Thanks for subscribing to this letter. It means a lot to me. This one is a little long. Read it peacefully. But I believe this is one of my best so far, and it has the power to heal and strengthen.
Things made of glass shatter and break. They don't break because glass is transparent. They break because glass is brittle. Our hearts do break, and it is painful. Heartbreak happens for many reasons other than romantic breakups. But the main reason our hearts break is because we allow are hearts to become brittle and unchanging. Read on.
We grow up believing our parents are superheroes. Before we laid eyes on our first superman or wonder woman movie, mom and dad were our super-humans. They could lift heavy objects, we could jump into their arms, they brought us gifts, and they taught us right and wrong. They took us for trips, made us have our first buffet meal, held us in the swimming pool, made our favourite food, and gave us permission to play video games!
Parenting is a difficult journey. It's all give, give and give. And then one day the child becomes a teenager and looks at the parent and says - "Leave me alone!". Yet, that doesn't stop a parent from loving and doing for their children.
Parents are super-heroes in every sense of the word. But super-heroes are also human. Yeah, yeah, some superheroes are actually aliens that came to earth in a space bubble because their planet was cracking up. But most other superheroes are humans. They have flaws just like other humans.
That fateful day eventually arrives in each of our lives. We begin to see the first glimpse of the reality that our parents are not infallible. They make mistakes. For some it hits early and some others enjoy the delusion a little longer.
You realise your parents are not as perfect as you thought they were.
In these last 15 months, chances are you have spent a lot of time with your parents. A looooooot of time.
Parents also cry, have desires, they make mistakes, they sometimes blame the innocent child, they say stupid things, they get angry and jealous, they get fooled by manipulative people, and all that. By the way, hold on to your seat, parents also have sex!
You see your parents doing crazy, stupid things that just don't make sense. You try to talk them out of it. You tell them to exercise, eat less salt, stop listening to that person, learn some new technology, ask to be paid more, or something like that - for their own good. And in return, they either get angry at you or smile coyly at you as though you are telling them a lullaby.
It's very frustrating. The picture you had of them in your head is beginning to shatter. This is usually a process that starts around the age of 12 and can go on well into the early twenties. It is very painful.
In psychology, this is called cognitive dissonance. When you hold an image of something, some idea, or some person in your mind, and the reality or behaviour out there is different from that image - it is very difficult for the human brain to process. It creates a lot of stress and tension.
Something has to change for you to find peace again - either the image in your head has to change, or the reality out there has to change. Until that happens, peace is gone.
My friend has been reading books about Sita as a character in the Indian epic Ramayana. Sita was married to Ram. Ram is supposed to be the ideal man in every way - as a son, as a brother, as a husband, as a leader, as a warrior. But then one day Ram asks Sita to prove her purity by walking into the fire. Oops. Many of us find it difficult to relate to this epic because of the cognitive dissolution this act of Ram causes.
Sita had a sister Urmila. My friend read a book in which the author writes that Sita was actually not very keen to get married. Urmila was. And the entire book builds around this premise. After finishing this book, she picked up another book by a different author which builds up exactly the opposite case - that Sita wanted to marry and Urmila didn't. My friend says that she really struggled to read that book. Each page felt heavy. There was too much cognitive dissonance in her head. Her mind had already formed an image in her head based on the first book, and it was just too painful to try and change it.
This was her cognitive dissonance.
Here are some other examples of cognitive dissonance.
We all love our country. We love India. We believe India is free and fair. But when events happen that shake this belief, it creates a huge amount of cognitive dissonance in us. The dissonance is powerful enough to cause rifts even among the closest of friends and family.
I grew up thinking about business, seeing business happen, and exploring business ideas. I grew up in a business family. I studied at business school. When I turned 32, someone I deeply trust told me that "you would be an excellent teacher". I laughed at the thought. I never considered it. Today I am a teacher. I built a business around education. At the core, I like to teach much more than I like to trade. It has taken me more than a decade to resolve this cognitive dissonance about my own identity.
Someone I really love and who I believe really loves me suddenly turns a different shade. Some things happen that make me realise that they were with me because they wanted something I have. They wanted my friends, my connections, my popularity, my ideas, my affection. And then when someone else came along who could offer something more, and off they went. This happens all the time. It's called heartbreak. It's actually nothing but massive cognitive dissonance.
