Navigating Friendships when you’re the ‘Helper Type”

Feeling lost in empathy land?
Reflecting on this past week, conversations with therapist/helpers/social worker types of friends across genders:
Seems like there’s a pattern in the lives of these folks (including me) of being a kind of one-sided emotional sink for our friends. People from our communities seek us out for our listening/ empathic skills and look to us for advice about their lives on love, parenting, grief, sex etc. This is wonderful. Being generous with our time in community is a gift to this world. But there’s also a whole negative aspect to this- and that is, this one sidedness. While I understand that empathic listening or solution finding might not be a strength for many, a reciprocal give and take of care is absolutely essential in relationship.These past few years, I’ve had to say goodbye to many such one sided friendships. It took a while to learn how to compassionately communicate the problem to my friends and let myself not be guilty for distancing myself from friends who did not understand.

Here are some tips if you find yourself in a similar position:

– Is someone that reaches out to you only about themselves really your “friend”? Have you defined for yourself what friendship is?

– Notice in yourself the tendency to reply to cries of help immediately. Before replying, ask – what is my intention with this person? Then, wait atleast 20 minutes before you reply.


If your friend seems to be not receptive to your help and you’ve spent 10 minutes of your day talking or texting with them, about their problem, ask them what exactly they are looking for, from you. If they communicate what they need and you can offer it, do it. Then let them know a bit about yourself.
Talk about your feelings, your thoughts.

Notice their response. Did they reciprocate? Did they ask about you? Did the conversation become about your day/your feelings/your relationship stuff too?

– If not, scroll back to your communication with this friend and check, have they been asking about you this past month at all? Is this a habit for them to reach out to you spontaneously, talk, seek help and say goodbye, without ever checking in on you? How does that make you feel? Have you enabled them to depend on you as their emotional sink?

– Often people will assume that the ‘helper type’ is strong and doesn’t need anything in return. The assumption is that if they need help they will ask. But I know, for a fact, we don’t ask. Due to our own childhood stuff, we have trouble asking/ we ask out of pent up resentment and then explode/snap. So, ask yourself- what blocks you from asking for support in return? If the answer is that this friend isn’t able to provide you the support you need too, then why are they your friend?

– Creating better dynamics for yourself will make space for you to welcome people who truly care about you too. Trust me, there are people like that out there and they can only come into your life, if you allow yourself the care and respect that you deserve.


Human Expectation

People who say they have no expectations, and are “okay with everything” are often the ones with the most unsaid expectations. It’s so unsaid that even they are often unaware of how much and what they actually expect from themselves + others. These are the people who have hidden resentments building up, and they may or may not have any knowledge of it. How do you know? Try crossing them in any way. They are the ones who will say/think, years or months later, “I did so much for that person”,
Or, “I never once said or did anything bad and yet that person did this to me.” Here they are unaware that they have a CLEAR expectation that they will do xyz and get abc. But they will be stuck in thinking of themselves as “without needs/demands/expectations”.
On the other hand, the people who voice their expectations and hold themselves and others accountable to them are often the easiest the deal with. You know what they are about and you know what you’re going to get if you do a, b or c. These people often get labelled as demanding but are often the least demanding on the scale of demanding humans, of which we are all a part.

Panel: Mental Health and the Politics of (Dis)connection

What a powerful panel on Connection/Disconnection in the field of Art Therapy and Mental Health. Thank you Rumi Clinton, Beth Enterkin, Nerissa Osby and Leah Amaral for participating, sharing, engaging in such a wholesome manner.

Some questions that were spoken to:
– What does a decolonial art therapy practice look like to you?
– How does one navigate conflict in work/education settings when one is training as an art therapist?
– Do politics and mental health intersect for you?
– Speaking from an intersectional lens, what are your experiences of mental health practice?
– What are your personal resources that sustain you during times of disconnection?

