Emotional Intelligence- Coping with Shame and Guilt

When I started working in 1992, I had a friend and colleague named Prakash, who would come to the factory each day literally dragging his feet and after being pushed out from the house by his parents. Thankfully, he was yet to get married. He used to take leave at least two days in a week and a long leave of about 5-6 days once every quarter. He was not bothered that he was even losing his pay on account of leave, nor had any fear of losing the job.

Prakash was fat, dark, ugly, always shabbily dressed and quite lazy as well. But was it his fault that he was ugly? Agreed, he could have kept himself fit and groomed well. However, it is unfortunate that some people judge others on the basis of their physical appearance.

Prakash had some good qualities as well. He was very methodical and systematic in his work. He was technically brilliant. People would come to him for advice when stuck with a problem. He was an excellent artist. His paintings and craftwork were among the best. Still, why did he hate his job? Perhaps he was stuck in the wrong organization working under a bullying boss. His boss would yell at him for the smallest of mistakes (or even no mistakes). If those were committed by others, the same would be passed as one-off cases. He would be singled and made to come to work on a Sunday if there was a seemingly ‘extra’ work so that he cannot enjoy his weekend. He felt deeply humiliated by his boss every time he walked by- his facial expressions, his words and his rejection of him very obvious. His boss only had harsh and demeaning words of criticism for Prakash which led to him having a deeply rooted resentment and bitterness for this man. Prakash was not only bitter about his boss, he felt great shame, a truly toxic emotion.

Shame by definition is a painful feeling of having lost the respect of others, because of a seemingly improper behaviour, or sin. In this case Prakash was a victim of being labelled as incompetent by his boss and he felt ashamed about it. It’s also the feeling of worthlessness that creeps in from dishonour and disgrace.

I know of one of my office colleagues Rekha, who was married and her husband was in a top position in an MNC and she had two kids, one in 2nd std and the other one in 5th std. She was torn apart between the high paying corporate job and her duty for her children. She was not able to give time for her children as she would come late home as late as 10.00 PM sometimes and had to leave the house at sharp 8.30 AM leaving her kids with her maid. This guilt of not being able to take care, and give her love and affection to her children had started taking its toll on her health and also affecting her performance on the job. Now, she was neither happy with her job, nor happy on the personal front.

How many of us could relate to this story?

Guilt is a state of considering self as responsible for doing something wrong to others. It is a feeling that one gets and says to self “Why did I say this to him?” or “I should have allowed my son to go for the trip along with his friends.” Guilt is the feeling which one gets as a regret of one’s behavior because of which we later realise that the other person had suffered or is suffering. Guilt is a painful feeling of self-criticism for having done something that we realize afterwards, as being immoral, wrong, a crime, or a sin.

Guilt is a painful feeling of self-criticism for having done something that we realize afterwards, as being immoral, wrong, a crime, or a sin.

Shame as a painful feeling that emerges in you, when you are victimized by a more powerful person due to his/her bad or improper behavior towards you, making you feel miserable about yourself. Guilt and shame evoke different responses in us. Guilt has a subtle, underlying feeling that you should be punished. Shame is demeaning, poor of self-worth and creates a feeling of deep sorrow and sadness. In both, the emotions of guilt and shame common feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or helplessness may result. If these feelings are too strong and over a long period of time, it may result in depression, anger, anxiety, hatred, and some other disruptive emotions and stimulate a stress response.

Both guilt and shame will result in continuous negative thinking and these emotions will never lead to emotional freedom, strength and health either emotionally or physically.

Shame makes us feel as if every person we meet knows everything about us and is going to scrutinize us-even if our rational mind says that large number of people don’t know anything about or will be least bothered about us.

Where does the shame come from?

As discussed in the one my earlier blogs many people stuff their emotions in childhood, unfortunately, shame is also one of them. Even sadder is when children learn from their parents who ridicule or humiliate them in front of their siblings or even other relatives. Children can be subject to humiliation and shame at school by their teacher, coach, or class bully. Learning disabilities such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder may cause the children to fall victim and called as stupid, dumb, duffer or mentally retarded (remember Amir Khan’s Hindi film ‘Taare Zameen Par’). These negative remarks can have long-lasting imprints of shame even when they grow up as adults.

Feelings of shame can result in low self-esteem and self-doubt which will result in poor performance and failures, both at professional and personal levels. The repeated failures only add to feelings of worthlessness and grief. Deep down, the shamed person feels he/she is genuinely unlovable and unworthy of any body’s care. If a person suffers shame for a very long time and/or if the severity too is high, then there is a possibility that the person may get into depression. Person may also get into bad habits of alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating disorders and finally a victim to some deadly disease.

Many of you must have seen the Hindi classic Rajesh Khanna starrer ‘Aap Ki Kasam’.    The story goes like this; Rajesh Khanna gets married to his love Actress Mumtaz and after a couple of years there is a misunderstanding between the two of them. Rajesh Khanna sees his wife with another man in his house. He jumps to the conclusion that his wife has betrayed him for another man and both have a big fight and she leaves him and goes to her elder brother’s house. When Rajesh Khanna realizes his mistake, he goes to get his wife back, but his brother in law doesn’t allow him to meet his wife. Nor does his wife show any interest in going back to him. Poor Rajesh Khanna lives and dies with unending guilt of not understanding the love and loyalty of his wife.

However, sometimes the guilt can be false as well. I remember our maid once narrated her ordeal to my wife, saying that her husband was an alcoholic and beats her almost daily. She also told her that he is having an affair with some other woman and he is soon going to marry her. But surprisingly, our maid had no anger or frustration for him. Instead, she said “He has all the right to marry someone else, as I am not able to satisfy his sexual needs and also cannot bear him a baby. On top of that, I am overweight and not good looking as well. So, it’s ok if he has an affair with someone and gets married too”. False guilt is when one takes it on self when it rightfully belongs to the other person. False guilt arises when we have done nothing wrong but we have been partners to the sin, crime, or wrongdoing committed by someone else, albeit unintentionally. False guilt stems from low self-esteem and low self-worth. In the above case, my wife had a hard time convincing our maid that she was not at fault and she should detach herself from her husband’s sins and call the police/her relatives to warn him and if he mends his ways, try to forgive him.

Brain and Heart

These two are the most vital organs of our body. All the health issues related to disruptive emotions are related to heart because we don’t listen to what the heart wants to say. Brain, on the other hand, thinks more practically and rationally. Most times brain will rule over our hearts. The brain takes decisions more often on logic alone. One of the main functions of the brain is to protect us and hence it acts very fast.

Studies from Neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall shows that there are two types of personalities that they have classified as type A and type B. The type-A kind of people are action-oriented and are characterized by being impatient, always in a hurry, chronically angry and hostile and extremely competitive. Type A people are also highly aggressive, ambitious, hardworking, and easily get irritated by delays and interruptions. The brain is like Type A, always in a hurry, being judgemental, harsh, blaming, controlling and critical. The type B “heart” in contrast is gentle, more relaxed, and searching for long-lasting relationships and intimacy. It longs for having a bond.

The brain believes in “I, me, and mine”. Since a part of the brain is still primitive wherein our ancestors always expected attack from their predators, it is always in the protective mode (Flight/fight phenomenon). When the brain dominates the heart, it is abused, exploited, wounded and end up filled with hurt and pain. In stuffing or neglecting the emotions we just ignore what the heart is trying to say to us and listen only to the brain, thereby suffering from dangerous consequences of ‘neglected heart syndrome’ and health effects of abuse and totally masking the sensitive side of who we are. The key to peacefulness is tuning in to our own hearts to experience the child within us, the most sensitive inner self.

So, how do I listen to my heart?

Many of us have this habit of asking the question to self every morning: “How do I feel today?” to become aware of your emotional state, however, we must ask ourselves, “How do I make others feel?”

If you objectively and honestly give the answer to yourself, you may find that many of us make others feel driven, controlled, angry or hurt then there is a strong possibility that you are brain driven, a more practical person and that you are also dominating over your own heart as well as over the heart of others who stand in your path.

One of the exercises one can do immediately after getting up take a survey of how you are feeling in your heart and wish love, affection, peace, health, gentleness, appreciation, joy, and human dignity first to yourself and then to all others in this world, starting with your family.

Now how do I get over my feelings of guilt and shame?


  • Accept the fact that you are only human and could make some mistakes.
  • Ask yourself whether a particular situation or action was illegal in the eye of law.
  • In a similar situation, what may others have done in your shoes?
  • Did you respond in a natural -although not perfect way to a difficult situation?
  • Remind yourself that you are not perfect or omnipotent. You may not have the power to alter events


  • Remind yourself that the person who victimized you is the one who is at fault and not you and he/she is the one who should shame.
  • Remind yourself that you were totally helpless and alone in those circumstances, and the predator took advantage of it.
  • That there is nothing wrong with you and you are as good as or may better than most others as a person and there is no comparison between you and the person who victimized you.
  • You are loved and appreciated as much as anybody else around you.
  • Develop a habit of seeing self in the mirror and say “I am super confident”, “I am a person with high self-esteem” or “my self-worth is very high”
  • Finally, ask for forgiveness for the predator from the almighty and try to forgive him.

Conclusion: Guilt and shame are one of the deadliest disruptive emotions and can really break the person inside out ,resulting out of wounded hearts. However, good news is that broken hearts can be mended. We can learn to cherish,nourish, and protect this most precious part of our being.

Emotional Intelligence- How do I get over my years-long stuffed emotions?

Sometimes the almighty create such circumstances that there is no elder family member with you so by default you have to shoulder the responsibility and see through the incident successfully.

