Dear Dr. Norquist:
I am in a relationship that is bad for me, and I can’t seem to leave it. I’m embarrassed to say it, but my boyfriend puts me down and yells at me every day, yet when I think of leaving, I’m too frightened to do anything. The thing is, I lost my job more than two months ago, and I have nowhere to go, because I’m not supporting myself right now. I don’t have much family around here – just a brother who has his own problems to deal with (his wife is an alcoholic). My mom died two years ago, and my dad has always been only interested in his own life. How do I leave when I have no support from my family and I can’t support myself? I’m 24.
Dr. Norquist responds:
I can tell from your letter that you have a lot of inner strength that you have not yet tapped into. Most people with similar situations would not take the step of asking for advice until they were in their 30’s. Although you are experiencing fear at the thought of leaving, my hunch is that you have a lot of unrecognized inner resources to draw on. When early caretaking needs have not been met satisfactorily, it’s easy as an adult to lack confidence in the ability to make it on ones’ own in the world. This is the lesson and the task you are faced with.
Walking forward through your fears, slowly but surely proving to yourself that you can make it on your own, will bring you a joyous sense of achievement. It will nourish your soul. This abusive relationship can be your teacher. It prods you on, forcing you to move toward your fears, in a direction that holds forth much potential growth. Know that your destination is the sense of freedom and security that comes from being able to support yourself.
The route toward your destination has to be determined by you. Please know, however, that this is a step by step process. You do not have to do this all at once – unless you are in physical danger. It would be helpful if you could work with someone to set up a plan of action for yourself. This could be a therapist, a church counselor, or an objective and grounded friend or family member. Make sure the steps you set up are manageable, realistic, and not too overwhelming. For example, your first step might be towards providing financial stability for yourself. You could start by making a list of possible ways to search for a job, i.e., through the newspaper, internet, asking friends and family, neighbors, businesses you frequent, old contacts/jobs, etc. The next step might be to decide in what order you will start implementing this list, and then setting up a timetable for yourself. If you commit to your goal, and work on it day by day, you will be amazed how much progress you can make. In the process, you will experience your abilities and inner strength, and bolster your self-confidence.
Since I don’t know much about the particulars of who you are, this example can be only that – an example. But, please know that you can do this. See yourself basking in the enjoyment of this major life achievement. And enjoy the freedom of knowing that you will never again let someone dominate and abuse you, because you have proven to yourself that you can make it on your own.
(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