>Your Well-being Is Your Responsibility

>Concern with well-being has been with man kind for as long as we remember. However, the definition of well-being and how we generate it and who is responsible, however, has changed over time.

There was a time when people left the responsibility of one’s well being to their clan, their community and believed that if all was well with the community or clan, their well-being was taken care of as also the reverse; i.e. if they had a sense of well-being with themselves, then the community as a collective also had a sense of well-being with itself. Often in such diffused state, individual’s sense of well being had to be sacrificed at the alter of the collective well being.

Then came a time when we were told that a sense of well being came with who you are in your roles that your establish with the world at large – be it in the family, at work, in the world and wherever else. If we maintained the balance in the relationship well, well-being would be guaranteed was the assurance. This created the misbalance that we did not know how to relate to ourselves and to others without the given roles and found a sense of identity only within the given roles. Any sense of well being that came outside the scope of roles were discarded and generated stress.

Today, I believe we are going through a phase in the world, where the basic message that is being passed on to us is that “Your well-being is your responsibility alone”. We are going through a phase when we are individuals first and collective later but unlike the clan or the role era, the collective tells us who we should be and how we should be without taking any responsibility for it.

We are told, nobody else can or will take responsibility of your well -being and hence the individual is to maintain and generate her or his sense of well-being irrespective of the context. So, for instance we keep getting message through ads of chocolate, cars or even bottled water, which generates instant sense of well being even when the situation surrounding the protagonist is potentially fearful, disconnected or stressful. We are also given lessons on positive thinking which would generate well-being but often times some of these messages do not take into account the contextual reality.

However, there is an associated message as well, which is while you are solely responsible for your well being, you must not disturb other people’s well being. This effectively means that not only you have to be continuously aware, competent and rational, you must also remain vigilant that you do not become a source of disturbance for others. On the surface of it, this sounds quite alright; if everyone took responsibility of their well-being, this world will be a happy and peaceful place. The problem occurs when remaining vigilant and aware at all points of time itself becomes difficult and when such things are simplified to such an extent that they become absolute, like a dogma.

Before I proceed any further, let me clarify that the kind of individuals and context that I am talking about here are largely urban, middle class, above school level and are mostly into employment or business or are professionals. I must also clarify that as a concept I am a great fan of positivity and positive thinking but I do take offence when they are passed on as an absolute reality without taking their context into account.

Let me state a couple of small stories.

Story number one in which a woman who is feeling quite direction less in her life. She is in her mid thirties, holds a responsible job and is intelligent, caring, perceptive and competent. The sense of confusion and directionlessness comes partly from her past history of stressful relationships and partly from her work context where she is new and is trying to find her feet. Despite her best efforts, she often finds herself on the verge of losing control over her emotions, falls sick quite often without any associated disease and ends up taking decisions that she regrets later on. In this situation, more often than not, she receives advice from her near and dear ones both at work as also from her personal context that she needs to sort herself out and only if she could do that, i.e. go to a therapist, practice yoga, take care of herself, has better routine, all such problems will be taken care of and things will come back to normal. This woman, despite doing all of the above, finds herself at the same crossroad and then starts doubting her sense of worth.

And what does the context do, while she stands on her head trying to “sort herself out?” Her mother who is critical, gets hyper critical about this woman’s problems out of her own anxiety, her boyfriend stays away from her because he was unable to handle her emotional upheavals, her work context demands the same amount of attention, care, concern and competence from her irrespective of her situation and they all pass on this message to her that “please stay away from us, take care of your situation and come back to us as a “functional” person as we are unable to take care of your dysfunctionality. We however, wish you well and are willing to bear the cost of your medical bills, will hire a counselor for your or even help you find a yoga teacher, offer you gymming facility, etc, etc. This in turn increases this woman’s low sense of self worth and pushes her to the brink further and further.

The context in this case, would hardly ever look at reducing some of the stress causing factors that may contribute to her lack of well being, e.g. her mother becoming less critical, her boyfriend’s hyper sensitivity to her emotional outbursts, her work context not demanding her to be always sensible, rational and fair, etc, etc.

Story number two is a multinational organisation where higher and higher responsibility, ownership and performance are demanded from the employees. The employees don’t mind, they see this as a rightful demand on the part of the organisation in return of the money, status, position, learning and value that are being provided to them by the organisation.

So far, so good- Right? Wrong. In a situation like this most of the time the employees would not know what to do with the stress and tension that they carry for a context that is ever changing, highly competitive and very demanding. One can of course argue that this is the way of the world and that people who come for this kind of work have made a choice. However my point here is not about the choice but whether just by making a choice, the responsibility of the generating well being becomes an individual responsibility or is it both? After all, if the context learns to take care of its inhabitants, the context generates its own well being as well. However, most of the time, organisations such as these would term such stresses as symptoms of lack of work life balance problem and would organize training programs to take care of such anomalies without making the slightest difference to the internal environment which is tipping off the balance continuously. Alternately the context usually not question the value frames from where such stressors are originating and whether they are an absolute must for the “development” and “progress” of the context.

Therefore it is not surprising that often who we are and who we should be are defined and dictated by the popular media and even when we hear a heart breaking story of a model taking her own life, it often comes in the garb of how her professional life created this stress and how does one stay away from the stress through individual effort while the context goes away scot free in the name of being a “high stress” industry.

