A dance of a different kind

A friend messaged me a few days ago asking if I had sometime to chat or skype. He also mentioned that it was about relationship advice. The first thoughts that went through my head were “Me and relationship advice ? Now ? Are you serious ?” Jokes apart, we got skyping in the next few minutes as I did have time on my hands that evening. 

When we spoke, he shared how he was feeling claustrophobic in his current relationship and wanted to unpack what it was all about. He was recently divorced after fifteen years of marriage and over the last two years, had been on a quest of finding himself. He was currently in a long distance relationship with someone who lived in a different country. They travelled to meet each other every few weeks. 

He spoke of how, lately he had been feeling wound up when it was around the time to meet up with her. He said that the last time they met, it took him a while to let down his defenses and when he did he loved the time they spent together. After their intimate time together, when he got back home, once again he found himself withdrawing from her and shutting her out. That’s when he reached out to talk to a few of his close friends, including me.

When I asked him about her, he shared that he enjoyed her company and that she was a light hearted and energetic person. He described her as one of those people who was always curious to experience something different and found enjoyment in the little things.

My question to him was, “What are you afraid of ?” It took him a while to respond. He said that he feared losing himself in the relationship, losing his time, freedom and space. He was afraid of giving in too much, more than he wanted to. He was afraid that she was more invested in the relationship than he was. He wasn’t ready to make a long term commitment and he was afraid of this leading to that. He found the distance between them long but also feared the closeness. He liked things as they were now and wasn’t ready for or needed more. 

I wanted to ask him (or react) at this point, “So you want to have your cake and eat it too? ” 😊

I did not ask him that though. What I did ask him was if she knew all of this? And shouldn’t he be having this entire conversation with her?He said he hadn’t considered doing that as he was afraid of losing her. What if she heard all of what he had to say and decided to end the relationship. At this point I should have told him, “So you do want to have your cake and eat it too ! But yet again I did not tell him that. 😊

I was useful though. I pointed out to him how “fear” ruled his relationship almost to that point where it seemed like it was Fear who was in a relationship with her and not him. His fear was impacting all his present moments with her and definitely killing any future they would organically have together or otherwise.   

It’s easy to stand on the outside and make such an observation about others and we often forget that we also function from that same premise a lot of the time. At least I know I have done that. If you are a regular reader of my blogs you would already know that about me. I recall sharing once that I have done a PHD in fear. 

Fear drives and ruins most relationships. A woman I was coaching a few years ago shared that even though she suspected something fishy was going on with her husband, she did not want to get too curious as she was afraid of what she might find out. She was in fact more afraid of the decisions she might have to take if her fears were confirmed. 

A client of mine was afraid of leaving her nonexistent marriage as she feared losing the security she had. She had a life already in place and she knew her way around it. She was afraid to step out and explore a life beyond what was familiar.

This obsession with fear takes away the spirit of being in the present. Living in fear is like living a lie. Most people choose to close their eyes and live in fear rather than face the truth, that is staring at their face. 

Another dear friend of mine feared conflict so much that he avoided having much needed conversations with his wife which hugely contributed to the breakdown of his marriage. He ended up creating the very thing he strived to avoid, because he let his fear take control.

I challenged my friend to have that conversation with his girlfriend, share his feelings, his dreams, his fears, his anxiety, all of it and at the same time urged him to keep an open mind to anything that was going to unfold from that conversation. She deserved that kind of transparency from him, and had the right to choose how she wanted be with it. Moreover she was a big girl and he did not have to protect her from his truth. 

He was so afraid of repeating the mistakes from his past that he was ruining his present with his caution. And at this point, even though they were a “we”, he was fiercely protecting himself, I, my time, my life, my space, my freedom etc. 

I shared with him something I had read about fear a while ago. It was something along the lines of .. “If you fear losing something, you are not yet ready to experience that in your life. Fall into fear and willingly let go of anything you are afraid to lose.” How liberating is that ! And.. easier said than done. 

There are so many delicate layers interwoven in a relationship. One truth is that we cannot be in an authentic relationship with another unless we are in a right relationship with ourselves. Most of us are looking to fill in the missing pieces in ourselves through our significant relationships hoping that would have us feel whole. Do read the book or watch the video, “The Missing Piece Meets Big O”. It’s a beautiful book and a quick read, which beautifully explains what I want to convey.

Here is the link. http://youtu.be/Af-jZUR3ua0

The other aspect is that we tend to focus on ourselves a lot especially when there is a difference in opinion, our individual wants and needs, and to a large extent our ego gets in the way of being fully present.

When we shift our focus to what the relationship needs, and not our individual needs, we would be naturally willing to stretch more. For example, if a particular relationship is important to me and when I see that some action of mine is going to positively impact that relationship, I would be more willing to do what’s needed to create that. On the other hand, the same situation would be a war of egos if it was about “what I want” vs “what you want”. 

At the end of the day, relationships basically boil down to taking that deep dive, baring ourselves, giving all of ourselves and yet not losing ourself or that thing people naively term ‘individuality’ and better yet becoming more of who we are. And through all of this, creating  magic together.

It wouldn’t be just on my part if I kept you people hanging. So yeah, my friend had the ‘talk’ with his girlfriend which actually turned out fine to his surprise. All is well in their world. 