Just to tell one incident was, when my father met with a car accident. It so happened that he was coming from Pune in our Premier Padmini (around 1987) in the night at around 9.30-10.00 but Lord Ganpati’s grace escaped with minor injuries, although he was unconscious immediately after the accident. I received a call on our landline at around 12.30 AM or so from the police station in Daighar (near Mumbra, Thane) about it asking me to come there immediately. I was alone at home, just about 19 years old at that time. This was my first such call to attend. I was totally shocked with my legs trembling, was profusely perspiring, my mouth turned totally dry and my eyes welled. I didn’t know what to do. I called my elder brother who that time was pursuing his post-graduation at Nair hospital (in Mumbai Central) and with no cab service like Uber or Ola in those days and last local train of the day already left he was not able to rush to my help and so, he asked me to go to one of our relatives in Thane-west. I went there by 2.00 AM and my cousin Sumant offered me to come along to the police station which is good 20KMs from Thane. I rode the scooter with him as a pillion and reached the police station only to find my dad sleeping on one of the benches there. By that time, he had regained consciousness but to my shock, he was not able to recognize me (he went into temporary shock) and my cousin. The cop was too eager to see us off from there and suggested that we go triple seat (an offense in fact) to Thane. So, it was at around 3.30-4.00 AM me as drive, Sumant as a pillion and my dad seating in between both us and Sumant firmly holding him with his hands, came home to our place in Thane.

Handling this incident bravely with a composed mind, really boosted my confidence in handling crisis and with this experience, I was better prepared to take on more reverses in my life later. This incident also paved the way for my resurrection towards a more self-assured and more resilient personality. This incident was also the turning point when I started to look my life from a different perspective, helping towards getting me out of the rut of self-doubt, fear, and anxiety deeply embedded due to years of stuffed emotions in the childhood.

In the last blog, we have seen how years of stuffed emotions can play havoc with the individual’s personality, and self-confidence and may limit the height of success he/she can reach in his personal and professional lives. The good news is, there is no need to despair. With emotional intelligence, you can definitely resurrect the situation although you cannot get back your lost years. However, you can get back that lost confidence, positivity, self-esteem, hope and optimism, and lead your life with happiness and have fulfillment in it.

So, let’s discuss what can be the ways in which we can remove those deep-rooted beliefs, blocks, and hooks which are ploughing us back. There can be various ways ranging from some simple methods of increasing your confidence, learning NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), spirituality, meditation and in more serious cases cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or any other psychiatric treatment. However, I am not authorized or expert to talk about any solutions based on medicine or therapy and hence these topics will be out of the scope of this blog. We will discuss from my experience the following ways of getting over hostility and effects of stuff emotions:

  1. Spirituality: As you start growing with age and get more mature, it is expected that some sort of self-awareness has to come in you and you realise your limitations (at that point of time) as well as your strengths, at least to certain extent. Apart from striving hard, one way towards getting free of your years of mental blocks and releasing your stuffed emotions, is to totally surrender to the almighty on whom you have total faith. This may sound funny or superstitious to some people, but I found that once I started reading holy books, mantra chanting and prayers, there was lot of change in me and a strong belief that some unknown power (which we may call as god) is behind us and this starts giving you the energy and enthusiasm to take more initiative and action in whichever field you are working. It sometimes also helps to listen to a good satsung from a very genuine source on say Ramayana or stories of Mahabharata, and if the preacher has the quality to get the emotions out of you, this certainly helps to lighten up your years of laden heart. As you listen to them you may feel overwhelmed by emotions of love, compassion, respect, devotion etc. all at the same time and on the verge of breaking down. This time don’t stop yourself, don’t think of what people will say (they may call you a weak person), just let tears come out profusely. Give way for your emotions, this time don’t supress them. You may also take help of a Chakra healer or Energy healer who with guided meditations can get the emotions out of you. These sessions can bring out years of pain, anguish, hatred, rage and hostility in the form of tears and loud crying. You may require more sessions depending on the severity of the stuffed emotions.

In some other situation you may have the urge to laugh. Again, don’t stop yourself. Let it come out.

One more benefit of practicing spirituality regularly is, over a period of time it becomes slightly easier to forgive people. You may have years of grudge/mental hooks against that school head master or teacher, a close relative, a neighbour, etc. who had beaten you mercilessly or you were subjected to sexual abuse in the childhood and as a result disruptive emotions such as anger and fear made a permanent home in your psyche. Off course, forgiving people is not that easy especially if the pain inflicted is too deep and it is a process, cannot happen overnight. You may say that you have forgiven so and so person but, in the mind, you are cursing him/her, constantly thinking about that person and actually wishing that something bad happens to them. In these cases, being spiritual really helps. I have discussed in greater details about forgiveness in one of my earlier blogs (https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-forgiveness/)

Release all your frustrations, fear, anger, and hatred, at the lotus feet of the almighty and have faith in his capabilities. (it may be difficult in the beginning, but you need to have the patience and persistence in this regard).

  • What if those painful thoughts just don’t go away?

It may be very easy to just say that don’t think about your painful past and try to forget those moments, however in practice it may be very difficult. In which case you may try the following methods:

  1. Recall again and again those moments of life when you experienced lots of love, joy, and peace, from your parents, friends or anybody.
  2. Stay away from negative, aggressive and abusive people.
  3. Practice gratitude- to the almighty for blessing you with this life, your parents for giving you birth and bringing you up with lot of care, love and happiness. Thank your brothers and sisters for leading and guiding you, your grandparents, your best friends who had helped you in any way, relatives, contact through whom you got your first job, etc. Practice attitude of gratitude for all the people that come into your life- directly or indirectly like, the farmer who toils in the field so that we can eat, the other people who manufacture all the products that we consume or use, the milkman, the security guard of your society etc. Focus on all good things in your life rather than the traumas and the negative things that have happened.
  4. Get into the practice of acknowledging and patting yourself for even the smallest of accomplishments in life. Think about the good and noble, rare qualities that you may have and feel proud about them even if nobody else recognises and acknowledges them. (like till many years nobody knew or acknowledged my character and the strong value system based on ethics that I have. I no longer look for external praise or validation, however really feel proud about those qualities, myself).

Look inside to feel the feeling of goodness after an act of kindness and love you have shown for others.

As you communicate with your heart and mind and release positive feelings of love to your own soul, feelgood or happy hormones such as endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine are released in the blood which is very healthy for your body and mind.

We have already seen the bad effects of stress (which is a result of the toxic emotions like fear, hatred, rage, anger, etc.) on our body in one of my earlier blogs https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-stress-because-of-lockdown/

Inculcating the feelings of Compassion and empathy makes us feel good and more thankful towards god
  • Get associated with some honest NGOs and drive your compassion side. Empathy and compassion especially towards the poor and needy, really make you feel much better. We thank almighty even more for what we have and tend to forget our pains.
  • Give positive self-talk and affirmations daily, first thing in the morning and before going to bed in the night. Have words of encouragement for self.
  • Pray almighty to fill your heart with his love and presence. Pray him so that he fills your heart with all the positive emotions such as joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, trust, and happiness.             
  • Yoga, Meditation, and Pranayam: Well I am not an expert (like my wife) to talk about it, on this tough and heavy subject. But ever since I started meditating, Yoga asanas and practicing deep and belly breathing, myself and people around me (especially my better half) have noted the following positive changes in me:
  • The general anger level has gone down
  • I used to be a perfectionist and this resulted in frequent altercations with the wife. Now realized that it is ok to be a little untidy, messy and make mistakes. After all, nothing can be more important than your relationships with your very close people.
  • Confidence level has gone up and willingness to take initiative and experiment has increased
  • Increased self-awareness as you get into the mold of observing on your breathing.
  • Reduced anxiety levels
  • Increased levels of focus and concentration
  • Perspective towards life and other people started to become positive.
  • Increased levels of empathy and compassion for others.
  • Building confidence:  The incident at the beginning of the blog just demonstrates this. As discussed in my last blog one of the fallouts of pent up emotions is fear, self-doubt, low self-esteem and hence inaction. I had many fears in childhood and carried over to my teenage years. These are blanket fears of being not able to perform any task successfully. Although, I cannot claim that I have conquered 100%, however, I am there at least at 60-70% now. Thankfully, I learned early in life that if you have to achieve anything worthwhile you need to have some basic level of confidence. I also realized that building confidence is a process and you need to work continuously towards it. To begin with, I started by taking baby steps towards learning skills like riding on a scooter (in those days we had that Bajaj with manual gears) which removed some fear of vehicles and people on the road, then I learned swimming-fear of water and depth removed and then learned to drive a car, which gave me immense confidence. I got into the habit of trying and doing things and activities which I was really afraid of- the key to developing self-confidence. These small activities paved the way in giving me the ability to handle difficult situations.

After joining engineering, I found it was quite heavy for me to handle and as a result got some ATKTs and in the process again lost some of my confidence. However, after the 6th semester realized that I need to get going and worked really hard to clear my 7th and 8th semesters together, in one go.

But the real personality change came after about 4years after I joined my first job (in 1992). As a trainee, there was no much work and hence, I was not able to get much exposure and since the job involved working with very high electrical voltages, I was again scared to work and always remained behind and never raised my hand to accept any new challenge.

One day my then boss, Mr. Hegde gave me a pep talk and without asking me I was made to handle a totally new project all by myself. The universe had perhaps started working for me. The experience on that project where I required to do all the tasks such as designing, ordering material, getting drawings done and getting approved from consultants, coordinating with internal teams and customer/consultants, resolving their queries and completing the project within the deadline really boosted my confidence many notches higher.

The Comfort Zone

Psychologists have determined that each of us have a natural tendency to slip into the zone of status quo i.e. to be there where you are going easy, without much trouble although you may not be living a great life. But we still like it very much. We like to be in this state as we don’t want to take efforts and lead a relaxed life style. We get so used to enjoyable, safe and secure life (an illusion which might change in no time) that we stop to strive or take action. We just wait for things to happen rather than making them happen. The result is day-by-day we develop habits that lead to underachievement and failure.