The opposite is also true, i.e. there are individuals and groups who would never look at how they are contributing to the stress of the context and would demand that the context makes all the changes while they retain all their dysfunctional habits and patterns in relation to the context.

Till such time both the individuals and context look at each other as integral part of each other and that this relationship is not just contractual (work context), or societal (family, relationships), but are complimentary to each other and one will not survive without the other, but at the same time one can not subsume the other, this confusion and stress will continue to haunt us.

On a different take, why is a constant state of well being so important? What is wrong with unhappiness, struggle, sadness, confusion, anger, grief and lack of well being? Aren’t some of these great mobilisers for new path, new directions and new action choices? May be this calls for another post, later!

What do you think and feel about your well being?

woman, mother, thinker, citizen of the world, curious and hopeful about the world, generous, opinionated, argumentative, insightful, intuitive, psychotherapist, executive coach and organisation consultant

11 thoughts on “>Your Well-being Is Your Responsibility

  1. >@Roop- I am copying below your very thoughtful comment as the previous set up was not showing your comment: I hope you don't mind. I shall sort this out soon!Roop's comment on 22nd August:Sharbori, very insightful piece. I can completely relate to it – both in terms of where I have felt that the context is asking me to take care of myself and be functional, productive, positive etc – and that it really does not want any part of me that is dysfunctional to the context, tasks, relationships etc. I also find myself demanding the same of others at several times, although I would like to believe that I do try to support and negotiate with them. What I find particularly stressful is when the context encourages defining everything in labels and categories – good – bad, useful – useless, etc – be it thoughts, emotions or behaviours. Suspending judgement seems to be the first hurdle in recognising what is happening to us, how we are responding to such a context and what implications it has on our lives and being (well, or otherwise). I really like this piece of writing and would like to share it with friends and colleagues.

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  2. >@Roop- Thank you. I think this trend makes us into individual warriors inside of us who is weary, stressed and desperate and on the outside, we are to be like a clone of every other person who is supposed to be rational and non emotional.

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  3. >I enjoyed your article – thank you. And I notice that in your terms, taking responsibility seems to stop short of taking responsibility for your own feelings.For example, in your first story where does the mothers being hypercriticalness take place? I would suggest that it happens inside the woman – it's her interpretation – she's responsible for it.And who's saying a constant state of wellbeing is so important. Life is always in flux. Dynamic balance is the best we can achieve. It's not about how often you fall of the path – it's about how quickly you can get back on again.IMHO Mike

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  4. >@Mike – Thank you for your comment.1. I am not propagating that one should not take responsibility for one's feeling, in fact if one does not do it, then people will remain in a victim location forever. I am simply saying that there is limit to self sufficiency and processing all feelings about self and others by oneself. People can not live in emotional isolation, neither can the context be healthy and functional when people do so. Especially in a vulnerable state of mind, people need the touch of being understood, not being treated as an emotional handicaps. While I agree with you that it is "how you can get back on again' is very important, it is also important to value the falling. I believe that there is an over valuing on getting back on and a kind of fear, anxiety and repulsion on any state of mind that renders oneself "dysfunctional". I believe that if we don't learn to value the "falling" which in fact teaches us to bring about fundamental changes in ourselves and in the context, we would not really know what it is to get back on, but would only learn to cope temporarily, till we fall again.Thirdly, I certainly do see in India from my work with the class that i have mentioned about, that there is a strong compulsion to infuse a static state of "well being" rather than valuing the ups and downs that you have talked about.

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  5. >Sharbori, Hi! Went through yr piece a couple of times. As I understand, the malaise perhaps lies in the changing nature of the context. For the category of people that u refer to, the context is becoming increasingly plastic. Plastic as in not natural. Treating human relationships as transactional is not natural. But that is what the context referred to is increasingly demanding, employer – employee, parent – children, husband – wife; all relationships are becoming increasingly transactional. Why? beacuse there is so much to transact and increasing by the day. Consumerism promotes a transactional culture and it is no surprise that it is extending to relationships too. – joy

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  6. >@Joy – Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving your comments here.Yes, the context as I see it is increasingly becoming over-demanding and at the same time demanding that people's emotional world remain static, i.e. stable, rational and functional and if there is a deviation, it must that person's fault for not being able to manage and be effective. This will, as you very rightly point out, will give rise to transactional relatedness.As i re read my blog and some of the comments, I was wondering that perhaps this post is too spread out and may be there is a need to talk about parts of it in detail; for instance the transactional nature of relationship, or that for people to even invest in their emotional well being and create a stable environment, they need to have a feel of faith or trust in the context around them. This culture or environment does not provide for that, hence there is always a fear of being obsolete.the irony is that the context is made up of other people and if everyone is busy only looking after their own well being as the culture suggests, then trusting others or the context becomes very difficult.

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  7. >That was a very introspective post. I so agree that as people, who are the context most or all the time — are becoming more and more self-centric and therefore have no tolerance for others. It is sadly beginning at home, thanks to the consumerist culture and skewed thought processes. Looking forward to the other post on why one should not be in a state of non-well-being!

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  8. >@zephyr – yes, actually the irony is that our self centricity is stemming not so much from being centered around ourselves as much as from not wanting to become a burden onto others. I think we are so scared to become an emotional or physiological "burden" that we have forgotten that community and individuality are two sides of the same existence and one is meaningless without the other. The only time we wake up to a sense of community is when there is a calamity around us. the post on "non well being" should be happening very soon.thanks once again for your encouragement.

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