Sukhada Kelkar

Counselling Psychologist, Certified REBT – CBT Practitioner, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, Disha Counselling Centre

I have been hearing a lot about mindfulness. What exactly is it and how can it be fostered?

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing. This, while not being overtly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Bringing awareness to our state of mind, who we are, what are our thoughts, emotions, triggers and what affects us, is mindfulness.

Simple ways to foster this are:

Mindful observation: Do small activities such as observing a leaf or a flower. Just focus on how the leaf / flower looks, its texture, its colour. Focus on your attention and stay away from judgement.

Mindful eating: When eating, stay with the food and the entire process of eating. Most of us are distracted by being with a gadget and lose out on the nurturance and sensual experience of eating a wholesome meal.

Build mindful awareness: Become aware of your thoughts. Take time out to be with them. Ask yourself – is this thought empowering me or disempowering
me? If it is a disempowering thought, see if you can release it.

Mindful listening: Listen with awareness and interest. Resist the need to interject and interrupt the speaker. This can take a relationship to a whole new level.

I lost my dad almost a year back and this was very hard on me. I feel I am not able to recover and am still prone to intense feelings and meltdowns. 

Yes, the loss of a parent is one the hardest things to navigate. It is a deeply experienced emotion, and every person reacts to it differently. Some people bounce back faster while some take a long time to accept it and react to it.

However, post a loss, in tiny ways, we must start taking baby steps towards restoring normalcy to life and begin routines. Seeking social support in the form of friends, relatives and community meet ups can be very helpful. If, after a year you are still struggling with getting back to a routine and finding it hard to cope with difficult feelings, you may think of seeking professional psychotherapy to help you cope better and explore deeper feelings which may be preventing healing.

I have been in a relationship for the last two years but it’s kind of on and off because my girlfriend keeps breaking up with me often. I have been wondering if she is gaslighting me? I am also confused and wondering if I am just fascinated with this trending word or is it really happening to me? How can I know?– A confused boyfriend

Dear Mr. B! Confusion and conscious efforts are two sides of the same coin – of taking charge! You have chosen the latter to bring clarity and that’s definitely the first step towards taking charge. It is natural that any relationship has its own texture and phases, but perhaps you need to explore deeper about the reason for frequent break-ups in your relationship. Having said this let’s understand what ‘gaslighting’ can look like! ‘Gaslighting’ is a form of psychological manipulation of a person across significant time that causes the victim to question their own thoughts, feel unsure about their judgements and perception of reality and memories. Some of the signs of gaslighting can be:

  • Your partner often denies what they previously said so you start to doubt your memory
  • Minimising and invalidating your experience by saying, ‘that’s not how you need to feel’, ‘ you are overreacting’, etc
  • Lying to you candidly and making you doubt your perception of the situation
  • Often telling you mistakes by starting off as, ‘you know how much I love you but …’ etc
  • They make you believe that only they can be trusted
  • Sometimes they tell misleading information about you to others and try to influence their judgements about you negatively

So Mr. B if you find some similar patterns in your relationship then probably you need to take some firm and timely steps. Remember, that a relationship should bring love, respect and a sense of fulfilment for both partners. If you feel that you are experiencing any of these signs then speak to your partner and resolve the conflicts within the relationship. Alternately, you can educate yourself further on how to handle gaslighting and take appropriate decisions.

I am a 45 year old woman married for the last 22 years. Of late I have been noticing a change in my spouse’s attitude. He has been acting distant and is often on a long call with so-called office colleagues. The other day I even read some lovey-dovey messages on his WhatsApp chat from some unknown numbers. I am very scared of what I am going to find out after so many years of marriage. Shocking and scary for me! I feel like confronting him but am equally worried about his reaction. What do I do to make the relationship work?– Nimisha, a homemaker

Dear Nimisha, first let us acknowledge that it must have been rather difficult for you to come across this situation. The situation may push you to feel a sense of turmoil, apprehension and even anger as in any intimate relationship, mutual trust and transparency are the cornerstones. However, I would still urge you to bring as much objectivity as possible and navigate the situation. First, I would urge you to probably sit down with your thoughts and see how it has impacted you.

