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What Does Allah Want Me to Do in Life? (Counseling Live Session)

Question 1

I started praying again about five years ago, and I wanted to pray all my prayers on time with full khushuu from the beginning. This caused me to be too self-critical, which caused me a lot pf stress. I am not as self-critical or as harsh as I was, but I find a lot of fear in myself from experiencing any emotions while reading Quran or praying salat, causing me to stop progressing in this part of my life. I do pray, but I still don’t know how to benefit from prayer without becoming self-critical and over emotional again. The same goes to the Quran. I know that my whole life will be different if I read it regularly but I hate the idea of reading Quran just for reading it, because I heard many times that reading Quran just for reading it even without understanding is not the goal of it and I won’t really benefit if I did not understand it. Yet this is causing me to not read it. I tried many time to fix the problem and I managed to reduce my fear of reading and praying but I still don’t know how to actually myself to read the Quran or to pray appropriately (with no speeding, while knowing what I am saying) I don’t know how to solve the problem and I am being hesitant. Should I talk to a counselor about this problem to solve it over a few sessions?

As salamu alaykum sister,

Shokran for writing to our Live Session. I am sorry to hear you have been experiencing critical and harsh thoughts about yourself. These thoughts have become so prevalent and strong they are inhibiting your ability to read Qur’an and pray. Additionally, you are experiencing fear of emotions.

Possible Origins of Harsh and Critical Self Concepts

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Sister you state that you have experienced a lot of stress due to being self-critical and harsh with yourself. I am wondering if you were raised in a family or were around people who criticize you a lot, or if you were bullied in school. I kindly ask you to reflect back when you were growing up to determine if these were the types of messages you were given as a child and/or young adult. Often times when constantly criticized as a young person or bullied, one may assimilate these criticisms into the concept of self. Sadly, those who have been overly criticized or bullied may begin to believe these criticisms are true.

Examining Other Situations

Sister, I kindly suggest you also look at  self-criticism in other situations. In other words, are you self-critical  or fearful when you are studying for school, doing a task for work, doing a chore at home, interacting with others socially? If you are finding that you are experiencing self-criticism and fears in other areas of your life on a regular basis you may be suffering from common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, or panic disorder.

Assessment and Counseling

If this is the case please do seek out counseling in your area so you can be assessed to determine why you are thinking and feeling this way. Once diagnosed, regular ongoing counseling will insha’Allah help with fears, self-esteem issues as well teach you how to deal with uncomfortable emotions.

Starting a Daily Journal

I kindly ask in sha Allah that you start a daily journal and write down all of the criticisms you have heard about yourself from others throughout your life and from who. You may also want to note how long that person has been giving you these negative messages. On the next page I want you to write down all of the wonderful things about yourself. This is from what others have told you, what you yourself have observed, and what Allah has blessed you with as a attributes.

Sources of Chronic Criticism

After you are finished working on your positive attribute, I would like you to look at the criticisms page and ask yourself are these really true. When parents and others who are close are always critical-that can really hurt as we love them. In fact, critical remarks from parents may have a bigger impact on  self-esteem and self-concept than those coming from a relative stranger.  I can imagine that 90% of the criticisms you have received and those which you impose upon yourself are false.

Lack of Positive Reinforcement

When children/people are not built up with positive reinforcement as to their good qualities, when not encouraged, and recognized for their positive points, the points which may need to be worked on can be overblown and identified more in terms of self-concept and self-esteem. This is unfortunate because everybody has things to work on but it is also important to focus on the good qualities that we have and to assimilate those into our concept of self as well. This may help prevent the feelings and fears you are experiencing now.

Fear of Emotion

Sister I would like to ask that when you are finished analyzing any criticisms you have repeatedly received in your lifetime including self-critical and harsh judgment which you impose upon yourself, that you please do look at the page where all of your find points are listed. Inshallah read those every day to reinforce and build up your true sense of self and your internal locus of control-which is the degree to which you believe that you have control over your life—and emotions. Fear of emotions can stem from many causes-and reasons. Some people are taught that emotions are bad or that they should be avoided if they cause hurt or pain.

