Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 16, Tuesday November 22, 2005



Dr. Nighat Ara, Psychiatrist, Counsellor and Therapist

Q. I am very big fan of yours. I have always read your column. Now, today I want to tell you something. This has been disturbing me for the past few months. Now, I really don't know how to deal with it. I will be 18 in two months. I love this guy. He proposed me. First of all I said no to him. I thought its' not right to get into relationships now. However I could not resist myself and finally I said yes. All my life I have rejected the guys whoever proposed to me but this time I don't know why but I could not say no. I don't have a father so I am really worried how my mom will react when she will come to know about it and I am a very different sort of girl. I always thought I'll go for an arranged marriage or love but the person who will be my boyfriend will be my ultimate husband. Now I really don't know. Will I ever get to marry this guy? I really love him. Have I made a wrong decision?

Actually I even kissed him. Nothing more than kiss although but I am feeling very guilty because this happened. This shouldn't have happen. Kissing a guy before marriage is the worst crime. I even talked about this to my friends who are also into relationships but they find it quite okay but I don't. Ever since then I have been feeling guilty and really don't know how to overcome this feeling. I feel as if I am a very bad girl and that I have betrayed my family. I cry each and every night...but I can't leave him because I can't play with his feelings. I mean I don't know what to do I am in a dilemma. I am really confused what I want? I believe loving somebody is not bad but am I too young for love? If I don't get to marry him I'll always feel that before my husband I shared my feelings with somebody else.

Will it be betrayal? I don't know. I am not very confident as well. I have always wanted to succeed in life. I am losing all my focus. How should I overcome this situation and deal with my feelings? Please tell me have I done something very
Bad? At times I even felt like killing myself. Please help me

Ans: Teen years are always marked by feelings of uncertainty on issues like- identity, self-importance, self-value, sex roles etc. It seems to me that you love a guy but need validation of your feeling and approval of your action from others to clear up the uncertainties. You feel guilty about kissing (perceived as a sexual behaviour from our socio-cultural perspective) him and doubt whether it is betrayal to your family or future husband.

Guilt is a feeling of regret one has about a behaviour that has violated a personal value. The structural model (Sigmund Freud's theory) of mind consists of Super ego, Ego and Id. The Super ego is an agency of moral conscience that dictates what a person “should not do”. Value or morality develops from internalised messages received from sources like religion, parents, teachers, authority figure and admirable figures. The Ego ideal is an agency that prescribes what a person “should do” according to internalised values and standards. The powerful Id represents instinctual drives (hunger, sex etc.) and works primarily unconsciously to mess up Ego and Super-ego! Your situation and dialogue truly reflect the conflict between these three levels of psyche. A conflict between personal values of monogamy vs. polygamy or issues around chastity is playing the key role in your sadness at this point of time. You were truthful to your feeling though your guilt says that your action doesn't correspond your true self. It is natural for some teens to take risks to discover who they are. Learning at a higher price is better than not learning at all. Sometimes people adopt behaviour that contradicts their real self in order to fit in a larger group (e.g: peer group) or being influenced by external sources (e.g: Hindi movie). A teen's mind is a very easily impressionable one, falling in love or having a serious crush on someone is a common phenomenon at this stage. Your strong feelings towards him is quite age appropriate. However, it could be a slippery slope if you are not cautious enough. Impulsiveness and poor judgment (inability to anticipate the consequences of action) are signs of Id overriding the Ego and with further Ego maturity people usually overcome these weaknesses.

The question of betrayal comes (from my point of view) when you breach a contract or commitment (overt or covert). After progressing this far, breaking up without valid reason could be perceived as betrayal. How can you betray someone who doesn't exist in your life today? Never the less, betraying idealized self-standard (Ego-ideal) can be a source of pain too. Since, what you have done, you can't undo it now- shedding tears to wash out pain and guilt, confiding in a trustworthy person are some helpful tips. For believers, believing in a kind, merciful Higher Power (Allah for a Muslim) instead of listening to religious fear mongers seem to work better. You are al ready scared to death and don't need another person to beat you up further.

Sexual expression is an essential component of healthy human development of all ages. Hypocrisy, secrecy, pretension cannot change this fact. The main risk of teen sexuality lies in pregnancy. Adulthood gives people the freedom of choice, which also means taking responsibility of making that choice. Unrealistic “abstinence only” education and rigid parental control doesn't seem to work in all cases. As a consequence, an incidence like this might cost too much at mental health level. Some families are governed by the “rule of secrecy” around sexuality; suppressing, denying or diverting the natural sexuality can contribute in anxiety disorder, panic attacks etc. in later life. Balanced and realistic sexuality education program based on medically accurate information encourage teens to postpone sex until they are older and married. Studies show that postponing sex to an older age is associated with higher achievement in women's life. Uncontrolled teen sexuality are associated with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmissible diseases, drop out from school, poverty etc. It has been reported by several studies that among women younger than 18years, the pregnancy rate among those with a partner six or more years older is more than three fold than among those whose partner is no more than two years older.

