Poorva met this clinical psychologist on a Sunday afternoon for coffee. As the recorder was switched on, the music in the background got drowned by the interviewee’s account of her childhood. In this thought-provoking interview, one point is made loud and clear – psychologists aren’t above us. They too have to fight their demons. Read on and find out how this psychologist fought hers’.
Anonymous, Clinical Psychologist, 30 years, Location withheld on request
Interviewed by Poorva Dinesh
Why did you decide to speak on childhood?
It has a lot to do with what I have been studying for the past two years. Psychology is all about knowing why people are the way they are. What we learn in psychology is how our childhood affects us. Our experiences in childhood, our relationships with parents, our peers, how much exposure we have had, how much we haven’t had, the negative experiences we may have had. We may or may not remember this as adults, but they have a profound impact on what we are now.
Also, parenting and childhood go hand-in-hand. What sort of parenting you have experienced, your relationship with your mother, father and the other people who are among the first you experience in your life. All that matters a lot and what really amazes me is the extent to which it affects us. That is why I decided to speak on this.
Was your childhood a happy one or looking back do you think it could have been different?
I don’t think there is anybody in this world who can say, “I had a perfect childhood.”
I have had some really great memories and some really shitty memories as a child.
You took a very bold decision to quit your job as a language resource and go back to college to do your graduation in Psychology. I want to know if this drastic change in your career path had something to do with your childhood.
I was not into academics. I was somebody who would only play. I was into sports and art. As a child I had publicly declared I hate studying and people were quite upset about it. Like every middle class family, my family wanted me to get good marks. But I was not that child. I was a rebel. I was somebody who would constantly question, and that wasn’t taken too lightly. I didn’t conform to the usual parental-held notions of success, competence or obedience…you know these so-called good Indian values children should have…and I didn’t have these. So I was the black sheep of the family.
When you are somebody like that, you are put down very often or told you are no good. And when this happens, you want to prove yourself to the society and to yourself because your closest people have told you that you are no good.
The thing is you also start internalizing these things that people say because you are so young, your self esteem depends on people closest to you. So you think you are not good enough, and you do all sorts of things and you continue doing those things because people are used to saying you are not good enough, and all your childhood you have internalized this idea so much you don’t know anything else, and it just keeps feeding the drive for achievement and to make yourself happy. Being in the field of psychology has also helped me overcome to some extent all that has been internalized as a child.
Last week I interviewed someone who said he went through a period in his childhood when he thought he just wasn’t good enough. Did that also happen to you?
For years together…in fact decades together…
But do you recall a period when this feeling took over your life so to say?
Maybe in my teenage years…and I am not saying I am completely over it. These are all core believes. They don’t suddenly disappear. They stay with you life long. Their impact may come down. You may learn to deal with it or challenge it, but it is there in you.
It is very interesting for a psychologist to say this. But can you not brush aside a negative incident because maybe that incident was perceived as a 10-year-old and now when you look back, it doesn’t seem so bad…Do you still perceive it negatively?
Looking back I can deal with it as an adult, but I can’t go back to my childhood and say, “Okay this is fine, this is not such a big deal…” I can only say this as an adult in the here and now.
So whatever it was, it really hurt you. The pain doesn’t really go away…
Yeah. You learn to deal with the pain or its impact reduces. You are happy now…but when you do look back, you realize something negative happened.
How did you deal with the pain?
Being involved in so many things helped me to dissociate myself from the experiences. I focused on what I wanted to do, I suppressed experiences to a certain extent. And I channelized my pent-up energy and angst…because you get tired of wallowing in self-pity, and if you are able to do something with that energy, it does lead to better things.
Did you ever have a chat with your parents or your siblings about how you felt?
I have had…hmm…once I started doing my masters in psychology and I realized how certain experiences made me the way I am…so yeah wherever possible for me, or wherever I wanted to, I have spoken to people and it has helped me vent out. I even got to know the other person’s perspective, which was not possible as a child.
If you chose to be a parent, do you think you would like to do a few things differently?
I have chosen not to be a parent. I don’t want to take up the responsibility of parenthood at all. For me its too overwhelming. I don’t want to do that.
Is this decision related to your childhood or would you say there is no connection?
Somewhere it is connected. See, we are not born as parents. Parenting is a learning process, and just like any other situation, we make mistakes. We don’t want to make them. We may not know we are making them, but we make mistakes and that is perfectly normal. But it affects children in ways we can just never imagine. But its not the parents’ fault. That’s something that I learnt. But having said that, it affects the child, and I don’t want to take up that responsibility.
What does love mean to you?
Hmm……Its a tough question…
We get that every time. Take your time…
I think…I don’t know…its like this triangle of three things. Desire, friendship and commitment. So anytime one of those things is missing, its going to be something else altogether.