Practicing Yoga asanas and Pranayam regularly will surely increase your confidence

We generally waste a lot of time watching daily sops, socialize, waste time on social media and eventually convince ourselves that we can only achieve only so much. Hence it is your attitude and personality and your habitual way of responding to other people and to life is your comfort zone. If you have to set and achieve your goals you need to come out of your comfort zones. And unless you come out, push yourself harder and try all those tasks and activities which you fear, you cannot increase your confidence.

Conclusion: Using these not so difficult methods one can release the years old, deep-rooted blocks and march towards a healthy, happy and peaceful life.

Coming up next: Emotional Intelligence- Guilt and Shame

Emotional Intelligence- Suppressing emotions

A very good friend of mine since childhood Rakesh (not his real name) had a very abusive childhood. He was being thrashed, victimized for no fault of his and a regular punching bag at home, at school and even with his so-called friends. Just to tell one unfortunate story, when we both were in the sixth standard, some of the boys in the class decided to play a prank with him. As he had gone out of the class in recess, one of the boys wrote on the front page of his note-book book in the same handwriting as his “I Love you (name of the girl)”. To write like this in a notebook in just 6th std was no less than a crime. This was immediately brought to notice of the teacher by those naughty, and cruel boys. My friend was taken straight to the Head Master who was so famous for being strict that, students would call him Hitler. Without checking the authenticity of who had written, the headmaster just started thrashing my poor friend with a long wooden cane. He would be an average student in academics just enough to be promoted to the higher std.

Years of abuse, both physical and verbal took a toll on his psyche, mind, and body. It was very natural that he would grow up as a hostile individual who would have very few or no friends, feeling of enmity, and antagonism. His hostility was blanket towards the world and a perpetual, long mental state of affair.  

Why are some people singled out for bullying? Perhaps, the reasons are looking weak, thin, low in confidence (which in turn could be the result of being beaten and insulted often at home as well), coming from a poor or not so wealthy family, not giving a fitting reply at the beginning itself and the predators growing in courage, etc. There will be several examples of these unfortunate souls in our society who perhaps could have been gems if they were brought up in a more loving and caring manner.

 Let’s understand some of the signs of hostility:

  1. Continuously hostile people get angry and irritated over trivial matters when most of us would not get upset with other people. They show some kind of a pattern/reasons for getting mad at people
  2. They don’t believe that they are angry and aggressive. (Lack of self-awareness)
  3. They suffer from poor self-confidence and are always under some kind of fear.
  4. They are in general frustrated with life.

Since their childhood, these people stuff their anger and frustration and as they grow up, they call it by different names e.g. my said friend would say, “when he said this, my fuse blew off” or “I am by default a short-tempered man” when actually he wanted to say that he has hostility inside of him.

Hostile people internalize or bury their anger over others many years to create a pressure -cooker like environment, waiting to explode. Hostility also could bring with it bad habits like smoking, alcohol, overeating, etc. where these people try to find solace from. They are only complicating the matters while handling these toxic emotions (of anger, aggression, and hostility).

Suppressing emotions from childhood:

How many of us can immediately connect with the repeated instructions given by our parents, people surrounding us and society at large that, “You are a boy you are not supposed to cry”. “You are a girl you are not supposed to laugh so loudly”. “You look so much cute when you smile” or “go into your room until you can calm down”. Such statements, when made by adults, again and again, have an effect on our subconscious mind that makes us feel ashamed of having “unpleasant emotions” like anger and sadness or even pleasant ones like being happy. When these rules were imposed on us in childhood, the message they sent us was, our emotions are not to be trusted. Emotional hurts in childhood may stay with us and we may carry shame and fear into our adult lives. The same is true for anger, aggression, and hostility. (We will be having a separate blog on guilt, shame, and fear. Just mentioned here to give an idea of how various emotions are suppressed)

When are we stuffing/bottling up our emotions?

Many a times we pretend due to the conditioning right from the childhood, that everything is ok when it is not, when we tell ourselves and others that nothing bad has happened when something very bad has happened to us, when we act as if we have suffered no loss or pain when we have suffered great loss and pain, it is then we are supressing those emotions that we should be expressing. Over a period of time some people become experts at not feeling what they feel. They become masters at stuffing or pushing down any feelings that are painful or that others do not accept.

Now, what happens when we suppress those emotions of anger, frustration, or rejection and refuse to cry (or even laugh for that matter when we are happy) or voice our inner pains?  Our mind perceives that we are experiencing danger. The disruptive emotions which we are feeling and which cause us pain, we start to avoid them or reject them. The more we experience the disruptive emotions and fail to express them, the more pressure builds inside us. This makes mind to perceive that we are in a dangerous situation and prepares us for flight (shutting down our emotions further) or fight (erecting obstacles against the emotions). This can result in inner rage, fear, or a continuous feeling of anxiety that boils below the surface of expression (waiting to get exploded) for years or for decades.

To tell my own experience, even I had a lot of emotions stuffed inside of me for years together. I was a very fearful person until not very long ago. Being born introvert, I find it very difficult to naturally talk and introduce myself or even to set the dialogue going on and get caught in a very awkward situation if the other person is also introvert. There was a lot of internal rage inside of me for years. I learned some of the signs (and still have some traces of those in me) of stuffed emotions. As mentioned earlier stuffing of emotions is largely subconscious and a person himself/herself may not be able to recognize this trait for years unless some close friend /relative gives the feedback and the person himself/herself becomes self-aware.

Signs of bottled up Emotions:

Continuously hostile people get angry and irritated over trivial matters when most of us would not get upset with other people.
  1. Perfectionist: People who stuff their emotions are always wary that somebody will take objection or criticize their work, this feeling coming from childhood experiences of being scolded or beaten for even the smallest of mistakes committed. Such people develop a fear of rejection and hence try to be as perfect as possible in their works. I remember till not so long ago, I would not tolerate a single wrinkle or fold on my well-ironed shirt or being adamant on a bedsheet to be neatly spread on the mattress, or intolerant towards smallest of litters or dirt (with valuable inputs from my better half)
  2. Self-doubt and self-criticism: People who have stuffed emotions very often have grown up in environments when they feel unloved or rejected as children. They perhaps did not get the security and bonding which is very natural in any parent-child relationship. As a result, they develop a feeling of low self-esteem or low self-worth. As grown-up adults, they may achieve some success in their education and careers, but deep down there may always be so the fear of failure. This deeply seated low self-esteem may result in self-doubt. E.g. these people always try to take other’s opinions in even the routine of the choices/decisions they make like buying a shirt for themselves or, whether or not to get out of the house on a rainy day etc. They avoid making decisions or setting specific goals in life. Validation from others for just about almost everything becomes a norm for them.

Then, there are some people who have low self-worth engage in criticising self, shrug off compliments and are overly critical about their smallest of failures. They are likely to be people who will instinctively respond to a new idea or situation with an “I don’t know” or “I am not sure about this” even before they have fully heard the idea or explored possibilities of a new situation. In meeting strangers or new circumstances, they may suddenly become shy and withdraw from the scene.

  • Diverting attention: those who have stuffed their emotions try an divert attention from self to others with criticising and blaming others or making cynical comments.
  • Pleasing everybody:  Many people with low self-worth and stuffed emotions try very hard to please everyone. They are too concerned with the opinions of others and get easily upset if even a single person gives some negative remark about their work even if majority have praised.

It is found that the stronger the stuffed emotion, the more powerful it will be its explosion. Terrible childhood traumas, including sexual, physical and emotional abuse, public humiliation and severe rejection are all the experiences that can cause an inner rage and pain that can explode in sometimes violent ways later in the life-sometimes these people can resort to physical abuse to other people, sometimes in disruptive nightmares and inability to sleep, sometimes unending tears, etc.

Conclusion: emotions naturally are meant to be felt and expressed. When we refuse to let them come out, emotions just try a little harder. Emotions never die, we bury them. We are burying something which is living. Pent up emotions over a long period of time (sometimes years) can result in bursting into spurts of anger, rage and hostility. It is then as adults, as we can see our surroundings, people vent it out when say a driver on freeway cuts him/her or a person who ignores his/her presence or for any other trivial reason.

Coming up next: How do I get over my hostility/Inner rage as an Adult? Stay tuned…

Emotional Intelligence- Learnings from Ramayana

As we are all at home these days and thanks to the government who have started the re-telecast of Indian epic Ramayana, I take this opportunity on the auspicious occasion of Shri Ram Navami (tomorrow 02.04.2020) and as a student of emotional intelligence, would like to pen my learnings from Ramayana till date from the emotional intelligence point of view. When Ramayana was first telecast somewhere in the late 80s when I was in college, I never watched it just for fun or knowing the story rather than gathering any learning from this epic. But now with more mindfulness and maturity, I can see a tremendous amount of learnings from each of the characters. My perspective:

  1. Maharaj Dashrath– The greatest teaching he gave us is once you have given a word to anybody you cannot go back on it come what may, even if you have to send your own son through lots of pain and hardships. You may be tempted by the attachment for your own son and could be stupefied in his love, however, you need to have the self-awareness and self-management to think rationally even in times when your mind is clouded and threatened by emotions. Maharaj Dashrath exemplified this to the fullest.  This talks about the strong value system he possessed. He was caught in the quandary of tradition of the Raghukul (or Suryavanshi dynasty) who would fulfil their vachan (in spite of all the adversities) and the love and affection of son like Lord Rama without whom he wouldn’t be able to live. In spite of all this he sided and took a decision in favour of his values and principles rather than taking it emotionally. Just imagine the emotions he could have gone through and the sheer helplessness and the frustration that he stuffs inside him just to protect the legacy and name of his dynasty.

When Kaikeyi, Dashrath’s second and the most loved wife, demanded the two boons,(her son Bharata to be the coronated as King instead of Rama and Rama to be sent to 14 years of exile) emotions like anger, hostility, hatred for her and then when he had to announce his decision to Rama that he is being sent to 14 years of exile in the forests, the feelings of Love, guilt (that he had to order Rama this which from his perspective was like a punishment for no fault of Rama and depriving him of the throne which was rightfully his as the eldest son), shame, fear (how will Rama survive the atrocities of forests like the wild animals, path full of stones and pebbles, and thorns etc.), frustration( of not being able to do anything in that situation) and helplessness, shock, feeling miserable and sadness all at the same time must have totally taken control over his mind and body. Maybe he could have gone into depression as well, but perhaps he didn’t survive long enough because of the circumstances and the shock he went through.  

