Saturday, 7 February 2015

Being captive by "what we want": T2 Article dated 8 Feb' 2015

In certain parts of India, people have an indigenous way of catching monkeys. They put a banana in a very narrow- necked container, which is firmly tied to a pillar or a tree. The monkey puts its hand in, grabs the banana and tries to pull out. But his hand, clutching the banana, gets stuck. Only a few of them escape by dropping the banana. Many of our problems arise from the fact that we don't want to drop the banana and choose to stay unhappy.
Anuradha, a middle- aged lady, came for therapy with anger and self- destructive patterns. The following is an excerpt from our conversation after a couple of sessions... 

Well, you have a lot to do and practise. I also need to tell you that after the appointment next week, I am going away for a 15- day vacation, so we won't meet for two weeks.

Client:  (Looks shocked) 
How can you do that? Doctors are not supposed to go on a vacation! That's irresponsible! Therapist: You seem to be very upset and finding it difficult to come to terms with a doctor taking a break or a holiday... Client: You bet I am! How dare you do that? If I have money one day I will file a public interest litigation to make doctors available 24x7, with not a single holiday allowed in their career.

I see…. Okay, can we explore this a little? I understand that you don't want me to take a vacation and this upcoming break is upsetting you. But we have already discussed what you need to practise and then when we meet next time, we can again create a detailed plan of action for what you need to do for next two weeks. After my vacation, we'll again go through the difficulties you faced.

Client: ( Angrily) 
No! You are behaving irresponsibly. I am not going to listen to a single thing you've said. In fact I am going to do the exact opposite of what you have said. If you don't care about me, then I don't care either. I will just ruin myself and you will be responsible for it! 

So, you don't agree to your therapist taking a vacation. This is not what you want, and as you don't agree and you are not getting what you want, you are not willing to work for your own betterment and health.
Let's say even if your therapist's decision is not right, his counselling did help you before and perhaps will help you now too, if you follow it. But now you are unwilling to follow his advice just because his decision to take a vacation is not right according to you.
Client: (After a pause) 
But I am angry! We all have our reasons to want what we want and they can range from " everybody has it" or " that is how it should be", and sometimes they are justified rational reasons like " I've put in effort and now I want the result to reflect my effort" or " I have been loving and faithful in my marriage and I want my husband to be loyal too". The problem arises when we don't get what we want and as a result we get disturbed. In this state of anger, frustration and bitterness, we reject things that we can receive if we just let that " want" go. We are so focused on what " I want" that we are not open to seeing other options available to us.
The desire for " I want" can be so strong that it has the ability to delude us into believing that what we want is an absolute functional necessity for our survival. So when we are faced with the refusal of what " I want", we end up feeling sad, depressed and bitter. And if, like Anuradha, we face an impending refusal of what we want, we get angry, we fight tooth and claw to get what we want, in turn throwing away our own functionality and peace of mind.
Research by Alison Ledgerwood, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, and her colleagues has shown that we have a surprising ability to get stuck in what she calls a " loss frame". Or simply put, theglass- is- half- empty perspective.
A simple behavioural experiment designed by Ledgerwood showed that our mind has a natural inclination to get stuck in things like failure, rejection and not getting what we want. However, we can always make a conscious choice to let go of the " loss frame" with a constant conscious reminder to ourselves that there are more doors to knock on if the door we wanted to go through does not open.
Fulfilment of our wants, in a way, is an assurance that things are in our control, an assurance that we all seek. But at the same time, we need to be pragmatic and be open to challenging our conceptions of our wants and therefore be open to exploring new avenues and opportunities that we were earlier closed off to.
There is nothing wrong in wanting and pursuing what we want, but it is we who have to decide on the value we give to the fulfilment of our wants. We need to explore if we too, like Anuradha, are throwing away what is good for us just because life has not given us what we wanted.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at
 dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

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