Is Comfort Zone a Place or an Emotion?

Is comfort zone a place or an emotion?
Photo by Pixabay

We are often encouraged to venture out of our comfort zones, push our boundaries and limits, and embrace the unknown. People say that’s where the real growth happens. I concur. Subjecting ourselves to new experiences is a sure-shot way to fuel personal development. Having a routine in place may or may not be detrimental, depending on the kind of person you are. Some people crave a time-tabled life, whereas others need a change every minute of the day.

We often try to stretch our comfort zones by altering our lives, such as starting a new job, relocating, trying novel exercises, or exploring new locations. These are primarily physical adjustments — you cajole your body into taking up these unaccustomed, exciting external goals to nourish your soul. But what about internal comfort zones? Are we open-minded enough to set aside the prejudices we have collected subconsciously over the years?

Mental transformation is unarguably more challenging than physical. Any change starts with the mind, even the physical. Encouraging yourself to expand your corporeal boundaries is often more fruitful than attempting to alter your thought process. It takes determination to discard years of conditioning, escape the chains of our preconceived notions, and declare, “Okay, I see and acknowledge this new way of living, even if it’s unfamiliar territory.” Personally, I find such people incredibly attractive. Their willingness to listen is commendable and praise-worthy. Yet, we don’t see it happen much.

Why are some people more flexible than others when it comes to accepting new ideas and ways of life, welcoming them wholeheartedly as if they were privy to this knowledge all along?

I would like to highlight one sector in particular to make my point: the Hindi movie industry. It is intriguing to observe how professionals evolve to keep up with the changing times. In the Indian series Gulmohar, an effervescent Sharmila Tagore, a senior citizen, plays a character that most in her cohort would have found blasphemous. Similarly, the iconic Madhuri Dixit portrays a determined mother in Maja Ma, traditional in some facets yet unconventional in others. A role many of her peers would have been unwilling to take on. Among the male actors, we have the young multifaceted Ayushmann Khurrana, renowned for taking up any daring character that comes his way. We have actors and actresses across age groups willing to change with the times. But these are just the minority. Most are reluctant to play characters who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. Ranbir Kapoor, who’s within my age demographic, admitted in an interview a while back, during Shamshera‘s promotions, that he’s not brave enough to take up such roles.

Moving out of our emotional comfort zones is not age-dependent, as you can see. It requires a willingness to listen, understand, and acknowledge.

It is common to find friends and relatives who struggle to accept new ways of the world with its pressing issues simply because they find them unrelatable. They deny support despite knowing our backing may prove meaningful or pertinent to the intended group.

The most humane thing one can do is listen to the experiences and feelings of others and try to see things from their perspective without being judgmental. To sit with others’ thoughts for a while takes courage.

Sexuality is only one example. This rigidity in perceptions can be observed in a variety of scenarios. Conservatives look down upon women who wear clothes they consider vulgar. Feminists are thrashed because they are non-conformists. Men who display their emotions openly are often criticized by their peers and seen as inadequate to cope with daily tasks. Husbands who love PDA are called “hen-pecked.” We just have to take a look around to see the plethora of preconceived notions everyone, including you and I, are harboring.

The morality or behavioral police who preach righteousness are often people who have achieved much professional success in their respective fields by taking risks and boldly venturing beyond the boundaries of their concisely defined comfort zones. However, many refuse to embrace new lifestyles or cultural norms that challenge their convictions and emotional comfort. It is ironic to see them share inspirational videos about exceeding boundaries on social media when they themselves are not entirely free from the clutches of their comfort zones.

Sometimes it’s difficult to move away from what we have accepted so far as it’s an emotional state that we don’t want to let go of. Humans love their comfort zones — whether they be emotional or physical. An object at rest wants to continue being at rest. This theory is not just applicable physically but mentally as well. The discomfort of new fights, marches, debates, terminologies, laws, thoughts, and social media agitations build up our rage and make us criticize how the world is over-sensitive nowadays. Things are changing way too fast, and we can’t seem to keep up. It is overwhelmingly complex, and understandably so.

But whoever said we should accept the new all at once? Take it one at a time. Baby steps. Sit with the new, try to detach from the old, get acquainted with unfamiliar thoughts, ask questions (but kindly), and ruminate for a while. Give yourself time, as you deserve kindness too, to slowly break away from things you have treated as “home” until now.

But accept we should, if not immediately, maybe sometime in the future. To be a kinder person, less judgmental, and empathetic — traits that highlight growth as well. Acknowledging that change is a constant part of life and adapting to new ideas, beliefs, and perspectives is essential to becoming a well-rounded individual.