Sheena Yusuf

September 2, 2017


Life lessons from my niece, Nyla

Nyla is my 6 year old niece. Every time I spend time with her, there always something she teaches me from her way of being. When we are together, sometimes asks me the same questions. One of her most favorite ones is “Why do we call you Shemama?” and I give a typical look as she has asked me that question about a hundred times already.  

She will then smile and say, “Ah I remember now, it’s because you have no daughters to call you mama and you were sad then, so you wanted us to call you by that name right ?” 🙂 
Another question is, “Who is Aqil kaka’s and Alif kaka’s father?” (my older boys Aqil and Alif are from my first marriage). She is just beginning to understand concepts of divorce and hence is always fascinated and curious about it. 

When my sister is away, on good days she would come up to me and tell me, “Now that my  mother is away, you are my mother, and I am so happy that you are here.” But that would shift the moment she was upset with me, where she would say stuff like, “You aren’t my mother, you are only Shemama. Only my mother is my mother.” Translation – don’t tell me what to do or you have no right to talk to me like that. 🙂 

It’s always a joy to be with children of this age as they say the sweetest and most profound things and there so much wisdom in them if we pay attention. I might even be biased to say that my niece says the cutest stuff. 
My sister has taught her to articulate her feelings very clearly. She would walk up to us and say, “I have a pain in my heart since you spoke to me like that” or “my heart is smiling and happy today”. The metaphors she uses to describe her feelings are just amazing. Such is her language of emotional expression. 

She is at that age now where she has lost her front teeth and the new ones are slowly but surely on their way out. Yesterday I accompanied her in the car to drop her off somewhere. Before she got off the car, She looked at herself in the mirror and we had this dialogue. 

Nyla: Shemama, aren’t these earrings the most gorgeous earrings ? 

I: Yes, they are and they look beautiful on you! 

Nyla: That’s what I was thinking too ! I look so gorgeous

I: Yes you are Nyla, you are absolutely gorgeous.

Nyla: “Isn’t everything about me gorgeous, even my front teeth? ”

I (smiling): Yes my darling! Everything about you is gorgeous and I am happy that you already know that about yourself”.

As she gets off the car, she looks me, smiles ear to ear,  and says, “I am so happy and lucky that I am so gorgeous”. She then gives me a tight hug and runs away. 

By now, I am guessing you’ve  already picked up that “gorgeous” her newest and current favorite word in her dictionary. What a joy it was to witness her in her gorgeousness, to see her so confident and sure herself, and just love herself the way she is. 

I do like the way I look. And, I have good days and bad days, There are days that I hate looking at myself in the mirror.

There was an exercise I did in a leadership program two years ago, where we were each given a small handheld mirror and we had to look at and appreciate ourselves for a good ten to fifteen minutes. I vividly recall that the initial five minutes was pure torture. I would look at myself and pick every minute detail that I did not like in myself, dark circles, pigmented skin, funny nose, scar on eye brows and so on. But after a while it began to shift, I began to smile as looked at myself. I could find what I liked about my face. I began to appreciate myself. I can now say with confidence, I have ‘gorgeous’ eyes and a ‘gorgeous’ smile too 🙂 

When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror for that long? A lot of us aren’t comfortable with the way we look, we have good sides and bad sides when we have our pictures taken. 

The mirror exercise is a great exercise to try. If you aren’t comfortable with your body, take off your clothes and stand in front of the mirror and do the same exercise every day. Soon you will see the shift. 

The hard truth is that,  this is the physical form we were born, there was no choice there. The sooner we begin to accept and appreciate our ‘gorgeousness’, and help our children see theirs the simpler life gets.

Sheena Yusuf 

August 26, 2017

Make Every Breath Count

It was a visit long due. My father had spoken about him the day before he died. He had wanted us to go visit and meet him as a family. And now that I finally meet him this morning, I understand why. 

His name is Sakeer. He is in his early thirties and we are related. My father’s father had remarried in his late fifties. He (my father) had eight step-sisters and one step-brother, all of who were much much older than him. Sakeer’s great grandmother was one of those sisters. Why is this relevant, you might wonder. It is relevant only because of my fascination for my roots. Fascination and acknowledgement now, but at one point it was denial.

 Sakeer has been bedridden for the past three years. He had been in an accident which injured both his legs. He recalls sitting in a little shop at a street close to home He saw a car collide with a two-wheeler and before he knew it, it crashed into the shop he was sitting in. One of his legs was crushed under the wheels of the car and the other one was stuck inside the bumper. 

Three years and close to ten surgeries later, this is how it is now. Most of the bones of the legs broken, and nerves damaged, he is practically immobile. He had to recently have his ankle bone removed from one the legs because of an infection. What you see in the picture is how he is now. There is also the metal frame that’s attached to his leg. He hopes to have that frame taken out in a few months. And hopefully he’ll be able to support himself with crutches or a walker, or have one of those three-wheel vehicles so that he can get around. All these last three years, he has spent his time in hospitals, operation theaters, intensive care units, or cooped up in his little room you see here.

