Do people really have the power to make us miserable? In today’s episode, we look at the impact expectations have in our relationships and how our preconceived scripts of how others should behave can lead to disappointment and feelings of being out of control. We discuss the importance of accepting others’ differences, setting boundaries and how not to accept harmful behavior from others by setting safety boundaries. Learn how we can break the cycle of negativity by changing our perspective, accepting others as they are, and not taking their actions personally. We can improve our relationships and set boundaries without drama by letting go of our expectations and controlling our happiness. So, join us on this journey of self-discovery and personal growth as we take back our happiness this holiday season.
What you will learn on this episode:
– The power of managing expectations and their influence on happiness.
– How to deal with difficult family members and the need to set safety boundaries to protect one’s happiness.
– The challenge of dealing with difficult people in our lives, and how changing perspectives and not taking their actions personally can improve relationships.
– How to set boundaries without drama,
*This transcription below was provided for you or your convenience; please excuse any mistakes that the automated service made in translation.
Do people really have the power to make us miserable? In today’s episode, we look at the expectations we have for how others should be in order for us to be happy. This is Leadership Parenting, episode number 36, how to Take your Happiness Back. Did you know that resilience is the key to confidence and joy? As moms, it’s what we want for our kids, but it’s also what we need for ourselves. My name is Leigh Germann, I’m a therapist and I’m a mom. Join me as we explore the skills you need to know to be confident and joyful. Then get ready to teach these skills to your kids. This is Leadership Parenting, where you learn how to lead your family by showing them the way. Welcome to Leadership Parenting.
I am so happy to be back with you today after taking a week off. It was crazy fun thanksgiving at my house and I had so many of the topics we’ve been discussing in this podcast running through my mind these past two weeks as all my kids were home. I have five kids and they are all married now, some just newly married with no kids yet, and some with children. So we’re all over the map in ages and stages, and at one point we had 19 people sleeping under our roof. It was so fun and loud and sometimes chaotic, but what kept coming to my mind were the topics we’ve covered in the last couple of episodes. I have been so much more mindful about the traditions we were experiencing and how it shaped our family culture. We talked about that a lot more this holiday as a family, even which ones of those traditions were most meaningful and which ones that we might want to change or adjust as a large family, now that everybody’s changing a little bit, and which ones the kids are really excited about implementing in their homes and even having their own versions of those things. And I was going through my expectations of what I think this holiday should look like and practicing some of our strategies we talked about in episode 34. Kind of designing my holiday in a way that I could feel more peaceful about it and just love it more.
And so I’ve been practicing being more flexible about the traditions and seeking to find that spirit of connection that’s really deeper beneath the traditions. For example, every year I give each child an ornament that represents something about their year, and I’ve been doing this since they were born and now doing it for their children, my grandchildren, and this year I got a late start ordering the ornaments and not all the ornaments were here in time so I couldn’t do it while we were all together and we just kind of didn’t have that evening. I had planned that where we got the big tree up and we didn’t have the decorating with the music and the hot chocolate while everyone was here, and after that got delayed and I have to do it differently than I planned it and there were a couple of reasons why it didn’t work this year on the day right after Thanksgiving, like I had planned. But it really helped me to keep in mind the big picture of our family culture, like we’ve talked about in these last couple of episodes, especially that the traditions that we have, that all of us have, are really vehicles to bring us closer and to teach our value lessons and to celebrate and honor our relationships. So as I faced a loss of the tradition in the way I had planned this year, it was so much easier to roll with it when I saw those goals of closeness and family values playing out in other ways. So I was able to appreciate the culture we’ve built already and not get so caught up in doing everything perfectly.