You are feeling confused as your heart is in riot with your brain. Rationally you don't want to be in a relationship so early though emotionally you are already there. Instead of suppressing one with the other, it is wiser to balance the both. Assertive communication (expressing honestly without just trying to please should be the goal) and skilful negotiation (you have to do what you need to do and not what he wants you to do!) are important aspects of this situation. Explore whether he shares similar values or at least respects your need to protect your value. Obviously, the main challenge lies here in putting up the boundary (no physical contact) after letting it down impulsively. Choose safer places and protected environment to be around him until you get back your trust in him (it is better to be paranoid than dead!) and also on your own behaviour. Non-sexual expressions of love are usually enough to meet the need of a girl to be loved. Several studies have reported, even though sexual contact is voluntary; it is mostly unwanted by a teen. They do it for fear of losing the boyfriend or to feel confident about their sexuality. Even though bodily they are ready mentally they are not. A premature attempt can cause conflicts in mind that might lead to other serious mental problems. Whether this relationship will last or not will also depend on whether he would be a support or barrier in achieving your goals in life.

I believe, your statement “at times i even felt like killing myself “ is just an expression of a fleeting thought and there is no suicidal intention, ideation or plan behind it. Please see a psychiatrist for a proper assessment.

Thank you for sharing your story and allowing others to learn from it.

By The Way

Don't forget the lips

You do your face in the morning and then you are out the door. Do you ever wonder how you look by 11 am? Your lip colour is probably gone by then. So get into the habit of touching it up several times a day. Nothing makes you look more washed out than dull lips. Some women do need the colour. It actually makes dull lips look healthier with colours on the face. And guys do use lip balms during the winter and get rid of the dry cracked effect. Trust us today's women prefer well groomed looks.

Under A Different Sky

By Iffat Nawaz

The yearly hugs

THE other day it was Eid. I celebrated it like any other person who lives in their aloof world of creative freedom. I fed myself good food and tried to enlighten all the foreigners (oops I am the foreigner here) about what Eid is. My friend after hearing so much about Eid and Iftar visited the Hallmark store to get me an Eid card. But the manager of that certain store dismissed the idea with a “We don't do Eid,” so my friend felt innovative and got me a blank card, flipped it over and wrote some Eid wishes right to left. I appreciated it.

As I tried to explain different traditions like Eid Salams and eidi and “Kolakuli” the three Eid hugs, my friend said, “aww that's so sweet, how affectionate” and I thought “not really.” I realized then that the only time most of us show physical affection to another is during Eid, one of the only time we are officially allowed to hug (not always affectingly but more out of traditional obligation). And they are of course not inter-gender hugs, these hugs are only for same sex to exchange. Not even hugs between brother and sister or mother and son or father and daughter.

I remember during Eid mornings, giving my Mother or grand mother those hugs, fortunately I was born into a family who showed physical affection more than the average Bengali standard, so it didn't feel too awkward to have physical contact, but I do remember hugging certain people, those distant relatives, neighbors with all kinds of discomfort and a serious face that made the whole experience pretty funny now that I look at it from a third person's point of view. Bunch of people dressed up and ready to face the bullet, the bullet being the self-conscious eid hugs of course.

I don't want to categorize this physical unaffectionate quality to be something that is only labeled by religion. Come to think of it, it's pretty much the same way for a Hindu or Christian Bengali. I have never seen any rituals that allow much physical interaction between same sex or inter-sex in Bengal. Bengalis are people of words not actions I guess, so we have to settle for the warm words (but there is a lack of that sometimes as well so we settle for warm food instead) and not warm hugs.

I remember how the concept of hug seemed so fake to me in those early immigrant years. Here in America hugs are an essential, it's like our daily coffee. You feel good you hug, you feel bad you hug, you feel like hugging you hug…there is no excuse for giving or getting a hug. I was pretty uncomfortable with that setting at first, until one day it infected me too and I started giving them and wanting them without relating the word fake to it…it felt good to be able to hug and give back, especially when all the sexual misinterpretation is taken out that one might relate with a hug in Bangladesh. It felt like I was a normal human being, giving a normal human touch, with some normal human emotions to another normal somebody. That's all.

In the Bangladeshi community in America hugs are more popular than before I must say. There are those invisible air kisses too while hugging which never touches the cheeks but always makes the great kissing noise, which really irritates my ear sometimes. I guess that's a part that the America Bengalis here have adopted, not for the warmth but the more for the “coolness” I presume.

No I don't have issues, I got plenty of hugs as a child, so no there is no special condition that makes me more fascinated or obsessed about this hugging ordeal. But just for the sake of it, next time open your arms bring a close one in, even if it feels awkward…it really does feel good...


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