 What blew me away was his spirit and aliveness! After he had shared about his current status, I asked him, “How do you feel?”. He started to respond by sharing how he doesn’t feel physically strong after being immobile for so long and about his backache. I then asked him again, “How do you feel about being bedridden for so long, how are you coping emotionally?” I was floored by his response. This is what he said. He felt grateful to be alive. He was grateful to be able to see his children and family everyday. He said it could have been worse. He then expressed regret over my brother who had died in a car crash, and was thankful that he was alive. He was grateful even though his previous treatment wasn’t professional enough and even though it delayed the healing of his leg. He is grateful to have found the right people now. He mentioned that, in the past when he used to be active, before this crash, he had always been present and ready to help anyone and everyone in need. And now he is grateful to see that it’s all coming back to him. He feels that he is where he is right now, because of the kindness and compassion of everyone around him.

His monthly visits to the doctor are organized by his brother’s friends who own vehicles, which saves him from spending about 3000 rupees each time. They have a little community of youngsters in that little town and that’s not limited to any specific faith. He mentioned that this group, the youth wing of that little town, his family and friends – they all have contributed hugely to his healing journey, and it’s solely because of them that he was here today.

There was not an ounce of self pity in his speech. His body might be weak and immobile, but his mind and spirit was alive and present. In fact he said he doesn’t sit and wallow in self pity and that if he could be useful to anyone in this condition, he still would be.

People like him and many others like give us the gift of reality check of what challenges in life really are. It teaches us that it’s all a matter of perspective and most are lucky to be where we are. If he can find so many things to be grateful for, considering where he is, then we bloody hell can and should ! 

This takes me to a conversation with friend who was describing a crash he was in, a few years ago. What moved and touched me the most was his presence and compassion even though he was injured and was in deep pain. While in ambulance, he noticed that the guy who crashed into him was also injured and was screaming in pain, bleeding from his ears and not being attended to. He said he urged the staff to attend to him quickly, and also personally reassured the person his injury was probably not so severe and that the bleeding from his ear might just be from broken glass and not from any serious internal bleeding.

I was surprised by the presence and response by my friend at that time. I make the assumption that if I had been in his place, I would have been completely self absorbed. He, matter of fact, said, “I couldn’t physically move, and the only thing I could do at that point to help him was speak to him, put my hand out, reach out to him and let him know he that was going to be fine, and that’s what I did.”

He spoke of it as it was his duty to do so and not something out of the ordinary.
This brings me to this, phrase, Make Every Breath Count. That is how Sakeer is living his life now, living in the present, making the most of his life. Not being stuck in the past of how it used to be, not worrying about the future.
And that is what my friend did too, while he was being driven to the emergency when he was in a critical condition. He was present to another who was in need.

And this is how I strive to live my life. By making every breath count.

Sheena Yusuf

August 25, 2017

On Discussions and Dialogues.

While speaking to a friend last evening, the topic of meditation and yoga came up.I mentioned to him that I had restarted practicing meditation last week. As soon as I told him that, he immediately brushed it off, and went on to say that meditation and yoga were useless and he did not believe it added any value.

 As we talked more about it, he asked more questions and I could sense that those questions were more from a place of ridicule or to hold on to his opinion or give a counter argument , than from a place of curiosity to know or understand more than what he already knew and felt about this topic. 

I responded to his questions by sharing my experience, my current awareness to to the one million thoughts scrambling in my head, moving and intermingling faster than light, and how I was slowly but surely beginning to experience more and more moments of space between those thoughts. And how that felt like floating in space but yet rooted to the earth.

Funnily enough, he had more ridiculing comments like, “so basically you go into this hypnotic space ? How do you come back from there ? And what’s the point of getting a just few moments of space in 24 hours of a day? The rest of the day is filled up with thoughts anyway. What difference will a few moments make ? And later he concluded that .. he had a list of things not to explore in life, yoga and meditation were on that list. 

Side note – right now I am contemplating on whether to shift the intent of this writing to meditation and my dance with it or stick to my original topic.

Anyway to yesterday ..

So, this went on for a while. He held on to his point of view, and I was surprised at how he could be so closed about meditation and yoga. From the pedestal that I was sitting on, I even told him how I was so disappointed in him and his views and that, this was not what I had expected of him. I felt as though he had ended up labeling something as negative without personally exploring it. I have fierce and strong arguments when it comes to categorizing things (whether a thing, feeling, thought perspective, action, deed, person) as right/ wrong or good/bad I can see a hundred of shades of grey between white and black. 

So back to my friend … the more he held on to his anti yoga / meditation view, the more I pushed and tried to convince him otherwise. In fact the visual I have in my head is of dragging him out of his house, pulling at his feet, while he kicked and screamed, holding on to anything and everything to keep him from being pulled away from what was home to him. 

At the end of it, he said ” You win, you are right, I give up”. I am convinced that it was my debating skills that made him say that, not because he got any new insights from the conversation or discussion we had. 😊

That is when I realized I was being no different. I too was being adamant about my view and on convincing him about it, not to mention ridiculing him for the position he was holding.

Why do we hold our perspectives so strongly as though that is THE right way ? More so why is there the need make someone else buy into our point of view ? And why do we only accept whose views are similar to ours ? And why do differences make us feel defensive ? And finally why do we label, define, categorize and everything we encounter into boxes. What can’t we just let things be ?