Then a good idea would be to have a heart to heart conversation with your spouse and keep the tone as neutral as possible, as you are still not fully clear about the picture. Give space and time for your husband to come out if he has any such affiliations, and instead of a direct confrontation try to create a conversation. Further, if in case your husband accepts to seeing someone else, maybe you need to take a firm stand regarding the ‘negotiables’ and ‘non-negotiables’ in your relationship. Also, try to explore what your partner’s opinions and stand is about the entire situation. Last but not the least, please understand that any relationship goes through its phases Nimisha, so, make sure that you are sharing your views assertively and don’t let this situation impact your own personal self-worth. You can consider seeking some therapeutic support to explore yourself and handle the situation, if needed.

Hello, I am a student of 12th standard Science. My parents have been pressurising me to take up Engineering. Even my teachers say that I will do well in the field. However, I am very driven to take up Medicine and am feeling very confused as they are all saying that Medicine is for girls and not boys. I want to convince my parents to let me become a doctor; but am too scared to speak to them. Who can help me in this?– Aadya, student

Greetings to you dear Aadya. First of all, it’s appreciable that you have tried to stand up for your career aspirations. You can probably begin by mustering up courage and having a clear conversation with your parents. Tell them the reason you would like to pursue Medicine and perhaps get a trusted relative or a senior friend on your side if you feel you need some support. Try to have the conversation yourself and see how your parents respond. It is possible that your parents putting pressure may be stemming from a space of protectiveness to help ensure you make an appropriate career choice. So, maintain openness in the conversation. At the same time, get them to understand that to pursue a career effectively, you need to have both ‘aptitude’ as well as ‘interest’ aligned. Further, to help make all of you decide the appropriate career choice, Aadya, you can undergo a vocational guidance and aptitude testing session. The career counselling sessions can help you all to take an all-round and objective decision rather than resorting to gender bias or academic performances. Wishing you stupendous success and urging you to make a calm and focussed decision. Good luck dear!

I am a 25 year old, in a same-sex relationship, for the last four years. Of late my parents have been forcing me to get married. I have made up my mind to get married as per my family’s choice but am very afraid of my partner’s reactions. What should I do? How can I make the conversation easy with my partner? I am feeling very pressurised and cornered and I am very worried about how to come out in the open about this. – Mr. Someone who is so stuck!

To ‘Someone who is so stuck’ can we first hold your hand – to understand, identify and just acknowledge the plethora of emotions that you are experiencing. It seems that you are facing a multi-layered conflict. On the one hand you are feeling pressurised to get married and on the other you are possibly thinking of not sharing the truth of your personal sexual identity to your family as well as your prospective marital partner. Hence, firstly, please think carefully and thoroughly before deciding upon what you want to share, decide or choose.

Further, you may want to explore in what capacity and for how long you will be able to participate in the marriage through its different stages. So, it is really recommended that you process all these variables fully and thereby take a decision. This will also bring clarity about what stand you may want to take and communicate to your family. Lastly, in any mutual relationship openness and authenticity are essential, so Mr. S please try to have a heartfelt conversation with your partner about the dilemma you are facing and be open to your partner’s stand about it. It may bring forth some aspects, which may be useful for you as well. If you are feeling quite overwhelmed and distraught, you may consider seeking professional help and therapeutic intervention to help you with decision making and self-support in the long run.

I am a working parent of a 10-year-old and of late I have been noticing a lot of change in her behaviour. She refuses to go to school and often says she hates school. My daughter did not tell me much but I found out from her classmates that ever since she scored less in her last exam, some boys have been teasing her and calling her ‘dumbo’. I am really worried about the impact it might have on my daughter’s mind and don’t know what I should do in the limited time that I get with her. – Ashwini

Dear Ashwini, from what you have narrated it seems that the teasing may have been going on for some time now. Hence, first things first: It would be a good idea to be gentle and get your child to share what may have been troubling her about the school by giving enough comfort and safety for her to talk. It is understandable that as a working parent you may have to juggle between your priorities.

However, creating this free space to talk and share is paramount for any child to feel safe. Once you gain clarity you may need to seek help and support from the classroom teachers or the school counsellor. If any incidences of bullying or teasing may have happened it is important to address them in an urgent and professional manner.

