Dear Dr. Norquist:
I am writing to you, Dr. Norquist, because no one else has been able to fix what’s wrong with my life. My parents abandoned me through their addictions. My husband left me (luckily we didn’t have any children). My job is boring and doesn’t pay well. I don’t have any loyal friends – just “friends” who use me when it’s convenient for them. Even my therapist hasn’t been any help. Can you help me? I’m miserable and unhappy most of the time. I’ve been dealt a bad hand in life, and it isn’t fair.
Dr. Norquist responds:
It is most common for us to operate in life from the underlying assumption that someone else is responsible for our well-being. We are all too happy to engage in the practice of finding others to hold responsible for our happiness, our health, our financial well-being, our careers, and many other day-to-day aspects of our lives. Some of us give that power over to our bosses. Some look for marital partners to hold responsible for important needs and life decisions. Many are happy to leave this responsibility with their parents, thereby never fully owning their adulthood. Therapists and doctors are also commonly held responsible by their patients for their physical and emotional health. The act of taking responsibility for our lives is like a hot potato; we are so eager to quickly push it over to someone else! Why?
Power is intimidating. It appears easier and less threatening to give it to others then to own it ourselves. Consider the analogy of a car. It’s obvious that if you want to go somewhere, you have to start the engine. Consider the image that we are each in our own cars, behind the steering wheel. No one else can sit in your car behind the steering wheel, because you are already there. They are in their own cars. The only way you can move forward is if you decide where you want to go, turn the key in your ignition and start heading in the direction that appears to lead you where you’d like to go. You can consult others for directions, and with regard to their knowledge of the map of life, but how can anyone else be responsible for where your car goes. You are always the one behind the wheel. Whether you are paying attention, or asleep – you are always the one who is responsible for turning the engine on, deciding where to go, and steering the car.
If you want your life to change, you must start by taking responsibility for where you are, what you’ve created, and what changes you’d like to make. How can it be otherwise? This life of yours is yours alone. Until this becomes crystal clear to you, this will always be the life lesson in front of you. Although the players in your life may vary, you will always cycle around to the same experience. Our lives are our own creations – so be creative. What do you want to create? The power is in your hands alone. Remember, you are not the passive victim of life, but the creator of your own experiences.
(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. 2014 Chaitanya Counseling Services