The Option Method: On Being Your Own Expert
This chapter, in many ways, is the last chapter of the book. It is presented here to give a broad-based understanding of the method . . . now, as you begin this journey. A second reading, after completing the remainder of the book, will unfold a new richness and depth as well as reconfirming many insights and revealing new ones.
The accent here is on the nature of the Option dialogue, the series of questions and the probe into our system of beliefs. The form is simple and direct, a contemporary Socratic exploration. Each question is born from the content of the last statement made. Stripped of direction and judgments, we proceed naturally from ourselves.
But why begin with questions? To ask ourselves, to make an inquiry does not mean we are ignorant or that we do not understand. It’s just a way of bringing knowledge and awareness to life.
On these following pages are notations on a layout, a design, a dialogue motif. It is a bare skeleton brought to life by each of us as we use it, as we live it. More than just an initiation, it is also the final service area in the journey through this book, which is, in reality, a journey through ourselves.
From the Attitude, “to love is to be happy with,” comes the Method for helping myself to become happier in every way. In approaching myself, in accepting the model, I am accepting myself. There is no directed or designed piece of behavior. The unraveling and the discovery as well as the opportunity to change comes from opening myself to my beliefs.
In viewing them as they operate, I can decide whether I want to continue to believe them or not. Herein lies the crystallization of choosing or re-choosing, accepting or discarding. The only mysteries are the ones I make. References to emotional disturbance or mental illness are not applicable. Those are the judgments of others. An unhappy person is a person reacting to his beliefs of unhappiness. It’s much more a question of learning and teaching myself with an open awareness of my own power, dignity and knowing.
Unhappiness germinates when I see myself or events as being bad for me. The Option dialogue technique is for those of us who might want to live more happily and, thus, more effectively (without self-defeating results and painful by-products).
Great, it feels like I really want to do it, become happier and maybe even shoot for the sky-perfect happiness. I can certainly envision the benefits of ridding myself of unhappiness in my job, my love relationship, my sexual involvements … in almost everything. The ramifications are just incredible – moving comfortably, being in harmony with my body, expanding new horizons. But wait! What about the big, big immovable horrors . . . war, famine, poverty, disease? Shouldn’t they still make me unhappy? Aren’t they still things to be legitimately depressed about?
Okay . . . let’s talk about these realities. The focus of our attention has always been on you and me. Why? Because your unhappiness lives within you as my unhappiness lives within me. So what are we saying when we are angry and upset with the world’s great problems? Aren’t we saying that we really want them solved, the violence to cease, the poor to eat, the sick to be cured? That’s what we want! But why are we unhappy about it? Because, as with other more limited personal dilemmas, we use the unhappiness (anger, frustration, fear) to help us stay in touch with what we want … to motivate and reinforce ourselves. To flip the switch. We’re afraid that if we were not unhappy, we wouldn’t try to do anything about “the great tragedies.” Some of us might also be believing that if we didn’t get upset, we would somehow be callous and “inhuman.”
Initially, I use unhappiness to move myself to do something (join a protest march, volunteer for a benefit, send money to a charity). I feel so much better after doing something. The initial unhappiness also reconfirms that I care … that I am a sensitive and involved human being. “Yes, but I really do feel sad about those problems.” Sure, if I believed that I would be a “bad” person if I didn’t, then I would feel sad.
No one is here to argue with such feelings and reactions. But can’t we still want to improve world conditions without being melancholy and anxious? Can’t we find the motivation to help others from our loving and caring, rather than our outrage and anger?
Good, that really helps. I could understand caring without being unhappy. Although I couldn’t be happy about world conditions, maybe I could be neutral and attend to my other good feelings. Yet, another mountain suddenly appears. What about the big one . . . what about death? How could I help but be unhappy about dying? Those fears, like many others, come from my beliefs. If I were brought up in another culture, I might welcome death as the most beautiful part of living. No fear at all, just an embrace.