The key is to shift from discussions to dialogues. When we approach from the perspective of discussions, we are discussing about a particular topic, the focus is out there, so each of us feels like it’s our responsibility and duty to share our views and opinion on it, And if this happens to be group discussions, the popular and stronger opinion gets precedence. It has its own benefits in different contexts like planning etc  but sometimes the ‘heart’ element gets missed out. 

 On the other hand when we have dialogues, they happen between people. Even though there is a topic, the meaning of a dialogue is sharing between people, hence we listen for more, we are curious about what people say or do, why they do what they do, what had them come to a certain conclusion etc. In a dialogue we suspend our view, regardless of whether we agree to what’s being said or not, we stay open and curious. A dialogue gives room and space for differences. 

David Bohm introduced the concept of a dialogue, stating that a dialogue can be considered as a free flow of meaning between people in communication, in the sense of a stream that flows between banks.These “banks” are understood as representing the various points of view of the participants.

…it may turn out that such a form of free exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativity can be liberated. – David Bohm

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi

Sheena Yusuf 

19 August, 2017

The Question of Sexual Abuse

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A few months ago, I held an informal workshop with a group of young girls between the ages of 16 and 18. Our initial concerns were about gender equality… how restricting and frustrating it is to be judged and to constantly live under double standards. They felt given that they had more responsibilities at home as compared to boys their age, their every action was under scrutiny and this affected their sense of self esteem. But as we talked ,we realized there were other things that had taken more from them…. had in fact robbed them of their sense of self worth.Very important and untalked about events in their lives…child molestation …sexual abuse.

We had suddenly arrived at a very important space . Something that was crying out to be released poured out into the room that day. What followed was a series of revelations that were painful and often laden with shame.

After the initial anxiety and awkwardness of addressing such deeply personal and hidden  secrets passed …they started sharing little and big stories… of being touched, of being spoken to inappropriately, of being molested.. Having been a victim of sexual abuse and molestation myself it was easy to identify with them and let the stories pour out…

Riya shared  how she was inappropriately touched by a male acquaintance of the family. It was not like he touched her anywhere “significant” but she felt the touch was inappropriate and did not know how to deal with it. She said that it had happened a couple of times in the past when he had visited her family. A casual touch on the hand,  a caress on the back or shoulder, which seemed harmless in itself but she just wasn’t comfortable … it did not feel right…yet she couldn’t trust her instincts. And she thought it was rude to walk away. Eventually when the touches became more frequent, she told her father who said “you must be imagining it … we know him very well”.

Sarah said her favorite teacher spoke to her inappropriately and kept finding excuses to be alone with her. When she had told him that she was not comfortable, and requested that he not speak to her in such a manner,  he hadn’t been pleased. His entire demeanor had changed and  he had begun to treat her differently in class,  paying her less attention. Her grades had begun to drop. He had had made more attempts to cajole her as she constantly refused to be alone with him, she went from being favorite student to not being acknowledged in class at all. She was dealing with feelings of inadequacy …with no power to right the situation.

Maria’s uncle took her and her friends for a picnic in a park.  Being the only adult around , he took the opportunity to touch her private parts . This was in a public place!  When she tried to resist, to get up from his lap, he held her down firmly and continued to abuse her. This had happened when she was  seven years old!  She did not think of screaming. When she told her mother , she was told to just forget about it .. . don’t think about it !!!  She discreetly avoided being alone with her uncle but otherwise maintained normal relationships with her abuser!

Susannah sat through a whole movie holding her father’s friend’s penis in her hand. Her parents sat alongside . She was eight! She knew it was wrong but didn’t know what to do. It was her father’s dear friend.

There was another horrifying story that one participant shared about her friend. Asma’s father came back an hour earlier before her mother so he could spend “quality time “ with her. It was only after being abused for almost three years that she realized what was going on .When she eventually tried to kill herself is when her mother realized her husband had been having sex with their daughter.

The common thread in all these stories is that, all these abusers were people, who the girls are already familiar with. Simply put… they are male adult family members like uncles, friends of parents, cousins, teachers and sometimes even servants or chauffeurs. In fact they are mostly people from the family’s trusted inner circle who are also playing roles as caretakers. I personally know a lot of women who were abused by teachers who came to teach them religious studies while they were young .This is a sickening abuse of trust.

Another common theme is that many of the girls had spoken to their parents or guardians about the incidents, and had not gotten any appropriate, responsible responses, that had made them feel heard or validated. Some insisted “you are imagining things”,while others shushed them and told them to ignore it and to move on as if nothing had happened and there are even a few who blamed the children for inviting this unwanted attention!

Which means no action was taken to remove them from the situation and that they probably had to go on interacting with their abusers as though nothing was really wrong.

The parents probably felt awkward or unsure about dealing with the situation as the abuser was known to them, and confronting would mean upsetting the equilibrium… a system (friendship, family, work)  that is already in place so they felt safer believing that nothing happened, or even if it did, it was best to ignore it. And there was probably a lot of shame involved too.

I could go on and share more painful stories that I have heard over the years but I think my point is already made here. This is something that is happening more often than we think it is and it is more serious than we like to believe it to be. We are in denial .We bury our heads in the sand so that we don’t have to deal with the gravity of this issue.

