I think it was Abraham Lincoln who once said that, after 40, you are responsible for your face! Whenever you’re faced with external adversity in your life, no matter how painful or traumatic it may be, you remain responsible for the attitude you adopt towards it. Responsibility is authorship.
A patient of mine, Leila, shared her formidable adversity. She’s 57, abandoned by her husband 10 years ago, and currently experiencing medical challenges. She tormented her self by “choosing” to believe that not having a man or getting married again is a life without value. Her life’s meaning and energy is attached to that basic assumption.
Since her present situation appears to jeopardize the likelihood of finding a desirable partner, Leila became severely depressed and withdrawn. She felt no responsibility anymore for anything, including her self-care. She closed off many other options for her self. This included things such as serving others, developing circles of support with women, or even a nonsexual friendship with a man.
The bulk of my therapeutic work with her involved challenging her basic assumptions in the authorship of her life. One, of course, has to do with the belief that life is about marriage or having a man. Life is certainly more than that. The other consists of her self-deprecation as a result of what happened to her. Though she’s not responsible for her husband’s abandonment and rejection, she’s responsible for how to “experience” it. She bears complete responsibility over her attitudes towards it and moving on from there.
An important task of therapy for Leila is to recognize and accept the external “given” of her current life situation. Then, she learns to “choose” to be responsible in authoring a new chapter in her life. That requires an active stance rather than passivity towards one’s external environment and circumstances. With full acceptance of personal responsibility, Leila authors a new self with even greater significance and direction.