My anxiety about death and dying would have to come from my beliefs that it is bad for me. I might also have many additional supportive beliefs about losing time to enjoy loved ones, being deprived of opportunities, etc. In this culture, most of us have acquired many fears (beliefs and superstitions) about our mortality. No one is suggesting they are silly or unfounded. If we believe them, they are real – for us. So the question that could be asked is: What is the exact nature of my individual fears of death and why do I believe them? Although death seems inevitable, we each have our specific fears and anxieties. If it disturbs me, then perhaps I can include it as part of my exploration. “Would that mean if I didn’t fear it, I would want it?” Of course not … couldn’t we not fear dying and still want to live? Isn’t fearing dying really wanting to live? Hear this as it is said . . . we can look at what we want; the only thing we have to lose is our unhappiness.
I’m almost ready to go on … but, ah, just a minor case of the last-minute jitters. An old belief returns. I understand that the concept “if I were happy all the time, I’d be an idiot” is just not so. What stays with me is the concern that if I allow myself to be happy under all circumstances, how can I be sure I’ll move. If I’m happy any place, it wouldn’t make a difference where I was. Okay, let’s look at that . . . the more we allow ourselves to deal with the questions, the more possibilities for becoming happier. When the happy skier stops on a ridge, does he stop moving (he’s happy on the ridge) or does he continue going down the mountainside as he wants? When a musician is happily playing, does he get stuck endlessly on one piece or does he too move as his inclinations guide him? If I am happy swimming, won’t I still stop when I am tired? If I am enjoying hiking, won’t I still interrupt my walk in order to eat?
And doing something out of happiness does not cause lethargy. On the contrary, it usually increases our mobility and effectiveness because instead of fighting our fears and running from pain, we more clearly see our wants and move with ease toward them (or move simultaneously as we want).
In dismantling the beliefs of unhappiness, we free ourselves to allow our wanting and the undiluted energy flows within us. As we have seen, a fearful or anxious person often blocks data and has difficulty processing information since he is diverting his energies to deal with his discomforts. The happy person would simply allow intake and digest, knowing that what he sees and understands can only make him better equipped and more effective. But this occurs concurrent to happiness . . . it is neither an end goal nor an intermediate goal. Other disciplines herald “self-awareness,” “adaptation,” & “effectiveness” or “normalcy” as goals. And if you ask them why, they would probably say these goals are attained in order to be happy. Option cuts through it . . . we can be happy now . . . now while we are trying to change ourselves. Happiness is not a reward unless we withhold it from ourselves until we reach a desired goal. And would we withhold it if we knew we were going toward our goal anyway?
Stripped of all surface manipulation, there is only our wanting to be happier and our journey toward happier-ness. It does not matter how we define it or how we describe it or whether we agree upon what it is . . . we know when we are happy and feeling good when we are there, we have no questions.
In using the Method, we become a “therapon” for ourselves, a second voice, a comrade in a common struggle. We could also be a facilitator for others and let them be one for us.
For some of us, there is the Option teacher who can ask the questions, although each student still retains absolute control. But there is the alternate possibility of acting as our own “therapon,” serving ourselves by lifting the debris and allowing a more natural flow helping ourselves to be happier.
Since the Option Process begins with the attitude, which is a way of life, a style of being and a perspective of seeing, let’s review its nature. “To love is to be happy with.” No judgments. No conditions. No Expectations. Allowing myself and others the freedom to be whoever they are, to do what they do or don’t do. To be accepting without giving up my own wants or giving up trying to get what I want. Permitting my desires to be a function of wanting and not needing. A willingness to put aside my pretending because I am aware I do not need that protection from myself. Accepting responsibility for who I am, without indictment or recrimination. The “shoulds” and “should nots,” the “have tos” and “musts” can be laid aside. If I know that nothing is wrong with me, then anything I come to uncover could only enrich me and help me in getting more of what I want. Being aware that others are also doing the best they can, the best they know how, based on their current beliefs … they’re wanting to be happier, wanting to be more loving.
