A Happiness Journey

My Operating Manual (and how to follow it)

This is one of the harder blogs for me to write as it’s a lesson I find the hardest to practice, and one I am constantly working on.

 

I have always believed that it is in my power to make other people feel certain things. I am a recovering people pleaser so I have spent a life time trying to get people to feel better in themselves or to like me more by manipulating the way I behave. Because I have spent so many years trying to work out what other people need and want, and then turning myself inside out so that I can meet their needs and wants, when I discovered that this was not actually possible, and definitely not advisable, it created a meltdown in my brain. Hence why I am ‘recovering’.

 

Firstly, lets go back over something I have brought up many times in many other blogs. It is our thoughts that create our feelings, It is our feelings that create our actions, and it is our actions that create the results we see in our lives. The most important part of that whole model, I believe, is the fact that it is OUR THOUGHTS that create our feelings. It’s not what someone else said or did that creates our feelings, it is what we think about what they said or did. No one has the power to make you feel anything you don’t want to feel. No one can make you feel anything at all, that is ALL on you. I’m not saying that it doesn’t feel like someone else is making us feel things but the fact is, they can’t.

 

As we grow up, we learn from our caretakers and our environment what is acceptable and what is not. This is built into us as a survival mechanism so that we can learn to fit in with our tribe. We pick up on these messages from overt and covert messaging from our tribe. Just using divorce as an example, overt messaging would be your church telling you that divorce is a sin and not permitted. A covert message might be your mum making a comment about Mrs so and so down the street who’s on her fourth husband and using a tone of voice that denotes disapproval. It could even be something as simple as a throw away comment by our parent like “why can’t you be nice and quiet like your sister?” The childhood brain might tuck this away as “when I speak up, it is bad. To be seen as worthy, I must hide my voice and keep quiet”. We pick up on these messages about absolutely everything, and once we deem something as being unacceptable in our eyes, whether it makes any sense or not, we put this thing into our ‘shadow’ and we wrap it up in shame. Most of these messages are picked up in childhood but we can still put things into our shadows in adulthood.

 

Once we have all these things stacked up in our shadow, we have a whole bunch of thoughts around these things that we deem as unacceptable. So it doesn’t take much for the people around us, to say or do something, that triggers one of these thoughts in our heads, which then triggers the associated feeling. I spoke about this at great length in my blog called TRIGGERS (attached). All of these shadows and triggers create an operating manual for us. The rules to follow if you want to be in relationship with me. This covers all relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, familial and professional relationships. The funny thing is that most of us don’t know we have an operating manual but all of us expect our nearest and dearest to know what it says and to follow it to the letter. We don’t even know we’re doing it, we just think we have “reasonable expectations” of how people should behave. Nothing wrong with that right? As long as everyone has the same expectations and has the same thoughts about everything, this might seem reasonable. Except we don’t.

 

You might be one of those people who think that lateness is the height of rudeness. When someone is late to appointment with you it triggers a shadow of yours that says they must not respect me if they don’t respect my time. If they’re late it means they don’t value me and this make me feel worthless and unseen. So one of our operating manual instructions may be, if we’re to be friends then you need to always be on time when you have an appointment with me. Whereas our friend might be a new mother, and her expectation might be, everyone should understand that I’ll probably be late because I now have a child, and this can make managing my time near on impossible. This is just an example of how two expectations may come into conflict.

 

One of the things growing up, that I was most excited about becoming an adult, was the fact that I would be able to do whatever I wanted. I would turn 18 and all of a sudden my parents wouldn’t be able to tell me what to do. I would be able to come and go as I pleased and make whatever decision I wanted. The reality may feel very different because we are still conditioned by society and our caregivers to behave in certain ways, but the sentiment is true. As an adult, and a sovereign being, I can in fact, do whatever I want to do. I can say whatever I want, I can behave however I please, and I can do what ever tickles my fancy. Now that’s not to say there won’t be certain consequences or repercussions, but it doesn’t take away that this is still true. I am my own person. All adult people have the freedom to behave in any way they like.