May I watch you? On Consent and Being Queer

Today, a woman who said she found me attractive, in a queer party asked me if she could watch me dance as we were all dancing. She said if I said no, she would understand and not engage in the act of looking, because she wanted to ensure I didn’t feel uncomfortable under her direct gaze.
I was so moved by her unexpected and staggeringly surprising utilization of consent in what could be seen as an obvious “invitation to look”- the act of dancing, that I became teary eyed with pleasant surprise.
For survivors of sexual assault and for everyone else who reads the news, every act of stripping away of power of the self through rape and acts of “powering over” others, may feel like the “norm”. “Boys will be boys and it’s in our nature to objectify people.” “Who asks for permission when they are fucking?” Statements like these are present and normalized everywhere.
But there are spaces where people not only actively acknowledge that we live in a culture of rape, but actually put in concrete actions to ensure that we end rape culture. There are people out there who WANT to make you feel safe so they can ensure you enjoy yourself. Not need to, or being forced to, to fit the box of a “good person” but believe me, they actually want to make sure they are not harming you. There are people out there who DON’T think that saying the words “May I kiss you?” before kissing someone is an abnormal thing. There are people who say, “I want to touch you like this, but if it doesn’t feel good, just tell me, I’ll stop.” There are people like that. And if you, the one who is reading this post, isn’t one, it’s high time perhaps you changed.
Intimacy with someone who asks before they act heals so many trauma-wounds. And oh, it is so sexy.

The Study of Therapy and U.S. Centrism

US centric academia, US centric food, US centric music, US centric porn, US centric clothes, US centric social justice… Oh goodness, it gets so tiring. Studying the practice of therapy, sociology, anthropology, or anything slightly related to “culture” in the US is such a dissociative experience. You have to not only adapt to US supremacy within your own neurobiology to place all the psychotherapeutic learning you’re embodying, but also erase a whole part of the fact that you belong to an entirely different land where therapy practice, people’s inner narratives, attachment styles and cultural propaganda that manifests in the psyche, are performed within a completely different sensibility. Who is going to understand, in your foreign classroom the nuances of an intercaste parent-child relationship living in suburban Kerala and that they aren’t necessarily “enmeshed” because they live together well into their 40s? The term enmeshment itself is studied from a western-centric lens and it guides the narrative of so much that we consume. Yet, this place defines how much bread I can earn, how much value other people see in me, in my home country, as someone educated in its narratives.

But then, the most disarming is to sit in a classroom with other Indian immigrant students and friends, who have conditioned themselves to be so US centric, growing up millennial in India, that the experience of dissociation isn’t even visible to them. And then those of us that practice therapy/mental health of any form in the US, long after our studies have finished, gain greater and greater distance from a whole part of our identities that we have sold to the US. It’s so subconscious and it’s so prevalent.

#ussupermacy #therapy #mentalhealtheducation #usimperialism#howtheworldseesvalue #why #dissociation #unlearningyourself

Tapal Danedar

I hesitate to be,
one of those who sit outside
the lines of reality,
yet comments on what happens
inside the box I sometimes 
call home.
Somehow Indians and Pakistanis
have the best allyship outside that
boundary when emotions run high.
Yesterday I spent the evening in
quick conversation
with a familiar auntie
who I’ve never spoken to before,
buying atta
at the Indian-Pakistani grocery store
on the corner of Devon.
We sighed together,
zipping our carts around,
in quiet companionship
searching frantically for food
that didn’t reek of white,
amidst a musty stack of all things brown
conversing in robust hindi-punjabi
about spices and daal
and the media and fake news,
all in one,
she wearing a green patiala,
me in my dress,
and silver nosering
until she reached for Tapal Danedar
and I for Brooke Bond Red Label
and she asked me if I wasn’t from Karachi
I shook my head and we continued to talk
about the media
and the fake news
and our prime ministers,
and how we both
have lost blood.

In times where our borders are wrestling
with whose blood means more,
I run a check on my walls
that come up around anyone
that doesn’t agree with me

I hesitate to comment on war,
yet I get riled up
whenever it is brought up,
my heart closing,
my fists shaking,

I go home and cook my roti,
I log out of facebook #josh
and american activists
commenting on intergenerational trauma
whose corpses I carry in my own blood

Yet, I check my walls
I don’t want the borders to play
with what’s in my heart.

Let’s Build Better Tools to Relate to Each Other this year

Endings don’t mean much to me, it’s all an ongoing path…the end and the beginning are both one.

