A tough (though useful) life lesson I’m starting to get (after years of trying to please every coach, teacher, boss, and other “authority figure,” even into adulthood, and seeing that I, too, had begun to rely on others in order for me to be happy):
The only person’s happiness I’m responsible for is my own.
I think back to a gymnastics coach I had when I was in my early teens who’d yell at me after competitions that didn’t go so well. After one particularly poor performance, she spent 45 minutes telling me that I’d embarrassed her and myself, and that I might not be assigned to another international competition as I’d reflected poorly on the USA. She concluded with saying that she’d been waiting to yell at me and now felt much better. While part of me would like to tell my younger self to flip the bird and walk out of the gym (and not come back), today I can see her underlying unhappiness and pain. (What a crappy way to go through life, feeling like you need to yell at children in order to feel better yourself!) It doesn’t make the yelling okay, though it helps provide some perspective and compassion, freeing up space inside of me to separate her from my younger self. And with this space, I can see that I didn’t (and don’t) need to take on responsibility for her or anyone else’s happiness — I’m only responsible for my own.
If I’m relying on someone else to act in a certain way in order for me to be however I’d like to feel (e.g., “Unless you act like/do/say XXX, I’m not going to be happy), I’m pretty much guaranteed to be in for a rough ride. Because we are all human and unpredictable and messy. And we can’t make someone else do/think/be something for ever and ever and ever. (Sometimes people fall off the balance beam, even if we’d prefer they not!)
So if we want to feel happy (or whatever else), it’s on us to head in a direction that feels better. And yes, taking personal responsibility can feel tough and not fun and someone else may be doing something uncool and we experience the rub (more on this in a moment). AND — we are still our own responsibility. If we want to feel differently than we currently do, we’ve got to do something differently ourselves.
Now, about someone else doing something uncool that’s impacting us (like the coach above). I’ve found that hurt people hurt people. Note that this does not make it okay to be an asshat to someone else. However, it may help provide a tiny space for a bit of compassion (and amazing stuff can happen in tiny bits of space).
When in asshat mode, it’s pretty much a neon sign overhead pointing out the one acting like an asshat is hurting, unhappy, and looking outward. When it’s us with the neon sign (and it happens to everyone), if we want to actually feel better (and it may take scraping the bottom of the barrel until we get this), we’ll eventually have to figure out that we’re the only ones who can help ourselves feel better in the long run. When we treat others poorly, ditching the golden rule, all we’re doing is creating a bigger mess for ourselves to clean up.
If we’re on the receiving end, reminding ourselves that hurt people hurt people can sometimes be helpful in motivating us to move our feet and walk away (and maybe even note to them, when the time feels useful, that those sorts of actions feel crappy to receive). In any case, responding in kind (or staying put and thinking we’re responsible for someone else’s happiness) only leaves us covered in the spewed vomit. And then we’ll have to clean ourselves up, which isn’t fun and might take a long time. The sooner we can walk away (literally or figuratively), the less mess on ourselves.
Yes, I’ve found this to be one of the tougher lessons to learn. Thinking I’m responsible for the happiness of someone else and also holding others accountable for my own happiness (sorry, family) can be tricky little buggers (and go hand in hand), showing up in unsuspecting places. AND — the more I’m noticing them and then trying otherwise, the less messes I find myself in and happier I’m feeling.
There is no perfect here — sometimes it’s messy, and that’s okay. I’m reminding myself that it’s about trying and baby steps of growth. And as it’s a huge wish that my own kiddos can hopefully learn this lesson earlier than I did (I spent a boatload of time suffering, trying to make others happy — or miserable, thinking someone else needed to change what they were doing before I could be happy), I’m going to keep working on it. I want to be the model of taking responsibility for my own happiness.