I see myself as a fair, just and loving person. People also tell me that I am. And then I end up doing or saying something that hurts someone I really do care about. They are really hurt and spit out at me - "I never expected this from you". Now my self-image is shattered. I go crazy trying either to defend myself or trying to overcompensate by going out of my way to make the other person feel better. The other person's words don't match the image I have of myself in my head - and that is the most painful kind of cognitive dissonance there can be, especially if the other person is some I love and trust.
I made plans to enjoy a lifelong friendship with someone who I work with. We are such a great team. We compliment each other. We have invested so much time together. I have seen visions of us growing together, learning together and conquering the world. But then you go ahead and grab another opportunity that comes your way. Heartbreak!
What causes cognitive dissonance?
Forced compliance - you are forced or pressured into doing something you don't want to.
New information - you receive information about a person or situation which contrasts with your mental image.
Decision making - you have to make a decision with limited information and uncertain outcomes. This is the root cause of most people's career confusion!
Invested Effort - you made a huge amount of investment of time and effort in something - a relationship, a skill, a career - and are now realising it may not work out. Your brain will create all kinds of scenarios to justify your effort because the cognitive dissonance is just too painful!
How do you know if you are facing cognitive dissonance?
Here are a few indicators that you are experiencing some form of cognitive dissonance:
You feel a huge level of discomfort in a situation or with a person.
You try hard to justify or rationalise an action you have taken
Feeling embarrassed or guilty about something you did and trying to hide it from people
Doing things out of social or peer pressure even if it isn't something you want to do
Difficulty to accept new ideas, new possibilities, because they are very different from your existing ideas
Your brain goes into overdrive attempting to making the ideas and belief's in your head match with the reality you are seeing out there.
Beware of the effects of cognitive dissonance in your life - in your relationships, your career, personal growth, financial freedom and even in your spiritual life . Recognising early signs of cognitive dissonance will help you unlock a whole new level of possibility, joy and abundance. Also it will help you reduce the impact of heartbreak.
Here are 5 practical tactics you can adopt in your life in order to reduce the negative impact of cognitive dissonance, and that will reduce the possible of long lasting heartbreak in your life:
This is simple, but not easy. In any relationship, situation or project write down your own needs and expectations as clearly as possible. You don't have to share it with anyone, unless you want to. But keep looking at this paper every now and then. This simple act with help you keep a reality check on your own expectations. Modify and tweak your expectations from time to time.
Be careful of fixed formulas of success - MBA is the path to a successful life, without a formal degree I cannot be a success, without capital I cannot start a business, if I study abroad then my prospects are better, ambitious people are selfish, and so on. Be suspicious of formulas. Use them if they make sense but question them.
Be careful of what you think about yourself (and what your near and dear ones keep telling you) - I am an introvert/extrovert, I am not good with this or that, I am a jack of all and master of none, I can't handle pressure, I am/am not creative. These ideas are just stories that we have allowed to be repeated to ourselves many times over and now they have become reality. Challenge these stories and see what emerges.
Make it a point to have friends and meet people who think very differently from you. Always believe that no matter how right you think you are, the other person is always at least 10% right! Make friends with people across ages, professions, interests, beliefs and genders. Actively seek out opinions that contrast yours. Listen to them carefully. You don't have to agree. But listen and understand. Doing this will make you sharper and stronger.
This is a difficult one. But it is worth developing. Whatever happens to you, and I mean whatever, think of at least 3 ways of how it can be a gift. Whether you had a break-up, or a major failure, or a health challenge, or someone betrayed your trust - there is always something good that can come out of it. Start with little things that happen daily. Make a mental list of the good that can come of little things that go 'wrong'. Make this a mental habit for life!
Finally, my dear friend, please close your eyes for a moment say a small prayer of gratitude for your parents, wherever they are, however they are. Parents are the closest we will experience God on this planet. They are not perfect. Don't let your cognitive dissonance about them hold back your love towards them. Heal this relationship. It will make it easier for you to bear every heart break life throws at you.
And remember, parents are not just the people who gave birth to you physically, but also some people who gave birth to you and nurtured you in other ways. Close your eyes and feel gratitude that they exist.
I am grateful that you exist. You are giving birth to me as a writer.
Here is something that will surely make you smile:
Keep smiling (and it's also ok if you don't, but do try).
May your heart be a little less brittle.