soon as I parked and the technician took my tyre off, he turned to me and said, “That must have been a pretty big rock that you hit!” My reaction to the state of my tyre was one of pure shock. Not only had the tyre been slashed to pieces, the rim was completely damaged! Panic set in and I called my father for help. His only comment was, “Are you sure it was a rock? And where was it?” All we could gather was that something had happened to the tyre before I began the drive back home, with everyone in the car, and because I hadn’t noticed and had driven for so long with a bad tyre, the situation got worse.

The next day, while at University, I was telling one of my close friends what had happened. Her reaction was to laugh and tell me she wasn’t surprised at all! It turned out that ever since that boyfriend had become a part of our group, anytime he complimented something or laid eyes upon an item he expressed desire for, it would end up lost, damaged or destroyed.

Our friend ended up breaking up with him soon after and all the mysterious occurrences disappeared with him. But, among our group of friends, our theory was that he was so greedy of those that owned things he wanted that, in his head, if he couldn’t have it, we couldn’t either.

Sara Powell, an art psychotherapist explains that greed is a baseline desire for most human beings. “Greed can be associated with materialism and/ or self-enhancement, the want and need for betterment or better things. It is the constant yearning for more then what we had the day, minute, second before. In order to combat greed using psychological processes we must firstly alter the mindset of the individual; alter what it is they value, shifting away from the overly materialistic societal norms we have established over the last decade and instead direct the individual to appreciate what they have already as well as cherish in interpersonal connections they share with others, putting greatly value in love and connections over that of possessions.”

Instant Gratification

/ ˈɪnstənt ˌɡrætɪfɪˈkeɪʃn̩/- The desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment.

“Eyes on the screen.” Check. “He’ll message anytime.” Check. “Maybe when his wife’s out with friends.” Or even her! “Or when he gets a minute to himself.” Check. “He hasn’t! How dare he! Maybe’s he’s lost
interest. But he’s just updated his FB status and is always online- which means he is online but ignoring her message on purpose.” Anger again! Crash!

Instant

That was the sound of the phone that was flung against the wall when a WhatsApp message wasn’t answered on time. An expensive phone that was gifted to her by him on her 25th birthday. You are right. She wasn’t married to him. He was married to the woman of his dreams. Only the marriage had gone sour and he sought her company to feel loved. Did she love him? Well, she had been single long enough and wanted to be loved and pampered, even if it was every once in a while. Yes, she did! Did he love her? No. She was just an exciting diversion from his spouse who was busy with mundane life and its usual expectations that didn’t excite him anymore. The only thing, she learnt later, was that she wasn’t the only one he sought company of. There were many others like her in his life and even if she knew it, she couldn’t let go. Her anxiety, that was built up by an unhealthy relationship fuelled largely by instant gratification, grew so high that she descended into depression.

As UAE comedian and owner of Komic Sutra, Nitin Mirani states, “The easiest way to anger a woman or a man is to start typing that message and never send it. The receiver at the other end is constantly waiting to hear what you have to say and you just ignore it.” These are mind games people play and there have been instances where women or men have arrived at each other’s doorsteps to find out why, what happened!

In the cyber world and cyberspace, in the virtual world that tries to imitate real life, relationships are convoluted. Desires and your darker side are revealed to people you think are close to you. As flirting progresses between strangers now turned into chat pals, the talk goes from friendly to more friendly to intimate talk and before you know, an affair or a promiscuous relationship starts taking shape. For the uninitiated, all this sounds romantic but if it borders around the obsessive, things can go wrong. Since it has happened to most of us, now we joke about it. Instant gratification is like a heady drug but if you get hooked to it, it is harmful. You have to recognize it and take action. While some discuss it with their friends, share common concerns and behavioural patterns and laugh their way out of possibly toxic online relationship, others might need therapy.

“Most people get upset if they have sent you a message and you have not responded to them. A comment like ‘Your last seen message was at 7:30pm and I sent you a message at 7pm. You haven’t replied yet!’ can be a cause of conflict,” says Events Manager, Imran Khan. As for people getting upset over friends not ‘liking’ their Facebook pictures despite seeing them, is very common. “There are people who won’t ‘like’ your pictures on purpose. I had a friend who discussed my photos and posts but would never like them. We have given rise to a strange sensibility. Our online behavior is definitely different than our real life behaviour,” says Mansi Mehta, an event coordinator.

Nicola Beer, an international relationship coach, says that understanding our desires is key. “We cannot change anything unless we are aware of our own patterns, triggers and moments of weakness. Start writing down what the impulse is. Then notice the emotion that you felt before the urge or that consumed you that day. This will reveal to you what areas of your life may need attention. Next is acknowledging that many forms of instant gratification don’t provide what we truly seek: love, affection, appreciation, peace, fulfillment or happiness. What is it that you truly desire? Then, set goals in every area of your life and work towards them. Finally, when urges come, wait five minutes. Set the stopwatch on your phone, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Then from this relaxed place see if you still have to have it. You may find that you don’t.”