Shouldn’t we make a concerted effort to step outside our familiar settings, both in terms of our mindset and physical actions? Something to ponder as we continue to navigate the ever-changing world around us.

An Ode to Dr. Gabor Maté’s Insights on Healthy and Unhealthy Anger

Healthy and unhealthy anger
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Recently, I came across a video that provided an interesting perspective on anger. It featured Dr. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician, providing key insights on healthy and unhealthy anger. The doctor himself had experienced a transformation that changed his outlook toward rage, and he uses this knowledge to help us understand the differences between constructive and destructive anger.

To quote him:

“If I were to infringe on your boundaries, either physically or emotionally, the healthy response for you is to mount an anger response,” No, get out, stay away.” That’s healthy. Healthy anger is in the moment. It protects your boundaries, and then it’s gone. It’s not necessary anymore. However, if you could not express it, it doesn’t disappear. It gets suppressed.”

In other words, he says healthy anger helps draw boundaries. Once you express your anger constructively or healthily, you step back. The incident ends there. It does no harm to the other but protects you from damage. However, this type is often misconstrued. People who go through this type of anger are often subjected to dialogues like “you are too sensitive” and “you are overthinking.” A form of gaslighting takes place to downplay the situation. When you are unable to express your anger constructively, or you were discouraged from doing so in your childhood, your feelings can become suppressed, potentially leading to you expressing your anger in a destructive manner later in life.

Here’s another interesting anecdote that he shared in his video, which goes against the typical “punch the pillow when you’re angry” technique:

“Just as healthy anger expresses itself, does its job, and then it’s gone, rage the more it explodes, the bigger it gets. That’s what happens to me. It doesn’t pass through me. Sorry no. I’ve worked with certain therapists who’ve said punch a pillow, express the rage, let it just pass through you like the wind. But that isn’t, in fact, what happens with me. And I know I’m not the only one. It actually magnifies and intensifies and extends this feeling because it recruits more brain circuits into its service.”

In short, he states that the more you indulge your anger without regulation, the more unmanageable it can become, unlike constructive anger.

The unhealthy kind is volatile. A person who goes through it cannot control himself or his words and expects us to sail through it. I have heard family members of people with unpredictable temperaments say with conviction, “That’s his only flaw. His partner will have to adjust to his anger.” “When she’s angry, step away.” This type of anger, which causes the most harm, is justified by the person and their family. Volatile people often blame the other person involved in the argument for “provoking” their anger. They use the same defense time and again to validate their own misdeeds. The worst thing I have heard such people say is, “But I cool down soon after I get angry, so it is not that bad.” This means they have no intention of correcting themselves, and it is a problem the people around them have to deal with. I am of the thought that unhealthy anger is the reason for most bad marriages. Even if only one partner struggles with anger management issues, it can still damage the relationship’s progression.

The ode here goes to “healthy anger.” Being nice all the time can earn you a lot of friends. However, it does not serve you well. Healthy anger helps you get out of a harmful situation, end bad marriages, friendships, or relationships, and confront anyone mistreating you. It enables you to take a stand. When you take this defense mechanism out of your life, you risk being treated as a doormat.

My anger nowadays is mostly healthy, and it comes up when I am pushed around or disrespected. I used to feel unhealthy anger in my younger days. But that behavior taught me it only harms the household and relationships.

I have also been subjected to unhealthy anger from some of my ex-partners. That was when I realized the destructive power of anger. It can affect someone’s mental and emotional well-being to the point of no return. I believe those exposed to rage regularly should seek therapy to help them feel balanced again.

Dr. Gabor Maté goes on to discuss why experiencing rage, which does not imply acting it out, is the way to process the harmful emotion. You sit with yourself, understand why you feel the way you do, and work effectively towards resolving it constructively instead of letting it out on the other person. He admits that he faced challenges in his marriage and with his kids due to his rage. I found his honesty refreshing because I believe the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Most hate to admit their imperfections and get defensive about them.

Anger management is something we must all learn and practice. Knowing when to be angry, how to express it, and how to calm ourselves down before it gets out of hand is vital to successfully taking control of our anger. If you are someone with destructive anger issues, work on improving yourself with the help of a therapist for the happiness of your family, friends, and people around you. Do not indulge those inner demons thinking they are untameable. They can very much be brought under control. But it requires your active participation.