Coming back to the conversation with the girls, the mere sharing of similar experiences was a big catharsis in itself. They realized everyone had suffered and had been silent. Now their suffering was shared. Also, the group sharing organically educated each other on how to set boundaries in similar situations.

We decided to go deeper into the issue of silence…why do most abused girls keep it a secret?

When you are abused you lose your sense of security. Something in your world is not right Did you cause it? By consenting to the act out of lack of understanding or fear, did you do something wrong? You are not old enough to judge. And when you have picked up your courage to tell your parents and have not been heard, you shut the incident out of your mind so  your world is normal again…till you are abused again.

Some were threatened and so did not speak up. Sometimes,  there was a fear of losing the love and attention of someone they loved, so they continued giving in to it even though they felt uncomfortable. And here the abuse had lasted over longer periods.

So how do we stop this happening? That was our next question.

How to say No! What is wrong? What feels wrong is wrong we decided. We human beings are born with an innate sense of right and wrong beyond individual cultural understandings. We need to hear ourselves… our inner voices. If a touch feels wrong…it is wrong.

We  practiced voicing out how we would handle the situation if it happened again . It is one thing to recognize something as inappropriate and another to voice it out and set our boundaries with people. It was great to hear our own voices out loud, out of our bodies saying NO and even asking for help.We also did some role-play, enacted individual scenarios and changed our responses to them. Sometimes we decided it was better to move away from compromising situations at the sense of danger. We made a call to inform our parents and guardians and make ourselves heard. Sarah decided to tell her parents and to enlist their support to go to the principal, Leila to reiterate to her father her misgivings .

This turned out to be such a powerful conversation that I decided to share the experience so that even those who did not attend the workshop might benefit.

So that… Other silences can be broken.

What follows next is a series of messages with titles indicating the category/categories you might belong to. You may read only what is relevant to you, as it is a long read, but my hope and wish is that you take the time to read all of them.

If you are a molester/abuser

You have abused your power/position /status to violate another human being, even worse if it is a child, for your personal gratification. You might hide from the world because you haven’t been exposed yet , but you know who you are. Shame on you !  You are a coward!  Through your actions you have taken the power away from another and even scarred them for life. You probably have a family you love.  I wonder if is this an experience you want for your children or loved ones? There is no excuse for what you have done. My personal wish is that you get caught, confronted, shamed and punished to the extent that you don’t even dream of molesting another child/person. And at the same time my humanity urges you to  get help. You were probably abused or molested early on in life and are doing the same thing to another in order to  reclaim that sense of power that was taken away from you. Please get help !

If you are a parent or guardian

Do take this issue seriously.  It is your responsibility as a parent to protect your children. When you stand up for children and show them that you will do your best to protect them,  you empower them stand up for themselves. Your child needs to feel safe with you  and  trust that you’ve got their back.

Please educate your children early on, what kind of touch is okay and what is not, so that they are aware of it in advance and can catch it early. Teach them about body parts and what parts are not allowed to be touched by others. Be specific, don’t be vague.

Teach your children to set appropriate boundaries with people, physical space boundaries and body boundaries. Help them voice it out loud.

If they come to you sharing such experiences, don’t turn a blind eye to it, address it, do take them seriously.

If you are feeling uncomfortable about something or find yourself avoiding it, get curious, explore what is behind it. What is causing you to do that ?

Encourage your children to share their experiences without blaming or shaming them. No, they did not do anything to invite this experience, It is not because of something they said or did, or the clothes they wore. Please get that !  I have heard the story of a young boy who was forced by two older boys of the neighborhood to open and pull down  his pants. He did not want to do it but they had threatened to hurt him if he did not, so he gave in. He was afraid to tell his parents about it because he thought that they would also find out about what he did and would be angry at him. We need to provide the space for our children to share anything, even things that they are ashamed of.

Encourage them to not keep body secrets with other adults, especially when they are told not to tell you about being touched or played with inappropriately.

It is important to play out different scenarios for your child, to explain the different kind of situations where it might happen (rather than just tell them, ‘don’t let anyone touch you’. A child might not be able to understand the intent of it, so expand it for them Besides being touched,  warn your children also about being made to touch others.

Be vigilant about potential abusers and molesters even if they are close family and friends, especially people from the inner circle who have access to your children.

All of this is relevant for your sons as well, not just your daughters, they are equally vulnerable to molestation and sexual abuse.

Since most abusers of girls are men, fathers please get more involved and initiate conversations about this with your girls and boys. You play a very vital role here because you are a man.

Teach your boys to respect girls and treat them right. Model that for them, practice what you preach. They need to respect a woman’s physical space and not treat a woman like a piece of meat. I used that term consciously here because I recently heard a man refer to a woman passing by as a  ‘beautiful piece of meat’. How derogatory is that ?

Finally, please don’t go so overboard with caution that you child starts building a wall against the opposite sex in the fear of molestation and abuse. They need to learn how to have healthy relationships, set healthy boundaries and not be on constant fear of danger.

We need to love our children and respect them so that they feel secure about who they are. We need to keep  doing things that boost their self esteem and self worth. We need to encourage them to stand up for themselves in any situation.

 Some Warning Signs
Grades starting to drop .
They refuse to go out or  be alone with a particular person, it could be a care giver, someone you inherently trust.

