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Dr. Laura Russell’s Column

You Are Not Your Problems
by Laura Russell, PhD

Welcome to my column. I want to encourage people to treat themselves and each other with gentleness, kindness, compassion, dignity, respect, compassion, support, and encouragement. I have often laughingly referred to myself as that other Dr. Laura. My approach to people’s problems is so different from the controversial Dr. Laura. I believe that people grow within relationships. I also believe that the answers to your problems are within you. You just need to hear them. If the people around you actively listen and acknowledge you, you are more likely to become aware of your inner strengths and wisdom.

Just listen to the following three people.

  1. I am so ashamed. I feel sick. I just don’t understand it! Samantha said on the telephone to her friend Kim. I am sleeping 10 hours a night and I still wake up bone weary tired. Samantha is talking about the scary feelings people have when they are ill.

  2. Joe, who does not know Samantha, is having problems at work. He has a new boss and they just don’t understand each other. Whenever they try to discuss Joe’s work, Joe gets even more confused. He suspects he is inadequate and worries about losing his job.

  3. Tracy cries all the time. She thought she would be happy when she got married, and is terribly disappointed. All she can think of is that terrible night 6 years ago when she was raped. Why can’t I just snap out of it? She demands of herself.

These three people all have several things in common. They are experiencing problems in living. Painful problems, for certain, but they are not mentally ill, inadequate or shameful. The bigger dilemma is that they are blaming themselves for their difficulties.

I’ll be writing a lot more about self-blame, self-abuse and shame. When you make yourself wrong for your difficulties, you stop your progress. Instead of blame, I propose that we think about the following ideas:

  • You are not your problems.

  • You may need some coping skills.

  • Your experiences can cause your problems.

  • Emotional growth is natural.

  • Mental health is being yourself.

  • Living difficulties are not your fault.

In upcoming columns, I’ll take these ideas one at a time.

I am excited about the possibilities of sharing these ideas with you. Your responses are vital to this process. I want to emphasize your experiences as you learn to treat yourself gently. Make your suggestions and let me know what your needs are. We can problem solve together.

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