Enlivening Ourselves

Dear Dr. Norquist:

I guess I’m having what some might call a crisis of faith. I’ve never been super religious, but my parents always brought us to church when I was growing up, and I just accepted whatever I was taught there as the truth. Now I have my own daughter (she’s 4 years old), and I don’t know what to do.I’d like to raise her with Sunday visits to the church. My daughter would probably enjoy playing with the other kids in Sunday school, and my husband would go along (sometimes anyway), but I’m no longer sure that I can believe everything the church teaches. I don’t know why I’m writing to you about it, but I’ve read your column for a while now, and I trust your opinion, and I know you sometimes write about spiritual stuff. In the past, I would have just gone to church (mostly for my daughter) and not thought much about whether I believed all of it or not. For some reason I feel differently now.

Dr. Norquist responds:

A spiritual crisis is often a manifestation of an inner drive towards growth. Your physical body is not the only part of you that has growth spurts! Our spiritual life also has developmental stages. It looks like your sense of responsibility as the mothering one for your daughter has pushed you to a new level of awareness with regard to your own spiritual needs. It is no longer OK for you to just simply agree with what the church says is the truth. You can no longer just play the part of following church protocol. You are feeling a need for your actions to be congruent with your beliefs. This leads you quite naturally to question what you believe, what you experience as true, and what you can base your faith upon. In a sense, you are on the threshold of embarking on a spiritual quest. As you probably know, this is a quest that you must engage in for yourself. Although the progress you make is based on your own efforts, you will always have allies, or guidance available. Allies come in the form of teachers (others who have traversed the path – some of the church and some not), wisdom in written form, inner knowing, and unexpected experiences or dawning’s in awareness. Just ask for guidance, and keep an open mind. Always test any new knowledge with your inner sense of what rings true for you. Trust that life itself will take you to the next phase of your journey if you but listen for the sign posts. Just as with our physical growth, our spiritual growth is not haphazard. It is a process. Be patient and accepting of this cycle of "not-knowing". Enjoy the quest!

Dear Dr. Norquist:

I have been married for 15 years. My husband used to be kind to me and tell me he loved me every once in a while. After he left me and came back, he started treating me badly. He has always been abusive from time to time but he would always say he was sorry afterwards. I know I can be hard to live with sometimes, but I don’t think I deserve to be treated badly. He is no longer satisfied with anything I do. He says he just wants peace but he shows me no kindness. He is always criticizing me, talking about my weight, and about my having bad breath. He doesn’t desire me any more and I think I can’t stand another rejection. I want to try and fix it but I don’t know where to start.

Dr. Norquist responds:

If you want to try to "fix" this, you need to start with yourself. You do not have control over his behavior. Blaming him for not treating you lovingly just leaves you feeling resentful, angry, and unlovable. It does not do anything to help the situation. If you really want the situation to change, you must start by looking inside, not outside.

You seem to believe that you need your husband’s love and acceptance, and that this is what would be proof of your loveableness. You are giving him too much power here and because of this, you feel victimized by his behavior towards you. It is easy to get caught in a habitual emotional state that includes feeling unjustly victimized, self-righteous about blaming the other, and self-pitying and helpless with regard to your situation. This cluster of feelings can leave you stuck for years, not seeing that the way out is to take responsibility for your own life.

This starts by recognizing that you have choices with regard to how you see and respond to your husband’s behavior. Continually remind yourself that he is not the one who determines your loveableness. If he sees you as not loveable that says something about him. The fact that you believe him and keep trying to get his love says something about you. Take charge of your own life. Treat yourself with love. Take care of your health. Establish supportive mutual friendships. Make sure you are spending your life energy in ways that are in alignment with who you are, and what brings you joy.

By taking responsibility for your own emotional state, you will be reclaiming your own power and heading down the road towards a happier, healthier life. If this answer leaves you with more questions, feel free to write again.

(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)

Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at drnorquist@chaitanya.com, 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 and treating physical symptoms and health-related concerns. Practitioners of the following techniques are available to answer your questions: psychology, acupuncture, therapeutic and neuromuscular massage, yoga, meditation, spiritual & transpersonal psychology, Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Alexander Technique Ó 2002 Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center.</i>


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