I guess what I noticed. What I’m sharing with you is how imperfect this is, but as I noticed the imperfection and I was able to roll with it, there was this freedom and peace that flexibility brought me this past week, and I kept thinking about gratitude and I know that was the last episode that we just talked about right before Thanksgiving, but it was so much on my mind and my heart and all the research that I had just kind of refreshed in my mind for that episode and the study for that helped me really put my attention on moments that I was looking for to savor and it helped me slow down and let go of some of the things that didn’t matter as much to me. It felt so, so good. What I noticed was a feeling of steadiness amidst the busyness and even the chaos, and that’s what I want to talk a little more about today- letting go of things in order to feel more at peace and more steady. Especially headed into the holiday season, where there’s so many expectations and things that we care about, it’s important to be able to get back to that place of calm and peace in your heart, and this is important because it’s part of our resilience training that we’re talking about. What we’re looking for is ways we can take control of our experiences or, better said, ways we can take control of our response to our experiences. Subtle difference, but a major shift in where we put our energy. You know, as I observed myself, I noticed something that I’m noticing with the women I’m working with, especially during this holiday season.
When we get upset, it’s usually because we have something in our mind that’s how it should be, and the upset comes when the thing we think should happen doesn’t happen, or the thing we think shouldn’t happen does happen. In other words, we get upset when things don’t go as planned. Sometimes I feel like we’re directors of a movie. Only the movie is actually our life and we have this script that describes the way everything is supposed to go, right down to the feelings we should be feeling and the things others should be feeling and saying and doing, so we can feel the way we want to feel. That’s what a script is for a movie, right? It tells the actors what to do. Like if I were a director, I’d have this big chair and a big megaphone and everyone would be prepared and show up, knowing their lines and being ready to follow the script. We’re on the set and people are playing their parts, doing their things based upon my script.
A script is an instruction manual written in our mind for someone else, and it reads like this If you want to make me happy, then you’ll do this, and then I will feel dot dot dot, good, loved, accepted, less anxious, in general happy. The first time I learned of this concept years ago, I kind of scoffed at it. I got a little bit defensive and just pushed back. I didn’t have scripts for people that would be so controlling. Of course, everyone knows there are just certain things people should do, ways they should act or behave. I could pull a thousand people who would agree with me. If everyone agrees, then it’s not a script, right? That’s just a fact. Friends should call each other on their birthdays, husbands should open doors for their wives and mother-in-laws should be complimentary rather than critical. Children should act happy and be content after all the things we’ve done to help them have a good day.
Well, all of these are expectations we have about how other people should act, how we want them to act, and often we have this picture and this script for them without us even being aware of it. I think this is quite a common thing for us to do as human beings. I mean, really all of life gets filtered through our experience. It’s a natural occurrence, almost a default, to have an opinion, to imagine an outcome or have some kind of an expectation, but it causes problems for us because our lives aren’t movie sets and we are not the directors. We’re in a life with other people who get to decide for themselves how to think, feel and act. It goes against core human freedom to control another person’s thoughts, feelings or actions. And still our mind very quickly writes up these elaborate expectations of others, often without us even realizing it and even more often without us telling others of our expectations. And then and this is probably the most important part and then we start to form opinions and make decisions about people based upon whether they’re acting the way we expect them to or not. This is the setup for so much unhappiness, because it ties our happiness to other people’s actions and we really are never able to control other people’s actions.
So the setup is that when people say and do the things I think they should, it kind of feels good to me and I could even say it makes me happy, and when they don’t do what I have scripted in my mind that they should do, then I might feel unhappy or disappointed. You know, I just spent an amazing week with 18 of my family members, each one a unique and separate person with their own ideas, styles, interests and goals, and I kept thinking about this concept of scripts as I was watching them all. They’re my children and my grandchildren, so I feel close to them, but they’re not mine. They’re not puppets, not actors that have to read my script. They don’t exist to do the things the way I think they should. They literally do not have any responsibility to make me happy. Am I happy around them? I think I truly am. I love being around them, but not because they do everything exactly as I think they should. And what’s helped me to feel this kind of happiness is recognizing that my happiness comes from my thoughts about all of them, not from their actions. I get to control those thoughts, direct them, focus them, and it helps to focus on appreciating each of their unique ways of being rather than seeking to have them follow my expectations or do things as I think they should.