One more learnings from Dashrath- he gave two boons to his beloved wife Kaikeyi when she had saved him in the battle against the Asuras. He got so emotional and overwhelmed by Kaikeyi’s heroics to grant those boons without thinking, which were later mis-used by her. The learning for me is never allow others to take you for a ride and you decide what reward and the timing of it, you will shower or refuse to.  Have the ability to say ‘NO’(being Assertive) when you disagree even when it is emotionally difficult to do so.

Maharaj Dashrath was a victim of his one of his mistakes which would haunt him for life.  As a youth, he went out for hunting (in those days was considered to be a hobby of the brave, mainly the kshatriyas, and the kings) in the forests, he heard the sound of water and assuming that a deer had come to drink the water at the river, he shot an arrow without seeing who it was going to hit. To his dismay, the arrow went and pierced a youth called ‘Shravan’ who had come to the river to fetch water for his thirsty, blind and old parents. Hearing his cries, Dashrath went close to him and realized his mistake, but alas it was too late. Shravan was about to die. In the dying moments, he requested Dashrath to take water for his parents who were waiting for him nearby. When Dashrath reached the spot of Shravan’s parents and narrated the whole story, they curse him that he will also meet the same fate as they were about to, and he too will die because of separation from his beloved son.

Now, what is the learning from this story of Dashrath?

  • Maharaj Dashrath showed little impulse control and did not look before he leaped and the lust for the animal clouded his rational thinking.
  • Perhaps, he was emotionally hijacked too with flight/fight response coming into play, his amygdala sensing a threat to his body or from a feeling of missing out the hunt, acted too fast to have any communication with his rational brain. [Emotional Hijacking is a hugh concept in EI, just to give a gist in very brief – amygdala is a part inside our brain which has the tendency to act very fast when triggered with any external threat to our body as its function is to protect us against these threats. The response of our body is either flight (run away) or fight (fight with the threat) without having any communication with the Neo-cortex or the rational thinking brain. When the person is emotionally hijacked, he/she normally behaves or takes a decision for which they may have to regret/repent for life. An emotionally intelligent person has the ability to take a pause, think and then respond instead of reacting even in these situations]

Better impulse control and managing the external triggers could have saved Shravan and the curse Dashrath received from his parents. Rest as they say is, history. So, the learning here is have impulse control and look before you leap.

2. Lord Shri Rama- What to say about him? he was Maryada Purshottam. There are numerous qualities that Lord Rama had- just to name a few from emotions parlance, he was kind, affectionate, empathetic and considerate of the feelings of people around him. Even when his father Maharaj Dashrath with great pain, ordered that he be sent to exile for 14 years and the crown will be given to his younger brother Bharata, he was very calm and maintained his composure. Not for a moment did he get angry or had feelings of hatred, resentment or revenge for his father nor his stepmother Kaikeyi. Instead, he was pleased that he could spend time with the great sages on the way to forest and learn many things from them. He was also very happy that his younger brother Bharata would be coronated and that he respected his father’s orders and mother Kaikeyi’s wishes.

Well, this may sound (and literally is) to be too idealistic for all of us and that too in this age of Kaliyuga. Agreed, we may never get anywhere close to Lord Rama, we can at least learn and try to pick some of his qualities of empathy, kindness, love for all souls, living in the present moment, being respectful to elders, being flexible under all circumstances and being supremely self-aware.

3. Kaikeyi- You may ask what can Kaikeyi teach us?  She was a paradigm of how NOT to behave.

  • Jealousy: She got too jealous of Lord Rama after her nurse Manthara fuelled and instigated Kaikeyi to ask for those two wicked boons from Maharaj Dashrath.  We need to guard against jealously to others.
  • Love blind– She became too blind in her love for her son Bharata and in the process was not able to think rationally and totally oblivious that she was doing (devoid of Self-awareness) a great injustice to her other son Rama, who it is believed that she loved more even than Bharata.

We need to Love our children but not get blind to the extent of being oblivious of the surroundings and be mindful of what effect it may have on others.

  • Insecurity/Fear– Manthara was successful in instilling a feeling of insecurity in her mind, that after Rama became the King, he would kill Bharata and that she will lose all her powers and that Rama’s mother Kausalaya would enslave her once Rama became the King. These thoughts gave rise to anger and hatred for Rama which totally masked her ability to think through her conscience and rationale. She could have had discussions with Maharaj Dashrath openly rather than acting impulsively to work on her insecurities and could have asked the two boons to safeguard interests of Bharata and herself. The key learning here again is to have impulse control and rational thinking.

There will be many more learnings from Ramayan from Emotional Intelligence point of view, but to be continued for some other day…..

Emotional Intelligence- Love and Relationship

Today we will be discussing a seemingly delicate topic of love and the effects or lack of it in our relationships with our spouse/partner. However, before we talk about love for our spouse, it is important to first love yourself, which is closely related to another very important concept in emotional intelligence viz. self-regard

What is Self-regard?

It is about how much you accept and value yourself as a person. It is having full knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses- appreciating your strengths and accepting your weaknesses. The important thing is respecting yourself the way you are. Self-regard is accepting your negative aspects and still feeling good about yourself. If your self-regard is high you will genuinely empathize and accept others (in this case your spouse) even when they are very different from you. Here again, self-awareness is very important. If a person is not able to feel his/her emotions, it is not possible for them to feel the emotions of others, which in turn will hamper their capacity to show empathy to their spouse whom they claim to love. Hence, unless you love yourself, it is not possible to love your spouse. You cannot give what you don’t have.

How do I love myself?

To start with, one of the foremost ways you can love yourself is to care for your physical body, which includes eating the right food, not having any bad habits (like smoking, drinking) and taking sufficient rest.

Another way, an extension of above is to learn to love your skin- it is not the cosmetic aspect we are talking about, but as a healthy way in which we respond to the sensation of touch. The way you treat your skin and the way you allow others to touch you, literally as well as figuratively- is a great indicator of health.

Romantic Love or addiction?

Having understood self-love it is now important to understand the love that you may have towards your spouse/lover which may be termed as romantic. It is important to understand the physiological changes that happen inside the person’s body when he/she is high on this kind of love. Studies have shown that romantic love can be addictive which triggers the release of hormones dopamine and norepinephrine to produce euphoric feelings when you fall in love. When the person is passionately in love it is extremely exciting and provocative, and if the loved one is not there with you, distressing.

However, in some cases, people who think they are on a high of love and life is so beautiful, fail to recognize this brain chemical reaction and become addicted to feelings of love rather than a more mature relationship, i.e. shared values and a commitment to shared goals and shared life. This is called as a stage of infatuation wherein the love birds are more driven by lust and sexual arousals rather than true love. If individuals fail to be aware of this stage and once dawned upon with the realities and responsibilities of married life, it’s too late. Marriages fall apart or couple’s break-up before marriages.

In her book, A New Blueprint for Marriage author Joanne Tangedahl noted that if “love addiction” doesn’t pass, it becomes worse. She wrote: “You stop having a sense of well-being and that wonderful feeling of oneness. You begin to feel desperate, with a need to be with, to see to possess the other person. This need is so powerful, strong and compelling, people often call this love. It is not, it is addiction.”

Would like to tell my own love story. Yes, we are really a happily married couple for the last almost 26 years. It was love at first sight for me when I was in 12th standard, a ripe case for infatuation. But we both had the maturity, understanding and the tenacity to make it last for so long. From my experience, I can definitely say that you need to work on your marriage to make it successful. There are no quick fix or knee-jerk arrangements to make it work. There is no magic wand either. I think no marriage is without its share of ups and downs. The key to successful married life is aiming for oneness with our partner and continuously working on it. Once you feel that oneness, you would never look down on the partner’s money fears, driving fears, back-ground and from where he/she is coming from, fear of aging, etc. If your reaction to your partner’s fear or any other form of distress is that of disdain or irritation, you do not want oneness or even friendship with your partner at that moment. (Thankfully, in India we have a very less percentage of divorce or separation as compared to the western countries)

So, what is love?

Different people may have their own definitions, but the one which I am able to connect with is: Love is a choice and acting on this choice requires great deal of effort. Love means choosing to turn yourself inside out for your spouse, and walking into it requires an intentional, initial choice of practicing patience and kindness. Love means once committed, you accept your partner as they are and change yourself rather than trying and expecting your spouse to change to meet your satisfaction levels and for your needs and wants.

Are you aiming for oneness with your spouse?

What love is not?

  • Love is not jealous- remember the old Hindi classic movie “Abhimaan”? when Amitabh Bachchan cannot digest his wife (Jaya Bachchan) getting all the attention, limelight and adoration ahead of him as she is more successful as a singer. And they were on the brink of being separated…
  • Love is not rude- you need to respect your spouse irrespective of your own mood, his/her mistakes and always have the awareness of what he/she is going through.
  • Love is not selfish- I have seen many husbands completely bulldoze their wives without caring for their needs or wants. For them, it’s “my way or the highway”. These people always expect their spouses to give in to their demands.
  • Love does not keep track of wrongs: Loving people tend to forgive quickly and refuse to keep score against their partners unless the crime is really serious (mainly infidelity by one of the partners). Check with yourself- are you holding something against your spouse and do you feel the need to settle a score with them?
  • Love is not caressing your own egos, being right and trying to be one up over your partner. Most marriages get into trouble because of ego issues of one of the partners and being right.

5 Love Languages:

In his book “The Five Love Languages” author Gary Chapman beautifully explains how to pick and understand ways to keep your spouse happy. His concept is applicable to any relationship, but more so to husband and wife. Their love requirements can be either of the below 5 ways. One will be most dominant over the rest four.