Unnatural  = unexplained bouts of emotion, moodiness.

Causing physical harm to themselves .

If you are a victim / potential victim of sexual abuse
I am really sorry that you had to go through this. I am sorry that you feel/felt powerless in the situation. I feel for you. I am here if you want help with this. It is not your fault, even if you couldn’t walk away from the situation or stop it. It did not happen because of something you said or did or because of the clothes you wore. Acknowledging the fact that you have been or are being  abused is a brave enough step, now you can begin to address this by getting help.

You are good enough, perfect the way you are and you don’t need to do anything to win anyone’s attention/care/affection/love. Please reach out and get help. Speak to your parents, speak to anyone responsible, speak to a social worker, speak to the authorities. Speak up and get help. There is no shame in exposing someone violating you even if they are close to you. This is your fundamental right as a human being. Protect yourself !

Please know that any kind of touch or interaction that you are not comfortable with, however normal it looks on the outside can be categorized as inappropriate. And that is a good enough reason to set a boundary. It is as simple as that!

When you are young you might feel powerless against an adult and might find it hard to speak up and say No or confront the person openly. Thats okay. If thats the case with you, do the next best thing, make excuses to leave the situation without a confrontation. The key is to protect yourself and find anyway that works for you.

Sometimes you might not necessarily be physically forced, but be coerced into situations like this, which  is even worse because there is emotional manipulation involved.  These are hard ones to tackle if you are feeling vulnerable or emotionally fragile. Please watch out for that.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel something is not right or someone is too close for comfort and yet you feel there is no tangible reason to question it, err on the side of caution, trust your gut and act on it. If you are not able to confront or be assertive, make excuses to leave the situation.

Sexual abusers and molesters are actually cowards on the inside, even though they might seem controlling or dominating on the outside. They take advantage of people who seem weak, vulnerable, timid.

Watch out for emotional manipulators, who manipulate you into believing that you owe them, for something (favor, help support ) they have done for you. They might make you feel guilty or ungrateful for not  giving in to them You do not owe your body to anyone even if they have given you the moon. My friend Anna shared her experience of a helping professional who offered her marriage counseling sessions for the couple but used that opportunity to try and manipulate her into having sex with him. She managed  to wriggle her way out of it, even though she couldn’t confront him.

Watch out for such situations with people in positions of power, who you look up to and respect. In such cases, your guards are automatically down and you might not even register or recognize something as sexual abuse until after something has happened.

Finally, my hope is that you do not let these events in your life  bring you down, rather to use them as learning opportunities to discover ways to set clear boundaries.

If you are an adult survivor of child sexual abuse

I am really sorry that you had the experience. I have been there too. And I want to say this to you once again. It wasn’t your fault !

As an adult you might have worked through some of the impact this has had on you, or you can clearly see your struggles in life now (related to the abuse) and are getting help addressing them. Or you might be one of those people who feel that you were one of the lucky ones who did not get impacted by the abuse. And my response to that is, you are in complete denial. Sexual abuse can impact our psyche in  so many different ways and we might not be  even aware that it might be the root cause of some of the challenges in our lives.

When you are sexually abused as a child, you lose the sense to discern what kind of touch is appropriate and not. More so, when children are abused while they are really young, added to the fact that it was not addressed, they probably end up misinterpreting the experience as something normal.

One of the biggest challenges is that one loses one’s sense of boundaries. They were violated at such an impressionable age that their boundaries got created from their experience with the abusers or the response of their caregivers/parents. It wasn’t their personal boundary,  so the ability to respond to violation is weakened.

When a  child who has been abused is asked to ignore it and continue as through nothing has happened, he or she  loses their capacity to react appropriately in similar situation in the future. Reaction time to violated boundaries might also be slow. One might know that  they feel uncomfortable about something but delay or avoid reacting for the fear of creating trouble or being rude. And the response might also be meek and timid as opposed to being strong and assertive.

One might hold a warped and unhealthy perspective towards intimacy and sex, either in avoidance of it or over by obsessing about it. One might also struggle with creating intimacy in their life where there is lack of trust towards men,  intimacy, relationships or  anything that either triggers a past experience.A  close friend recently told me the story of friend of hers, who was sexually molested for many years since she was 8 years old. As an adult now, she cannot be on her own, she is addicted to having relationships and using sex in order to feel good about oneself.

Lack of self esteem and self worth are the one of the biggest by-products of sexual abuse, One does not respect and value oneself  enough to make healthy choices. One might also associate or identify one’s self worth by giving into another wants and needs, for validation of self, to be liked and appreciated even at the cost of themselves.

It is natural to shame/blame oneself, and feel guilty and unclean about the abuse and/or hold resentment towards the people who were supposed to protect us when we needed them the most.

And sometimes the victim himself/herself begins to sexually molest  or abuse others, as a form of revenge for his/her experience or to reclaim sense of power and control that was taken away from them in the past.

And there are probably many more other ways it has impacted you, What I have done is compile all the information I have collected from the stories of women and children I have worked with over the last 6-8 years who had been sexually molested or abused. This is so that you can check to see if you resonated with them.