The holiday season is a time where family members often feel an obligation to get together with people that cause them to feel bad in air quotes. So many of my clients are gearing up for really miserable holidays. Clients tell me I have to have my mother-in-law, my sister, my brother, my uncle, whoever come into my home and it’s going to be really awful because they don’t pay attention to me, respect me, appreciate me. They don’t help, they’re too loud, they talk about politics or they criticize me, undermine me. It makes me feel awful. This is such suffering, isn’t it, and I have great compassion for this. These feelings are real. So many times we just get it out because we’re stuck, I can’t say don’t come, and I can’t enjoy them being here. It’s so hard and it takes a toll. It can make our holidays really difficult, really painful, and of course, this just doesn’t always happen only at the holidays, but anytime we may be dealing with some painful feelings around people.
We’re close to not meeting our expectations, and can you tell that expectations are part of that anticipation and that anxiety about having those family members come? Is it possible to stop ourselves from having expectations? I don’t really think it is. I mean, we can work with our expectations, but our brain is probably going to automatically try to paint a picture of how it should be, and our job is to recognize this and to learn to work with it, because if we don’t, we end up believing that our happiness really is in the hands of other people, and I’m hoping today to try to help you kind of convince you that our happiness is not in other people’s hands.
Have you ever felt that pressure from someone to do it right or to do it a certain way so that that person will be happy? It’s a lot of pressure and you know I’m working on cleaning that up in my life so that my husband and my kids don’t feel that kind of pressure from me. Of course I’m not perfect at it and hopefully I’m getting better, but I don’t want others to feel like they have to do something to make me happy all the time. I especially am very sensitive about my in-law children, my son-in-laws and my daughter-in-laws not feeling that from me. I want them to feel a sense of acceptance and a sense that it’s OK for them to be who they are and I’m going to be just fine. I work with so many women who are sad, so angry, so devastated by the things their loved ones are doing or not doing. My husband should be asking me about my day and showing more interest in me. My friend should have called me on my birthday. My mother-in-law should offer to watch the kids, or should not assume she can watch the kids.
I mean, the options are endless of all the things we think others should and shouldn’t be doing, and it can really wreak havoc on how we feel. Because the truth is, everyone is living life from their own experience, not from yours or my scripts. Our husbands, our kids, our moms, siblings. They haven’t even read our scripts. Most of the time they have no idea what they’re doing wrong. And yet we often evaluate our relationships based upon how well people follow our plan, what we think they should be doing. And of course, it can go the other way too, where someone has a script for us, like your mother or your spouse or child thinks you should say and do something, and it’s obvious they’re upset when you don’t and you can tell you miss the mark. Has that ever happened to you where you didn’t show up, read your lines correctly? Doesn’t that just stink Like? I can get really defensive when that happens. It feels so unfair. So this goes both ways. You know this shows up a lot in marriages. I see it in couples counseling a lot, where each partner has their list of unmet needs, things they feel strongly about having their partner do or not do.
And my early marriage therapy training taught me to go deep into this concept of pleasing each other. I was taught originally to bring a husband and wife together and ask them to make a list of what they need from the other in order to be happy. At first this seemed like a good idea. Let’s just clarify with each other what we need. But in the end it actually is just saying you give me your script and I’ll give you my script, and then we’ll be good, with the assumption that you’re going to read my script and you’re going to do it, no questions asked. If you love me, you’ll do it. It really gives the message that my happiness is now in your hands. Don’t blow it. You have to meet these needs or I’m not going to be happy.
Guys, this is a setup because no one can be responsible for our happiness, not even our spouses. We just don’t have a great success rate with this kind of marital therapy. I do it really differently now, and this is more of what I teach now. No one is responsible to make you happy not your spouse, not your child, not your mom, not your mother-in-law. Your happiness is your responsibility. I get pushback on this because it sounds like I’m saying we should be solitary and disconnected and ask for nothing, have no boundaries and just stay in situations that are not making us happy, and that’s not what I’m saying at all.
You get to ask for things, but there are requests and your happiness cannot be determined by them. I love John Gottman’s language around this. He very much helps couples make requests for things they desire with clarity, not hidden expectations. Asking for things straight up and then owning responsibility for how you’re going to handle your partner’s response, even if they don’t give you what you ask for. And I want you to think about that sense of obligation for someone to do exactly what it is that you are wanting them to do, and how that might feel if we were to flip that, where you feel obligated to do exactly what somebody else wants you to do in order for them to be happy. This is a lot of pressure. Couples that accept each other and their styles their differing styles and ways of doing things are so much more likely to work toward pleasing and delighting their spouses because they don’t feel parented or evaluated or judged.
