Dear Dr. Norquist:
Now that I look back at it, I’ve spent my whole life trying to do the right thing – first to please my mother and father, then to please my teachers and get good grades. When I first graduated from college I had an unpleasant boss who I was always failing to please. Now I try to please my husband, make my kids happy, come to think of it I even try to please God. I’m starting to think I’ve taken this too far! I turned 40 last week and since then I’ve been trying to look at my life more closely – and this is what I notice – there is no end to trying to please others. I guess I just don’t know how else to be. Can you shed any light on my dilemma?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Because of this awareness about yourself, you are in a position to make powerful, life-altering changes in your life. This is a wonderful opportunity that you are creating for yourself.
One place to start is by ascertaining what it is that supports your current approach to life. For example, does your need to please stem from a fear of anger or abandonment by important others? Is this a way of connecting with others, and being liked or loved? Does it feed your self-esteem, or a need to belong? Clarity regarding the needs and desires behind your past behavior will fortify you in consciously letting go of these old habits. This is the road to greater freedom and satisfaction in your life.
I do not believe that we are in this world to please others. Why are we here? I believe it is up to each of us to decide this for ourselves. The answer to this question will guide you in determining how to make the most of your life. Your answer to this question will likely change as you move through life.
Given that you probably do not want to spend your precious life energy pleasing others, in your eyes, what would be the most meaningful and fulfilling way to spend your time in this life? I find it useful to consider the time and life energy we are born with as our own personal bank account. If we make huge withdrawals (‘burning the candle at both ends’ and/or being self-destructive) our reserves run low. Sometimes we are forced (through illness or other circumstances) to replenish our energy reserves through rest, managing our stress and making healthy lifestyle choices. No matter what, it is a limited supply of time and energy in each of our bank accounts. We never know how long each of us has before our time in this life is over.
Take some time to consider what you value most in life. Is your behavior (verbally as well as non-verbally) in alignment with your values? How can you spend your time and energy in a manner that best reflects your values and what you would most like to create or experience in this precious lifetime? Conscious consideration of these questions will help you to take responsibility for your life and create a life that is rich and satisfying.
(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.chaitanyacounseling.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.Ó 2017 Chaitanya Counseling Services