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I Should be on Cloud Nine, but ...

QUESTION: I am a 32-year-old father of twin three-year-old sons, happily married for 11 years. I just made six figures this year and bought my dream home. I am thrilled with my community, I love my work, my wife stays home with the boys and we have a wonderful church. For some reason, I am feeling more stress than ever. I worry about my sons' safety and health, the competence of my boss, my wife's safety, my health and flying (and I don't travel much). I should be on cloud nine these days but, for some reason, I am not.

ANSWER: Be careful what you ask for, you might get it! You are fortunate to have met your family and financial goals relatively early in your adult years. You spend some of your time in fear that it can all be "taken away" by something out of your control, and another part of your time wondering why you are not happier.

Perhaps you are waiting for "the other shoe to drop." If you feel undeserving of your good fortune, you may be holding yourself back. Excessive worry could be your way of sabotaging your own happiness. Are your parents and friends happy for you? Or do you feel that your happiness is at the expense of someone else?

If childhood experience taught you that when you succeeded others were angry or upset, instead of gladdened or congratulatory, you might be repeating this message by not allowing yourself to enjoy the fruits of your labor. This is a common pattern when parents unwittingly compete with their own children as they are growing up, often leaving their sons and daughters with the subliminal message that they should not surpass their own parents' levels of success. What level of emotional support do you feel from others about your achievements?

It is also possible that with your the goals you have set for yourself accomplished, you are aware of inner stirrings for developing meaning in your life outside of material accomplishments. Certainly, you seem to feel love and a positive connection to your wife and children, but what do you feel is deeply meaningful in your life? It is natural to find yourself reaching deeper into your soul as the exterior things in life are secure.

Many people in your position seek psychotherapy at this time in their lives, not because something is terribly wrong, but because for the first time, they are aware that "something is missing." The emotional, or "spiritual" part of their lives comes up for consideration. Review of childhood and what might have been lacking may surface feelings that surprise as well as liberate. It is not uncommon for a person in your situation to realize that he or she has followed all the right paths for succeeding, but missed a passion that was given up along the way. Music lessons that were dropped, sports or artistic pursuits that were not gratified.

One such woman attorney in my practice returned to piano study after getting in touch with the passion she was missing from her lost musical career. By picking up classes with her daughter, she found herself not only finding more meaning in her motherhood, but more creative in her legal job as well.

If you are feeling that somehow "there must be more," perhaps you are right! Talk with your wife. See if her knowledge of you can shed any light on what your feelings of anxiety and emptiness might be about. Take yourself seriously. You no doubt worked hard to achieve your goals at an early age. Perhaps it is time to take some space for inner reflection on your more personal needs.

It is probable that you have denied certain aspects of your development in order to meet your goals. Now, it may be beneficial to assess what was left behind, or what has not yet been pursued. Your sense of "now what?" suggests that you are a man who has more inside of him that yearns towards expression. Given that you are only 32 years old, you had better take your development seriously, as there are many years ahead!

The challenge is to get in touch with what gives your life not only meaning, but perhaps passion now. Trust yourself. Follow your feelings inside to discover the source of what is emerging. You are not "nuts." You are, as we all are, a "work in progress"!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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