(Dr. Norquist is on vacation this week. We are re-running a letter that was published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’ve been in therapy for awhile. It’s been helpful learning why I have the problems that I have, but I can’t seem to change. I still feel the same, mostly irritable and depressed. My relationships haven’t changed. I still fight a lot with my husband and daughter over things they do that make me feel that I’m not important to them. I resent the fact that they don’t seem to consider my needs as important, but they expect me to drop everything to take care of them. I suppose it’s my fault for treating them this way in the past. I always put them first, and now I resent it. I’m rarely happy.
Although I now, due to therapy, understand the part of my family history that created these problems for me, I still feel the same. What can I do to feel differently?
Dr. Norquist responds:
The first understanding that you must thoroughly imbibe is that you and you alone are responsible for what you experience. Try to curb any emotional habit you may have to blame others for what you are feeling. Start empowering yourself by taking responsibility for your own feelings and experiences. We create our own joy and we create our grief. We do not realize that we are doing this constantly through our understanding and our mental habits. Circumstances in the outside world do not determine our experience. Our experience of the world starts on the inside – it happens from the inside out.
So, don’t go to war with the mirror; instead, look inside to see what is inside you that the world is reflecting back to you. If you want others to treat you like you are important, and your feelings and needs matter, then you must first experience your importance, and you must live the knowledge that your feelings and needs are important. Then the world around you, including your family, will reflect this back to you in their responses to you.
Your happiness is your responsibility, not your family’s. Start to observe your habitual attitudes and perceptions of yourself and others. What do you notice? Perhaps your habitual perceptions include those that leave you feeling victimized. If so, practice trying on new perceptions and attitudes that leave you feeling more empowered and uplifted. Consciously, consistently, and patiently direct your attention towards changing or “reframing” these habitual responses. Remember, if you do not shine the light of your conscious attention on these habits, they will run in their usual ruts or channels. Change is possible. It is definitely in your power to change your experience of life. But to do so, you must be willing to stick to your goals, with consistency, over time. Perfection is not necessary – but a kind and accepting and patient attitude toward yourself is immensely helpful.
(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