Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have felt heart-broken lately. I have one daughter and she means everything to me. I’m a single mom, so a lot of my time and attention is focused on her. A few years ago she was diagnosed as having a rare autoimmune disorder that can attack the organs of her body. She had been relatively symptom free, with medication, until this year. This summer (at 13) she reached puberty and her body is no longer reacting well to the medication she takes. She has had all kinds of problems physically for the past 6-8 months. Often she is in pain and sometimes the pain is from her medication (headaches, stomachaches, nausea). She has fallen behind in school and in addition she has many social pressures to contend with (being in the 8th grade). I’m heart-broken to see her sitting at home in pain and often sad and angry about her situation. I try my best to cheer her spirits, but I feel so sad that her childhood is so burdened. Her father is not very involved and I don’t think he really comprehends the situation. I feel so helpless and overwhelmed. I did start her in psychotherapy (which, thank God, she was open to). What can I do that will be of the best possible help to her?
Dr. Norquist responds:
As parents, we want to protect our children from any and all pain and suffering. Their pain is our pain. This makes it extremely difficult to see and to accept that our children have their own life paths, just as we do. It is not our place to determine what their life path will be, or what obstacles and opportunities they will encounter. We can love, support, guide, teach, and serve as a role model for our children, but we cannot live their lives for them. We cannot take away their pain or suffering, or make life choices for them that appear to us to be less painful.
It must be terribly painful for you to see your daughter suffering so. I’m glad she was amenable to psychotherapy and that you have the foresight and ability to provide this service for her. Try to rise above your sadness and pain and see her from a higher, detached, yet loving perspective. From this place, ask yourself “what response from me would be most helpful to my daughter at this current moment?” Hold out hope – even when neither of you are feeling it. Allow her to feel her anger, fears, and anxieties without worrying about how you feel. Watch how you interpret and react to her situation, as she will imbibe your response.
She may also benefit from techniques that can help her to manage her stress, pain, and anxiety. These include guided imagery, yoga, massage, relaxation techniques, and any activity that she finds fun, interesting and enjoyable. Try to hold the light for her through these dark times so she can find her way to better times. Her pain provides growth opportunities for both of you.
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I am a very religious person, more so than most, I believe. I’m very active in my church. I pray a lot and always ask God for direction when I am faced with a big decision. I do my best to be a good person and to be kind and giving to others. So, I can’t understand why my life is so painful lately. Everything is going wrong. My husband was diagnosed with cancer, my son was called up from the reserves and will soon be going overseas, and I was recently laid off from a job that I gave to faithfully for almost 30 years. I worry constantly about losing my husband and my son and about not being able to pay the bills. I don’t know how God could have let this happen to me. I feel like he’s punishing me. After all I’ve done for God it doesn’t feel fair. Sometimes you write about “spiritual” things in your column. Could you help me understand why God seems to be punishing me?
Dr. Norquist responds:
I do not believe that God is punishing you. Your question suggests an underlying belief that life is supposed to be “fair” and without too many trials and tribulations. According to the Bible, Jesus had trials and tribulations and sometimes felt forsaken by God. Does that mean God was punishing him? Be careful how you interpret any situation, as your interpretation will yield behavioral and emotional consequences (either helpful or harmful). If you see God as punishing you, you will distance yourself (emotionally and spiritually) from God, thus depriving yourself of vital emotional support and spiritual sustenance for handling your current life stressors. If you see God and your church as standing by you, as a resource and support as you deal with your fears about your current situation, it will be easier to emerge from this situation less scared and battle weary, having grown through the process.
Like children, we have a tendency to think, “If I’m good, Dad (or God) will reward me”. But perhaps it’s not so straightforward. Perhaps what looks like adversity is actually a reward of sorts, a challenge to grow in ways we could not have grown if we were not faced with a certain type of crisis or challenge. Can you see ways in which your current life stresses could lead you to develop your courage, to challenge you to discover a new level of intimacy with your husband, to push you to question your religious beliefs (and thereby develop more complex, more comprehensive spiritual understandings)? Could you use your current situation to learn to let go and accept that your son has his own soul’s journey to follow, and/or to develop talents, skills and interests left behind through 30 years of commitment to one particular job?
Life is here to challenge us to grow, to give, to connect, to develop our gifts, our character, our spiritual awareness, our overall wholeness. Adversity often assists us in the process. I’d strongly encourage you to choose an interpretation of your current life situation that helps you to rise to this challenge.
(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 email@example.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