Sunday, October 3, 2010

What is most important to YOU?

There are so many times that we make our decisions based off of what we think others want us to do, rather than what we feel is best for ourselves. We place what others want from us above what we want for ourselves or feel is important. We do this to avoid making someone angry or disappointed in us, to make someone else happy with us, and to find approval. However, we also do this at the expense of our selves.

If left unchecked, making decisions based on what others think can lead us to unhappiness at best and deep depression at worst.

So, what can we do to break the cycle?

Tonya was one of my first clients. She was a 32 year old woman, married for seven years with two children. She came in to therapy because she wanted to deal with the anger she had from her husband's infidelity, but soon found out that she was more angry at her mother for having so much control over her. Tonya quickly learned that it was her self she had to look at. Why was she giving so much control over to her mother? Was it because her mom would put her down if Tonya didn't do what she wanted? Was it because her mother would use the past failures as a reminder for why Tonya should do what her mother said? All of these things were going on, but Tonya could not seem to see a way out of trying to please her mother, to let the fear of disappointing her mother in, recognizing it, feeling it and then letting it go.

It wasn't until I asked her, "In this moment, with your mother not in THIS room, what do YOU feel is the right thing for you to do?", that Tonya began to see her self as separate from her mother's desires for her.

Tonya struggled with answering this question at first. I had to repeat it several different times, in different ways, until she finally was able to begin to get the idea that it was ok to have a differing view from someone she cared about. She wrote two letters to her mother. One expressed everything Tonya was thinking and feeling, without holding anything back. This also took some work, encouraging Tonya to get in touch with her deepest anger and resentment seemed to assist her in letting her become aware of what she was really feeling.

The second letter was what Tonya requested from her mother; the letter Tonya could give to her mother. This letter was the filtered version of what Tonya had wanted to express, creating requests of her mother in considerate yet assertive ways.

It didn't take long before Tonya felt she had more control over her own decisions, separate from anyone else. She decided to stay in her marriage and continue with her family, making some decisions that her mother did not agree with, but ultimately taking care of her and her immediate family needs above pleasing her mother.

I watched as Tonya went from a sad and angry person to a smiling and joyful woman. She felt free from constraints that had been holding her down for so many years, able to finally find her own voice and believe in her own sense of self-worth, separate from any one else.

Homework: Take the time to find out what is most important to YOU, separate from what you may think anyone else will respond to it. Learn to place importance on what you feel is best for YOU, before any one else. Yes, you want to consider the impact of your choices on others and weigh it against what you feel is important to you. However, be aware that putting what someone else thinks you should do above your own sense of what is important is dependence and ultimately unhealthy to your well-being. Find your voice. Take healthy actions. Take care of what is important to you first.

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