However just the opposite is true. By facing emotions, feeling them, and acknowledging them, it becomes empowering. When hiding emotions or avoiding them we are just allowing them to build up, kind of like steam in a kettle that keeps getting heated. The emotions don’t go away, they keep resurfacing causing further discomfort and maybe even anxiety, panic, or depression. By facing fears and emotions and by working through them, one can be set free from “the pressure cooker” like a whistling kettle about to bubble over. In this willingness to address emotions we find ourselves insha’Allah more in control and empowered. This may help to decrease the stress, emotions, and worried that is being associated with reading the Quran and praying

Praying, Reading Qur’an, and Emotions

Sister, one of the most blessed gifts is praying and reading the Qur’an. In both of these acts of worship is healing. Before you pray or read the Qur’an, make duaa and ask Allah swt to grant you ease, to remove your fears of emotion, and to make it easy for you. Trust in Allah that it will be. If while reading or praying you begin to feel emotions -let them come and trust in Allah that they will wash over you and be gone. Do not give them any of your energy. Oftentimes praying and reading Qur’an is emotional!  And that is okay….sometimes it is Allah’s way of reaching our hearts…often we are overcome by Allah’s mercy and love for us.

Conclusion

Sister, insha’Allah start a journal to focus on your good points and reduce the negative criticisms you hold. Utilize positive reinforcement daily to build up your confidence and self-esteem. If you feel that your emotional state of fear and self-criticism affects your life in other areas, please do seek out and assessment and counseling. Focus on releasing emotions when you feel them, let them flow, then let them go. Pray for ease and healing. Continue to make salat and read Qur’an knowing that Allah loves you, and that it should not be “fast” nor necessarily nor “perfect”. Accept your wonderful self right where you are-but keeping going knowing Allah swt is guiding your steps towards Him. We wish you the best.

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Question 2

Salam, My name is Mohammad and I really an in the dark here. I’ve been going through some anxiety and mental problems ever since I turned 14. I do not know if this is just my age but its starting to cloud my mind with negativity and insecurities, I’m not even able to talk at all, or even find peace in my mind. It always feels like my mind has always been working mon stop and its starting to affect me even more. To be honest, I really think I was negative on myself to the point it actually was engraved into my head. Trying to convince myself to stop this and focus on what’s IN front is the hardest thing ever, I really want to fix this. I basically forgot how it felt to have none of these problems I’m describing, I do Salat and Quran but these thoughts always has to intruded into my mind and its really tiring, I’m even started to forget how to talk to other people since I have low confidence, my mind is making false realities play over and over in my head with negative out comes to the point I think my mind is its own sentient thing! I’ve watched so much video’s on this but I just cant seem to find the answer. It causes me to go back to past conversations and see what I did wrong, or go back to how I say words and form sentences! That how bad this has become for me, my mind’s negative thoughts is my true enemy so do you have any tips on how I can control my mind?

As salamu alaykum brother,

Shokran for writing to our Live Session. I’m sorry to hear about what you are experiencing brother however although it may be no consolation, many young people around your age experience similar things.

Turbulent Teens

Brother what you may be experiencing may be common during this 5th stage of psychosocial development, or better known as the turbulent teens. Not only are you dealing with a changing physical body, raging hormones, but there are also changes taking place emotionally, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, as well as socially. This is a lot to deal with!

Some Changes Experienced During the Turbulent Teens

Teens in your age group may often experience moodiness, concern about body image, lack of confidence/self-esteem, may feel short tempered at times or act rude towards others, feel confused,  experience sadness, depression, and stress (1). Additionally, as this is the age when personal identity and a sense of self emerge in a larger context, it is important that you receive encouragement and support from parents, family, and close friends. If strong supports are not in place, it may cause you to feel even more insecure and confused about yourself and develop negative thoughts as you are experiencing.

