NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Taking Control of Your Life

One of the most challenging problems to overcome is to feel that you have little or no control over your life.  Sometimes, there are circumstances (or aspects of circumstances) over which you  have little or no control. 

Taking Control of Your Life

Being very sick, dealing with the death of a loved one or your own impending death are examples where there's little or no control.  But, often, feeling powerless is a state of mind that is learned over time.  It's an attitude that can be overcome so that you can take back control and lead a more fulfilling life.

The following is a fictionalized vignette:

Mary grew up in a home where her father dominated the family.  As a former Marine captain, her father was used to giving orders and having them obeyed.  Mary's mother was very passive and she went along with whatever her husband wanted without questioning it. Mary never grew up with a sense of what she wanted or even that she was entitled to want anything.

Mary chose a husband who was very much like her father.  He controlled every aspect of their lives, including their money and their social life.

Mary's husband was a successful business man, so Mary never felt worried about money.  Her husband didn't want her to work, so she stayed home, where there was little for her to do.  They had a full time housekeeper, so Mary often spent her days reading or watching TV.

They had no children because Mary's husband had little patience for children.  Whenever Mary saw a mother with her baby, she felt sad.  But she didn't know why she was feeling sad, and she quickly brushed these feelings aside.

Mary loved her husband, and she knew that he loved her.  But, every so often, she was aware that she felt empty inside.  Whenever she experienced this feeling coming over her, she felt ashamed and confused.  She couldn't understand why she felt this way since her husband provided her with everything she needed.  Sometimes, she felt that she was being selfish and ungrateful when these feelings came over her.

Then, one day, after 25 years of marriage, Mary's husband had a sudden heart attack in the office and he was rushed to the hospital.  Mary rushed to the hospital, but her husband was already dead when she got there.  Mary was stunned and she went through the next few months in a kind of stupor.

The family lawyer had power of attorney made most of the important decisions.  He assured Mary that her husband left her well provided for, and she didn't need to worry about money.  But Mary felt in a constant state of panic, feeling adrift and not knowing what to do with her life.  She spent her days wandering from one room to another in her house feeling sad and overwhelmed.

After several months, Mary's friend recommended that she get professional help to overcome her feelings of powerlessness.  This was a tough decision for Mary to make.  Normally, she would ask her husband what she should do, especially before taking such a big step.  But he wasn't around to ask any more, and Mary wasn't sure what to do.  She was pretty sure that her husband wouldn't approve of her going to therapy.  He would just tell her to "buck up" and that she had no reason to feel unhappy.

Not knowing what to do, Mary went along with her friend's advice and made a consultation with a psychotherapist.  She thought it couldn't hurt to go for one visit.  But a few days before the consultation, she almost cancelled her appointment.  She picked up the phone several times to dial, but she hung up again.  Finally, on the day of the appointment, after debating it back and forth in her head, she went.

This began Mary's road to taking back control of her life, which wasn't easy.  Over time, she realized that she had been feeling emotionally numb for most of her life, and she didn't even know it.  Making even small decisions was fraught with anxiety for Mary.  Before she could tackle any major decisions, she had to first become aware of her own feelings.

Mary's therapist, who practiced mind-body oriented psychotherapy helped Mary to first become aware of her own body because Mary's emotional numbness also included a physical numbness that Mary had never been aware of before.  

Over time, Mary began to be able to identify her emotions based on what she was feeling in her body.  She started feeling alive again in a way she never felt before. At times, experiencing her emotions felt somewhat overwhelming, but Mary's therapist taught her in therapy how to bring herself back into a state of emotional equilibrium early on in their work together.

Mary began to use the emotions she felt in her body to determine what she wanted and to start to make decisions for herself.  It wasn't easy, and she would sometimes feel she wasn't entitled to even want anything for herself.  But she was able to persevere because she liked having a sense of aliveness again, no matter what the feelings were.  To feel something was so much better than to feel nothing at all.

Over time, step by step, Mary overcame the learned helplessness that had been a part of most of her life.  Rather than dreading making decisions, she began to look forward to them as ways to take back control of her life.  

She felt sad for all the years she was emotionally adrift in her life.  But she mourned that loss, along with mourning for her husband, and began to look forward.  She learned that there were some things she couldn't control, but there were many other things in her life that she could control.  As she came emotionally alive again, she felt a renewed sense of self and new self confidence.

What Causes You to Feel You Have No Control Over Your Life?
Sometimes, people feel they have no control over their lives because they've been raised under similar circumstances to Mary, and it becomes a way of life for them to have other people tell them what to do.  Other times, a string of unfortunate circumstances creates self doubt and people feel like they're like a leaf in the wind being blown around.

Taking Control of Your Life Often Begins with One Step
Whatever the circumstances, you can learn to take control of your life.  Taking back control of your life often begins with taking one step.  That first step is often a decision that you want to feel a sense of control and to reclaim your life.

Getting Help in Therapy 
If you've tried to do this on your own and haven't succeeded, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who has helped other clients to gain a sense of control of their lives.   

A skilled therapist can help you to feel a sense of agency in your life and, with it, a new sense of aliveness and well being.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with adult individuals and couples.  I have helped many clients to take back control of their lives and feel a new sense of aliveness and well being.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

For a related topic, you can read my article:  How Do We Balance Our Owns Needs With Being Responsive to Our Loved Ones?