Psychology of Gheebah, Sorrow and Envy

tumblr_md0m4qVITd1qil46jo1_1280Have you ever tried to find out why, even after working so hard to avoid backbiting or thinking negatively about a situation, we bump into the same thoughts again and again? Are you struggling to leave your habit of negative thinking or trying to look towards the brighter side of the situation? Our reasoning behind events and relationship issues are from automatic thoughts, habits of thinking that come to us so effortlessly and we start assuming they come from outside our own mind.

When the aspiring Muslim woman encounters a situation at family or home, she is often trapped into a myriad of cognitive distortions that lead her to backbite, envy or compare herself to others. 

Recently, faced with an interpersonal conflict, I realized that a venomous self-critic resides inside me which blurs my vision of reality and takes me far away from the purpose which is to please Allah (swt). The Muslimah today can be sensitive and at times very anxious. She undoubtedly has to fulfil many responsibilities at home and in the society. The Muslimah, in her struggle, tends to think negatively about situations, relationships and especially about her own self. At heart, the Muslim girl or woman is emotional and yet very strong.

When the aspiring Muslim woman encounters a situation at family or home, she is often trapped into a myriad of cognitive distortions that lead her to backbite, envy or compare herself to others. This is common especially when the vulnerable Muslimah has to deal with multiple family issues and handle the household chores to her best.

The theory of cognitive distortions has its roots in the work of Aaron Beck and David Burns. They highlighted the errors in our perceptions that we continually make, if we don’t identify them. To actualize the essence of a true Muslimah, a woman has to challenge the erroneous thought patterns so that she can identify the unintentional harm that she is doing to herself and others. Our Deen has all the required remedies for perceptual distortions however, we just need to identify where we lack.

We want the other person to change to suit our peace of mind. In fact, our peace of mind is rooted in the remembrance of Allah and a very strong connection with Deen.

Following are some selected cognitive distortions as outlined in the work of David Burns, that I felt can be applied to the day-to-day contradictory  situations that we face  causing us to automatically start thinking negatively without consciously choosing to do so.

  • Filtering: This means magnifying the negative aspects in a situation or a relationship, leaving out all the positive aspects. For example, in a family gathering, some far relative from the in laws makes a cynical remark over one’s appearance; we automatically start thinking bad about her, without knowing the person completely and without considering their positive aspects.
  • Polarized Thinking: This is the either/or thinking style. We think in yes or no terms, without understanding the situation holistically. We might become so fond of perfection in our kitchen cleaning, that a minor stain somewhere will disappoint us to the point that we start considering it as a malfunction in kitchen cleaning. The kitchen is either all clean or not clean at all; this will disappoint us, affect our habits and the entire day will be spent struggling with a bad mood.
  • Personalization: In the pursuit of comparison of our work, our homes and ourselves with others, we tend to see ourselves as the cause of a situation at odds. For instance, when we consider ourselves responsible for an unhealthy external event such as a guest with digestive trouble; we automatically start thinking that something was wrong in our cooking or food. Such thoughts do occur normally, and they need to be challenged otherwise they might develop into core negative backgrounds that we think alongside. Control Fallacy: One part of control fallacy is that we feel helpless or externally controlled. We try to displace the uneasiness of an event on someone else, feeling controlled. For instance, saying something like “I can’t help it if the dessert doesn’t taste good; I was busy working for mother-in-law, she is so demanding!”
  • Blaming: This has become so common and it can ruin the tranquillity of many relationships especially between parents and children or husband and wife. For instance, a mother might yell on her child, “Your disobedience to me makes me feel so miserable!” We should make a note to ourselves that Allah (swt) has given us free will and control to manage our emotional reactions.
  • Shoulds: Shoulds are the most dangerous of all distortions; the kind which can ruin one’s very own mental health. Let’s say, in a cultured gathering, we automatically start saying to our sister how the sister should have spoken, should have covered herself and what not. This way, we get trapped in the tunnel of Gheebah and don’t realize that we are indirectly eating the flesh of our Muslim fraternity.
  • Fallacy of Change: This is also one of our distorted perceptions and values. We believe that we can make the other person change. Have you ever wondered why? This is because, we believe inside without much toil in our mind that for our happiness and sorrow, we are dependent on these people. We want the other person to change to suit our peace of mind. In fact, our peace of mind is rooted in the remembrance of Allah and a very strong connection with Deen.

