I used to think that it was my job to make everyone around me happy especially my children. I would try to please everyone and make sure that they had special food or treats or I would arrange outings I thought they would enjoy so they would be happy. It was discouraging and disappointing that no matter how hard I tried, my people would not be happy and content, no matter what I did to try to make them happy. I always felt like I was failing at being a good mom or wife. The other part of this equation is that I didn’t always take care of the things I needed to take care of myself. I thought it was someone else’s job to make sure that I was cared for and happy. I thought that if I worked myself past the point of exhaustion someone (usually my spouse or a child) would take notice and insist that I take care of myself. I was counting on someone outside of myself to make me happy.
Do you ever try to make everyone around you happy? When you are trying to make others feel happy, how do you feel? I once heard the saying that a mother is only as happy as her saddest child. I don’t believe this saying is true or healthy. Our children are going to go through hard things. That’s part of their experience as mortals on an earthly mission. We can feel compassion, love and empathy for what they are going through. We can also offer them help and support, but our happiness can’t depend on what they are feeling. We can’t make our lives all about trying to make everyone else happy. That would be denying them their own agency.
The other side of this is when we think others around us are responsible for what we are feeling. For example, I might believe that if my husband takes out the garbage, I would be happy. The problem with this point of view is that you are always waiting around for someone or something else to make you happy. You aren’t being emotionally self-reliant. I read an article by Lynn Robbins called “Be 100% Responsible” that taught me more about this concept. There was a story in the article about a mother with a daughter that was struggling with her marriage. The mom asked the daughter to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. She asked her daughter to make a list on the left side of the paper of everything that the husband did that bothered and annoyed her. Then she asked her to make a list on the right side of the paper of everything that she did in response to him bothering and annoying her. Next she instructed her daughter, “Now throw the paper with your husband’s faults in the garbage. If you want to be happy and improve your marriage, stop focusing on your husband’s faults and focus instead on your own behavior. Examine the way you are responding to the things that bother you and see if you can respond in a different, more positive way.” We only have power and control over ourselves. In the article I mentioned about being 100% responsible, Lynn Robbins also wrote, “being 100 percent responsible is accepting yourself as the person in control of your life. If others are at fault and need to change before further progress is made, then you are at their mercy and they are in control over the positive outcomes or desired results in your life.” I loved learning this concept and it has brought such freedom to my life!
In coach training, I was taught that when we decide we are responsible for making others happy we are “people pleasing” and when we think our children, spouse or someone else has responsibility for how we feel, it is called “emotional childhood”. In order to be an “emotional adult” we need to accept both our own agency over our thoughts, feelings, actions and the results we see in our life, and the responsibility for it.
This has been a life changing concept for me and not one that I have totally mastered yet. I love being 100% responsible for my own self and I love letting my adult children be responsible for themselves too. It doesn’t change how much I love and care for them, it merely shifts the responsibility to the people it belongs too – me or them. I love having responsibility for all the things that are within my control and removing the responsibility for things I don’t have the power to change.
How about you? If this is something you would like to learn more about, please reach out to me. I would love to share what I have learned about people pleasing, emotional adulthood and becoming 100% responsible for our choices. I am available at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to talk with you.