Have you ever told someone something like, “You’re the reason I’m happy!”? I said this to a friend a couple of weeks ago, and his reply was, “No, you are happy because you choose to be happy. That’s what I read in your blogs anyway. I just get to benefit from it!” At first, I wanted to argue with him that we were talking about two different things — I meant happy in the at-this-very-moment way. The happiness I talk about in this blog is much less fleeting, and exists at a deeper level than the present moment. And, to tell the truth, I was a little miffed that he was throwing my blogged words back at me (which was my other reason for wanting to argue).
This conversation, as so often happens, has hung around at the front of my brain, popping up periodically as if to say, “You’ve missed something important here!” Well, last night, I finally figured out why it wasn’t going away.
My friend Wendy and I have spent many a Tuesday night together, watching “The Biggest Loser”. We enjoy seeing people take a look at their own self-delusions or defense mechanisms and begin the hard work of changing their relationships with self and others — that’s why we watch the show. It gives us opportunities for discussion about our own problem thinking, or our own emotionally difficult issues. This season, we had been unable to watch until last night, week 8 or 9 on the ranch for the contestants. During the show, Bob (one of the trainers) was working with a contestant, trying to get her to feel some inner motivation to remain on the ranch. After dramatic tears and a plea from Bob, the woman said (I’m paraphrasing), “I promise I will trust you to tell me the right things to do, and I will do them. ” Both Wendy and I groaned. We felt that the woman had missed the point — the point being the necessity of an internal locus of control, self-motivation. Not giving both the responsibility and the power to Bob.
As I was driving home after the show, I realized there was a similarity between my own conversation and the one on television. In both cases, one person was willing to hand over the responsibility and, yes, the power for their success or failure (or, more seriously, their emotional well-being) to another person. That’s when the AHA! moment came:
When we abdicate responsibility, or hand it over to another, we are saying we aren’t good enough, strong enough, or skilled enough to take care of ourselves, to own our feelings, to be full partners in our relationships.
In my life, I have many kinds of relationships: family, friends, colleagues, mentors, mentees…the list is long and varied. However, for much of my life, I lacked confidence in my own ability to be enough for others: interesting enough, funny enough, engaging enough, lovable enough. This led to many moments of debilitating insecurity in relationships. I spent endless hours in agony wondering if a minor misstep or unintended slight had killed the friendship. I was afraid to share my feelings out of fear that they were too much or out of proportion to what the other person felt. As a result, I tended to hand my emotional life over to others. If I was happy or sad on any given day depended on what I read into the way others interacted with me.
Healthy relationships can’t bear that kind of inequity. Eventually, they feel lopsided and burdensome. More importantly, I cannot protect myself from being hurt by abdicating my responsibility for myself, nor do I gain love by offering to be weak and maleable as a token of trust. All I accomplish by acting out of my insecurities is making myself feel crazy and off-kilter emotionally — and placing an unfair burden of responsibility on someone else.
Which leads back to the whole issue of happiness. The people in our lives do influence both our day-to-day happiness and our deeper sense of joy. But we are the rightful owners of our feelings, and of our choices. When we stay centered, we can recognize how/when our insecurities are urging us to act out of fear, and we can resist that urge. It won’t “make” other people love us, or love us more. Instead, it will allow each of us to act with love toward ourselves and others without all the weirdness and drama. And it makes it possible for me to admit that my friend is right — I’m happy because I choose to be, not because someone else made me feel that way!