If you grew up with a parent who acted like a dictator and didn’t let you express your opinions freely, then five things happen:

1. You become a people-pleaser because that is the only way you could escape the wrath of your parent and get love from him/her. Children need their parents’ love for survival and so, you learn to keep your opinions to yourself because it is a question of survival.
2. As an adult, you will start believing that any kind of disagreement with your friend, your partner, your colleagues or your boss is a threat to your relationship when in reality, disagreement is a part and parcel of any relationship. You start panicking during any kind of debate/discussion because you have been conditioned to believe that to be respected and loved, you need to agree with the other person.
3. You live an extremely stressful life because on one hand you want to be authentic as a person but on the other hand, you feel as if your survival is under threat (no, disagreeing someone shouldn’t feel this way). You don’t want to have any conflict outside but oddly enough, you cannot escape the conflict WITHIN you (the conflict between authenticity and people-pleasing)
4. You become vulnerable to manipulation. When manipulators know that disagreement scares you and that you are a people-pleaser, they will try and get the things that they want by employing cunning tricks.
5. Sometimes, you start behaving like your parent! You cannot stand disagreement and bully others who have a different opinion. But the problem here is the same: You didn’t get a chance to express your opinions freely and so, you want to inflict the same pain on others.
If you are someone like this, then here’s something that you ought to know:
1. If someone threatens to break ties with you merely because of a disagreement* or merely because you have a different opinion then most probably, this person is manipulating you.
2. Mature people disagree in a healthy way. They don’t abuse or shame others while disagreeing. Some people start personally attacking you while disagreeing, which is a sign of insecurity.
*There are some conditions though. Sometimes,the opinion is too extreme. For example if someone says that rape is a victim’s fault then maybe, I will break ties with him/her. This can be tricky so use your judgement and intuition.

Why are Indian parents afraid of self-love?

Parents (especially Indian parents) are afraid of their children discovering self-love. Teaching your children self-love is in a way giving up your power and authority. If they don’t love themselves then they will forever try to please others. This desire to please can be used for manipulation (which is quite rampant in Indian culture). If children start loving themselves then they will start saying “no” and it is a sin to say “no” to your parents. If children start loving themselves, then they will start questioning traditions. They might start creating art without worrying about the imperfections. They might start saying no to abuse which is quite common in Indian culture. For many Indian parents, parenting is about power, not love.

Expecting others to change…

Until the last few months, I believed in changing myself ​instead of trying to change others. It is a nice philosophy but I now realize that it has a lot of limitations. This philosophy makes you responsible but you end up blaming yourself for something you are not responsible for. I now realize that the problem is much more complex and that the philosophy is pretty dangerous. If you were raped or sexually abused, you will end up blaming your clothing or your behavior! If you face sexism at your workplace, you will end up doubting your talent.This attitude will also affect your mental health. Hence, it is important to question others’ behavior when it is necessary. There’s nothing wrong in expecting others to change (at least when it comes to social issues). As long as this expectation doesn’t harm us (and as long as the expectation is not unfair), we should push for change.

Indian parents be like…

​Indian parents want their children to respect and follow them. But what if the father and the mother have different points of view? Then the child has to follow the father…Because he is the superior one.

 Indian parents believe that they are Gods and expect their children to worship them and take care of them. But when their son marries a woman, they expect her to leave her parents.

 Indian parents will say things like, “You must compromise. You cannot always get what you want.” But when it comes to finding  a groom/bride they are hell bent on matching planets, stars, caste and what not!

In short, Indian parents can tweak the rules as per their convenience.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s 4-Question Test

I came across Elizabeth Gilbert’s four question test (click) on Oprah Winfrey’s official website and it’s thought provoking. Liz, like most of us, wanted feedback about her work and valued honesty. She was ready to listen to brutally honest feedback but she realized that there is a thin line between honest opinions and abuse. So, Liz designed a way to filter critics:
I came up with four questions to help me decide who got to read my work when it was in its most vulnerable stages: 
Do I trust this person’s taste and judgment?
Does this person understand what I’m trying to create here?
Does this person genuinely want me to succeed?
Is this person capable of delivering the truth to me in a sensitive and compassionate manner?
If I could not answer yes to all four questions, then I would not let that person read my stories. And the fourth question was the most important—because here is what I learned (the hard way) about readers and editors who offered me a “brutally honest” critique of my writing: They were always more brutal than honest.