In crystallizing my awareness and viewing the beliefs behind my unhappiness, I go with myself in no preset direction. Permitting myself to begin and end as I choose, with no accomplishment necessary in order to allow myself to feel good. To trust myself, knowing that I always take care of myself.
In exploring our behavior and feelings as it relates to our happiness and unhappiness, we begin the Option Process.
Most of us believe that we have to be unhappy now so that we can be happy later. In using unhappiness as a motivator, reinforcer and gauge (to measure our caring), we create a continual cycle of discomfort. In the present, we are unhappy or uncomfortable in anticipation of the uncertain future. And since there’s always an uncertain future, in the present we are then always living with some unhappiness.
We break the cycle by helping ourselves to be happier by living in the non-anticipating now. In turning that corner, we also indirectly help others. Our increasing good feelings and acceptance is a loving and embracing way in which we come to allow others their own space and freedoms.
Unhappiness is based on a logical system of beliefs. Thus, we look within our own belief system since all the reasons are connected and activated there. Our perception and thoughts all filter through our belief system (resulting in our behaviors and feelings). Portions of this system form the apparatus to dissect and, perhaps, disconnect (as we want).
Our endeavor is more akin to philosophy than psychology. It is a question of what- we learned (and now believe) and what we want to do about what we learned (and still believe). In that process, each of us is our own expert, regardless of who asks the questions.
There is no one who knows more about who you are and what you believe than . . . you.
The design, mood and meaning of the exploration comes from you. If it doesn’t, then it merely articulates the beliefs of another. And isn’t that in part how we got here in the first place, when we began to ignore our own voice and put aside what we know.
If another’s goal or interpretations supersede mine, then I am the recipient of an additional bombardment of beliefs, none of which helps me to uncover my own beliefs and accept or discard them as I choose. To know me and my wants is for me to do. “But how do I know if I’ll tell myself the truth?” Just ask and then answer.
There is only one professional in my case and that’s me … only one professional in your case and that’s you.
The Option Method, coming from the Attitude, breaks down into three basic questions with one alternate question. Although each question has a diverse variety of forms and subquestions in order to clarify answers, the model is incredibly simple.
1. What are you unhappy about?
2. Why are you unhappy about that?
3. Why do you believe that? Or do you believe that?
(Alternate) What are you afraid would happen if you werent unhappy about that?
What? That’s impossible, you’re thinking. It can’t be any good; it’s too simple and I’m so complex. It’s too confining. Yes … and maybe, no. Yes, it is beautifully simple in terms of questions, but no, not in terms of its capacity to unravel and help us focus. Like happiness itself, the route to it is simple and uplifting.
The complexity is the journey through the unhappiness, through the maze of interrelating beliefs and short circuits. For some there is no method; they just decide to be happy. Period. Super-simple, yet attainable by a few. For the majority of us, our discomforts and fears are still strong enough and prevalent enough to short-circuit our flow and allowing. When we consider the content of many of the following chapters: children, love relations, sex, health, guilt, money, the psychic experience and trusting ourselves . . . we will discover an “apparent” collage of conflicting ideas and beliefs. Some of it might appear perplexingly complex. Yet still, the discoveries are born out of only three elemental questions. There are no other tools required, except an awareness of wanting to be happier.
Let’s begin with the first question, then explore variations as well as the subquestions. What are you unhappy about? Or What about that makes you unhappy? If you just lost a loved one or were demoted in your job, incurred a huge debt . . . if you are having problems with sex or money . . . the question at first might seem outrageous and ridiculous. How could anyone, for example, ask a person why they are unhappy about their lover dying? More than offensive, it’s absurd. But is it?