  1. Words of affirmation: Some partners can be pleased by giving a quick compliment or encouraging words in response to what she/he does or says. These people also like to be told by their significant others that how much they are loved by him/her. Only when you say “I love you” they really feel that their spouse loves them
  2. Quality time: for such people love = time. Spending time with their better haves, without an agenda or task to accomplish, is love expressed.    
  3. Giving gifts; Some partners feel loved when their spouses shower gifts on them.
  4. Acts of Service: What can you do to help your busy partner? Help them in their office work, home chores, outside works like picking up laundry, or even giving a massage to their tired/paining legs, etc.
  5. Physical affection: We are human beings who need touch. Some are very sensitive and long for the touch of their partner’s. Their love definition may be as simple as a kiss, a hug, caress, pat on the back, holding hands and walking on a beach together for a long time, back rub, etc.  
What is your spouse’s love language- spending quality time or physical affection

The early the partners understand the love language of each other and respond accordingly in compliance with it, the better chances of deep loving and eternal relationships between the two of them.

Reasons why people separate/divorce:

  1. Expectations: One thinks that by going different ways one will be happy, blames the other person, and having high expectations from them leads to disappointments & frustrations which might lead them towards getting separated.
  2. Short Memory:  before getting married or immediately after getting together, couples wow to be with each other in times of goodness as well as distress, however, in the daily chores of life and raising children they tend to forget these commitments made to each other.
  3. Disposable Relationships: In today’s’ world when people change things for new very fast, it seems fashionable to change relationships & divorce is considered trendy. People get bored with the same person & seek excitement and newness to get out of a boring life.

The key to loving, cordial & everlasting relationships is developing your emotional intelligence which has 4 main skill areas:

  1. Recognizing your own feelings: which means getting aware of your feelings at any given point of time. One may find it difficult to first getting aware of own emotions, but with active mindfulness, this skill can be developed.
  2. Managing your own feelings: Once you are aware of your feelings, it’s important to be able to resist the temptation of immediately reacting to your partner i.e. having control of your own feelings.
  3. Developing Empathy: Empathy is to understand the feelings of the partner & getting attune to their actions or what they say or why they say so.
  4. Managing significant other feelings (Motivation):  This is the ability to pick up on emotions of the other partner and helping and supporting them to manage their own feelings. Understanding the desires & aspirations of your partner & helping to achieve them, goes a long way in building a fruitful & strong relationship.

Conclusion:  The key to successful married life is letting go of ego, respecting your spouse in all the circumstances and having empathy towards your spouse.

Emotional Intelligence- Optimism and Hope

We have seen the last blog on how, due to the coronavirus threat and the subsequent lockdown in the country, can give some people fear, anxiety and frustration as they are forced to sit inside their houses in the larger interest of the nation.

One of the antidotes for fear and anxiety is optimism.

By nature, most of us are always optimistic even in the most hopeless situations.  I remember when I was in college, I used to continuously watch all the one-day international matches played by team India and like all of us I was a big fan of the Indian cricket team. In those days our team would win very few games (in the late 80s and early 90s), but I would still watch the match till the last ball was bowled in anticipation that some batsman will play the match of his life and win it for India.

Hope and optimism are often considered as same. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. Hope is attached to a given situation and more specific. Being hopeful is working towards achieving your goals, desires, and expectations. A hopeful person believes specifically on his/her own capability for achieving success.

What is optimism? In psychological terms, it is more of positivity (even in face of adversity) rather than negativity, for the future the individual firmly believes in, for self, others they know, and the surrounding world they are living in. Optimism is independent of one’s ability. Being optimistic in a general way about our lives, serves us well, mentally and physically. Optimism is the opposite of pessimism, where the individual fails to see or hope anything happening in a positive manner. Pessimism may drive one into depression.

Optimism is one of the most important qualities to have in our journey towards emotional intelligence. Let me share my own experience when I was working as the regional sales head until a few years ago. It so happened that we were in discussions with a big prospect for a high rating of Online UPS system requirements. The discussions went on for more than 2 months and finally, we along with a big multinational competitor were left in the fry. Our biggest limitation was we had very few installations of similar ratings although with technology, features, and benefits we were second to none. The other vendor had a great advantage of brand and many installations to show.  Ultimately, we lost that all-important order. I was feeling miserable.

But one incident in my life immediately after losing this order changed the way started looking myself about my future.

I always wanted to buy a SONY DSLR camera and made many rounds to a showroom in one of the shopping malls. Each time I would ask for the specifications, features and other details like price, warranty, etc. to the salesman but never use to purchase it for want of money. There was some Diwali offer (discount and EMI option) still I was not able to buy it. I really felt sorry for the salesman in that showroom. But his attitude towards sales was amazing. When I ultimately expressed my inability, he had said “No problems Sir, if not this month, I am sure you will buy it in next month, however, you may not get this offer”. That’s what being optimistic is all about.  (And yes, you guessed it right, I bought the camera from the same showroom, from the same salesman in the next month albeit at a slightly increased price.) I learned this lesson and accepted the setback I received when I lost that big order and went on to bag many orders after that.  I learned that optimism is an inner resource and the ability to believe that you may have some bad times but with renewed efforts, those can change.

Having understood what is optimism, it is very important to know what is not optimism. It is not a tendency to believe that things will turn out to be the best no matter what. That is like living in a state of denial. That also exposes the weakness of the individual towards understanding reality and accepting it. Nor it is the capacity of the person to give himself/herself a continuous positive pep talk. Rather, optimism is the ability to stop thinking or saying destructive things about yourself and the world around you, especially when you are suffering personal setbacks. True optimism is a comprehensive and hopeful, yet realistic approach to daily living.

The optimist sees troubles and difficulties as a delayed success, rather than outright and conclusive defeat.

Psychologist Martin Seligman discovered three major attitudes that distinguish optimists from pessimists. First, they view downturns in their lives as a temporary deviation from the normal trends. Bad times won’t last forever; the situation will turn around. They see troubles and difficulties as a delayed success, rather than outright and conclusive defeat. Second, they tend to view misfortune as situational and specific, not as a long-standing inescapable perpetual failure. Third, optimists don’t immediately shoulder all the blame. If they find that there are some external reasons for their failures, they take those into consideration.

The pessimist will have the tendency to crib about each and every setback they experienced in the past or will experience in the future.

In contrast, a pessimist will have the tendency to crib about each and every setback they experienced in the past or will experience in the future. Any lapse will be seen as yet another example of how they screw up everything all the time. Why do bad things keep happening? Because pessimists decide that their own incompetence and ineffectiveness are to blame.

Say for example, if one had lost his/her job because of recession or duplication of posts after mergers/acquisition of companies a pessimist’s response would be: ‘Nothing will ever go right for me’. Or, ‘no wonder this happened, things always go wrong for me’ Or, ‘I should have met the top management to retain my job, I am an idiot’.

An optimist in the same situation will respond as ‘So what if I lost this job, this is not the end of the world.’ Or ‘Maybe I am destined to get even better job opportunity’. Or ‘It wouldn’t have made any difference; they already had the list ready with my name’.

However, putting all the blame on external factors is as bad as putting it all on oneself. A healthy approach lies somewhere in between the two extremes. One should also guard against too much optimism which leads to being oblivious of your surroundings and perhaps living in a fool’s paradise. Such people are referred to as blind optimists. They are in denial; for them, no problem exists and success can be obtained against impossible odds and against logic. (just as in the example cited at the beginning of the blog- hoping that India will somehow win even when all top batsmen are back in the pavilion and many runs to score that too in a smaller number of balls). The same is the case when one spends large sums on buying lottery tickets with a hope that one day, he/she will be wealthy. You marginally increase your chances of winning, but the odds remain stacked against you and the price of losing increases because you have devoted even more of your income for this foolish habit.

It is important to understand realistic or flexible optimism. We all experience adversity and disappointment in our lives. What is important is our responses to these seemingly challenging events. How resilient (ability to bounce back from setbacks and failures/frustrations) are you?

Optimists see possibilities and opportunities in challenges. Pessimists get thoughts which are angry and hopeless- they want something, they can’t get it and are convinced that they never will. Since it is the thoughts that give birth to emotions and emotions to your behaviors, pessimists are more often sad, angry, full of guilt, inactive, feel helpless, etc. The optimist guards against these feelings and behaviors and replaces disruptive thoughts with more appropriate ones. The result is enthusiasm about new alternatives, confidence that renewed or alternative efforts will succeed, creative planning and goal-oriented activity. Optimistic people are resilient and face adverse situations with a ‘can do’ attitude. They don’t run away from difficult situations; they persevere, are tenacious and keep trying. They are also flexible as they try different approaches for the same problem until it is solved. These qualities define their success.

Would like to end today’s blog with the following beautiful quote:

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true- James Branch Cabell

Emotional Intelligence- Stress because of lockdown

We as mankind are going through one of the worst fearful periods of this century when each and every nation is fighting to keep their people away from or contain the spread of the deadly Coronavirus or try to save those people from death, who are already infected with the virus. With no cure in sight for many days for the pandemic, the life of the citizens of any country is even more stressful. In India, as we are going through a compulsory lockdown of 21 day’s we will today take a close view on what is mental stress, how it is developed and how it can be mitigated.

The modern human mind is so very much controlled by various media viz. the print media (newspaper and magazines), TV news, and most importantly the social media. All these only transmit so negativity in the minds of the people in these stressful times of the pandemic, that even a normally cheerful person may get depressed after reading the news or watching the TV news.

How can you recognize that you are in Stress?

Stress manifests in several mental and physiological sensations and it requires a great amount of self-awareness to confront it. Mental sensations include getting overwhelmed, a feeling of uneasiness, having a feeling of being irritated, bad-tempered, cranky, precarious, etc. Physical sensations include headache, ache in the neck back and shoulders, tightness on the stomach, sweaty palms, dizziness or shortness of breath. In extreme conditions of anxiety and fear, you may also experience disrupted sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, heartburn, and various other types of body aches and pains. We will get into the depth of these in the following paras.