As a parent, you may need to help your daughter to understand that although performing well in studies is essential yet it cannot determine her self-worth. Similarly, if you feel that it has impacted your daughter significantly then you can seek professional counselling to help her identify and develop effective coping skills.

Last but not the least help your daughter to be more assertive and develop her self-trust within so that she may be able to handle any such situations ahead.

Losing a loved one can be a very, very challenging time for anyone – even a mental health professional. But it’s commendable that you have reached out with your strength and courage.

Dear AAT, the emotions that you are experiencing are also understandable, that as a working professional in the field of mental health you are so much closer to interventions, have more awareness and are empowered with accelerated support when needed.

However, as hard as it may seem, but with the turn of events in your life currently you may need to gradually start addressing and working on your grief and gently look at the human side of you. That part of you could also be feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed. Having said this, it can be definitely recommended that you may need to consider medical intervention and psychotherapy for yourself as you seem to be going through a traumatic episode of grief currently. It is also essential that you give enough time and space for yourself through this process to ensure that a ‘healer’ does not end up being ‘wounded’ or ‘scarred’ in the long run.

Hence, as much as you may feel the need to maintain your composure, it is important that you allow yourself to experience all your emotions and seek support simultaneously to heal through this event gradually but in a better manner.

May you heal gently but surely and receive help to a golden mean.

My tween is persuading me for a phone and many other things. How do I navigate this phase?

Hello Mommy. It is natural that a child may want so many things. It’s a phase of great delight and exploration for them.  It’s also a time when they are becoming aware of their autonomy and want many more things and experiences.Yet, at times they lack the maturity to make the right decision. For parents, this is a period where their authority is being challenged and they are also afraid of being alienated from their child. Here are afew tips to navigate this period, which will extend till they are 18 years old.

This period needs to be handled with love and firmness.

  • Communicate. Keep all channels open for two-way discussions.
  • Reinforce boundaries firmly but gently.
  • Discuss non-negotiables and keep room and openness for activities, which can be negotiated.
  • Pick your battles. Choose important subjects to lock your horns rather than picking a fight over all the issues.
  • Negotiate to see how your tween can have safe experiences.
  • Do not punish or shame your child!

I am 55 years old and have been a widow for 15 years. There is a huge sense of loneliness as now my children have flown the nest. A friend suggested finding a partner, but I am feeling very diffident and low in confidence.  

It must have been a hard and difficult journey to have lost your partner at such a juncture and its commendable how you have steered along and ensured that your children are settled. So now it’s time to prioritise the self for sure. Glad to see you thinking and considering a companion.

There are many good websites that assist in the same. But before you take this step, take time out to connect to yourself and seek who you are, what are your likes and dislikes and what are the values you resonate. Tap into your strengths and your gifts. See if you would like to hone and amplify them. This will build confidence. Understanding oneself and knowing who we are, gives clarity and helps us make objective decisions.

It will probably be stepping out of the comfort zone, but a companion / partner with whom you can align and share interests can make life much more meaningful.

I am a new mother to a two month old and am resuming work after the maternity break due to financial demands. It was very difficult for me to even think about leaving my child for long hours and still perform at work. Somehow, I have convinced myself to return to work but am getting cold feet about how I will manage to work, still be fully with my baby and also find some ‘me’ time. Honestly, even the thought of being away from the baby is bringing forth a huge amount of guilt. What can I do? I feel like a mess. – Sussana, 30 years

Dear Sussana! It is understandable for you to feel exhausted and divided in such circumstances, as life changes significantly after having a baby. The schedule of a new mother is not an easy one at all with constant diaper changes, clean ups, feeding sessions along with your own postpartum recovery. So, it is important for you to create a schedule that will support you and your baby fully. Try thinking of the suggestions given below:

  • First, acknowledge that any change is difficult to handle. So, I suggest you start with identifying, acknowledging and trying your best to accept your emotions as you feel them viz. fear, apprehension, being overwhelmed and guilt. Often, when we hold space for ourselves, the mind works better to find ways and means to cope with the situation.
  • Next, communicate your needs to your employer honestly and perhaps consider beginning on a part-time basis.
  • Create a baby-care plan. Reach for help from close ones to look after the baby in your absence. Check if your organisation provides a day care facility, alternately hire a professional nanny, or take help from your partner or grandparent. Knowing that your child is in reliable hands will help you focus on your work better.
  • Make sure that you are committing to what you can manage at work and home. If you take up more than what’s possible, and if you are somehow unable to fulfil it then that can add to your underlying guilt. So, don’t over commit.
  • Finally, finding time may not happen. So, in small ways try to ‘make time’ for yourself. Start with simple things like eating a nourishing fruit first thing in the morning as part of self-care, doing simple breathing exercises on the count of 0-5 for minimum 5 minutes between your work breaks, keep a small pocket-diary handy and journal your thoughts as you go along the day.

