Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m writing for your advice about something that I feel ashamed to even put in writing. I have a son who is turning seven this summer. Due to birth complications, he was born with cerebral palsy (CP). Although we frequently have to attend to complications or surgeries required due to his CP, we are blessed in that he is a good natured, generally happy child.
My husband and I are very religious and we have come to accept that raising a child with CP is part of God’s plan for us. I thought I had accepted the situation and felt I was adjusted to the blessings and the trials that it entails until a few years ago, when my twin sister gave birth to a gorgeous, healthy baby girl. Her daughter is four now and seems to be precocious in many ways.
I always felt that I never quite measured up to my sister and that my mother favored her over me. As you can imagine, these feelings are coming up for me anew, as I see her daughter continue to blossom and to shine, not only in my sister’s eyes but also in my mother’s eyes.
I’m envious of her, I have to admit. It doesn’t seem fair. It’s especially painful at holiday get-togethers, when both of our kids are “on display.” I think my son is starting to sense the difference as well. These feelings are painful and private and I don’t know how to come to a sense of peace inside regarding this situation. Could you give me any pointers?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Blessings are often the fruit of adversity. Your current situation allows you the opportunity to resolve earlier inner conflicts – kind of like a spring cleaning on the spiritual and psychological levels.
This is not an issue of “fairness.” If you view it through the “fairness” lens, you are setting yourself up to feel victimized. We all have our growth agendas – areas on the horizon of our lives that require attention and that stimulate growth. It appears that yours currently is in the area of self-worth. You have felt less favored than your sister since childhood. Your current situation pushes/urges you to reconsider your beliefs about yourself. These beliefs (that you are less than your sister in some way) were formed within a child’s understanding of the world. It’s time to reconsider the validity of this belief and this experience of yourself. The truth is that your worth as a person is independent of how your mother sees you. Your worth is innate. It is not for someone else to give it to you. It is for you to experience it for yourself.
As a child, flourishing required winning your mother’s love and approval. Competing with your sister for your mother’s love was an important part of your experience and identity as a growing child. This is a very common and normal experience, as you probably know. The task now is to shift your focus from the past to the present. As adults we often have to remind ourselves that we are operating from an out-dated agenda. Our task as adults is to take responsibility for our own lives, creatively developing and bringing forth the wholeness of who we are and what we have to offer to our loved ones and to the world. When you feel the emotional pull of envy, competition, sadness or anger stemming from your past familial experience of “not being as good as,” try to stop and consciously shift your focus from the past to the present (adult) you. The old experience is belittling; the new one enables you to access your personal power for creating a new experience of yourself.
We could spend lots of time hashing out old issues but learning and practicing this simple change of focus can enable you to release the disempowering clutches of the past and move forward with your life. You have been given the opportunity to love and to mother your special son. This is what matters. It does not matter how others see or respond to this situation. Loving him has healing powers for your own heart. As you continue to step into your own fullness, others will naturally see and respect who you are.
Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog GrowingThroughParenting.com
(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 email@example.com. 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. 2018 Chaitanya Counseling Services