Here’s to more questioning, more facing on conflict, better relational tools and hence, a deeper dive into this fantastic existence.

An article on better resolution tools on this gift called “conflict” that we run away from:

Light the lamp and there’s radiance

As I think about Art Therapy, Feminism, the new political year in the US and the political turmoil in India…my thoughts lead to this Kabir song I’m sharing:

Light the lamp,
and there’s radiance,
Such a small bundle,
It will bite dust one day,

It will mingle with the mud,
in the temple,

Light the lamp,
and there’s radiance

Who will awaken in the light of this utter turmoil we are facing today? Do I have what it takes to awaken? 



From the Ajab Shahar Project:

“Guru shatters the pitch darkness, the lamp destroys the utter blackness, says Kabir, urging us to light the lamp in our temple. ‘Jagariya’ – literally ‘one who awakens’ – is the last name of Asariya bhai, and many of the other singers in this mandali. So it’s not surprising that their families have been in the tradition of singing Kabir and other mystic poets for several generations. Kabir is a widely loved nirgun poet of the 15th century, well known for his rude and rough rhetoric, designed to shake us out of our unconscious ways. The song casts a powerful spell as it weaves together the other voices that ‘awaken’ – Devji Asariya Jagariya and Devji Ghabha Jagariya – who are from nearby villages. As the song says, light the lamp and there’s radiance!

Asariya Khima Jagariya has imbibed the tradition of ‘aradhiya bhajan’ from a very young age from his father Khima Bapa and his grandfather. He belongs to Kharoda village in Lakhpat, Kutch in western Gujarat, can be contacted at +91-81411-73115”


Sweltering red rock.
Watermelon slices outside prison, waiting to dissolve in the succulent juices of an April summer.
April is always a month of insights. Last April, a clear, spiritual focus found me. I always knew it was coming, but sometimes its the dazy heat of April that quietens the mind, and tells you it is time.

Suffering. Memory.
Memory, play, repeat.
I was walking, walking fast, walking calm,
Walking slow and focused- staring at the weary faces of the women waiting for me to shell out my ‘peace games’ and ‘art therapy kit’, I was reminded of my ex-partner-a gentle guy who ended up threatening to wring my neck in our last fight. A small gesture, a maddening anger. Pain bubbles as sadness mirrors- everyone is suffering.
Did I give in?
Does love resolve itself? Does time resolve pain?

As I walked on the broken cement at the women’s prison, I thought of Jimmy Baca- an ex-convict I’d met in the US many years ago when I was teaching in a prison. He had lead an extraordinary life of suffering and transformation. Spending six hears in prison, out of which, three years, in isolation (Some American prisons have isolated cells for certain types of incarcerated people)- he taught himself how to read and write. He had suffered and suffered and suffered his whole life but the man I saw and met was a man who was clear, unjaded, humble and whole. A fellow inmate convinced him to read out his poetry and slowly and steadily, he built his life back.

One can read more by googling him and his work but the most extraordinary thing about him and his work was that there wasn’t any ‘golden end’. Any rags to riches tale, any wiping out of all of his suffering with a stroke of fame. Sometimes, we think of transformation as magic. Pain becomes glory. And you’re a clean slate again.

But perhaps, acceptance is transformation itself. We often think of acceptance as giving up. But maybe, in this very quest to transform pain, we are only looking for rewards? Baca portrayed transformation as acceptance. Of self and the other. Of fear. and pain.

Can one really transform the pain of the other?

Does one just forget?

I finished my session with those beautiful women today, hungry to learn, waiting to receive, unfree, burdened by their pain. I packed my drums and said goodbye and I remembered, April is the month on insight.


Expressive Art Therapy- Community Building

Khula Aasman is a beautiful, earthy space for artists right in the middle of Chembur in Mumbai. With their focus being ‘Play for Peace’, they work whole heartedly in the realm of community based therapeutic art work, facilitated over long periods of time. They’d invited me over to do a ten-hour, two-week spanning therapeutic engagement with the women-at-risk. The focus was for it to be a community mural- with their ideas, stories and representations of truth.

Check them out here!