There is a scene in English Vinglish where the ever-neglected Sashi played by the effervescent Sridevi is almost in the throes of kissing a French man, who is enamoured by her simplicity, perseverance, and housewife wisdom. All of us rooted for her to give in to the urge and take the plunge. But she recedes, without disrespecting the friendship she had developed with this man of a different culture who gave her respect as an individual for the first time in her life. She just wanted to have coffee with him.
I also remember reading a column where a best-selling author had written how Sashi had squandered away the opportunity of a lifetime and should have instead eloped with this French man to a better life. Instead, our Sashi goes back to her traditional family, her role as a mother, often mocked by her children for not knowing English, and rediscovers love and respect for her husband. Was it that bad a choice?
Restrain, sometimes, comes from great resilience. Boundaries come from great wisdom and a sense of self-sufficiency. Restrain comes from being sure of who one is and what one wants in life. Carpe diem is probably too over-stressed. We do not restrain the due credit it deserves in our life.
It is very different from repression.
Repression is the denial of a desire or a need. It could lead to several psychopathologies. Restraining though is neither denial nor self-flagellation. Repression has elements of shame and guilt woven into it.
Restraint is a high-order decision where we do not deny ourselves, our intrinsic desires, and our deep-seated needs. Restrain happens in complete self-knowledge. But self-knowledge is not enough to live a fulfilling life.
Restrain is the sweet spot between self-knowledge and self-care. Particularly, in a world that’s constantly asking you to splurge and be impulsive, and act out your conditioning, restrain is that little pause you allow yourself. It is being your parent. It is akin to holding your own hands and telling yourself that in the long run, certain choices will be better for you.
The good old wisdom of retrain is not a bad thing. Probably our generation could learn a thing or two from our previous generation. The idea is not to become prudish or stop having fun in life. Spontaneity is not the opposite of restraint. Impulsiveness is.
Restrain should step in at times when impulsiveness and incoherent decision-making can act as self-sabotaging tools. Restraint is the only means to protect us from self-harm.
To give it a bad name and say ‘You Only Live Once’ would be completely misplaced. We live many lives in a lifetime. And, to be able to live each of those phases of our life fully we need to hold restraint in high regard.
For Sashi to have not kissed and come back to her family and rekindle the romance with her husband was not repression but restraint born out of wisdom and resilience.
(The writer is a mental health and behavioural sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found @the_millennial_ pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter)
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