It might seem silly because we each conjure up an immediate and emphatic answer that we are sure everyone has. Yet, the answers are not always what we expect nor are they beyond comprehension. Often, therapists, professionals and teachers believe they know the answer in advance (that’s how they make diagnoses and predictions) … but only you can know the answer. Back to the question. What is it about your lover dying that makes you unhappy? No one is saying that we “should not” feel unhappy or, if we get unhappy, we should suppress it or not vent it . . . the probe is to identify the underlying belief. You’d probably be surprised bow incredibly varied and different the answers are: “I am unhappy that she suffered so much.” “I am unhappy about missing her.” “I am unhappy about being left alone.” “I am guilty because I didn’t treat her right.” “I am unhappy because I am so difficult to love, and will end up lonely without her.” Each answer, following from our concept of no direction, leads us into different areas. “How will I know which one is my answer?” Ask yourself. A trail that begins in one place can move in many directions. We cannot assume there is an obvious answer or underlying fear, because there isn’t. There is only my answer for me, your answer for you.
We each have our own reasons for being unhappy. And since each of us is different, only you can answer for yourself.
The first question also has many variations. Often, we will say “I am not unhappy, I’m angry.” So we deal with our own vocabulary and symbols. What am I angry about? What am I anxious about? What am I uncomfortable about or frightened about? Unhappiness is just a grab-bag word encompassing any feelings or thoughts we are uncomfortable with. The subquestion is for further clarification: what do you mean by that? Or again, what about that makes you unhappy? If I say I am unhappy about not having someone to take care of me . . . what does that mean? Physically, emotionally, sexually or materially? Each answer of what makes us unhappy can usually be refined by asking a clarifying question to further identify and pinpoint the unhappiness.
So we begin the cycle. What are you unhappy about? I am miserable that my lover died. What about that makes you miserable? I’ll miss her. What do you mean? Well, there will be no one to share my life with; no one left to care. I’ll be unloved. So being cared for or the possibility of being unloved now becomes the continuing focus of the questions and answers. Still at this point, we have not gone beyond the first question. Even when we ask the second question, often, we return to the first. There is no rigidity or predetermined logic, all of it comes from the last answer. Each and every time.
The Option Method is a way of being with ourselves … it is not pushing and pulling in directions, but all owing of our natural propensities.
The second question: Why are you unhappy about that? Again, there might be some of us who could react with annoyance and shout “What do you mean by why?” “Anyone would be unhappy if they lost a loved one.” Sure, but your unhappiness is not being judged. The question is not an indictment or criticism, only a search for the reasons why. Often, when others have asked us why, their questions have had many overtones, such as the implicit statement that you should be doing it differently. This time the question is not loaded . . . there are no unstated judgments. It is just a vehicle to help us understand.
So if we had answered that we were unhappy about losing a loved one because we are then left alone, the next question would be: Why are you unhappy about being alone? Because I’ll have no one to love me. Why would that make you unhappy? Because I want to be loved. The alternate question might be introduced at this juncture: What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about being alone? I would stay alone. I might not try to find someone else. Oh. Then what is being said is: “If I am not unhappy about it, I won’t do anything to improve it.” Here we see the exposure of a significant belief. In it, we can also see how, even with unhappiness, we are always taking care of ourselves, doing the best we believe possible for ourselves.
Now, the last question might be asked: Why do you believe that? Sometimes, we cannot find any reasons. In that case, we have the opportunity to review the dynamic and discard it if we want. “If I don’t have a reason, then why am I still believing that?” On other occasions, we might have an answer. For example, I believe it because it’s always been that way. The question that might take shape is: If it always has been that way in the past, does it mean it will always be that way in the future? That would be a clarification question. The answer might be: Well, I guess it doesn’t have to be that way because it was in the past … but with my luck it will happen again. Okay, if it happens again, what would you be unhappy about? And here we are now back to the first question.