Cloudy and Negative Mind

Issues with cloudy thinking and negativity can be frustrating but it is something that most people have had to deal with at one time or another. It may be a sign that you are stressed, over-thinking, tired, or otherwise pushing yourself at the moment. When this happens, try to quiet your mind. You can do this by breathing deeply and focusing on your breath letting all thoughts pass through your mind. With practice, this breathing technique (Mindfulness breathing) can quickly calm down a worried, anxious mind, get rid of bad thoughts, and bring peace. Dhikr is also wonderful for calming one’s mind as remembrance of Allah is healing. Lastly, by becoming familiar with stress reduction & relaxation techniques you will have a solid skill set to address the issues you speak on. There are many wonderful tips such as the ones mentioned here (3).

Proper Encouragement

Proper encouragement and validation of self during this phase of growth is important. VWM (1) states: “Those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and feelings of independence and control. Those who remain unsure of their beliefs and desires may feel insecure and confused about themselves and the future.” In addition, as you are Muslim, supports and encouragements should come from an Islamically based foundation as you are probably dealing with a lot of pressures and confusing feelings such as thinking about sex a lot, thinking about girls, you may be concerned about how you are maturing and so forth. These thoughts may even be interfering with your school studies and salat. While all these are NORMAL thoughts and feelings, you do want to be guided down the Islamic path in regards to what is acceptable behaviors, etc. to Allah swt as a young man. Insha’Allah brother, see if you can talk to you father, uncle, and older brother, or cousin if possible. Check your local Islamic Center and Masjid to see if there are teen groups for boys. This will be most helpful insha’Allah.

Finding Support and Developing Skills

Brother, it is during these hard times that insha’Allah you will develop coping mechanisms and skill sets to assist you in your feelings of low confidence, intruding thoughts, and negativity. While you may feel this is a dark cloud, have confidence insha’Allah that you have the ability to push through this dark cloud into the light! Insha’Allah look into groups/classes geared towards your age group that deal with growing teens such as Teens Talk, Your Not Alone, and Teen Support, in addition to groups the Islamic community may have. These groups can help you develop skills and gain experience in problem solving through formatted group classes and sharing of experiences. Your dad or other older male family member may also be of great benefit by guiding you and sharing their experiences.

Conclusion

Brother your feelings are understandable. As you probably already know you entered the teen phase of development a few years back. With this brings many changes in your body, emotions, cognition, social roles, mental and emotional status as well as self-identity and self-confidence. At this point in your life, you are between a man-child and an adult. The confusion and inability to make up your mind about certain things is very common among young men your age. It is a part of the growing process and it is related to hormones and other biological changes. I kindly suggest you seek out a teen support class or preferably an Islamic youth group for young brothers. Try stress reduction techniques, breathing exercises, dhikr, go to the gym, walk in nature, eat healthy, sleep well, pray, and ensure you have a solid support system in place as you continue on your growing journey. This part will not last long!  We wish you the best!

1. https://www.childrensneuropsych.com/parents-guide/milestones/12-14-years/

2. https://www.verywellmind.com/erik-eriksons-stages-of-psychosocial-development-2795740

3. https://unifyhighschool.org/stress-management-activities-for-teenagers/

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Question 3

Assalamu Alaikum. I have been very shy my entire life, and I have always found it difficult to talk to people and make friends. Even though as a child it was much easier ,I was innocent then and wasn’t aware of things like mental health and social anxiety so I did talk to people. But When I was 13 my family moved abroad and we lived in the other country for 3 years and it was then I realized I couldn’t talk to people. I suffered so much loneliness and it traumatized me greatly. When we returned to my country I thought my issue will end as I was home once more. I started university but it just continued, it took me so long to make female friends. And I have always wanted male friends, I know I am a Muslim and there should always be that line between men and women and it’s not as if I want to be in a haram relationship, it’s just that I see every other person my age having at least minimal contact with the opposite sex and I don’t, and that makes me feel so bad about my self. I feel ugly, I have struggled with low self esteem my entire life especially pertaining to my looks. I have tried getting close to Allah but I am so inconsistent. Whenever I start building up habits like reading Quran, Seerah and studying tafseer , I can never maintain the habits for long and I lapse for a long time. I have also tried to better my social situation but I am too afraid to take a step and then again I am also so inconsistent, I just don’t understand why, I just can’t maintain habits that can help me to better my self. I have depression and anxiety as well and they are all really affecting me. It’s so painful that I have these feelings but can do nothing to change my situation. I know this write up is long but please I really need your help. JAZAKALLAHU KHAIRAN.