If we commence to identify these modes of thinking, we can gain the balance between mind, body and soul. Hazy, negative thinking prevents us from getting closer to Allah and seeking His pleasure and love. Also, we should pause and reflect over the signs around us to abstain from negative thinking and break the shackles of anxiety, hopelessness and lack of enthusiasm to completely delve into this beautiful Deen. Consider the following quotes and Ayahs whenever you feel you’re again dripping into that same old mode of thinking again.

  • Yasmin Mogahed: “If you want to kill something, neglect it. It happens in both good and bad. Neglect a relationship, it dies. Neglect your Iman, it dies. But the same principal applies when you want to kill something like a thought or a desire. Neglect it, it dies.”
  • Al-Mutanabbi:“Don’t receive what time brings except with indifference, as long as your soul is a companion for your body, whatever you are happy with is fleeting, and sadness revives not lost loved ones.” (Don’t be Sad, Aid-al Qarni, IIPH).
  • Verily, those who are Al-Muttaqun (the pious), when an evil thought comes to them from Shaitan (Satan), they remember (Allah), and (indeed) they then see (aright). (Al-Araf 7:201)
  • …..and never give up hope of Allah’s Mercy. Certainly no one despairs of Allah’s Mercy, except the people who disbelieve. (Yusuf 12:87)
  • The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend (Fussilat 41:34)
  • Say: “O ‘Ibadi (My slaves) who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (Az-Zumar 39:53)
  • Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our Maula (Lord, Helper and Protector).” And in Allah let the believers put their trust (At-Taubah 9:51)

For a daily reminder, you can ponder over the following Hadeeth:

On the authority Of Abu Malik Al-Harith bin Asim Al- Ashari, The Messenger (sa) said: “Purity is half of faith. Alhamdulillah [Praise be to Allah] fills the scales, and Subhana’Allah [How far is Allah from every imperfection] and Alhamdulillah [Praise be to Allah] fill that which is between heaven and earth. Prayer is light; charity is a proof; patience is illumination; and the Quran is an argument for or against you. Everyone starts his day and is a vendor of his soul, either freeing it or bringing about its ruin.” (Muslim)

It’s not Bad to be Sad

sadCo-authored by Umm Isam

We often aim to escape from a phase of sadness, assuming that it’s not a ‘good’ or ‘normal’ state to be in. We feel sorry for people, who are undergoing certain sorrow or distress. Have we wondered why we are feeling this way? We often fail to realize that sadness is an emotion just like any other emotion in our life. Why do we feel so bad about being sad? How did we come to this conclusion that sadness is bad and happiness is good? Let’s look into some reasons which we fail to acknowledge.

It is important to note that we live in a capitalist structure of society, which was initiated in the era of industrialization. Capitalism defines the society in a way that everyone seeks happiness in a certain object or material product. It has designed the media, products, schooling system, movies and dramas in a way that depicts a constant search for material happiness. Media is a powerful agent of the capitalists. They use it to condition humans in a way that their subconscious mind is engraved into attaining worldly or material products in order to gain happiness.

A prominent example is the common ad of skin whitening creams, which always show two main scenes: the first scene with a girl who looks dull, dark and ‘sad’; the second scene shows a girl who looks fresh, fair and ‘happy’. Our mind is way smarter than we perceive it to be; hence, it catches even the slightest details and stores it in our subconscious memory. Next time, when we face a similar situation, we tend to pick what’s available in our subconscious mind. In this case, the media has fed us to look for happiness in a simple skin whitening cream.