Since each belief is supported by other beliefs, the movement usually follows relevant lines. The why do you believe that question could be asked at any point, provided I am dealing with a statement about beliefs (I’m not talented, I’m unlovable, something is wrong with me, etc.). Underlying all the dialogues are usually some basic or global beliefs. When those are changed in an individual, entire spheres of behavior and feeling can change. Suppose, after investigation by the Method, I became aware that I had always believed that something was wrong with me. I choose now to discard that belief (as I come to know I am what I want and can always change as I wish). This would affect every concept of living and every area of my activity. The possibilities are endless when each question flows from the previous answer.
On some occasions, we might give ourselves circular responses. I loathe it because it bothers me because it makes me unhappy. Or I am unhappy because I am sad because I am depressed because I am uncomfortable. The substitution here is merely one descriptive word for another. A clarification question might be asked: What is it about being sad or depressed that particularly bothers you? There is no reason to refute or debate yourself. It is not “bad” to feel the way you do. Go with it, you’ll do the best you can.
Another helpful note: Verbalize out loud, if possible. Why? So that you can hear it; you can give it solidity and more visibility. Your words make your ideas more reachable. We say it to know it better. Fears and beliefs alike are easier to grasp once articulated. It’s also exciting to hear yourself say something you didn’t know you believed.
A tight recap. There are three basic questions, each with a subquestion for purposes of identifying or clarifying unhappiness.
1. What are you unhappy about? What do you mean by that or what about that makes you unhappy?
2. Why are you unhappy about that? What do you mean by that?
3. Why do you believe that? Or do you believe that?
4. (alt.) What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about it?
Often the trail to the last question is some distance from the first, yet everything is always relevant to the place where we begin. Many times, when we are asked why we believe the beliefs we just uncovered, we have no answer. Often, we have accepted them without question. Nevertheless, that gives them no less power, but it does afford us an opportunity to decide whether or not we want to retain them.
There is one additional, highly useful question that we can incorporate as part of the Method or just use at random as an effective focusing device: What do you want? Often, we are so busy negotiating with our distress or confusion that we lose sight of our wanting. Just pausing and addressing ourselves with that question at any time can be a productive technique for centering ourselves. In the office, at home, on vacation, while eating, loving or running … if we find ourselves confused or doubting, we can stop momentarily and pose the question: What do I want? Frequently, you will have an immediate answer which will help you clarify your current actions and feelings as well as direct you more vividly toward your wants.
Perhaps, in review, we might gather together the most frequently encountered beliefs in our culture from which unhappiness often blossoms and is further supported. For some of us, their exposure as a dynamic on the pages of this book might have been just enough to dislodge them. If so, beautiful! If not, we can always assess what we feel about these beliefs and ask ourselves (if it applies) why do I believe it or what about it makes me uncomfortable or unhappy?
- There must be something wrong with me.
- It is necessary to be unhappy now in order to be happy later.
- If you loved me, you would…
- I make others unhappy.
- I cannot change; this is the way I am.
- My feelings just come upon me; I have no control.
- I am unlovable.
- If I just let myself go, I would be bad for myself.
- I “need” love; I “need” sex; I “need” money…
- If I didn’t feel guilty, iId do it again.
- Unhappiness is a sign of sensitivity and intelligence.
- If my happiness does not depend on it, I might not want it enough.
- We “should” do certain things in life.
- Life has its ups and downs; you have to take the “good” with the “bad.”
- If I didn’t cry, it would mean I did not care.
- I have to get what I expect, otherwise I get angry or upset.
- If I wasn’t angry, I’d be a victim.
- Continual happiness would be like death.
- I have to be unhappy in order to know when I am happy.
- If I were happy all the time, I’d be an idiot.
- You can’t look at life through rose-colored glasses.
- Life is not a bed of roses.
- You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
They look pretty wild strung out in a column. Although they just represent a tiny sampling of beliefs of unhappiness, they provide a well-integrated foundation for misery and despair. Maybe, before we move on to a dialogue of the method, we can pause. Take each of the stated beliefs on the list above and, one by one, ask yourself the question: Do you believe it? If your answer is no, then you just had the opportunity to reaffirm what you know. If you answer yes, then you might want to ask: Why? Whatever your ultimate conclusion, the questions are a way for each of us to help bring our own awareness to life.