Acceptance of someone for who they are and how they show up can go such a long way in bringing contentment and peace into your marriage, and the same goes for accepting other people, even difficult people, in our lives. It brings contentment and peace into your life. People ask me is it really that simple? Like what if your partner doesn’t see things like you do or want to do things like you do? Well, isn’t that already the case? I mean, when we get married, we are totally different people. Even our children have very different, unique styles and personalities and ways of doing things. So the truth is that we rarely see things exactly the same way as another person that we’re in a relationship with. If we can accept that and it doesn’t mean that we don’t love or care for each other then we can learn to work with it and compromise and support each other, because then it’s not so threatening. Okay, but what if my spouse ignores me or hits me, or if my mother-in-law undermines my parenting or tells me what to do and disregards my roles, even in my own home? Do I have to accept them? Then the answer is still yes, you do have to accept them for who they are, because you have no other choice.
Accepting them doesn’t mean that you have to accept their behavior, meaning you don’t have to approve their behavior. You don’t even have to tolerate their behavior. You may have to set a boundary or even decide that you’re not going to spend time with them anymore. Accepting them means you’re disconnecting your happiness from their behavior. You stop trying to get them to be different so you can feel okay, you just drop that struggle and be okay without them changing.
If things get crazy I mean really dangerous and unhealthy then you have to set a boundary and we call those really safety boundaries. What does that look like? Well, safety boundaries are set to keep things safe, so any physical threat would qualify as a safety issue. If you have a family member or a friend that comes to visit and they’re physically rough with you or your kids, that’s a safety issue. If someone tells your kids things you don’t want them to, or talks to them disrespectfully or to anyone in your family disrespectfully, that’s a safety boundary issue. If your family member tells you when they’re coming and kind of bosses you around, you get to have boundaries. You need to have boundaries. You can decide what works for you in your home and in your relationships. You can say I don’t want visitors this week. You can lay out the process for scheduling time together that works for you.
Boundaries and processes are things that describe what you will do, what you are asking for and what you will do if the process or boundary isn’t followed. In other words, boundaries describe your expectations and your actions. It’s not controlling others actions in order to make you happy. I know that’s kind of a subtle difference, but it’s so important to notice because you have freedom of choice to decide what you’re going to do if they don’t follow the process and when we’re really kind of tying this to safety issues, power issues, in which you have a right and responsibility to take care of your life and those that you’re in charge of, it’s very important to be very, very clear about what your boundaries are. That’s what safety boundaries look like.
Scripts, on the other hand, are about what we think others should do in order to make us happy. They are other, focused, indirect and leave us waiting on the person to make us happy by what they do or say. So the goal here is to let go of scripts and decide when and if boundaries are needed. So this year I invite you to take a look under the hood of all of this, to consider that you may have a script at play that’s contributing to any painful interactions you might be facing with someone in your life, and consider that there might be something you can do within yourself that helps you feel better without having to depend on the other person changing. So the first step in securing our own happiness is to notice that we have scripts in place. This is a human thing that people do. We all have them. We have scripts for how things should go, for how people should behave, and that doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. It’s just something we do and it sets us up for unhappiness. So noticing it is going to be the first step.
The next step, step two, is to check in and see if you’re dealing with some safety issues, because our threat meter is going off and it can help us to just take a look and really evaluate if we’re dealing with something that requires us to set a boundary because it’s crossing a safety line or a personal power line. So if your mother-in-law is coming, or a friend or another family member and you’re feeling anxious, you’re already dreading it. You already feel stuck. I want you to look at why might that be happening. Let’s check and see if there’s a safety issue going on. Are you at risk physically? Are your kids at risk? Do you have someone coming who’ll bring drugs or weapons into the house, who you don’t trust to be safe alone with your children, who might be undermining your parenting or stealing from you in some way? I know these sound like very dramatic examples, but these things happen in families. You’d be surprised when these things happen. They’re very difficult to navigate without the permission to set a safety boundary, and so you have to really look at the issues and decide if you’re dealing with something that a boundary is going to be useful for.