Many of us in these periods lockdown due to Coronavirus may go through mood swings and have depressive thoughts and anxiety. There can be thoughts about ‘what if I get infected with the virus?’ ‘What will happen to my children after I am gone?’ ‘Will I be able to save my job once my company starts after the lockdown’? ‘This is too much for me to handle’ ‘How do I get out of this?’ ‘I wish my problems would just get disappeared’

It is very important to understand what are the changes that happen inside our bodies and what can be the long-term physical, mental and emotional consequences of stress on our body. But before that let’s get into the basics- what is stress exactly?

Stress is the body and mind’s response to any event that happens externally which disturbs the equilibrium or normal life. It occurs when we don’t get what we want or something which happens which we never wanted to happen. We get stress when we are not able to manage the reaction of these disappointments. Our body is tuned to some physiological and psychological equilibrium keeping us in sync with the outer world. If this equilibrium is disturbed for a long time it may result in various diseases and make us feel sick.

What happens when a stressful event (like the one of say, fear or anxiety some of us are feeling due to lockdown) occurs? The brain perceives the stress and responds by triggering the release of specific hormones from the pituitary and adrenal gland. The stress also triggers the adrenal gland to release stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. The sympathetic nerves which are present all across our body are stimulated to release more adrenaline throughout the body. When they are stimulated, your heart rate increases, your colon gets activated (which may cause diarrhea) and many other harmful changes inside the body happen. Short term release of adrenaline rush in the blood can give you the power of say fight in road rage or run after seeing a tiger in front of you (the fight/flight response). However, if the stress is for a sustained period of time, these stress hormones are pumped on a continuous basis in the blood. Some of the ill effects of these hormones being pumped in blood, on our body are as follows:

Stress manifests in many ways and can have telling effect on the health of our body
  1. Increase in the level of triglycerides, which are fats in the blood.
  2. Blood sugar increases
  3. The thyroid gets overly stimulated
  4. The body produces more cholesterol and remain at higher levels.
  5. Insulin levels in the blood increase and remain at higher levels.
  6. Too much cholesterol may increase the bodyweight (mainly in the midriff) which may further trigger heart ailments.
  7. Too much cortisol can deplete bone of vital calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
  8. Impaired immune functions

The high levels of cortisol can remain hours after the trigger i.e. a stressful event and will continue to do their damaging work.

So, is it worth taking all the stress for these temporary testing times that we all are into? Certainly not.

How to deal with this stress of lockdown and perceived negative emotions of fear, anxiety, and frustration?

  1. As the first step just accept the situation and acknowledge that you are not the only one going through it and that you can hardly do anything about it. Convince yourself that this is the best alternative that the government has taken in the larger interests of the people of the country. Don’t blame the system or anybody else as it will be of little use. One has to survive this scare of coronavirus to be able to rebuild your career, money, etc.
  2. Look at the positives of this situation, instead of whining about it, think what all things that you can do which you were only dreaming all these years, with plenty of time at your disposal. Watch that comedy TV serials (available on youtube /Netflix/etc.) again you enjoyed in your childhood like Charlie Chaplin, Lucie, or old comedy Hindi films. Just keep yourself and your family in good humor.
  • Since you cannot go out anywhere, this is a good time to exercise at home. Join some online Yoga class and start practicing yoga, (which is not only good for your body, but it also helps regulate the breath & concentrates mind) and pranayama regularly. Learn specific asanas and mudras for anxiety and fear.
  • Just dig deep into self and ask what is the anxiety or fear that you have?  If it is say, loss of a job, think that in case that happens, God has given you an opportunity to find a new and a much better job, if it is the loss of business, then you are not the only one, perhaps hundreds are going to lose much more than what you may and if it is the anxiety that what if the virus catches me- hammer into your mind that it cannot as you are taking all the necessary steps of staying at home all the time (except for going out to buy essentials), washing hands with soap thoroughly at regular intervals, increasing immunity by having hot beverages like tea, coffee and gargling with warm water, with salt/turmeric powder.
  • Recollect some of your old memories like your honeymoon, vacations with your loved people, and dig deep into those pleasant memories and relive those beautiful moments by taking out and re-visiting old photograph albums. Have your spouse and/or any other person in the family for the company. Just thinking of those moments will release the happy hormones in the blood and you will feel much positive. Best is to play with your children inside the house with games like, chess,  carrom, cards, snakes and ladders, etc. They will really appreciate that you are spending so much time with them which will enhance and strengthen the love bond you have with them. Any misunderstanding that they may have all these years of, parents not spending enough quality time with them, will be erased within just a couple of days and they will love you even more.
Spend time with your family, you will wish this period to go on and on….
  • Sit with family and make some beautiful plans say, as and when the situation normalizes, you all will go on vacation for a week. Decide, destination, all the activities, and fun that you all have as a family. Plan everything except the dates.
  • Don’t see, read, or listen to any media. i.e. newspaper, TV news, or any negative news on corona, even social media, etc. as all these normally will radiate only negativity, panic and add to the depressive environment.
  • Consider this time as a godsend as this will give you plenty of time to work on your relationships, and call other relatives whom you have lost touch with, due to being too busy running the race of life.
  • Give positive affirmations to your subconscious mind in the morning and as you go to bed in the night.
  • Think when did you get such a free time and talk to yourself that you are going to miss this godsend lockdown once you go back to your fast-paced life.
  • Go Spiritual: Keep aside at least one hour daily to get connected with self and any god of your faith. You may recite some mantras, japas, and read some holy books which you always wanted to all these years.
  • Enroll yourself to some free/paid online courses which you always wanted to learn all these years.
  • Help your spouse in cooking, cleaning, washing utensils, setting up the washing machines, etc. since the maids too are under lockdown.

And the list goes on and on… Don’t be surprised that you are busy in this period as well and at the end of the 21 days, you may actually start loving this period.

Emotional Intelligence- Empathy in Professional life

It was somewhere in 2002-03 self and one of my colleagues ( a member of my sales team) had gone for an important customer presentation in Mumbai. The meeting was scheduled at 10.30 AM and got completed by 12.00noon. I had some other work in the same area to meet another customer and I told my colleague to carry on with his calls. He said he needs to go back to the office urgently as he has to work on an important tender which was due the following day. So, we parted ways. It so happened that, I completed my second meeting in Worli (South Mumbai) and was back in my office in Chembur by around 1.15 PM only to see that my colleague had still not arrived in the office. I jumped to the conclusion that he was just wasting time or may have gone for some job interview. He came back to the office only by 1.45 PM or so. The moment he arrived in the office, I called him to my cabin and fired him left, right and center without hearing his side of the story. I accused him of wasting precious man-hours and also asked him where he had gone for the job interview.

Only after some time I came to know from some other colleague that this fellow had gone to the nearby doctor since he started feeling a bit uneasy after our joint call, took a bus to the nearest railway station(for his grade he was not allowed cab/auto-rickshaw), took a local train reached the station of our office, had his lunch in a restaurant (since he didn’t get his tiffin that day) and then reached the office. Whereas I took a cab from my second appointment which was a courtesy visit and the meeting lasted for just 10mins, took a cab and reached the office very fast.

My judgemental and prejudicial tendencies didn’t allow me to think from my colleague’s perspective. I had failed miserably to understand what he could have gone through or didn’t even bother to ask him before getting mad at him. I was totally consumed by my self-centered and self-absorbed reactions which failed me to behave in such an inhuman and disconnected manner, totally devoid of self-awareness. Such empathy deprived behaviors from the bosses are one of the reasons why employees leave organizations. Was I happy after getting wild at my colleague? Not the least. My anger and the physiological changes that came with it like fast breathing, sweating, and clenching of fists did not allow me to concentrate on my work and dropped my productivity drastically, not to mention the guilt ride that I went through after getting to know that he was not well and had visited a doctor.

This incident, however, changed the way I look at people to a certain extent. I was more self-aware of my emotions and hence my behavior with others. I was able to place myself better in front of them and my experience with handling people and going through some reverses in my professional life taught me a lot of lessons when it came to managing people, an uncompromisable skill required if one has to be successful in today’s corporate environment. While I am still WIP (work in progress) as far as empathy and EI are concerned would like to share some of my learnings through experiences and self-reflection.

Empathy in the workplace is as important as in our personal lives. It is the key to your success in career and a driver which will decide how high you will reach in your profession. As a leader/manager one of the very important abilities to have is to understand the non-verbal cues which can be totally contradictory to spoken words, giving you an incite of what is going on in your department/organization.

When the leader puts himself in his employees’/colleagues’ shoes, there is a feeling of belonging for the boss and the organization.

Some of the good habits towards fostering empathy are:

  • Saying thank you and sorry wherever required and is appropriate without making an ego issue.
  • Asking for the opinions and views of your team members, even if they are juniors and newly joined. Encouraging them to voice their perspectives.
  • Never being critical or criticizing any team member
  • Acknowledge team member’s strengths and accept their weaknesses.
  • Communicate with your team in clear terms as to what is expected of them and by when.
  • Supporting and appreciating things that are done well

To be more empathetic you need to be more creative:

  • As a leader, your employees/team members look up to you and your behaviors can have a great impact on them. Realize the influence you can have on others due to your natural tendencies and reactions.
  • After every success/milestone achieved or project completed by your team or your department/organization, be willing to see who were the major contributors to this success. Do you appreciate/felicitate them in front of everybody?
  • Think of the positive points that came out after each of the tasks that were completed by the team.

If you are disconnected from your own feelings, you may not be able to understand empathy. One can empathize with others only when they are attuned to them. When problems arise, people with empathy skills are better equipped to get the required advice and help from colleagues and hence are more successful in their careers. Those leaders/managers who can connect with and read their colleagues and understand their needs, ask for/ready to give help, tend to be more successful. In today’s corporate and changing world, it is the team rather than an individual which is the basic work unit. When working in a team and to get the best out of it, as a leader or even as just a team member you require to have a higher degree of empathy. Most companies recognize the value of this skill as cost-effective and resulting in less attrition rate and hence it pays to have empathy in the organization.

