(Dr. Norquist is at a training program this week. We are re-running a letter that was published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
Lately I’ve been really frustrated and down on myself. I keep getting disappointed in myself, both at home and at work. I’m never happy with the quality of my work. There’s always something I could have done better. I see my boss as critical, but really, I think I expect more of myself then he expects of me. At home I try my best to be a perfect mother and wife, but I tend to lose my temper when someone doesn’t do what they are supposed to do. The other day my son forgot to bring his math book home, so he couldn’t do his math homework. I was so angry at him for being forgetful. Thinking back on it now, I realize that lots of kids his age have trouble being organized and often forget things. Now I’m beating myself up inside for having been so angry at him. But I have trouble stopping myself from these angry, disappointed reactions. It hurts my family and leaves me angry and depressed. How can I change this?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Changing this habit will require a change in your experience of the world. This is not as difficult as it might at first appear to be. Life does not require perfection of us. This is a belief you carry that needs changing. If we make a mistake, there does not have to be a penalty. You are the one who is imposing a penalty. Try to change your perspective. Life will always provide us with new opportunities to improve upon our past mistakes. Rather than punish yourself for past mistakes, just acknowledge (without judgment) the behavior you want to change, and then try to seize the next opportunity to practice the new behavior.
In every moment you can start anew. Learn from your mistakes and then keep plugging away, doing the best you can. If you burden yourself with self-criticism, disappointment and anger, it becomes much more difficult to move forward. It’s like trying to climb a mountain with heavy weights attached to your ankles or a heavy load on your back. There is no need for the heavy weights. You can get further much faster and more efficiently without the weights – so why carry them?
Accept your imperfections with compassion. Change what you can as you are able to. Be persistent yet patient. Practice seeing each moment as an opportunity to start anew, without the burdens of the past. Learn to take yourself and life lightly, and enjoy the view along the way.
(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. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services