The next layer is that kind of personal power. Are you able to speak up for what you want? This can also be a boundary issue. Do you feel like you can’t say no to a family member? Or maybe you want to say no but your partner is hesitating on speaking up because it might be their family and they’re feeling a little bit torn and a little bit worried about how they might feel and it’s causing stress between you. This isn’t something very important for you and your partner to discuss as a couple what’s going to work for you and for your family and how you’re going to set a boundary and communicate that with love, but also with firmness, to your family members.
Ultimately, it’s important to know that you don’t have to stay in relationships in which you are unsafe physically or where you’re being mistreated emotionally. Part of being responsible for your own happiness is choosing whether you’ll stay or go in situations that aren’t safe or even in situations in which you don’t feel connected or aligned. This is part of that personal power. When we abdicate our personal power, we’re already in a one down position where we feel kind of victimized and then it’s like a filter kind of over our eyes, over our senses, and then anything that comes to us, that that person might be bringing, that’s visiting, that we don’t want there, that we haven’t felt like we’ve been able to speak up about or been listened to, anything that they say or do, can already feel kind of threatening to us. So we want to get out of that position of powerlessness and move into a position of power, and a lot of times we need a little bit of work together in our marriage relationship to be able to be on the same page about that.
So the distinction we’re having you make here is this am I dealing with a safety issue in which this person is a real threat to me and my family, or am I dealing with my expectations not being met the way I want them to? If it’s a safety issue, you’re going to set a boundary. If the boundary isn’t honored, you may have to stop interacting with the person. This can be a drastic step, so we want to reserve it only for real danger. If it’s not a safety issue, then you’re going to move on to step three. Step number three is to take responsibility for your own happiness, which means letting go of the conditions that have to be met by other people for you to be okay, instead of physical or emotional abuse, which may require you to take some strong action and set a boundary.
Most of the other stuff that goes on in our relationships is not really threatening to us. Of course, it feels that way in our minds, and then it kind of shows up in our bodies and pretty soon we’re all worked up in a tight stress mess about how someone is acting, what they’re doing or not doing. So think about the people in your life that aren’t following your scripts, that just aren’t doing what you think they should be doing. How does your script read for them? What is it you want them to do that they’re not doing, and why is it so important to you? My guess is that it’s important to you because you think it will make you feel the way you want to feel if that person does it the way you want. If your husband brings you flowers on a special day, then you’re going to feel great. If your mother-in-law compliments you rather than stay silent or kind of makes an offhand comment about something in your home, you will feel proud, you’ll feel accepted, you’ll feel loved. This is all about how we feel if someone else does something.
But if you’ll remember from our earlier podcast on how thoughts and feelings work, it’s always your thoughts and beliefs about something that make you feel a certain way, not exactly what others do or say. If you think your mother-in-law is kind, respectful and helpful, then you’re going to feel good. If you think that she’s not, that she doesn’t care about you, that she’s selfish and rude, then you’re going to have the feelings that go with those thoughts. Your mother-in-law doesn’t even have to be in the same city, as you are. She doesn’t even have to say anything or do anything. All you need to do is be thinking about her, maybe remembering something she said in the past that you thought was outrageous, that you was not on your script, that was so shockingly different, was something that you would never say or never do. All you have to do is remember that or think about her doing that again when she comes next time, and all those thoughts are going to create anxiety or anger or sadness, because our thoughts are very powerful that way. So when she follows your script, you decide she approves of me, she respects me, and that feels really good.
And when she doesn’t, and maybe says something that you wouldn’t say, or has a little hint of withholding of approval or maybe a little bit of criticism, we make it mean something very negative and then we feel bad. So once again here I am asking you to think about how you want to feel, not what you want another person to do so you can feel that way, but just how you want to feel when your mother-in-law comes to your house with her way of doing things, maybe her drama, maybe her critical self. How do you want to feel If it’s really bad, really unhealthy or dangerous, then you probably have to make the decision for her not to come, because boundaries are for protection. But if she’s safe enough to come, physically safe enough, how can you make it safe enough for you in your thinking, so you can feel peaceful? This is something that we always do.