How can I get more empathetic?

Now, let’s understand some of the ways through which we can improve on our empathy levels in your office:

  1. Listening: This is the first and the very basic skill we need to have to be more empathetic. However, this may not be natural or inborn nor it is easy to acquire. It requires a lot of practice, patience, self-awareness, and self-control to develop listening. Before we understand what listening is all about, we need to find out some myths about listening, which are as follows:
  2. Not talking while the other person is speaking
  3. Letting the other person know that you are listening by nodding your head or making facial expression or verbal sounds such as Humm- uhh
  4. Being able to repeat what was said by the other person or being able to paraphrase what the other person had said. E.g. “So, as I understand what you mean to say is…..”

Recent studies have found out that listening is much more than the above points. Some of these pointers are:

  • Best listeners are the ones who periodically ask questions that encourage better understanding and insight. Sitting there and just nodding head does not provide evidence to the speaker that another person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker that the listener has not only heard but that they have understood enough and are asking for additional information.
  • Good listening involves a dialogue between both the parties and the exchange of feedback in both the directions. Poor listeners have that irresistible urge to talk when there is a small pause from the speaker and are just waiting to give their response. Good listeners may not agree to all that is said by the other person and may sometimes challenge also however, the listener is trying to help rather than trying to win an argument.
  • Good listening is like a trampoline for a child: it gives energy, bounce, acceleration, height, and amplification to your ideas and clarity of thinking rather than just acting like a sponge that absorbs what the other person is saying.
  • Practice Compassion: Actually, the next step for empathy is compassion. However, if you can replace frustration, anger (a natural response) and reprimanding an employee who has committed a mistake, with compassion their productivity can be improved. If you treat your employees with warmth and develop an environment that breeds positivity, it will have a greater say in employee’s loyalty and belonging to your company than his/her paycheque. All employees look up to their leaders and are moved/touched by their kindness and compassion.

Instead, if you respond with anger or frustration, it erodes loyalty. If you treat the employee too harshly, your reaction will make you have the feeling of guilt and next time that employee may not work beyond the call of the duty, which may hurt you as some loyalty is lost. You are developing an invisible wall between you and him/her and this hampers their creativity and productivity.

Being compassionate results in happier employee’s and more productivity

So, how can you be more compassionate to your employee when he/she makes a serious mistake:

  • Slow down: There will always be an urge to react immediately out of anger and frustration. Take some time to reflect and step back to control your emotional reactions, resulting in you being more thoughtful responses.
  • Put yourself in the employee’s shoes:  Thinking from the employee’s point of view will give you a perspective of what he might be going through. Maybe it will also remind you, that ‘when you were at his/her level/post you did the same mistake and your boss was also mad at you and you did feel very bad about it’.  This will help you to overcome your frustration and will stop you from degrading the poor fellow who is already feeling guilty for the mistake he/she has committed. You will also have the presence of mind to help him/her to save their face. You will gain more loyalty and be their hero for life.

It is very easy for the leaders as they gain more power by virtue of their positions, to lose their natural ability of empathy. It requires great self-awareness to be able to have an employee’s perspective.

  • Forgive: Having a grudge against an employee for all the mistakes he/she commits, is bad for your health (your BP and heart rate goes up), increases stress and disruptive emotions. On the other hand, forgiveness strengthens your relationship with your employees by promoting loyalty and develops a sense of belonging for the organization.

When trust, loyalty, and creativity are high and stress is low employees are happier and more productive. Attrition rates and absenteeism are lower. Compassionate management leads to improvements in customer service and client satisfaction.

However, being compassionate is not letting them off the hook. But by choosing a compassionate response they know they have made a mistake and that they have learned a lesson. They also want to improve because you have been kind to them.

Would like to end today’s blog with these beautiful lines:

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”Henry David Thoreau

Emotional Intelligence- Empathy-Part 2

We have seen some of the basics of empathy in my earlier blog https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-empathy-part-1/ . We are all born good people and we do have some empathy in us naturally. Only that we sometimes, lose it (as we have seen in the last blog) to anger, self-consumed, egocentric, prejudiced and stereotyped attitudes. In this blog, we will see how we can take our empathy to higher levels. Having said so, improving one’s empathy is a continuous process and cannot happen overnight. I have been working on it for quite some time. However, this is a work in progress (WIP) for all of us until the end of our lives, if we want to achieve real happiness, contentment, and life fulfillment.

In this blog post, we will see some of the methods that can be used to enhance our capacity to empathize with others. But before that, I would like you all to revisit the History of Oskar Schindler, based on which Steven Spielberg made the film, Schindler’s List. Schindler himself was a paid-up Nazi at the beginning of World War II. He set up a factory for enamelware in Krakow, which produced war ammunition for German soldiers. Schindler would bribe them, supply girls, serve them with the best alcohol to get higher value contracts. He would use Jew workers in his factory and exploited them. Nobody could have predicted in 1940 that this man would risk his life to save Jewish factory workers from getting executed. What can explain his transformation?

One incident changed the way Schindler started looking at people. It so happened that in 1942, he saw loads of people being herded from their homes to the death camps, and on the way some of them would be mauled by the dogs, some shot on point-blank range. He saw a little girl wandering on the streets and she was watching a Nazi soldier stamp his foot on a young boy’s head and shoot him inside his neck from behind. The little girl represented humanity of the Jewish population, which really shook Schindler from inside out. And what happened afterward, was- as they call it, yes real History. He saved 1100 Jews and helped them escape across the border to Czechoslovakia, where he was building his new ammunition factory. He even gave instructions to make his ammunition defective so that Germany cannot use them against the Jews, incurring high losses.

Why did he sacrifice his fortune to save those in the list? When asked he replied ‘I knew the people who worked for me. When you know people, you have to behave towards them like human beings.’

The key here is knowing people. The act of empathizing begins with looking into the eye of the other person. If you can’t look into the eye of the other person, you don’t have the courage to face them, you are guilty of being selfish and powerless. Schindler also reminds us that our capacity to empathize is not fixed and can change and develop over the period of time.

With this inspiring empathy story of Schindler, lets now understand how we can develop our empathy in daily life.

  1. Gratitude for people whom we cannot see: As you get up in the morning, remember all those people who work hard and our lives actually depend on them. Recall all those people starting from the farmer, who toils day in and out so that we can have our food, each person and mechanism through which the food is brought to our plate, the society, doctors who heal us, engineers who build roads, bridges, and apartments, people who stitch clothes for us, and all those people who touch our lives directly or indirectly. Thank them for all they do for you. We need to keep in our minds that we enjoy their products, so we have a responsibility towards them especially if they are working in poor conditions. If we can engage ourselves in this practice, we can dig deep into a better understanding of the people around us. This practice of being grateful, will keep us grounded and make us understand how we are dependant on the other people, we have never met or seen. (Incidentally, learned the gratitude meditation in one of the workshops I attended on Emotional Mastery from ‘Beyond you’). While I am WIP on EI, this I found was taking me faster on the path of empathy.
  2. Being Sensitive: If one has to develop their empathy more, you may start it with animals or have some pets at home, if you are fond of them. While I am not fond of pets, I know they are so loving (especially dogs) and expect nothing from us. What to eat and what not to, is an individual choice and I am nobody to advise on the subject. However, would like to narrate my experience of how I developed some more empathy when I was in my thirties.

I became vegetarian about 20 years back as I remembered seeing something which was quite disturbing and changed the way I look at animals. If we can understand an animal, by placing oneself in their shoes, there is a good possibility that we will have empathy for fellow human beings.

The key here is to develop the habit of understanding and where the other person is coming from. Once you are continuously in that mode, you cannot be a spectator/bystander and ignore- if you see a beggar shivering in the cold night, or once you get to know your maid is sick or worker in your factory is finding it difficult to pay school fees of his only son. 3. Imagining Kindness and Love:  If you happen to see a big, wealthy businessman at say, one of the social/business gatherings, who is throwing around his weight and showing off his money muscle, your first reaction could be, dislike for him. Then, just do an exercise in your mind. Imagine him being different in human guise, playing with is 10 years old daughter or helping his 80-year-old mother to lie down on the bed and comforting her to sleep. Doing this might subtly change the way you speak to him. You may find him a person that you have imagined. External appearances can be deceptive.

Imagine the other person to be totally opposite of what your assumptions or prejudices say, and perhaps you will find him closer to your imagination when you talk to him/her.

This exercise can help us to get over our habits of judging and labeling people and jumping to conclusions. This also gives us an opportunity to connect with more people and have better conversations with them.

When I started my career in sales about 28 years back, initially I had to make a lot of cold calls and most companies would shoo us away. I never liked the sales job in the beginning. So, these days when a salesman visits our house, I don’t drive him away or bang the front door, just politely say NO, if I don’t have to buy anything from him. I offer him a glass of water. Because I have gone through this ordeal myself, I can immediately connect with the salesmen.

The same is true with telesales people who call us for say credit cards, personal loans, or car loans or sell credit cards at shopping malls. Earlier I would just disconnect the line or if I am in a bad mood myself would even resort to verbal abuse. Now I politely say ‘No’. I have realized that these people are just doing their jobs. In fact, I think why are they wasting their time and energy by doing such petty jobs and wish I could be instrumental in getting them a good job someday.

Another method of imagining towards getting aligned with people and to what they are going through is to ask some pertinent questions to self before we make assumptions about them, to boost our self-awareness and enable us to identify prejudices that might be lurking in our minds. Some of these questions can be:

  1. Do people make some assumptions about you? How correct are these? If you think that they are totally wrong, do you have the right to make assumptions about others?
  2. Think of three instances when you were mistaken in your assumptions and judgments about others. What were the consequences of your mistakes and why did it matter?
  3. How often do you make assumptions and judgments and about which kinds of people?
If you can prove yourself wrong by asking some very informative and probing questions, you can get fast-track on the path of empathy.