An Ode to My Failed Love Stories

An ode to my failed love stories
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh

Love, for me, has always been complicated. As a youngster, I always thought my first love would be for keeps. That the first kiss meant the deal was sealed forever, and the relationship was locked in for life. But real life is not a movie. It is definitely not a fairy tale. Different plans were charted out by forces beyond my control. Plans that would, at times, suck the soul out of me.

I have had the privilege of experiencing intense, passionate, illogical romance. The type that makes you forget the world around you and causes you to stutter and act foolish in your partner’s presence. It nudges you to write cheesy poems and bestow embarrassing gifts. You go to great lengths for the person to ensure they understand the value you bring to their life. The type of love where the self merges with the other and all boundaries and individualities diminish. On the flip side, the sort of young, inexperienced affection that cajoles you into tolerating mistreatment or disrespect and threatens you to compromise on your values just so you would stay confined to that perpetual dark zone. Your mind conveniently wants you to romanticize your forgiveness. “These things happen in love,” it protests, and you continue to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

These love stories of mine never (thankfully) lasted.

An ex once told me it’s better to be in a relationship with someone who loves you more than you love them. It acts as an effective self-preservation mechanism. When you are neck-deep in love, you kind of understand this theory. Minor disagreements tend to hurt, even if your partner is not at fault. Too much love can suffocate you. What else would explain us becoming overwhelmed by our own emotions to the point of no return? But how much is too much love? That’s subjective.

Deep love can often hurt because the level of emotional involvement is more. To step back and think logically is implausible, especially when all you want to do is cling to the person for dear life and unabashedly consume any space that exists between the two of you. It may be why many of us hang on to toxic love because, in a way, we are addicted to the person. Our love-struck system cannot tolerate being apart from the one we adore, even if we know the person is detrimental to our health. We longingly look out for our next “dose.”

Experience teaches you that some level of detachment is required to preserve your self-respect. You cannot merge yourself with your partner so fully that you lose your common sense along the way. “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you” is the new mantra. If you ignore this life hack, you lose.

Love has the power to keep you in a chokehold. All the chemicals in your body work harmoniously to prevent you from escaping this sea of love that, at times, is more adamant about drowning you than keeping you afloat. “You need them,” your mind justifies. “You won’t be able to survive without them.” Sometimes, you wonder why your own system is working against you. Why can’t it produce fewer chemicals and give your brain a chance to defog at least twice a day so you get some leeway to make rational decisions?

Often, some intensity imbalance is required to balance a relationship. Ironical, isn’t it? It’s never 50-50. Fighting for that 50-50 is when the balance goes haywire. Your whole focus is on whether equality is being maintained. A 40-60 is good enough, where each partner is mature enough to take the lower percentage of the deal, depending on the situation. But maturity is scarce, often leading to one partner compromising more than the other, accumulating bitterness in the long run.

I am in a proper healthy relationship at the moment, which feels different. Does he love me more than I love him? I am not sure. It feels equal. But less intense than any of the previous ones. It feels more mature, where things are discussed rationally, and no disrespect or insults are thrown generously into the air. We talk like proper adults with our negative emotions in check. For someone so used to an overflow of feelings, war of words, and flurry of insults, this silent, peaceful lull feels refreshing.

I can’t help but wonder if age and experience have a role to play in how he and I feel. He confided in me that he used to have no control over his words or emotions in his 20s. He used to be an angry young man, possessive, and naive. This contrasts with his current version, a wise man humbled by his own life experiences. It may be why “first love” is unique. Our emotions are intense in our formative years, and age has a way of watering them down. It is not that the love we experience later in life isn’t true. It becomes more guarded because you subconsciously filter your emotions through the lenses of your previous relationships. You learn your lessons, and you get better. But some of the dreamy rawness gets lost in the process.

If you are happily married to your first love, you might not relate to this post. But those who have had some failed passionate relationships would understand this feeling of being “in love” but also knowing the person isn’t right for you. The agony ends up changing you and even your future relationships because nothing molds you more intricately than experience. We are a sum of all the experiences we have been through, and each of us has a different journey that we have carved out on our own. It is understandable, then, why the concept of the “ideal relationship” may vary from person to person and may evolve over time. What I feel about love now is drastically different from my 20s. Earlier, I used to prioritize PDA and gifts. Nowadays, I prefer the subdued kind.

Do I miss the passion and cheesiness of my earlier relationships? Sure. But they have also taught me to step back and feel gratitude for the security and peace that comes with a healthy, respectful one.