Questions to ask yourself
- Do you really want to be unhappy?
- Are you afraid of giving up some or all of your unhappiness?
- Do you believe that being perfectly happy would be boring? Are you ready to be your own “therapon?”
Option concepts to consider
- Questions are not signs of doubt as much as opportunities to crystallize what we know.
- With the attitude, each of us could create his own method.
- There are no good or bad beliefs.
- We are always doing the best we can, the best we know how.
- Happy people do not stop moving.
- When we are happy, we have no questions.
- The attitude: to love is to be happy with. No expectations. No conditions. No judgments.
- Anything we uncover or come to know can only enrich us.
- Unhappiness is based on a logical system of beliefs.
- Each of us is our own expert.
- Only you know your answers to questions.
- We each have our own reasons for being unhappy.
- Option method is a way of becoming happier.
Beliefs to consider discarding
- We must be unhappy in order to take care of ourselves.
- To be happy all the time is to be an idiot.
- Unhappiness is bad.
The following dialogue, and all those presented throughout the book, are compressed versions of explorations using the Method. Since they are focused on individual people and their answers, the function here is not to convince or convert. Nor are their conclusions necessarily capable of being generalized. Their revelations are theirs. They are presented merely as a more graphic representation of the questions as a technique and a style of inquiry. As onlookers, we can only imagine the impact or meaning of self-discovery for another. It is only through ourselves that it becomes our experience.
Your becoming happier is for you to do. In exposing and exploring beliefs, in discarding old ones and choosing new ones there is only one relevant subject area and that’s you.
Q. What are you unhappy about?
A. I don’t know whether I can make a simple statement about just what I’m unhappy about now because it seems to be many things. But, it all surrounds one particular event, which I hope, will come to pass.
Q. What event is that?
A. I decided I wanted to go back to work. I’m twenty-nine years old. I have two great little kids; Jackie is seven and Robby is four. My husband, Daniel, works for a pharmaceutical company. We have everything, at least it seems that way. All the material trappings . . . a nice apartment in the Murray Hill area, nice friends and a really comfortable living style. Yet, despite all of it, I’m bored.
Q. What do you mean?
A. Well, it has nothing to do with my husband or my children. Before I had Jackie, I was an art director. Women were becoming a significant force in the industry and all avenues were opening to me. When I became pregnant, I had decided to become Mrs. American Mother . . . that was really what I wanted then. It was so new and exciting for several years. Then, Robby was born. Somehow, with two children, my life style dwindled down to a very big hustle . . . from cleaning, to chauffeuring, to schools, to doctors’ appointments, to shopping. In the evening or on weekends, when I’m all set to go out, Dan is perfectly happy to stay home . . . but that’s where I’ve been all week. And besides, when we visit people, I have nothing to say. Dan has his stories and the others have their stories. But me, I feel as dull as my life.
Q. When you say dull, what do you mean?
A. I’m bright. I have a Master’s degree in fine arts. I want to be involved in much more than just cleaning and doing chores. I love playing with the children, but day after day I want stimulation appropriate to my intellect. So I made a decision: I don’t want to stay home and just pass the time. I want to feel useful and enjoy the challenges I used to have at work. So I approached Dan and explained to him what I wanted to do. He had many questions and comments. Since this was not the first time I’d brought the subject up, I knew he wasn’t taking me seriously. Within two weeks, I had my first job offer. It was fantastic, but when I told Dan that I’d really got a job . . . the roof fell in.
Q. What do you mean?
A. In every way. He accused me of being selfish, inconsiderate, and a rotten mother for not wanting to be with the kids. Then, we got into a whole argument about our way of life. He felt I had every opportunity to do anything I wanted, every challenge . . . the museum, movies, plays, books. That’s great, but that’s not what I was talking about. We shouted at each other all night. I couldn’t believe his reaction.