We need to get into the habit of asking the “C” question and try to catch ourselves making too many judgments and assumptions about some people around us say- the peon of your office (assumption could be- poor guy chewing tobacco- won’t do this filing work properly. Realty- He is very good and prompt at his job, or a young team member who looks more flashy, maverick kind of character is, in reality, a very calm and easy-going guy or a young lady in the office who has many tattoos on her body has, honesty and time- management as her work values.

With better self-awareness, you may be prompted to have a dialogue with say- the person who is very quiet in the official meetings and discover their real views and reason for their silence. We can be on the fast track of empathy if we can prove ourselves wrong in this regard.

The key to empathy is to treat others how they, rather than you would like to be treated.

Coming up next: Empathy Part 3 Stay tuned….

Emotional Intelligence- Empathy-Part 1

Empathy is a very important aspect of Emotional Intelligence under the Social Awareness domain.  

I Would like to start today’s blog with my own example of childhood (I think it was in my 5th standard). It so happened that my mom had returned from the hospital along with my elder brother after treatment for her frozen shoulder. She was injected with a pain killer and was feeling some giddiness and hence went to sleep as I came back from the school. I like any other child who was so used to getting ready lunch, that I got very upset with my mother that how come today she did not keep my lunch ready. I was so consumed with myself, that I was not able to understand her feelings and the pain that she was going through at that point in time. Those self-centered thoughts masked my mind totally to think, feel for her, have that love and compassion for her.  I was very angry but thankfully did not utter a single word. It took some time for me to get over that guilt as I grew older and got more mature.

One more not so good memory which I have from childhood is about some of my friends (elder by 5-6 years to me) from our building where we stayed. These people would enjoy having fun at the cost of causing pain to animals. The moment they noticed a pig or a stray dog on the road, they would pick up a fairly big stone and try to aim at the stomach of the poor animal. If they were spot on with their hit, all would burst into laughter. This was sheer cruelty I thought on their part. (needless to say, I kept myself away from them within no time). Such cruel, empathy fewer tendencies I think come from not nurturing the natural empathetic gifts God has given to all children. The crux of the story is people who have no feelings/empathy/compassion for animals may find it difficult to have the same with human beings as well.

Animals too have emotions, they too feel the pain.

Empathy is inborn in all children. E.g. I remember many years back one of our neighbors’ elder daughter would rock the cradle for her younger sibling and would say “baby crying” when asked why she was doing it. I have already given an example of my niece in my blog – What is emotional Intelligence?

All children are born empathetic….

Empathy is thought of like a feel-good emotion. Many people think that being kind and having emotional sensitivity and being caring towards others, is being empathetic. It, however, is not limited to only all of the above. Empathy has the power to transform our lives and can bring about social change.

Empathy is very loosely defined as the art of getting into the shoes of the other person. However, what does that exactly mean? The essence of empathy is thinking from the other person’s point of view, understanding their feelings and perspectives before reacting in a particular way which many a time is based on our own judgments, prejudices and without much impulse control.

Empathy is often confused with sympathy but is distinctly different than it. Empathy is not showing any pity or mercy or feeling sorry for somebody as in sympathy. Empathy is also not the same as the Golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This means that, treat people with concern and kindness you would like them to be shown towards you. The Golden rule assumes your interests meet with theirs. However, empathy is about selflessness and going about understanding others, irrespective of their behavior towards you. It’s like having a firm belief that ‘for every reaction, there is a positive intention from that person’. Due to this, George Bernard Shaw tweaked the above golden rule as under ‘Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you- they might have different tastes. Empathy is all about discovering those different tastes.

Over the past so many centuries thinkers and psychologists have hammered into our brains that human beings are primarily self-interested, self-centered creatures only pursuing individualistic goals and desires. However, neuroscientists have identified an empathy circuit in our brain, which if damaged can severely impair our capacities to understand how others are feeling. They concluded that in general all people are born to empathize except for people who are psychopaths. Most of us use our empathic brains every day. E.g. when a colleague of yours feels the nerves/is very anxious just before a very important presentation, you will comfort her by giving a glass of water, asking her to take 3-4 deep breathes, giving her some other tips like taking some time to start after reaching the stage/podium and other reassuring measures. You just don’t preach her that “don’t take tension, everything will be ok, you will rock, etc” Or when you see a beggar getting drenched in pouring Mumbai rains and shivering because of it, you will give him something say a plastic cover or you umbrella to protect his body from rains, rather than just pitying him (that’s sympathy).

Sympathy actually, is used when you are trying to feel sorry for the other person without understanding what he/she is going through. Not that sympathy is totally useless, it just depends on situations. Typical sympathy statements include, “I felt sorry to hear the sad demise of your husband” or “I am extremely sorry to hear that, your son met with an accident”. In Empathy, you are not part of the problem, so you can detach yourself and become part of the solution. Typical empathy statements are “you are feeling sea sickness, let me get some cold towel and a tablet for you, you will feel better” or, “You must be tired and hungry after a long day at the office, let me get some cold drinking water and tea/snacks for you”

After having understood the difference between empathy and sympathy, let’s see what are the benefits of having empathy:

  1. As Steven Covey put it, ‘empathetic communication’ is one of the keys to improving interpersonal relationships.
  2. Empathy can re-establish the bond in broken relationships.
  3. Empathy can deepen our bonds in friendships and helps in establishing new ones.
  4. Empathy improves creative thinking, without which we would remain oblivious at problems and perspectives.
  5. Empathy can give a totally new dimension to the way we look at our assumptions and prejudices as we see things through the eyes of the other person.
  6. It also gives us new ways of thinking about priorities in life.

If there are so many benefits of being empathetic, why do we use it so very less?

Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote ‘A sign of health in the mind is the ability of the individual to enter imaginatively and accurately into the thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears of the other person; also, to allow that person to do the same to us.

Yet, if empathy was so important and useful for mankind, why do we use it so sparingly? The following are some of the barriers to empathy:

  1. Prejudice:  It is our tendency to label and judge people based on our past experiences about that person, different situations, our experiences with other people, etc We are quick to make assumptions and prejudices about others. We are prone to make stereotyping and making snap judgments based on first impressions and jump to conclusions while knowing very little about what the other person is going through. This tendency masks us to come out of our self-centered, and self- important mindsets. We are too engaged in our own perceptions about people that we fail to appreciate others’ and with these labels we criticize them and which again masks us from appreciating their humanity and uniqueness or personal stories or the situations they were in.

Most times it is the question of having impulse control on self, but we have too much faith in our instincts. However, our instincts can be easily influenced by assumptions gained from society and the cultures we come from. If we reflect upon ourselves and just try to recollect the incidences, we can conclude that we totally erred about somebody because we were looking at them through the eyes of prejudice and stereotypes.

I was guilty of being judgemental sometimes during my working period until not so long ago. As a team leader, we use to have an internal weekly sales meetings on Saturdays and I had kept it very strict for my team members to be on time at 8.30 Am when we would start. If any person was late even by a minute, I would ask that team member to donate Rs.100/- as the penalty in the box kept especially for that purpose, which would then be given for the charity. While the intention of charity was good, I failed to see that people could have problems at home as someone was sick, PTA meetings at school, etc. I would just label the other person as in-disciplined.

  • Distance:  We tend to be less empathetic to people who are far away from us. E.g. I may feel for the person very next to me or in my city, however, may not have the same empathy for a child starving in say, Somalia. That is where we Indians have a deeply rooted culture of “Vasudeva Kutumbakam” which means that the whole world is one family. And within the family, we don’t have differences in the intensities of empathy and love. While we still firmly believe in this philosophy, it may seem to some too idealistic in today’s world.

Distance in empathy parlance is not limited to geography. Social distance may also act as a barrier to empathy. We may have a bias towards empathizing with people who are having the same educational background, religion, or caste. We may not be empathetic with our next-door neighbor if he /she does not belong to ‘our’ category. The key here is to avoid this discrimination. Highly empathetic people make conscious efforts to look through the eyes of strangers and people who are outside their groups.

Another distance that is a barrier to being empathetic is our relationships. We care for our blood relationships like our children, even grandchildren more than people outside of our family. Normally, it is our own family (Spouse, kids, and parents) who get our empathy by default, then comes our friends, relatives and lastly the society at large, in that order. We also tend to forget this skill when it comes to thinking about 2-3 generations ahead of our race, else how do we explain sheer apathy towards global warming.

  • Insensitivity:  We have been bombarded with so many negative news daily by the media e.g. children starving, rapes happening in our country, genocides, mass massacres happened in the past, etc that we have become comfortably numb and we don’t feel anything for those who are suffering. In psychological terms, this is called ‘compassion fatigue’ or ‘empathy fatigue’. All around there are depressing news and stories coming from across the world.

So, why do we ‘turn a blind eye’?

Perhaps, we feel guilty of living a lavish lifestyle in contrast to the people who are suffering. Sometimes we just turn away to admit that somewhere we also might be responsible (albeit indirectly or even through our acts or neglects). We conveniently convince ourselves of not taking actions to relieve the suffering of others. Say, e.g. if there is a high problem of floods in areas of Bihar, West Bengal and UP we reason that ‘anyway what difference my small contribution is going to make for such a high calamity’ or we shy away from donating any money giving an excuse that government officials and NGOs might misuse it.

Highly empathetic people are self-aware that such reasoning/excuses will relieve them of their social, moral responsibilities and guide themselves against it. They recognize that these barriers are a result of culture, society, politics and which are against our normal human nature. This means that we as individuals and societies can find ways and means to challenge these barriers. We can choose to engage ourselves with the sufferings of others rather than deny them while looking inside us for strength, integrity, and curiosity to avoid insensitivities.

We will discuss some ways on how to get more empathetic, in the next blog…. Stay tuned….

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