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Letting Go of the Need to Change People: Lifting my Depression

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Date : April 12, 2016

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“My name is Bob Livingstone and I have been a psychotherapist in private practice for almost thirty years.  This blog post has been written ​ based on real experiences. The individuals depicted are fictional.

I am a thirty-seven year old man who is married with two small children, We have  one boy age eleven and one girl, ten. I realize as I get older that I am prone to depression. There are several kinds of life situations that bring me down. Not just down, but really feeling hopelessness and without energy.  Today I want to talk about getting caught up in trying to change people. It happens at my job as a school guidance counselor and it occurs in my personal life as well.


Somehow I become intensely invested in altering other’s lives.  I want my students to be nicer and believe in themselves. My friends sometimes get involved in destructive relationships that I have no business trying to intervene in. My head tells me to let go of what I can’t change. My heart says never give up.


There is a pain, longing and sense of loss while my heart firmly believes there is always a way to help improve someone’s life.  I become anxious when I feel that I haven’t done a good enough job to lift their spirits and help them reach their potential.  Change is always possible but, I just haven’t thought of an effective intervention yet.


My head says, “Damn it Jeff, there is a limit to how much you can give of yourself.  You really have no boundaries of when to stop being there for others.  Some of these folks don’t even want you offering your opinion of how they are living their lives.  Just because their choices make you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean they are required to follow your edict for personal growth.”


My heart says to my head, “You are right Mr. Head.  I don’t have any sense of when it is time to stop giving of myself.  I feel guilty if I give up and surrendering makes me feel like I am merely joining all the others who practice indifference daily.  By now I should recognize the signs that change is not in the forecast.  Those indicators are:  my students not adhering to my suggestions after the fourth of fifth conversation and realizing that their parents don’t support me either.  It is difficult to tell myself that I have done the best job I know how to do and that it is time to not deal with this person any more, blah, blah, blah.”


I also need to look at how I am feeling about my friends.  If I decide to terminate relationships with all those who seem to be making bad choices, I will have zero friends.  How did I get to feeling so high and mighty?  Why don’t I have much patience for their continual walking into a forest fire and having wounds that never heal?  Maybe that is just the way life is; people having trouble getting out of their own way.  They don’t need a self-righteous person like me telling them what to do, besides they hardly ever ask my advice.


How do I do this and feel good about myself?  Maybe I can’t.  Maybe I’m just going to feel lousy and regretful for a while.   I have a hard time saying, “I gave it the good fight, but I lost.”  It is better to struggle then to be numb to all that is wrong in the world.  Is that even true?  I don’t know anymore.  Would I be happier being oblivious to routine insensitivity and hatred towards others?  Would my disappearing act make the world a better place?  Who really cares?

Do I need to make a fundamental change in order to be a happier person and be more pleasant for my family to be around?  I think the answer to that is definitely yes.   As I said earlier, I am prone to depression, but at this point I am opposed to taking medication.  I have seen kids and their parents on anti-depressants.  They complain about the loss of an emotional world.  They feel like their moods are constricted and missing something.   I know that some folks are really helped by the newest SSRI drugs and need them to function.  I don’t think my depression is that overwhelming where I cannot deal with it through thinking differently, exercising, listening to music and making some basic alterations of my life.


Maybe when I start to feel slightly depressed about a work or friend situation, that is a sign that I need to become aware of.  I need to believe it isn’t my obligation to modify their existence and that I am not a bad person if I simply decide that I have done all that I can do.  If I think of some new technique later on, I may try to help them or refer these folks to another professional.


I can focus on all those who I have helped.  The child who was molested by a stranger is now a campus leader at her college.  Several children from a divorced family have thanked me years later for my assistance.  They tell me that each week that had my visit to look forward to where they could vent and my words would increase their confidence.  My friend’s father was dying and I could do nothing but listen to her sadness and she felt grateful that I was present.


I can take all this love into my heart to replace the angst of not being good enough.  I can see the smile of the faces of my wife and kids right now.


Dear Readers, I love your comments and feedback.  Please post below or on 

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Letting Go of Grief
Move Your Body to Rock and Soul

Letting go of Grief: Move Your Body to Rock and Soul teaches you how to work through your losses. These losses could be the death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship or other trauma. Grief is an evolving process and you will learn what the term acceptance means. It means that you will always have the option of honoring your loss, but you don’t have to be continually consumed by it. In this book, you will learn to find a landing place in your heart for grief. You will learn to embrace the pain instead of being afraid of facing it.


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