Nurture vs. Self-sacrifice: How to ensure the happiness of others without compromising your own
Let us critically think about the tacit agreement, which has been prevalent within our society for decades - that women must depend on others – their parents, then their partners – for their happiness. I call it a tacit agreement because, for most households, this idea is treated as an unalterable fact, as a convention that is not often articulated explicitly. And it does not need to be said out loud; even our popular culture is steeped in this ideology.
I’m writing this piece to challenge this assertion. Why? Because this notion of dependent women implies that they do not have the capacity to make themselves happy. When you think about it, this implication is not only contradictory but also ridiculous when we consider one simple fact: women have unlimited nurturing potential that they use throughout their life, to look after their loved ones. It is unlimited because we extend it to everybody, be it our partners, our parents, our children, and even our friends. In light of this fact, the original proposition that a woman must depend on others to be happy is at odds with our reality.
Or is it? Let us take a deeper look.
Let us assume that this is indeed true: We can only be happy in relation to another person. Then this begs the question: why can’t that person be us? If I can look after my loved ones with equal dexterity then why should it be assumed that I cannot do the same for myself? Is it because a woman cannot love herself? This is obviously not true. Therefore, the premise that has been taken for granted so often, actually stands on a very loose ground, devoid of logic and rationale.
And yet, what explains the pervasiveness of this idea? One reason is that women in general are more unhappy than men; studies prove that women in India are more vulnerable to suffer from mental health problems than their male counterparts. Here, however, another logical fallacy is at work. General unhappiness among women is a symptom of the societal flaws that contribute to the socio-psychological studies yielding results as above. And by virtue of mental gymnastics, it is generally inferred that it is women themselves who are responsible for their unhappiness.
Let us pledge to subvert this idea by taking responsibility for our happiness into our own hands.
How women can ensure their happiness
Various studies highlight that women at the workplace typically score higher on emotional metrics than male professionals. Dr Shawn Andrew observes in his book The Power of Perception: Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and the Gender Divide that women “tend to score higher than men in areas of empathy, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility.”
This explains the power of nurturing possessed by women across the world. We are adept multi-taskers who manage responsibilities at home and at work equally well. This, however, invariably takes a toll on our mental well-being. This is precisely what I want you to consider for a moment: is it not true, then, that our strengths, through excess, are becoming our weakness?
Yes. Excess of anything is bad. And the quality of self-sacrifice, that women all around are encouraged to display all the time, is no exception. While it is a laudable trait, it is not sustainable and, as people who are being directly affected by unrealistic standards being imposed upon women, it is our job to remedy the situation. How? The answer is simpler than it appears and, I’m sure, many women are already aware of it.
The key lies in another of the qualities that we possess: the power of self-reflection. We need to learn to leverage this ability more often. Self-reflection is the power that enables us to pause, take stock of things, and fine-tune the strategies that we follow every day of our lives. It is what allows us to make decisions that are for the benefit of everyone around us. The challenge is to ensure that we ourselves are included on the list of people we want to nurture.
Self-reflection has allowed me to understand the nature of nurture through the metaphor of pottery. A potter uses both of his hands to mold clay into desirable shapes, and it is in the separate use of both the hands where the trick to success lies. The potter uses one hand to shape the clay. The other hand he uses to balance the shape, ensuring that the clay doesn’t rise in a lopsided manner. One hand shapes, the other balances. This is the mantra that we need to apply in our lives as well. This is the art of compartmentalization: deciding between things that are important and those that are urgent.
Nurturing is not about giving all of yourself but about becoming the helping hand for a loved one to become a more complete individual. The same holds true for yourself. Just like unhappiness is the by-product of a stressful routine, happiness is the by-product of the process of healing. Therefore, use the power of reflection to take stock of things. Focus on what requires your urgent attention. Make some free time where you can focus on nurturing yourself. This simple mindset holds the key to unlocking a life that has less of stress and more of happiness in it.