Q. Why not?
A. I felt like I was talking to a person from the dark ages. All the bull I’ve heard from him about how women should have the same right as men to choose, etc., etc. Boy, bring it home and he plays a different tune.
Q. What about that makes you so upset?
A. That he should be more understanding.
Q. Why are you unhappy if he isn’t?
A. Because it raises all sorts of questions for me. Is this the man I thought I married? Does he really love me? Wouldn’t he want me to be happy? The questions drive me crazy.
Q. What’s so uncomfortable about those questions?
A. I guess I’m afraid that I might come to the conclusion that our marriage is a dream I don’t want any part of and my charming husband is really a bigoted ass.
Q. If that was so, why would that be so frightening?
A. Because I really love my husband and my children; because I’m not wanting to create some gigantic problem … I just want to go back to work.
Q. What’s stopping you, if that’s what you want?
A. Nothing, except the repercussions. I can hear it now. Suppose he absolutely says no, that he won’t permit it?
Q. Why would that upset you?
A. Well, who the hell is he to permit or not to permit? It’s absurd; why do I have to ask him in the first place? He never asked me whether he could take the job he has. When he decided he liked it, he said yes. I should be able to do the same thing, damn him.
Q. Why does that make you so angry?
A. I feel like I’m trapped. As soon as I want to do something for myself, I’m accused of being selfish and a terrible person.
Q. What makes that a trap?
A. If I stay home like a good housewife, I’ll continue to be bored and moderately unhappy, which I’ve certainly had enough of. Now, as soon as I actually make the decision to go to work, all hell breaks loose.
Q. What do you mean?
A. My husband freaks, my mother-in-law calls me a witch, my sister accuses me of wanting to wear pants. All of which has nothing to do with me.
Q. Then why are you so upset?
A. I’m angry that they’re judging me.
Q. Why does that make you angry?
A. Because I have the right to do anything I damn please (crying). It’s not like I’m becoming a junkie or a prostitute; I just want to go back to work.
Q. What about their judging you makes you so furious?
A. Because they’re going to decide I’m bad. My mother-in-law, for example, is thrilled to be a housewife, cook, and bottle-washer. She’s happy and that’s wonderful for her. But now she’s going to take her values and lay them on me. Would you believe that even my sister, who is four years younger than me, asked me if I had a problem with my womanhood? Who are they to pass judgment on me?
Q. They would each have their reasons: your husband, your mother-in-law, your sister. Maybe the question we can deal with is: If they decided you were “bad,” why would that make you so unhappy?
A. Because I’m not . . . it’s that simple.
Q. If you know you’re not, why should you be so upset if they say you are?
A. I guess (long pause) I’m afraid I will start believing them.
Q. Why does that frighten you?
A. Because I don’t want to.
Q. Then why would you?
A. I don’t know. Sometimes, once in a great while, I think maybe they’re right. The entire affair is for my benefit, I really considered me FIRST … and let me tell you, that doesn’t happen often in my house.
Q. Then what is unsettling about thinking of yourself first?
A. I guess it does make me selfish.
Q. What does that mean?
A. Thinking of me first.
Q. And why would that be a source of unhappiness?
A. I don’t know. I was always told that being selfish was bad. You’re supposed to be considerate of others. In my family, when I was a child, the great heroes were those who laid down their lives for others. “You can’t think of yourself,” was my father’s battle cry.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. Yes and no.
Q. What’s the yes part of your answer?
A. Maybe it’s bad. My kids and my husband are important and they should get proper consideration.
Q. What are you saying?
A. That, perhaps, in considering me, I’m really ignoring them and they might suffer.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. No, not really. After all, take the kids . . . I’d be a better mother seeing them when I’m happy rather than feeling chained to them. It’s not the time that counts, but the quality of that time. I know that when I’m happy, the way I am with the children is much better than when I’m upset or bored. In fact, I already investigated special day schools for Robby and found a magnificent one. Since Jackie is in school all day and plays with friends in the afternoon, he’s taken care of. I really somehow know that what would be best for me would be best for them.
