How to be happy: 'Visitors take over my life'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

"I have recently retired from a residential post in education, am long divorced and live by the sea with my dog. When friends (couples) and my married daughter come to visit, they 'take over' my situation and house completely. It seems I have no idea or topic of conversation worth listening to, and that everything I do can be improved upon by them. I dish out tea and sympathy with nothing in return. In my job, colleagues supported each other; I miss the whole way of life. I want to enjoy retirement, but being made to feel worthless is not fun." Jenny

Step 1: Acknowledge the loss

I wonder if it is not your family and friends making you feel worthless, but your new circumstances. Retirement from a job you loved - where you experienced feelings of belonging, structure and achievement - has been replaced by a new life, one which perhaps you are not yet comfortable with. You describe three significant losses: your marriage, your daughter leaving home and now your work. I think these are the real issue. Your guests' occasional insensitivity would not cause such distress if not provoking in you something more painful and hard to address. When they offer you advice it feels undermining, as though you are being criticised, but it might be that their "helpful" comments counterpoint the struggle you face in negotiating a new phase of your life, one where goals are not so obvious and the team in which you flourished no longer exists.

Step 2: Speak your truth

Your visitors are couples, even your daughter is now married and this must seem hard when you are on your own. No wonder you feel intruded upon and worthless at times: they have what you do not - a constant, caring companion - and this must hurt. They give you all their advice and yet it is you who has made a successful life for yourself without the support of a partnership. You must wonder, "what do they know about living alone?" You might want to gently point out to them that retirement is a new adventure for you, acknowledging that you are now bravely facing it by yourself, doing the best you can without the camaraderie of school life. Having this recognised by your loved ones and more importantly, yourself, would be both healing and releasing.

Step 3: Design for living

In your work, belonging to a community was vital for your well-being. In your retirement, could you recreate this by being involved with local activities where your expertise and competence can be put to meaningful use? As well as having guests to stay, can you explore the world that you are interested in, meeting new people along the way? Negotiating retirement is as challenging as negotiating professional life. Designing your retirement should be fun and liberating, and - possibly for the first time in your life - you are accountable to no-one. You have earned your freedom, it is now time to enjoy it!

Step 4: A case of mistaken identity?

When you feel worthless, remind yourself this is not really who you are, but points to the deeper losses of identity you have faced in the past, as wife, full-time mother and colleague. But these relationships are never completely lost to us. They are in a continual process of change. You may not be in a relationship now, but that does not mean you will never enjoy intimacy and companionship again. You are still a mother and may yet be a grandmother. You can carve out a meaningful role in your retirement that will give you a sense of belonging, while contributing to your new community. Our identities are constantly evolving and, although this can be challenging, it is also one of the great joys of being alive.

If you have a problem you would like me to address (anonymously), please email details to c.dfelice@independent.co.uk - unfortunately, I will not be able to respond personally to all of them, but will use as many as possible in the column

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