As salamu alaykum sister,

Shokran for writing to our Live Session. I am sorry to hear about what you have been going through, I imagine it has not been easy, even after moving back to your home country. Sister it sounds like even though you were shy your whole life, you have been through a major life stressor which was moving to another country. Major stressors can trigger or impact existing conditions such as anxiety or shyness.

Age of Moving

As it was to be, when you made the major move to another country with your family you were thirteen years old. This is a very delicate and difficult time as you were a young teen adjusting to puberty. Not only did you have to deal with the stressors and changes that come with adolescence, but you also had to deal with getting used to a new country. I can imagine that was very difficult. You did indicate that you were very lonely and traumatized there. You were hoping that it would go away once you returned home but it did not. When you started studying at the University it took you a very long time to make female friends.

Seeking to  Make Friends

Currently you wish that you could make more friends. You would like to have both male and female friends. No doubt at the university there is mixing between males and females and that is okay as long as you know the limits set by Allah. You did state you know that line and you will not engage in haram relationships or actions. You also state that you feel bad about yourself, that you feel unattractive and have been struggling with low self-esteem your entire life. Sister you may at some level want male friendships in order to validate that you are pretty, desirable, and not unattractive as you feel.

Some Traps

Sister being that you have low self-esteem and feel you are unattractive, (which I am sure you are very beautiful by the way), this can lead to some vulnerabilities and traps. Some boys are very keen at picking up when girls are suffering from low self-esteem or from girls who feel they are not pretty. Some boys may prey on this and will use this vulnerability to their advantage. They can try to trick you into doing things you would never do. Thus, I caution you on your hoped-for friendship with boys.

Self Esteem and Empowerment

Sister having a healthy sense of self, high levels of confidence, and self-esteem put you in a better position to not get taken advantage of. It also puts you in a position of empowerment. When you know your worth you are less likely to make choices or decisions that are against your belief system or goes against your values. When you value yourself you tend to set stricter limits. When one suffers from low self-esteem or feels unattractive in a social circle they can be easily taken advantage of sometimes. They may do things that they ordinarily would not do seeking to please others in order to get self-validation and be considered one of the group.

Seeking Love- Self First

Sister I encourage you in sha Allah to seek out Muslim sisters as friends. Try to seek out sisters who have your best interest at heart. Seek sisters who truly follow Islam and love and fear Allah. When seeking out friends, choose friends who love you for you. I am sure you are very beautiful however your shyness, anxiety, and possibly other events in your life have diminished your self-esteem and self-confidence. Also, I do not know whose standard of beautiful you are following but Nigerian women are known for their beauty. Once you realize how beautiful you are and how precious you are in the sight of Allah who created you, you may begin to see your social world in a different way. You need to love yourself first. Lastly, while physical beauty is nice, the true beauty of a person lies in their kindness towards others, a loving, caring heart, and a lover and believer in Allah swt.

Social Anxiety and other Mental Health Issues

Sister regarding social anxiety and other mental health issues you discussed, I am not sure if you have ever been to a counselor or received a diagnosis. At this time, I do kindly suggest that you do seek out counseling in your area. A counselor can help you learn how to overcome your insecurities, increase your self-esteem as well as love and appreciate yourself. By going to counseling on a regular basis you will be able to overcome any social anxiety or mental health issues that you may have. Anxiety especially social anxiety is extremely common with millions of people suffering from this disorder. It is treatable and it is common so please do not feel any stigma if you do have it. According to the Social Anxiety Institute (1), social anxiety disorder is the third largest mental health care issue. Some of the symptoms include fear or emotional distress when introduced to other people, being the center of attention, meeting people who they think are important, social encounters, and interpersonal relationships such as friendships.  If you have social anxiety, it can be treated successfully with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Building Good Habits

As you discussed your inability to maintain good habits for a long time such as reading the Qur’an, I kindly suggest that you try the 30-day habit builder (2). According to those who have had success with 30-day challenges, they hypothesize that it is difficult to do something consistently when you feel you must do something forever (2). However, with the 30-day habit Builder you tell yourself you’re just experimenting with a new behavior. Once you get past the 30 days you will be close to making a change that is more permanent. If you feel like giving up or not doing it within those 30 days, remind yourself it is only 30 days. Some research has shown that doing something consistently for around 1 month can turn into a habit or a lifelong activity. While there is some debate on that many have had success. I encourage you to try it and I have included a link so you can learn more (2).