Remember that adequate planning, self-support and being pragmatic towards your needs should help you smoothen the curves that you may experience in the beginning as a new parent.

I have been married for almost 20 years and have two children. Recently, to my utter shock I found that my wife has been having an affair for the last two years with her office colleague, who is also a woman. I am very heartbroken to find that my wife has cheated on me and I am even more horrified to know that she is involved with another woman. I am in a dilemma about how to confront her, as I fear that she will leave me and our family will be broken. What should I do?  – Aniruddh, 48 years

Dear Aniruddh! The recent developments in your marriage must have been quite challenging and difficult for you to come to terms with. It is very natural and understandable for you to feel let down and hurt. Hence, it is suggested that you first sit down with your own thoughts and emotions about how they are impacting you. Some questions to start exploring could be:

  • What are my current thoughts about my relationship with my wife?
  • What seems to have hurt or troubled me the most?
  • Which aspect has been creating more distress for me?

You need to identify and address what has been distressing you more – the infidelity or that your wife is involved in a same-sex relationship. Once you are able to identify this then you have a conversation with your partner about it. Pitch the conversation with as much calmness and cohesiveness as possible, as it will be for the better of all involved. Remember, that for any relationship to circumvent through its different stages it is important that it’s based on mutual trust, transparency, communication and respect. Further, the diverse aspects of children, family and other dynamics will then be required to be looked into. If managing these concerns seem challenging it may be a good idea to seek support and intervention from a professional counsellor to handle the situation as amicably as possible. Hope this helps you Aniruddh!

I am a 15-year-old girl in a boy’s body! I am so confused, scared, disgusted or can say even ashamed to even voice this thought as I know that my family will be devastated. But I can’t help it and want to stand up and assert myself to my family. I want to share my truth yet am fearful and wary of their response. Mostly, I don’t want to hurt them or be distanced from them in any way. What should I do? – Sulakshana, 15 years

You seem to be experiencing some amount of confusion and turmoil of emotions, dear Sulakshana. However, it is important to know that you have fair amount of clarity and understanding of yourself and your needs! To begin with a good idea would be to try and locate a family member or a relative who can be trusted and can be understanding towards you. Try to strike a conversation about your needs and see if you can express yourself to gain some support. Gradually, once you feel a little settled and supported you can think of taking the person’s help and speaking to your family. This will help alleviate some pressure off and may bring some clarity about your family’s perspective.

If you find some support you can move further into building and gathering authentic knowledge and helpful information as much as possible to understand your own self, explore your personal preferences and your sexual identity. Doing this will raise significant self-awareness and also help you with clarifying any amount of ambiguity, confusion and possible turmoil. Sulakshana, it is going to be a journey, which will require your patience, strength, courage and curiosity but will be a worthwhile effort. You can support this journey by exploring reliable support groups and clubs who can help you feel connected and supported. Similarly, you can even work consistently under therapy with a LGBTQIA+ Affirmative Counsellor who can scientifically yet compassionately support you through the various stages of this journey. Last but not the least, it is important that you take a stand and let it not stop you from fulfilling your dreams and wishes.

Hello, I am Janice (she/her) and am making this effort to reach out with a lot of apprehension and perhaps a little fear. But I need some help. I have been in an arranged yet happy marriage for the last four years with my partner who identifies himself as a bisexual. We both hold each other in high esteem and share a very healthy communication pattern. I have accepted my husband’s sexual preferences and have hardly ever complained about his other relationship. However, of late he has been frequently talking about having a baby. This has made me worried and unsure if I want to have a baby or not. I am conflicted about what I should do about this and if his sexual identity has got anything to do with his perspective about children.– Janice

Dear Janice, it is evident that you and your partner share a fair amount of mutual respect, communication, acceptance, and hold a comfortable space for each other in the relationship. Perhaps you can start by exploring your own thoughts and emotions regarding the current stage of your relationship. Try and figure out where your personal inhibitions or blocks may be stemming from, making you unsure about having a child. Try to use the openness that you share with your husband, to have a clear, heartfelt and transparent conversation with as much neutrality as possible.