Yes, you were sexually abused and molested, it has had a deep impact on you where you feel like  you lost a part of you. I want to remind you to not let your circumstances define you. Create from here, create your new present.  It is a lot of work t it is possible to heal and move on. And you are going to be okay. Do trust that. Please get the help of a social worker, mental health professional or coach to help you process this so that you are able to life and healthy and peaceful life.

If you have never been  sexually abused.

You are one of the lucky ones !  I am happy for you. And I sincerely wish that you do not have that experience. Because you do not know what is like you might not really know  or understand  the extent of the impact of it on someone who was abused. You might be immune to it all and end up being indifferent or judgmental towards victims of sexual abuse and molestation.  They say that a person is the sum total of all their experiences. If hear of a friend/partner/family member/acquaintance/stranger who is/was being abused, do remember that you they are is also a result of their experience.  Blaming and shaming a victim of sexual molestation is similar to blaming a victim of rape. They need your compassion and understanding. Being a bystander to sexual abuse, being aware of it and not taking action to protect the victim is equivalent to being party to the crime.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse and molestation looking to bring perspective and understanding to what happened so that you can reclaim your life, please feel free to contact me. I am a certified life coach accredited by The International Coach Federation. You can contact me at sheenayusuf@gmail.com.

Living with Serenity and Grace



The serenity prayer goes like this – God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

I have had a little fridge magnet of this prayer for a few years now. It would grab my attention from time to time. It is one thing to appreciate this as a philosophy for life or put in up on a wall (real or Facebook) as a reminder, but it is a whole different ball game to surrender to it  when life hits you where it hurts.

Over the last year I have been grappling with a few events in my life. When I look back, I can see now that I had been (still am, at times) trying to play God, trying to control outcomes and circumstances, sometimes even kicking and screaming in non acceptance of some painful or unpleasant elements of my life.  I was stuck in the “why” of things. — Why did it happen? Why couldn’t they do different?  Why couldn’t it be different? Why now,?   Why at all? Why me? and so on. If you don’t already know, such thoughts can only take you down one path, a downward spiral.

Trying to fight something that already is can suck the life out of our soul. It is tiresome and draining, like swimming against the tide. I can take a class on that !

During moments of clarity I can see it for what it is. I have no control over another, how they act, what they do or say, I have no control over losing loved ones to death or leaving,  I have no control over the physical form I was born with , I have no control over natural disasters and so on. What I do have control over is my responses to them and how I choose to let it impact my life. Note to self : Accepting what is or surrendering to what is, is not passive resignation. It is a more proactive and creative approach to life and making things work for it despite the challenges.

If I am making the right assumption, it is not the events that bother us so much, its more about  the fatalistic stories we tell ourselves about them that sets off the panic, and bring our control freak selves into full action. I lost my job therefore……, I lost my husband therefore ………, or  I have lost the capacity to use my limbs,  therefore…, my face is scarred… therefore……, I have cancer…therefore. We can keep making up these stories about events that happen in our life.  At the end it is about whether you can do something about it or not. Do you have the courage to change the things you CAN change. More so,  do you have the courage and strength to LET GO of the things you cannot?

Last evening, I was having conversation with a friend living with cancer about the numerous physical challenges he had been facing over the years, the ever increasing symptoms,  the different tests and treatments, side effects from them etc . I have seen him function, he does not make the cancer all of his life and yet it is a part of his life. He does not fight what is, he goes with the flow. He now seems to have more and more debilitating side effects from his treatment, which has impacted his day to day life in a significant manner and yet he seems to manage it with enough grace. This is why I wrote about him as someone living with cancer and not suffering from cancer. I guess perspective is that the fine line that defines how we do life.

So, coming back to the serenity prayer and one of the agreements from “The Four Agreements,” (Always do your best) my wish for you and I is that we have the serenity and grace to accept what we cannot change and do our best to change the things we can, the wisdom to know the difference and let life flow through us.

Sheena Yusuf

Life & Relationship Coach (CPCC)
Professional Photographer

Email: sheenayusuf@gmail.com

June 12, 2017


Assumptions are a strange phenomenon. The nature of it is such that over time, we lose our ability to differentiate between assumptions and truth. They have such a powerful impact on our perspectives on the world, and on life itself. I recently had an experience that just affirmed that once again.

A few weeks ago, I was at a railway station in Goa waiting to take the train back home to Kerala after a week-long break. I am a bit of a ‘stickler’ or a little obsessive compulsive, especially while traveling on public transport.

In this state of mind, I am perpetually paying a little too much attention to my surroundings, to my hands, what I am touching, constantly worrying about cleanliness and hygiene.

So, we were at the station early and had more than an hour to kill as our train was running late too. My son Aman and I found a place to sit down and wait. He would go back and forth to the shop close by to pick up chocolates or snacks for the journey. My own attention was spent on all that was around me. I could see stray dogs walking on the platform, I saw that some passengers were friendly to them while some pushed them away.I had got myself comfortable with dogs very recently, and didn’t want to take any chances with stray dogs– something you find everywhere you look in Goa.

Walking or waiting all around me were hundreds of people who hailed from various walks of life. It was  around seven in the evening. There was a woman brushing her teeth a few metres to my right and when I saw her walk up to the tracks to clean her mouth, I wondered to myself why she couldn’t she have used to washroom instead.