When I’m working with a woman and we’re talking about this visitor that’s coming, that my client is just dreading, I will ask her tell me what’s scary about her, tell me what you’re worried about, tell me what you’re really fearing, and I’ll ask them is there anything really physically dangerous about your mother-in-law? You’d be surprised that and it’s not just mother-in-laws, our poor mother-in-laws they kind of just have a bad rap, don’t they? And I’m hoping that all the mother-in-laws that are out there you are just recognizing that this isn’t a role that we all have to fulfill in being kind of the monster-in-law that’s portrayed in the movies. But I think what happens is that this is an outsider that is very close, in proximity, in our family circle, and she comes in and there’s a little bit of competition for that top spot in your husband’s life. This is her son and this is your husband and you really want a mother-in-law to be gracious and loving and accepting and let you do it your way. It’s kind of a big setup, so we talk about mother-in-laws a lot because they come up a lot in my work with women, but you can substitute that for anybody that you might be feeling some struggles with.
So the first thing we look at is is the behavior really dangerous? Is it really stripping you of your power? Because if it is, you need to step up and you need to make a statement of protection and set a boundary and maybe reclaim your personal power. Most of the time, though, if she’s safe enough to come physically safe enough, what we want to be focused on is making it safe enough for you in your thinking so you can feel peaceful deep down inside, not just white knuckling it or covering it up or fuming the whole time, but really letting yourself feel some peace. I guess what I’m asking is can we put down the scripts, just close the book and let your person, whoever it is, can you let them just be how they are, take your power back and just let them do their thing and not take it personally? You can even say I can’t choose whether you love me or not, but I can choose to love me and I can choose to love you.
Loving someone isn’t agreeing with someone, it’s just gifting them love. Chances are, if you have positive thoughts about any person that you find difficult, then you will also start to have warmer feelings about them, because feelings follow thoughts. You could even go so far as to say, because I’m able to accept you as you are, I can even grow to appreciate things about you and maybe even get to a place where I kind of like you. I don’t need you to be different than you are, you’re not hurting me because I won’t let you, and now I can see you with more compassion and more appreciation. When we feel this kind of warmth and acceptance, it may bring out the best in the person we’re interacting with and we’re not doing it for that. Remember, we’re not trying to change their behavior, but it often does. This is such a powerful formula for us in dealing with everyone People we feel irritated or threatened by, like a difficult family member, but also with our spouses and our children.
When we approach people with this kind of benevolence, this kind of goodwill, they feel it, and when we have a negative story in our head about someone, it comes out in our actions, our gestures and expressions, and it creates tension or pressure or threat. It’s tough to feel connected. So if your mother-in-law or plug in, any person that you’re finding difficult isn’t doing things that make you happy, you may have those negative thoughts that start this cycle and you can break the cycle Maybe not her cycle or that person cycle, but your cycle. What if you could just drop the script and all the negative things it means when it’s not followed, and instead just accept the person as they are. Accept that they’re not doing it wrong, they’re just doing it their way. Your child is messy, your husband isn’t great at remembering to take the trash out, your mother-in-law is anxious and fearful about losing connection with her son, so just let her be that way and don’t take it personally. You don’t need any of them to be happy. You get to decide to be happy. I feel good, I am loved, I am okay. These are the thoughts that hold you. If you believe them, they’re stronger than someone else’s. Complaints, moodiness, insecurities. It could be easier to believe those things about yourself if someone is confirming them. Of course it can. It feels so good, doesn’t it? But can you believe those things even if no one is confirming them for you. They’re your thoughts and you get to direct them.
Clients ask me all the time do I have scripts that show up? Of course I do. How do I know it? Well, when I’m feeling hurt or angry or sad, I usually have to look to see what my expectation was, and I can usually find the source. And then I have a choice I can stick to my script, my expectations, and try to get the person’s behavior to change to match my expectation, or I can take a step back and work with my expectations and feelings.