Donald Trump, ADHM and the appeal of abusive people

After watching ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’, I started thinking about why people are so attracted to abusive personalities. If we look around, we will see that almost each one of us is dying to impress someone who has mistreated us in one way or the other. Why do we seek approval from abusive people? The fact that a person like Donald Trump is in the race for presidency proves that people are vulnerable to gaslighting.

In ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’, Ranbir Kapoor’s character wants romantic, passionate love, which Anushka Sharma’s character is unable to give. Ranbir throws tantrums because he is friendzoned and he believes he is entitled to romantic love from Anushka. He forcefully tries to kiss Anushka and even shoves her because he wants her ‘love’ at any cost. The sad part is that most people let others treat them this way. One reason is that most of us don’t really love ourselves and we doubt our own worth. In ‘The Gaslight Effect’ (click), Dr. Robin Stern writes that as long as people believe that they need external validation, they will be always vulnerable to gaslighting and other forms of emotional abuse. Manipulative people love those who don’t love themselves because they tolerate abuse in exchange of love and appreciation. Manipulative people cleverly alternate between bad and good behavior so that their victims stay confused (“But he is not abusive! He was so nice to my parents!”).
Another reason why we are attracted to abusive people is the drama that they bring to our lives. We may talk about peace but we kind of like drama, thrill, and excitement. Many abusers are charming…in fact, some abusers are acclaimed artists or people with special talent. Somewhere, our ideals of a ‘true artist’ stop us from considering the possibility that they might have abused someone. Woody Allen is considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time but the sexual abuse allegations against him are hard to digest because of his accomplishments. The allegations of domestic violence against Johnny Depp are dismissed by his fans because he brings so much integrity to his characters.
To put an end to this cycle of abuse we have to realize that we can never impress our abuser. Manipulative people want to dominate and feel superior to others, so there is no reason why they will give us respect. To respect someone, we have to acknowledge that someone is as good as or better than us. People like Donald Trump feel confident when they put others down so there is no question of ‘winning’ their love or appreciation. Once we realize this, we choose peace over drama and love over abuse.

Unequal relationships

I have laughed at dwarfs, transgenders, gays, lesbians, prostitutes, people from lower economic class, people who cannot speak English and dark-skinned people in the past because I wanted to fit in. And when some of my friends or loved ones did the same, I thought, “They are nice to me and people around me, so why all the fuss? Sure, they look down upon the waiter, but how will it affect their loved ones? How will it affect me?” However, people who think that any human being/group is worthless or is inferior to them, will, in all likelihood, treat us in the same way.

Human beings seek acceptance and a less judgemental form of love in intimate relationships but a person who believes that someone is inferior (even if that person is not a family member/relative/friend), will eventually bring the same kind of hierarchy and judgment to relationships. So a ‘normal’ man may mock a dwarf but he may not mock a ‘normal’ woman in the same way. However, he might believe that a ‘normal’ woman is inferior to a ‘normal’ man..so eventually, he might mock all the things that a ‘normal’ woman represents or loves. A ‘normal’ woman may feel superior to an autistic woman and we may continue to be friends with her because we are not autistic and it’s not a danger to us. However, if we notice closely, there will be always some kind of competition. Someday, this woman might try to prove that her child is more ‘normal’ than her friend’s child. This applies to God too. If we believe that God is superior to us then we also believe that our loved ones, family members, are inferior to God and that their lives matter less. That is why a 13-year-old Indian girl was allegedly forced by her parents to fast for more than two months as part of a Jain ritual (she died!). That’s why in the Indian society, the oppression passes on from one party to the other. When Indian parents look for a groom for their daughter, they don’t look for compassion…rather, they want a guy who has an awesome pay package, so that they can look down on others. All they care about is if this guy behaved nicely to them; it doesn’t matter if he treats his servants badly (in fact, many middle-class and upper-class men and women take pride in dominating and humiliating servants). So eventually, this guy creates a hierarchy, placing himself and his parents at the top. Ultimately, his wife and his children will suffer, because equality is the foundation of intimate relationships.