Similarly, as a partner explore this question: “Do you find your partner trusting, communicative, supportive and available in the relationship?” If the answer is ‘Yes’, then visualise if he will be the same as a father. If the answer is ‘Yes’ again then perhaps you need to identify your personal hitches about the issue. However, if the answer is ‘No’ in either of the threads then perhaps you need to reflect deeply upon the quality of your relationship with your partner in terms of authenticity, transparency and trust.

Janice, to make a relationship work and feel fulfilled, it is important that both the partners are mutually connected, authentic and responsible towards each other. Similarly, to be a good parent, it is important that the person is fully involved, present as well as responsible. These essentials are a part of someone’s personality and are absolutely independent from any person’s sexual identity. Hence, rest assured that your partner’s sexual identity has got nothing to do with him being a good parent. Hence, please try to create a neutral, non-judgemental and explorative conversation with your husband to see where his need to have a child is stemming from. Go within and resolve your personal doubt and accordingly bring up the discussion with your husband.

Hello! I am in a senior position at a content writing start-up company and have been working very hard and superbly at my job for the last three years. However, of late, I tend to space out between meetings and have been feeling really tired to even get to work sometimes. I have noticed that I mentally switch off, sometimes daydream or just don’t show up for critical discussions and often cannot concentrate while completing my own tasks. As a team leader I am supposed to motivate my team members but am struggling myself with spearheading ideas and generating enough talent pool. Should I quit my job as I sometimes dread going to work? Am I burning out?  So soon? I am only 29 and want to achieve so much more in life. What’s happening to me?– Jayvardhan, 29 years

Dear Jayvardhan, it seems that you have been working very hard and consistently for the last couple of years. Sometimes when one keeps dealing with challenging deadlines, one finds it difficult to create sufficient downtime as well as handle persistent pressure. It’s possible then to experience significant stress.

However, there is a difference between stress and burnout. So, although leaving a job per say can be an option, yet there can be many other alternatives that you may want to explore first. By definition, burnout is a prolonged period of stress, which feels as if it cannot be amended. If stress is short-lived or tied to a specific goal, it is most likely to be not harmful.

However, if the stress feels never-ending and is accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, gloom, apathy and/or emptiness then it could be a sign of burnout.

To begin with Jayvardhan, try to sit down and introspect where the possible sources of tiredness and fatigue may be coming from? Are you feeling connected to the work that you are performing or has there been a disconnect lately? Have you taken adequate breaks, time-offs for yourself? If any of these may have been impacted, it can become challenging to wind down or even sometimes mentally switch off, which is highly important for personal and professional efficacy. Further, try to introspect whether there has been any sudden change either in your personal or professional space that has been hard to handle. Check for any continued difficulties or responsibilities you may have been feeling stressed about in areas such as ongoing health issues, personal relationships, home/work roles, parenting or so on. Identifying these aspects will help you to spot the source of any of the contributing factors and most importantly help you to gain some degree of clarity and control over the situation.

You may also need to think about whether there has been any significant and sometimes unacceptable change at the workplace?

Introspecting upon what variables at work can you control, change or tasks that you can delegate may possibly help you to reduce some load off your shoulders, if that may be causing you any worry or distress.

Finally, you may want to sit down and create more time for pursuing your hobbies, activities that bring you joy apart from work, spending time in nature, learning a new skill and/or reassessing your life goals can be strongly suggested before addressing the issue of leaving your job. If any of these interventions start making a shift then you can persist at maintaining your personal space and work motivation.

However, if you feel that none of these are helping directly or indirectly then you can consider taking some professional, therapeutic intervention and address any long-standing issues that may have gone unnoticed so far.

Wishing you deeper clarity and speedier support to navigate through this phase of your life. You are young and have ample time and alternatives to handle this situation. So try to stay focussed on identifying and providing yourself with the appropriate and necessary assistance.  All the very best Jayvardhan!