You’re allowed to feel those feelings. They aren’t wrong. They actually make sense. Feelings are actually very logical, meaning that they are a result of your thinking. Of course I’m going to feel sad or disappointed when my thought is that person wasn’t supposed to do this. When they don’t do it, it means they don’t love me. If you’re thinking they don’t love me or she doesn’t respect me because she’s not doing this thing, then you’re gonna feel sad, maybe outraged or maybe even anxious that you have to be around someone who doesn’t love you. We’re not trying to stop feelings. We’re trying to understand them, follow them into our thinking and work with them from there where we get some more control.
Because how do you know they don’t love you? Is it possible that they love you and just aren’t doing the things you think they should be doing that would prove their love to you? Do they even know you have that expectation? And here’s another big one. What if they don’t love you, maybe not the way you want them to? What then If you have an in-law that comes around and you’re pretty sure they don’t love you? What does that mean about you? The truth is, loving people is such a sweet thing. It feels so good to love someone. It’s a gift to the person who loves as much as it is a gift to the one who is loved. If someone doesn’t love me, does that mean that I’m unlovable? Of course that’s not true. If someone doesn’t love me, am I really the loser here, or is maybe the loss in the person that’s missing out on loving you?
I think about my in-law children. If they didn’t feel accepted or loved by me, I would be heartbroken, not just because I want them to feel safe and loved and accepted, and I want my kids to have this kind of peace in their marriage so that, you know, my children don’t have to feel like they’ve got to share allegiance and all of that. It’s just so hard for families. I really want to make it easy for my kids to feel like they’ve got their own choices and their own spaces and that my in-law children can see that I let them be who they are and I love who they are. I truly do love who they are. But what I would miss even more than that, I think, is that emptiness within myself, not feeling like I could love them. It feels so good to love someone, and if you have someone in your life that isn’t showing you a lot of love, I’m gonna tell you that is really their loss.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about this at all. I’m not trying to minimize it. I know these are very difficult and painful situations, but let’s just look at how much we are tied to the idea that others have to love us. They have to approve of us, they have to accept us. It has to go a certain way for us to be okay. I’m telling you you are okay.
The point of this topic is really to just start to notice how our feelings can be so tied to the behavior of others, and even when we think they’re not. We often have conditional expectations of others that are lurking beneath the surface, and if your goal is to feel more control and peace, then consider noticing your script, laying it down and having an interaction with the person as they are, and watch your own feelings, recognizing that your happiness is in your hands, not in theirs. Make this an experiment. When your person, your difficult person, comes for the week, let them come being entirely themselves, knowing that your safety and your wellness and your identity is separate from them. They don’t have to do something for you to be okay. That you’re okay as a baseline. Just try this for one visit and notice what’s different. Try it on the home front. Try it with your kids one morning.
Recognize where your expectations are for how you want them to be, how you want them to respond to you, how you want, even what mood you might want them to be in, and lay that script down for just an hour and observe how freeing that feels, specifically that your happiness isn’t tied to what they’re going to be doing or how they are going to be doing it. Of course, as a parent, you may need to step in and teach or guide, just like you might need to step in and set a boundary if things are becoming unhealthy, but doing this really makes such a difference in our lives. It’s so freeing. You’re not doing it for other people, you’re doing it for you. You’re taking control of your own wellness and happiness, and the byproduct is that difficult person you’re trying to deal with will probably sense the struggle is eliminated.
Without struggle, relationships often have an opportunity to heal and people stop being as defensive. So there’s a good chance that not only will you have a peaceful feeling when you do this, you might also see improvement in these difficult relationships, and if improvement is what you’re afraid of, right like it’s going to bring those difficult people closer to me. I want you to remember that you also have boundaries and you can put these two things together. I’m not upset with you for being who you are. I accept that my happiness is not tied into that, and so I accept you as you are. But I also have a boundary. This is kind of no drama boundary setting and it works beautifully. I’ve been practicing this concept for a while now. It allows me freedom to control my own happiness by speaking up for what’s most important to me and letting the rest go as I, let others show up as themselves. Of course, I still get stuck sometimes, but with this knowledge it can help us get unstuck. Well, I hope this gets you thinking and I hope it helps you feel more powerful and safe and peaceful this holiday season and beyond, into your normal life, with all the people you get to be in contact with. Keep taking care of yourselves, and I will talk to you all next week.
The Leadership Parenting Podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal, medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again and take care.