Q. Then why are you upset?
A. Because I want them to know that, but they won’t believe it; they won’t understand.
Q. Why would you be unhappy if they don’t understand?
A. Because I want them to.
Q. I know that is what you want, but why would you be unhappy if it didn’t come to pass?
A. I don’t know.
Q. What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about them not understanding?
A. You mean if they were all miserable and upset and I would just be okay with that?
A. That would really prove I’m selfish and uncaring.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. I want to say I don’t. It feels like I don’t, because whether I was unhappy or not about their understanding me, I’d still love them. But they wouldn’t know that.
Q. Why would that make you unhappy?
A. Because I want them to understand, to know that I care and love them . . . this entire affair has nothing to do with them specifically, except of course, they have to adjust to a working wife and mother. But I’ve taken care of all the potential problems. I really think they believe my choosing to work means something about them. That in some way it shows that I don’t care as much. No matter how much effort I put into explaining, it’s like beating a dead horse.
Q. And if you did everything you could to help them understand, yet, they still didn’t … What would you be unhappy about?
A. At that point, I guess I might not. I can’t live my life for everyone to the exclusion of me. I don’t want to.
Q. Then why do you believe you would?
A. I don’t anymore. I feel really straight on going back to work. If they judge me, I can’t help that.
Q. How are you feeling?
A. Better. Actually, I’m beginning to allow myself to be excited. Before I suppressed it under my anger. I’m feeling much better now. But somehow this still doesn’t solve my problem with my husband.
Q. What problem?
A. Suppose he decided to make some sort of insane mandate that I can’t go back to work?
Q. And if he does, why would that upset you?
A. Because I know I wouldn’t listen. If I stayed home to please him, I’d just come to resent and maybe even hate him. I don’t want to be forced into a living situation I don’t want. So I guess I’m concerned he might get so upset maybe he’ll want a divorce or something.
Q. I know this will sound like an outrageous question, but try to answer it if you want. Why would that make you unhappy?
A. I really don’t want to hurt my marriage, although I obviously do want some changes. I think they’ll be better for everyone. Yet, sometimes I say to myself: if he really loved me, he would want this for me.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. I think so.
Q. Okay, what do you mean?
A. If he was not so damn angry, furious and feeling sorry for himself, he would know that it’s best for me and in loving me, he would want it too.
Q. And since he is angry and furious, you’re saying he’s not knowing what is best. If that’s so, as you surmise, what would his not wanting you to work prove?
A. I guess nothing. Forget what I said before, I know he really loves me. It’s just so infuriating to try to deal with a very unhappy and accusing individual.
Q. Why is it infuriating?
A. I really want him to be understanding … to really know it’s good and to want it for me.
Q. And if he doesn’t?
A. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. I guess that would be okay. I can just do so much. I can’t crawl into his head and change the signs – only he can do that.
Q. What are you wanting?
A. To go back to work, to be happy, to love my husband, my children and me … especially me. It’s funny how when I really explore what I feel and why I feel that way in regard to work, I really understand that doing it for me is really okay. And not only good for me, but for everyone. A happy person is a much more contributing and loving member of a family than one who is bored and unhappy. I really feel good about my decision now.
Q. Is there anything you’re still afraid would happen?
A. Not for the moment. I’ll do the best I can with my husband. If he reacts from his anger, I’ll just keep trying. I can’t help what he thinks, but maybe I can just kind of allow him to think what he wants.
Q. What do you mean?
A. We discussed this once before about being happy with someone. It’s like I wanted him to say “wonderful, great, do whatever you want.” Well, if I want him to allow me my choice, I certainly can allow him his reaction.