Tag Archives: the Self

Dr Shyam K Bhat MD is a
Psychiatrist and Integrative
Medicine specialist.

He is board certified in
Psychiatry, Internal
Medicine, and
Psychosomatic Medicine,
with additional certification
in clinical hypnosis


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You Are a Flowing River

“Don’t push the river; it flows by itself” Fritz Perls

The self is fluid, and constantly changing, said learned Eastern philosophers of yore. Your thoughts come and go, emotions change, and although you think of yourself as the same person across time, actually you are never the same. In fact, in some ways, you have no self at all.

Now, this may sound nihilistic to many people. But, as it happens, embracing the fluidity of your identity is a direct path to bliss and happiness. And as a psychiatrist, I see these philosophical concepts being played out in numerous ways in many of my patients.

Consider Lalit, for instance. In his mid-40s, he has been contemplating resigning from his job and starting a business for a long while now. But he is scared and his fear paralyses him, stopping him from taking the decisive step. The risk of failure and the intense responsibility of the change is frightening because Lalit’s sense of self cannot shoulder such a responsibility or deal with so much risk.

He has become so used to living and working under the umbrella of an organisation that he cannot, emotionally, embrace the idea of himself as an entrepreneur striking out on his own. His real self is crying for freedom, but his current self-concept does not allow for so much autonomy. Consequently (and not surprisingly), this yearning is suppressed as Lalit continues to toil at a job, imprisoned by his current identity and the fear of losing it. But if Lalit were willing to experience his real self, which is unthreatened by more conventional definitions of failure and success, he would be free to pursue his destiny.

Remember, your authentic, deepest, abiding self does not disintegrate when circumstances change. Your real self is life-affirming, secure, resilient and flexible — it is an experience, not an intellectual construct.

When you find yourself, you will not find an object. You will not find something that you can point to and say, “This is who I am.” When you find yourself, you will find a flowing river.



From My Column in Outlook Business. All case histories are composites, and details changed.

Kill Your Darlings

William Faulkner famously advised writers to edit fearlessly, to remove particularly those sentences that they loved.  Faulkner knew that the narrative and cohesiveness of a novel is ruined by sentences that are incongruent, no matter how beautifully written.

Kill your darlings, he said.  If Faulkner were a psychiatrist, he would have said the same thing in psychotherapy.

The goal of all growth oriented therapies is to help people become more truly themselves, to be free of neuroses and worries, inhibitions and self-defeating behaviors.

We are usually unaware of how our mind conspires to trap us in old patterns of being and behaving; having looked through the same cloudy lenses for so long, we mistakenly think that the imperfections we see are of the world, not our perception.

To see the world clearly, we have to fearlessly question even our most closely held belief about ourselves and the world. We have to be willing to let go of old beliefs and assumptions, even those that we hold dearly.  This is why a lot of spiritual exploration occurs during times of crisis and confusion. Also, spiritual exploration can easily throw a person into a vortex of existential confusion.

So examine your beliefs with courage, gentleness and compassion.

As part of a meditative exercise, begin to challenge your assumptions, even some long standing ones. For example, what is your definition of success?  When was the last time you examined your assumptions about material success?   If you redefined it radically, what would that do to your life choices, and to the evolving narrative of your life?

Or, what are your assumptions about what you can or cannot do?  What if you were completely wrong about the limitations you have set for yourself?

Some self-definitions keep us comfortable but stagnant.

When we let go of these assumptions and definitions, we are free to become ourselves. When we kill our darlings, our story begins to flow again.

(From my column in Outlook Business)

Living Lighter

We all have expectations and demands from life. When they are not met, we feel sad, angry and hurt.

For many people still,  unfortunately, this sense of deprivation is real, and tragic –  those who don’t have  food, water or shelter.

But for a growing number of people in the new India, this sense of deprivation is not real, but a construct of the mind. After all, no matter how much you achieve, you feel deprived if your needs are infinite.

Recently, a 30-something man in his third session of therapy with me said, “I get angry when my wife doesn’t take care of my needs and my employees don’t do what I want them to do.”

Soon, it became apparent that he was irritated by having to explain what he wanted. He had an unconscious expectation that those close to him should know exactly what he wanted, even without him asking for it.

He remembered feeling the same way, as a child, when his exhausted working mother would put him in the playpen, from where he would scream angrily to be let out and held. Some expectations come from experiences and some are learned over the years.

Some we know consciously, many are unconscious. Some expectations are reasonable and a few very unreasonable.

We often toil under the burden of unrealised expectations without knowing so.

We are like Sisyphus, except we don’t know we are pushing a boulder.

So, let go of unrealistic expectations.

You can begin the process by asking yourself: what are my demands from life? What situations make me angry? What do I expect from life as my birthright? Keep writing until there is nothing more to say.

Then read what you have written as if you are an observer, a dispassionate and wise person. Eventually, the weight of unreasonable expectations will fall away, leaving you light of spirit and relaxed in the mind.


Note: As always, cases are composites (using facts from multiple cases, with all names and identifiers changed)

(From my column in Outlook Business)

The River

When you find yourself, you will not find an object.  You will not find something that you can point to and say, “This is who I am.”

When you find yourself, you will find a flowing river.