Dealing with ‘nice’ manipulators

​It’s tough to say “no” to people. What makes it even more tougher is when the other person is nice/has done nice things for you. Sometimes, this ‘niceness’ makes us vulnerable to manipulation or abuse. One example is the concept of ‘friendzone’. Some men believe that just because they are nice to women, the ladies owe them sex.

It’s of course important to remember the nice things that people have done for us and if possible, we must try to repay them. But the problem occurs when people alternate between good and abusive behaviour. Of course, no human being can be always nice but when it comes to manipulation, niceness becomes a strategy for abuse.

It’s important to remember that ‘good deeds’ of the past cannot be used to justify abuse in the present. Even if a person has *genuinely* done something nice for you, it doesn’t mean he/she will use it to do bad things. 

There are people who do mean things and say they are doing it for your good or for society’s good or for God or whoever. These people are arrogant enough to believe that they know what’s good for you. But the point here is that even if they are correct, they don’t have the right to abuse you. For example: your parents might have told you that that the man you love is an asshole. They may be right but in case you marry him and he is indeed a jerk, then you parents shouldn’t use it to shame you or look down on you. This is an important point, which Dr. Robin Stern talks about in her book on gaslighting (see my previous posts). 

Why teachers matter…

​In ‘Freedom Writers’, Hillary Swank, who plays the inspiring teacher Erin Gruwell  says that real revolutions happen inside the classroom.  Such quotes are often shared on September 5 but most of us underestimate a teacher has on children.

Parents are the first strangers that a child meets after she arrives on this planet. Parents are more powerful than the child and what they do with this power has a massive impact on the child’s ideas of power and vulnerability. After parents and some relatives,  the teacher is probably the person with the most power. This relationship is significant because the child is now moving outside and encountering strangers and power. These two factors rule our decisions, don’t they? For e.g. We are afraid of what politicians (strangers) will do (power) to our country. We either feel safe or insecure in the world and a lot of it has got to do with how strangers with power behaved with us when we were kids.  If these people abused their power, then we will have problems in forming relationships because each relationship begins with two (or more) strangers. 

If the teacher manages to empower his students then the kids will grow up with confidence, self-respect and compassion. The world will be an imperfect place where you learn and get better. If the teacher uses his power for ego trips then the child grows up feeling insecure…she will be afraid of other people’s power. This creates the desire to be more powerful than others  but the obsession with power itself makes you powerless

When worrying is self-serving 

​I always equated worrying with caring. The more worried you are about someone, the more you care about the person, right? But there seems to be a thin line beyond which worry becomes self-serving.

If someone you know is in pain or in danger then it is natural for us to worry. A person in pain or in danger is obviously in a powerless situation. By excessively worrying about the person, aren’t you adding to the feeling of powerlessness? Also, there is another problem here. A person in pain already has a lot of burden. If you start excessively worrying about the person to the point that you are no longer in control of your thoughts, then aren’t you actually putting more burden on him? The last thing you want to do is make him feel guilty or sorry for sharing his worries with you. The last thing you want is him to worry about YOUR worry about his worry…but this is exactly what happens!
Sometimes, excessive worry turns into manipulation. We start believing that the only thing we have to do to help people is worry and ruminate about their problems, endlessly. But sometimes thinking is not enough. Sometimes, we need to take some action and to do that, we have to have some control on our thoughts and emotions. In other words, (sometimes) we have to worry a little less if we really love someone.