Guest Column

Honouring Your Own Self

Elisa Patnaik

It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you — Rumi

We all have people in our life we depend on for physical, mental and emotional support – family, friends, partners – who are our anchors and rocks. And understandably so. For life is too unpredictable and tumultuous to navigate it all by ourselves. While a few are fortunate to have a steady and loyal band of co-travellers, others are brave enough to steer their own ship in the toughest of storms.

However, somewhere along the way in this crisscrossing journey, we tend to lean on certain people, akin to a creeper on a trellis for our sustenance, happiness and wellbeing, expecting and hoping them to be there for us at all times.

I am a people’s person and am blessed to have an enduring circle of family and friends. And while I am independent in my thinking, relish being solitary and enjoy my own company immensely, I am sentimental when it comes to people close to my heart. I try and go out of my way to make them feel loved, valued and supported. And despite my reasoning that it’s not something to be necessarily reciprocated, somewhere from this emotional attachment indirectly stems a hope that one would be equally treasured, appreciated and supported. But of course, this doesn’t always happen.

Because life is complex, people change, and friends and families get engrossed in the intricacies of their lives. And certainly, with people of varied temperaments and dispositions entering and existing your life, the matters of heart and mind intwine into messy knots at times, difficult to unravel or understand.

So, it may so happen that the close friend on whose birthday you remember to wish at midnight and send cakes and flowers may completely forget your birthday. Or your partner may be totally oblivious to the fact that you have gone out of your way to plan his special day and fails to thank you. And the cousin with whom you have shared your deepest secrets and feelings since childhood misses to inform you about her love affair in a new city. Or else, your sibling of decades says something sharp which you can’t get over for months together. All these disappoint, upset and hurt. So much so that we lose sense of our own rational selves, falter in our confidence and begin to question our authenticity.

Although these are natural reactions and it’s but human to get affected thus, it is perplexing the way we allow certain people close to us to wield this emotional power over us which is hard to shake off and rationalise. And how sometimes despite our best efforts, it eclipses our logical thinking, wellbeing, peace and happiness. Even the individuals themselves continue to remain blissfully or carelessly unaware of this impact.

We all have an innate desire to be understood, appreciated, protected, loved back equally in return. But sometimes this wish gets thwarted. Perhaps due to the other person’s insensitivity, plain oversight, forgetfulness, ignorance, neglect or may be intended action or lack of concern. Or may be due to our own sensitivity, overthinking or vulnerable state. Nevertheless, the pains – both big and small – of being misunderstood, left alone, betrayed, disappointed, wounded, not cared for are universal in the ebb and flow of our lives. But as days and years elapse, circumstances change and people come and go, one thing remains constant. Our own self.

We change too, but usually our core remains the same. It took me years to glean the simple, yet profound wisdom that it’s only our sense of ourselves that is the ultimate truth and the nucleus of our wellbeing. It’s now when my hairs have started greying and I’ve gathered a couple of decades that I’ve begun to realise that while people may give us happiness, grief, disappointments and hurts, we have the power to accept it or decline it. We choose how we get affected, get over, let go and importantly, how others make us feel.

Why do we depend on others for our happiness and peace? Even if that other is your significant other, your sibling, your best friend or your own child? We are all unique beings and while we may have similar destinations, our journeys and co-travellers are diverse. As we journey through life, we are obligated to fulfil certain responsibilities and duties where there are no expectations or disappointments involved. Similarly, there are certain things we take up willingly when we really want to do something for others, or for our own pleasure. Adopting a similar dispassionate stance towards all that we do is not just liberating, but also helps in building a much stronger self.

Our days are spent meeting people, visiting places, doing things and in the midst of this demanding and busy lives, the one person we tend to forget the most is ourselves. How many of us are brave and strong enough to meet our deepest selves and tread the path alone, and enjoying the journey too?

When we are alone and solitary, we meet different versions of ourselves. Being alone is indeed like a meditation where all your senses and feelings come alive which were earlier unknown, buried or hidden. Who knows us better than ourselves? The map and geography of our feelings and thoughts with its unique valleys, mountains, hills, rivers and forests! Being alone with our selves is finding yourself and coming back to your own home again and again.

Those who find it difficult to spend time alone also find it difficult to explore and confront their thoughts and feelings. Being alone is loving yourself and not being scared of spending time with yourself and getting to know yourself. It’s being brave enough to accept your own quirks, flaws, eccentricities, mess and silences. Acceptance of our true selves is when we truly embrace our good bad and ugly sides and recognise these facets so that we know where we need to chisel ourselves.

When we tend to look towards others, especially our loved ones, family and friends for our sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, we do it at the cost of ourselves. In fact, when you place the responsibility and expectation of your happiness, security and harmony on others you absolve yourself of that responsibility. We know what we want the best. If someone offers or shares it with us, it’s a bonus. If not, go for it.

While we are born into our families, many of us enter into relationships expecting it to be quick fixes or magic wands which will make all our troubles go away and provide us with eternal love and fulfilment. But of course, there emerges differences, disappointments and dissatisfactions leading to feelings of being hurt and abandoned. What compels us to use another person as a crutch and expect them to be perfect and ideal to fulfil our void and longings? The key is in realizing that it’s not other people but we who fill our voids.

Importantly, our sense of dignity, self-respect and wellbeing is intrinsically linked to how we like to be treated, so set boundaries when we feel that relationships are taking a toll or getting toxic or the circumstance is getting the better of us. Self-compassion is important too. We are often harsh on ourselves when we are unhappy or are feel unfulfilled. Pausing, resting, reflecting and nourishing yourself is what we need.

We all have to bear our own crosses and into every life some rain must fall. So, it’s wise to gain responsibility for your journey, become independent and hold your head and heart high. Remember the immortal words of Tagore, “Jodi tor dak shune keu na ashe, tobe ekla chalo re”. So, open thy mind, walk alone, Be not afraid, walk alone.

Elisa Patnaik

Media professional.

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