Unraveling the mentality that you are the cause of others’ unhappiness

It is not a secret that I grew up in a highly dysfunctional family with physical and verbal abuse. With such a living situation comes with a lot of resentment, not so much about the physical abuse but the mental abuse. I doubt my parents even knew it.

As far back as I can remember in my childhood, I blamed myself for my parents’ arguments and fights. “If only I washed the dishes, they wouldn’t be going at it right now.”

“If only I hadn’t talked back, they wouldn’t blame each other for bad parenting.”

“If only I cleaned the house…”

Every time they fought, I felt it was because I was lacking. They would be happy if only I had done this or that. The self-blame continued into my college years. I felt a heavy burden on my shoulders—the need to be perfect because if I was perfect, my parents wouldn’t fight.

Maybe they’d be happier.

But I wasn’t, and am not, perfect.

Sometimes I didn’t want to do what they wanted, and they’d yelled at me, then argued with each other. This made me sad, stressed, depressed, and resentful towards them for making me feel like I’ve done something wrong. And I’d hate myself for not denying myself in order to hopefully have some peace in the house. My emotions went in circles.

Most of the time I did the chores out of guilt—I was guilt-tripped into it (I have other siblings who chose not to do their chores) … or because I love my mom and didn’t want to see the suffering look on her face, in her eyes. The sadness that makes my own heart cry.

I had a mentor during my college days who helped me understand three things:

  1. I am not the keeper of my parents’ happiness
  2. I am not responsible for their choices (to argue and blame each other)
  3. I am the child, not the parent

For so long I lived under the impression that my actions were the direct cause of my parents’ unhappiness. (But honestly, I did not, and do not, hold that much power over my parents’, or anyone else’s happiness). It was a heavy load at the time to think that my every action caused a rift in my parents’ relationship or that I could do something to prevent their unhappiness.

The truth is, no matter what I did it wasn’t going to change how they felt about their situation. It wasn’t me. My parents weren’t content with their lives and they lived to blame each other for it instead of working together to improve the life they shared. My parents’ decisions were their own. I didn’t have to feel oblige to somehow make it alright for them. It shouldn’t fall down on me, their child.

God expressively stated in the Bible that the sins of the parents do not fall on their children anymore, and each human being is an individual. Why? Because “all lives are [God’s]; the life of the parent and the life of the child belong to [God]. Only the one who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). My life is mine, my parents’ lives are theirs; whatever unhappiness or disagreement they have, I am not their saving grace. I have no power over their lives. They belong to God. They would have to go to God for all their lives’ problems and He will solve it for them. It took a while to understand this at the time – to grasp the truth of my position as a human being. I have no control over anyone’s feelings and decisions.

The process of unraveling the guilt of not making your parents happy out of your system and to understand that happiness is a decision we make daily takes time. We chose whether we want to forgive someone quickly and move on with our lives or, we can stay offended and upset. If we chose to stay upset, no one can deter us from feeling the way we feel – not until we open our hearts to change will it happen.

What I chose was:

  1. To be conscious of when my parents are upset at each other
  2. To refocus and forgive them for what I may consider their shortcomings (this allows me to love them in their mess and stop blaming either one of them for the resentment I feel about the unhappiness around the house). I also distance myself from their issues. I am separate from their troubles.
  3. To remind myself that they are choosing to respond to each other the way they are responding and it’s none of my business. They will eventually figure out their issues for themselves.

When I thought everything was my fault, I was picking up baggage that didn’t belong to me and putting it on my shoulders. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get rid of them and I started to resent my parents for it… but it wasn’t their fault. Sure, when I was a young child, it was definitely their fault. They shouldn’t have argued in front of their children regarding matters that directly concern their children. However, as a young adult, I needed to learn how to filter and identify what is truth and toss out the lies.

When I learned how to consciously keep track of my feelings and consciously make the decisions I made (see the three steps under “what I chose was”), my life became a lot easier. I was less angry and resentful of my parents. I was able to be kind to them both – to love them as I could.

Have you taken it upon yourself to make others happy? To maintain that happiness for them? How has that impacted your life?

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