Consider this. You are an IT professional and you have taken your two-year old daughter to the play area where, she has just deliberately shoved a child for the fourth time today. The hurt child’s mother looks at you.
You give an apologetic look, chastise your daughter on such unacceptable behaviour and let her play again. While leaving, you approach the other mother and prod your child to say sorry. She says it is OK and that all children do such things. The onlookers agree with her and you feel reassured, though slightly embarrassed. Fair enough. Or so you think!
Now consider the same situation as a mother, who is a psychotherapist by profession. When your daughter hits another child, the message you read from others’ eyes is “how good a psychotherapist is she, when she cannot handle her own daughter!” When you scold your daughter for hitting someone, the next message is, “Scolding the child being a therapist, tsk tsk”.
As you approach the mother for the apologies, she says to you, “Why is your daughter being so aggressive? Being a therapist, you must know it all. You must have read about it. My son never hits anyone.. blah blah blah.”
If people around you know your professional background, their behaviour with you changes. It happens. If you are a doctor, people tell you their symptoms even at a party. If you are a politician, everybody gets into the competition of being your favourite.
If you are a millionaire, people are attracted towards you like bees to honey. But if you are a psychotherapist, what changes more in people around you is not their behaviour, but their perception. There is a strange conviction in everyone that if you are a psychotherapist, you will have no emotional problem yourself and you will properly handle all those around you, no matter what they say or do to you.
You will be soberly happy or happily sober, whatever suits you best, all the time. You will have a good marriage. Your family will be satisfied and happy with you. There will be no fights between you and your spouse.
Your children will be angels, who study well, play nicely and have good manners. If crisis strikes you, you will handle it calmly, set an example of excellent behaviour and have everyone cheer, “now, this is the perfect way to be!”
If your life displays any sign of a common man’s life, where people have an argument, where children run away from books, where the daughter in-law is not happy with the mother in-law, your professional front suffers attacks of criticism from all corners.
In a nutshell, you will hear, “You should never feel sad, irritated, angry, greedy, demanding or lazy, because that is what people come to you for. You should always be cheerful, happy, full of energy and all giving, because that is what the end result of your work with each person should be.”
Carrying the burden
A pregnant woman or a new mother is like a suggestion-box. Everyone around her is full of wise suggestions [with serious expectations of being followed blindly] for her well-being. Perhaps in our culture, the strength of relationships is directly proportional to the number of suggestions and commands that are exchanged and followed.
When you are carrying, all aunties, distant cousins, neighbours and even passers-by have good stock of suggestions for you, on what to expect and when, what to do and how to do. They expect you to look bewildered on knowing something so important, yet unknown until now and of course, express gratitude for sharing it, promising to follow it without fail.
If, unfortunately, you have studied psychology of children and you happen to know the dynamics of child development from womb life till teenage, you may not be able to show the required bewilderedness and gratitude, thereby disappointing those around you, even though you thank them for their piece of advice. You fail to be a good suggestion-box. You become useless in their world of give-and-take-suggestions.
Emotional upheavals, mood swings, morning sickness, anxieties, fears are common during pregnancy. They are understood by those who have gone through the turbulent nine months. The newness of experiences and the strangeness of bodily changes can turn the tables from sanity to insanity.
But somehow people do not expect a pregnant doctor to experience these feelings. In addition, if you are a pregnant mental-doctor [forgive me for using such a term], you might as well resign from the world of empathetic understanding. Nobody expects a good therapist to say, “I don’t understand what is happening to me. I feel so sad without any apparent reason these days”.
People expect that you should not feel any emotional problem in the first place, and even if you do, you should be able to sort it out in a snap. That you are trained enough to handle such feelings. They do not have the time and patience to hear the moans and complaints of someone who should be on the receiving end of all these, not the giving end.
So what if you are pregnant? It is almost like saying, if you are a gynaecologist, you should not feel any labour pain and you can handle your own delivery or if you are a general physician, you should never fall ill. Come on!
Even the best-trained and experienced cardiac surgeon can have a heart attack and in such a situation, he cannot perform his own surgery. The best hair-stylist in town definitely goes to another stylist when s/he needs a haircut. So it is very hard to understand why a psychotherapist is forced to feel inadequate when she experiences trouble and needs help.
Women in our country have been programmed to devote themselves to their home-husband-children loop. This devotion, by default, is amalgamated with pseudo-positive feelings. No amount of house-chores, baby-chores, lack of personal life can justify that frown.
Sleepless nights with a colicky baby, tiring days, round-the-clock feed-milk-change-diaper routine, exhausted soul 24×7, with no sick leave, no weekends. Yet, she is expected you to say how blissful it is, to have the most wonderful gift of life—a complete family, with children as pivotal point, of course.
Imagine how this kind of expectation affects the perception of all women around, when you, again by the same bad luck, are a psycho-sophisticated mother [sigh!].
You might have given up your job as a therapist to take care of your baby. After all, it is a high-pressure job without provisions for working from home. And you, for sure, do not want to neglect even the smallest aspects of your child’s development.
So you might decide to resume your practice once your child starts going to school. You love your baby, you care about your husband and you look after the house dearly, but that does not mean that you cannot feel the tinge of frustration when you are exhausted after feeding and the baby is crying again for a diaper change.
Almost all mothers suppress this frustration, feel guilty about that momentary anger at the baby and attend to the diaper change immediately, singing a song in mind, “oh, how much I love my baby”!
If you are a mother who has studied the deep dynamics of psyche, you are bound to understand when your unconscious feelings manifest in your behaviour, even though it is for a fraction of second. You may interpret your inabilities as your unwillingness, your reluctance as your anger.
But, what do you do next? Do you foolishly tell any of this to someone else [and thus attract sarcasm and taunts]? Or do you keep all this in your mind and go on feeling angry at others for not empathising with you? Or do you vent it out somewhere [like me, through this write-up]?
Closure, at last
As a mother and as a therapist, I have realised that I should not discard my feelings into the dustbin along with the diapers. I must acknowledge what I am experiencing. I must accept that I can have negative feelings for my baby.
I must feel reassured that my positive feelings are way too bigger than the negative ones and my relationship with my baby will be rock-solid enough to withstand momentary anger or frustration. I must learn to take out time for myself without feeling guilty.
If others feel that my inability to understand my child’s whines reflects my incompetence as a psychotherapist, I must learn to ignore them and continue to interact with my child with a fresh mind, without preconceived notions.