Conclusion

Sister as you do have a few mental health issues going on according to you, I do recommend that you see a therapist /counselor for an assessment and ongoing counseling. Again, the mental health issues that you described are very common and millions of people have them and it is treatable. I would kindly suggest that you make quality friends who are female and Muslim. I would hold off on any male friendships even if it is halal due to your low self-esteem and feeling unattractive. I encourage you to build up your self-confidence, self-love, and become empowered in the fact that you are worthy, pious, and beautiful. You can build good habits through determination and consistency with help from tips and advice from people who study habit building. I hope that this has helped you in some way and that you will take the steps forward which are needed to begin your healing Journey. We wish you the best.

1. https://socialanxietyinstitute.org/what-is-social-anxiety

2. https://www.developgoodhabits.com/30-day-challenge-ideas/

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Question 4

My parents forced me to take subjects I don’t like and I am not interested in. Then I somehow started studying and my board exam are next month. But I am still not able to accept that I am not studying subjects I like and till now I wish that I could study I like and enjoy. Even now if I get opportunity and money to change my school and subjects I would love to. What should I do? How do I accept the subject I am studying and not wish and think about subject I cannot study ?

As salamu alaykum sister,

Shokran for writing to our Live Session. My dear sister you are in an interesting situation. As you are 16 you are probably still in high school. As you are living with your parents and still underage there may not be much you can do about the school subjects that they want you to study. With that said you may have to accept these courses and make the best of it.

Making the Best of Undesirable Courses

True indeed you may not like these courses. The subjects may be boring to you. There may be other courses that you are more interested in sister that is understandable.  However, thinking about what you would like to do is taking up more time than you should be giving it. I say this because there is nothing you can do at this point regarding the courses you want to take. What you can do is study as hard as you can in your current subjects and get the highest grades possible. It is easy to get good grades in something we enjoy-it is easy to complete work we love! But the real test comes in when we do not want to do something-or we dislike doing or learning something. By succeeding, not only will that show that you have the willpower and stamina to overcome things you do not like, but it will also show your parents that you are dedicated to whatever you put your mind to. This may soften their stance and change their minds in the future concerning courses you want to take. On the other hand, if you blow off these subjects and don’t do well in them, they may be less likely to trust your opinion and choice in regards to future courses and subjects.

Looking towards the Future

Sister once you have completed these courses that you do not like and you have received excellent grades perhaps you will be in a better position to advocate for the subjects that you do want to take next semester. With that said, put away these thoughts of other classes until these current ones are done. Prep your mind to pass these courses with flying colors. After you have taken your exams and the courses are closed, you may wish to choose the courses that you truly want to take that interest you and present them to your parents with the fact that you did very well on your previous exams even though you did not like the courses. Show them the outline for these classes that you want to take and explain why you would like to take them and how they will benefit your future and your career.

Changing Schools and Subjects

Sister I cannot advise you to focus on getting money to change schools and subjects. That would create a lot of stress for you. In addition to worrying about keeping up an income to pay for school, you would have to listen to your parents’ disagreements with what you have chosen to do. Again, the best thing is to bust through these courses with high grades and present your choice of courses for next semester with pride.

Conclusion

Sister I’m confident that you can apply yourself in a disciplined way to studying these courses and getting good grades. It is only for a short while and it will be over. It is really not worth looking for opportunities for money and changing schools. It will only cause undue stress on you and upset your parents which would then further stress you out. I am confident that you have the determination, desire and drive to get through this short semester with excellent grades, proving to your parents that you can make responsible and good choices. This will enable you to move forward with a solid case for why you should take the classes that you were truly interested in next semester. I’m confident you can get through this.  We wish you the best.

Tuesday, Nov. 09, 2021 | 05:00 - 06:00 GMT

Session is over.
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