Anger

/ˈaŋɡə/- A strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

As a seven year old, it felt strange for my grandmother to be ignoring me as I ran a high fever. My mother had gone out to work, leaving me home to be cared for by her. Was it because I was a girl child that she spewed so much bitterness? Or was it because her son had married an educated woman who belonged to a lower caste?

AngerAs she went about her chores in the kitchen I continued tugging at her sari. She pushed me back hard and I fell and hit the burning stove. My left hand felt spasms of pain as it hit the pot of boiling water.

I felt tears of pain and anger course down my cheeks. Ammamma (as I called her) looked back and saw what happened. Her face seemed to be a shroud of hatred. And just then my mother came home to face her wrath, “This is what happens when women go out to work leaving sick children at home!” My fever had worsened and the prehistoric treatment for the burn meted out by ammamma worsened the injury.

In spite of all of this, I would see my mother stitching clothes for her and come winter, she would knit sweaters for her. Over the years, she too accumulated the bitterness within and let loose of the same by way of writing poems. All along my father was a silent spectator. The hostility within me grew in a passive way. I would imagine all elderly mothers-in-law as shrews to be tamed by a super-‘heroine’ waiting to happen.

As years passed, ammamma became bed-ridden and she needed love and care. I wondered to myself now, “Will karma come to play?” But all I saw was my mother and her other sisters-in-law take care of her. How could they? Was it because of the love that they felt for her sons, their husbands? I wasn’t convinced. After all, I was a mere teenager.

Then came a day, while at high school, when we had to put together a project about elderly people and visit an old age home. The very topic made me sick in the stomach. I wondered why ammamma could not be sent to an old age home.

The teacher’s sermon about looking after old people made me think about the irony of the whole thing. I argued with her to the point of being rude, I was furious! My teacher could not fathom how a young girl could be so insensitive and blunt and she wondered how so much venom was a part of me.

My classmates and I reached the old age home, a building with green shuttered windows. I sat on a bench in the garden that was in the backyard, stubborn about not doing anything constructive. Staring at the Gulmohar trees and the beds of Chrysanthemums, I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder.

I looked up and saw an old lady in a white dress with red polka dot. Her name was Ms. Kathleen Caulder. “What are you doing here?” she asked me in a friendly tone. She invited me to her room and we shared a packet of Marie biscuits over hot cups of tea.

Her chirpiness attracted me to her and I opened up about ammamma. She assured me with her warm smile that all old women are not the same but that my ammamma probably had a reason for such angst filled reactions to everything. After that day, I went back to the old age home many times and all on my own. Through my conversations with her, she provided me with the understanding and closure I needed to forgive my ammamma and let go of my anger. And when I would go home, even though she was deathly ill, I would sit next to her, speak to her and hold her bony hands in mine. I would tell her how I yearned for a hug from her or even a smile. I don’t know if she ever heard me but a while later, she passed away and with her passed my anger-ridden self.

By Navanita Varadpande

Briar Jacques, Counselling Psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia, suggests that habitual angry reactions act as an emotional coat of armour. “Pierce that armour and we often find other emotions underneath – usually fear, hurt or sadness. Often all three. If someone is caught up in a cycle of responding angrily to life, being easily triggered, outraged or indignant often, it is helpful for them to ask: ‘What feelings am I trying to avoid?’ Mindfulness practice helps us develop the willingness and ability to feel what we feel – without having to disguise it, judge it or generate shame and blame about it. Letting go of knee jerk angry responses greatly improves interactions with others. Even more importantly – when we are prepared to take a look at our habit of anger and have the courage to explore what might be underneath it, we greatly improve our relationship with ourselves.”

Envy

/ˈɛnvi/ A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.

My sister and I are born seven years apart. She is also the miracle baby. Add that to the fact that for the first four years of her life, it was touch and go, and you have the makings of a child that got so much attention, she was coasting in it.

So, where did that leave me? It left me alone, having to fend for myself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved having a little sister. I fed her, bathed her, changed her and practically raised her. She was my little living doll. But being invisible was not easy. Especially as I began my teenage (read that as ‘hormone laden’) years.

Going unseen to my parents for the many years I was, began to wear on me. As time passed, I became irritable, cranky and downright annoying. I began snapping at my sister over nothing. Saying mean things to her. Calling her every name in the book. Well, every name that a young teenage girl knew. And was just not cooperative. My poor little sister, who just wanted to play with her ‘didi’, did not know where all the angst was coming from. I didn’t know either. I couldn’t understand why I was so annoyed with her. I knew that she hadn’t done anything wrong. By lil ol’ me could not comprehend that maybe, just maybe, my parents had something to do with it.

Finally, when I was just about 15, I snapped. I got into a screaming match. One so loud and so violent that it left my mother shocked. But through the screaming, she heard the pain. And she understood that I was envious of the attention being poured onto my sister. She understood that even though some part of me knew that she needed the care and support, I felt left out. And so, once the rage had subsided, she sat me down and we had a talk. We talked about what it was like to raise a child that was sick, she told me about how she felt incompetent as a mother and she discussed the emotions I was feeling. She spent time explaining to me that I would always be loved and be cared for, but that she needed to pay attention to the little one now.