My son, impatient after a while of trying to make conversation with me, disappeared once again to buy a bottle of water and more snacks.

As I was waiting for him, I saw a man crawling on the floor in front of me. He was using his hands and folded legs to move around. All could think about was how unhygienic the place was as the platform was wet and dirty from the rains. I felt sorry for him and also noticed my feeling of discomfort watching him.

Next thing I knew, a bunch of kids found the empty spot where Aman had been sitting. Three girls and a little boy squished into the space next to me and I found the proximity extremely uncomfortable. I found myself a bit irritated as they had taken my son’s place. The girls arm was brushing my arm and their bags were close to mine. I looked up to see their mother standing beside them as she had no place to sit.

The girl sitting next to me looked like she was twelve years old. Her sister, who was much younger, sat on her lap fidgeting around, making uncomfortable amounts of physical contact with me. If this was at an airport, I think I would have been less bothered. I even contemplated walking away to find another seat but I couldn’t find any.

As I sat there, I noticed the wall of separation had already built between them and myself. It was like I felt I was better than them; that they were somehow less than me. This unconscious conclusion I had already come to, which I immediately realised, was a product of all the assumptions I had made at first glance. The kind of clothes they were wearing, their appearance, their bags, my pre-conceived notions and a few other factors had constructed this assumption before I had even looked at them properly.

Something then urged me to pick up a conversation with the girl. I asked her where they were from, where they were travelling to, and the conversation began.  A conversation that made those invisible walls crumble and open up my heart.

Her name was Sana. She was thirteen, studying in the seventh grade. She explained that her family was going to get on a train to Lucknow to visit her grandfather who was ill. They lived in Goa and was taking a month off from school to make this trip. Her father was from Lucknow and mother, somewhere in Karnataka. She said when she was young and her parents were travelling, they happened to pass by Goa and decided to set up base there.

I then found out that the man who I had seen crawling on the floor earlier was her father. He had contracted polio as a child and was paralysed from the waist, down.  He was the sole breadwinner of the family and he earned his living as a tattoo artist.

A little later in the conversation, she told me that her sister sitting on her lap had Down syndrome. She also had a hole in her heart and had severe epileptic attacks, hence couldn’t be operated upon. My heart just broke hearing their story.

Sana told me that she was supposed to be in the eighth grade, but lost a year as she missed a lot of school when her sister was sick. She also introduced me  to the rest of her siblings who slowly joined into the conversation. The girl who was ill, Mallika, really liked to call herself Mallika didi (older sister). She had the sweetest smile. The family told us that she very intelligent even though she couldn’t communicate much.

In a short while, we were all exchanging jokes and riddles with each other. Among all the assumptions I had made, one was that they couldn’t understand or speak english. They would comfortably explain, in English, certain Hindi words that I didn’t understand. The little boy was taking pictures of us on his mother’s mobile. These kids were so confident and sure of themselves.

As I looked into their eyes, I found all their faces were glowing and with so much life. There was a different energy around them. The glow, energy had already been there earlier, but I was seeing it just now because I had opened myself to see them.

When it was time to part, we exchanged numbers. I asked the mother to send me the little girl’s medical reports to forward to my doctor friends to see if there was anything we could do to help them. After a bit of hesitation, as I didn’t want to embarrass them,  I gave Sana Eidi (a customary practise where elders give children money or gifts during Eid) to be distributed among all her siblings. I felt sad walking away from them. I had made a heart connection and I could see it in their eyes too. We agreed to keep in touch and parted ways.

The next morning, I received a message from her, thanking me for the gift and wishing us a great journey. Since then we have communicated a few times over the phone. I am not sure how things will pan out in the future, whether our paths will cross in the future or not. All I know is that when I met them, I was fully present with them.

If I had shut myself off based on all my assumptions, I would have missed the gift that life presented to me. I would have missed this beautiful experience with the girls and what they taught me. I walked away feeling richer, fuller, bigger  than I was before I met them.

Coming back to assumptions, as human beings we are assuming machines. With this machine working round the clock, we are constantly forming assumptions of everything that we see or experience. It would be interesting to step back and observe our  assumptions about people or situations.

What are your assumptions about people of colour, white people, slow drivers, fast drivers,  women drivers, people who appear religious based on their attire, people who are old, young people, sick people, people who are have a lot of money, those who don’t, people who struggle with anger,  depression, the high achievers, the drifters, people who are over weight, introverts. extroverts, homemakers, unemployed, homeless, failure, success?

I once read something along the same lines. I don’t remember the source, but here it is: ‘When two people interact, it’s not just a simple interaction between two people; each bring in a whole load of assumptions based on their fears and negative experiences from their past. For every voice that’s spoken there are five other voices in the head influencing it. ‘

This means that we do not experience our present just as it is. To a large extent it is colored by our past. Most of us, even as adults play these old tapes over and over again and come to broken conclusions about our present experiences.

If we just pause and observe life, people and  situations just as they are, not coloured by our past or future, what we create for ourselves will truly be liberating because we will the see  beauty and perfection of life as it already is !


Sheena Yusuf

Life & Relationship Coach (CPCC)
Professional Photographer

Email: sheenayusuf@gmail.com

October 2, 2016