Dear Dr. Norquist:
I read your columns regularly and I’m always looking for ways to better myself but I always come up lacking. I make mistakes. Sometimes I’m not prepared enough. Often I’m late. Lately I’ve been getting angry at my girlfriend when I know she doesn’t deserve it. I get so angry at myself when I do this to her. I know I can’t be perfect but still I get angry at myself when I’m not. I don’t know how to change this. Do you have any suggestions for me?
Dr. Norquist responds:
It’s great that you are always looking for ways to better yourself. Could you consider the possibility of looking for ways to better yourself without the accompanying anger at yourself for areas in which you feel you need improvement? Could you just ‘notice’ these areas without judgment and then focus on what you’d like to do to better yourself? Your anger and self-blame are a hindrance to your goal of bettering yourself.
You are not an object to be molded into some perfect shape. You are a living, breathing, miraculous expression of life. It would be helpful for you to decipher the underlying beliefs that drive your need for perfection. What do you think will happen if you make a mistake or are not perfect? Perhaps at one time you needed to be perfect to gain love or approval or to avoid punishment or the withdrawal of love. Disapproval and the withdrawal of love feels life-threatening to children. Could it be that these are outdated fears that are still in charge of your life? You can change this.
I’d like to invite you to try on a whole new attitude toward yourself, your girlfriend, and life as a whole. Practice seeing yourself through loving eyes and treating yourself with kindness. We are all works in progress, with much to learn. Life is for learning, not perfection. Rather than condemning yourself for what you have not yet perfected, you could just notice, accept and then decide. Notice what you’d like to improve about yourself. Accept whatever it is without judging, blaming or devaluing yourself. Know that whatever it is, it does not alter your innate loveableness. Then, consciously decide what you would like to do to better yourself.
Your angry, self-critical attitude is a well-rehearsed kneejerk-like habit. It will take mindful and patient practice to notice this habit and consciously practice your new approach. Please remember to be kind and loving towards yourself as you embark upon this change process.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2013 Chaitanya Counseling Services