Another common example of imposed happiness can be seen on Facebook. Have you ever noticed on Facebook any pictures of your friends crying or looking dull? I am sure not or very rarely. Even if people are feeling gloomy and sad, they pose with hugs and smiles when someone brings out the camera. It is obvious that they are smiling merely for Facebook and do not feel the actual happiness of that smile. This happens because of the basic concept that we have to be happy all the time, which is neither necessary nor natural.

Media perpetuates products and ads, which depict humans fetching happiness all the time, or it tries to provide steps of gaining ultimate happiness. Movies and dramas are filled with ‘they lived happily ever after’, happy endings and successful protagonists, giving us a message that we have to avail happiness in the same way, and if we don’t, then we are not normal.

Furthermore, the system of capitalism has also initiated many diseases, for example, depression, bipolar disorders and even eating disorders. It depicts and defines ‘happy’ for us, and then we develop a feeling of Hasad (envy) trying to seek that happiness for ourselves; hence, we increase the risks of such diseases as depression and anxiety. The societal pressure to look happy weighs people down so heavily that they often need to seek professional help.  People experiencing depression visit psychiatrists, who prescribe anti-depressants. These drugs are highly priced and require to be taken for a long time. Pharmaceutical companies are making millions out of them, so they rope in doctors, who at times are not even qualified to prescribe these drugs. Furthermore, the chemicals in these drugs prevent the self-correctional process of human body that Allah (swt) has granted, thus throwing everything into disarray. Sometimes, all a sad person needs is counselling from another wise person or friend, instead of antidepressants.

The pressure to feel joyful is so immense that when a child falls or a teenager fails at something, parents don’t even want to acknowledge their sorrow. A child is told that all is okay and he must not cry. The adolescent is admonished to display bravado and not immaturity. In contrast, psychologists strongly advise to acknowledge these distressful feelings and emotionally empathize with these kids. This is to ensure that they will trust their feelings the next time. If we muffle them, they would eventually become desensitized and won’t respond to anybody’s pain, assuming it to be wrong. If we cut our finger and do not acknowledge it, we can actually bleed to death unknowingly. It is Allah’s (swt) mercy to feel hurt in order to recover and survive.

Allah (swt) designed everything with symmetry. If there is hot, then there is cold, too. Too much of anything makes survival difficult and can eventually destroy the system. Similarly, Allah (swt) designed happiness and sadness together, complimenting each other and giving symmetry to our life.

We, as Muslims, are well aware of the fact that nothing can stay forever. How can we expect happiness or even sadness to stay forever in our lives? A common example is going on a vacation. We enjoy ourselves and experience great happiness; however, if the vacation gets too long, we eventually start getting homesick. This is because nothing can keep us happy or sad forever. The system of Allah (swt) is flawless and everything is balanced with both positives and negatives.

Allah (swt) is the One, Who makes us happy or sad. In a state of sadness, we are not permitted to utter the words of Kufr, fall into disbelief, pose threat or harm to others, and doubt the existence of Allah (swt), or whether He has forsaken us. Some incidents in life cannot be explained through reasoning and seem very unjust, but Duniya is not Dar-ul-Jaza (a place where we will be rewarded). It is imperfect. It is a place of test for a believer, so he can score well with Sabr and Salah and attain the most exquisite bounties of Paradise, which will be perfect. Good people may be afflicted with severe hardships. Sadness should be a means to draw closer to our Rabb (swt) and ask for forgiveness.

If you remember Allah (swt) in times of joy, He will stay close to you in times of distress. A strong believer never forgets his Creator and always invokes Him alone for strength in sadness.

Instead of looking for happiness all the time, we should consider the perfect system designed by Allah (swt) and realize that no matter which emotion we experience, it should be treated well. Research has shown that crying can actually make people feel better and relieve the stress that was accumulating in their body. Therefore, it is better to let your sadness out and feel it completely; however, we should not let it overpower us and influence our lifestyle. We should learn from life events and move on. Don’t allow the media to condition a definition of happiness for you; rather, develop your own happiness. Be adventurous, take risks and always trust Allah (swt).