As time passed and we all grew up, I began to wrap my head around my feelings for my little sister. And as the years went by, I grew to love her with such ferocity that no one could tear us apart. There were times when I was told that she got presents because she deserved them and I didn’t. There were even times when we were manipulated to be pit against each other. But it didn’t matter. Because nothing and no one could come between us.

Our mother played a huge role in making sure I did not hold on to the envy. If I hadn’t been able to speak to her honestly and openly, the emotion would have festered and grown into something darker. She guided my through my feelings and showed the two of us how to care for each other and love each other unconditionally.

Time also played a part in her understanding what I was going through. This little being had grown up to understand how I felt and make an effort into including me in her life. What started of as just being sisters, grew into a friendship that had us becoming each other’s confidantes.

Sara Powell, an art psychotherapist says that envy can be categorized as the emotion that stems from comparing ones worth to that of another, and assessing that they have more as well as questioning why they are more deserving. “As envy stems from greed, by decreasing the desire for one, you also squash the emotional backlash of the other. Using therapy as a preventative measure, you can begin to recondition individuals to avoid envious emotions through self-reflection. It is a distinctly human characteristic to compare yourself to others; however individuals will often compare themselves to those who have more rather than comparing themselves to those who have less. By reversing this comparison, individuals can obtain a more humbled perspective about their own assessed level or worth. It cannot be eliminated but it can definitely be managed.”

Impatience

/ɪmˈpeɪʃns/- The tendency to be impatient; irritability or restlessness.

As far as I can remember, as a child, I was always the first one to pout, fret and throw a tantrum if things do not go as planned. I could never sit through traffic or patiently wait for the friend who turns up an hour late. I was a pampered child and yes, I occasionally could get away with anything. My impatience rose from an inner sense of disdain for things that did not happen ‘in the right way’. It was always “Why is this taking so much time?” or “What next?”.

ImpatienceThis tendency became worse as I grew older and more set in my ways. I remember being about 20 when I had a meltdown while waiting at the bank. People were having long conversations with the cashier, others kept moving in and out, the queue got bigger and bigger and something in me just snapped. When I think about it now, I am sure that the twenty or more people in front of me had their fair share of problems, but they kept their cool. Not only did I spoil my day but theirs too.

I used to get impatient at everyone and everything. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a project only to finish it in haste or abandon it at the halfway point for something else and then regret it later. This was the pattern for the many dance classes, vocal trainings and instrument lessons of my childhood. I lived with the fear of not being able to do everything I wanted in time I had. Why waste time dawdling in a mall when I could just finish shopping in half that time? A change in exam schedule meant extra study time for many but for me it meant I would have to wait longer for it to get over. I used to lash out at friends that never were on time for an outing or made last minute changes. God forbid if someone asked me for directions and did not understand the first time! Basically, you did not want to be in same area code as me.

Over the years, my impatience strained and ruined relations with relatives, friends and siblings. I didn’t even know I had a problem until it was pointed out to me a few years back. And done so repeatedly. I thought it was normal, that my reactions were in line with anyone caught in the same situation. But I was forced to look back and think about how I used to behave and questioned myself, “Why am I always in such a rush?” I realized that I did not have a problem with others but more with myself. In my mind, there was always work to do to better myself, that by achieving bigger visions and more goals, I would finally be at ease and happy. However, I never was. The truth is I didn’t want to accept my flaws because that meant accepting how inconsiderate I was towards others.

My husband was the person that infuriated me the most. With his laid-back attitude and pace at which he would get things done, I would just loose my cool. But, in the end, he was the only one who was able to break through my walls and help me become a better person. I would be irritated in one moment, only to break down in laughter the next, thanks to his jokes and silly antics. Whenever I got impatient, he would calm me down. And that has been our journey. He has been a good friend during tense times but has been my toughest critic too. I learned to take time off from stressful moments, to give space to others and myself and finally became more positive. I feel less cranky when things go awry and maybe now I can finally enjoy the feeling of being content.

Femida Hirji, life coach and therapist, explains that impatience can affect us all. “It’s a slow build-up of frustration and intolerance and eventually manifests as a physiological set of symptoms such as shallow breathing, muscle tightness, feeling angry or anxious and a general sense of irritability. When you start to feel the stress build-up and the familiar feelings of impatience, take slow breaths and count to 10. This will help you relax and allow the heightened state of physiological sensations time to decrease and climates to the situation. Be ‘mindful’ of what’s around you and take in the surroundings. Identify your trigger to impatience. Learn about yourself and what it is that instigates these feelings in you. Obviously, it’s not always going to be possible to avoid these triggers, but once you know what they are you can anticipate them and use strategies to overcome them. Forewarned is forearmed.”

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