 

The flip side of this is that there is nothing that I have to do for anyone else, and there is nothing anyone else has to do for me. I am 100% responsible for my needs, and it is not down to anyone else to fulfill them for me. I am also not responsible for anyone else’s needs. This is a lesson the recovering people pleaser and co-dependent in me has struggled with. I can’t make someone else happy, only they can do that. No one else can make me happy, only I can do that. When I see myself as responsible for someone else’s needs that’s a huge undertaking, and a lot of pressure. It’s hard enough taking care of my own needs, and now I’m responsible for theirs too? When I hand over the responsibility of my own needs to someone else, that is relinquishing all of my control. I am taking something extremely precious to me, like my happiness, and I am handing it to the other person. What’s worse is that once I have handed them this precious gift, I now need to micromanage them to make sure they don’t stuff it up, which takes even more energy on my part, and usually ends up with tons of resentment, on both sides.

 

The reason we usually want someone to change their behaviour to suit us, is because of how we think it will make us feel. We believe that if only they would do a certain thing, or act a certain way, then we will feel better. We forget that it’s our thoughts that cause our feelings, not what the other person does. We also attach all these stories to what the other person does or says. If they do X it means they love me and that will make me feel worthy and seen. When they don’t do X it must mean that they don’t value me and that must mean I am worthless. We then don’t take any responsibility for our behaviour because we have given all that power away to the other person and their behaviour. We are literally setting ourselves up for failure because once someone else’s behaviour has the power over our feelings, then only their behaviour can make us feel good.

 

This goes all the way back to playschool when we run up to the teacher and complain that Stephen upset us because he said something mean, and then the teacher tells Stephen off for making us feel bad. No one teaches us to be able to manage our own emotions at that age, so instead we learn to blame others and hold everyone else responsible for our feelings.

 

But here we are, all adults now, with our wounded children still inside us, so we have a few options.

 

Firstly, we can (and we all should) really start to look at why we need people to behave in a certain way. What are the core wounds and triggers that we have, that we need to address, so that we can stop feeling triggered every time someone inadvertently pushes one of our buttons? When we really do the shadow work, and we start to look at our core wounding, we can really begin to understand where all that pain comes from. Once we understand we can work to accept, and to heal.

 

Next, we can respectfully request things from our nearest and dearest from a place of self compassion rather than accusation. I can say to my friend, “I know you’re not hurting me intentionally but when you consistently talk over me, it makes me feel unheard.” We can say to our loved one “I would really love it if you could speak to me without raising your voice because when I hear raised voices it reminds me of a time in my childhood when I felt unsafe and that brings on my anxiety”. Whatever our operating manual says, we can make those requests of others. But it must be a request, not an accusation. For example, don’t say “you make me feel anxious because you keep raising your voice”.

 

The other thing to bare in mind with a respectful request is that they are perfectly within their right, as a sovereign being, to reject your request and to continue behaving in any way they please. You can make all the requests you want, but when you tie your emotional happiness up with whether they do it or not, you’re in trouble. We can’t control other people. We can barely control ourselves most of the time so trying to control others is an extreme waste of energy and will only ever lead to disappointment and heartache.

 

This is when you have a few choices. You can work with your own thoughts and your own stories to manage your own feelings. You can do this by writing out the story you’re telling yourself and asking  yourself “is this really true?” “do I know this to be fact?” We can become an investigator of our own story. When we write out the story in our head be really clear about what part is fact, and then separate the rest. For example when my husband doesn’t hold open the door it means he doesn’t see me as important anymore, he probably doesn’t love me as much as he used to”. What here is fact? “my husband didn’t hold open the door”, the rest doesn’t exist, it’s just a story we’re telling ourselves so we can let it fall away. When we don’t make someone else’s action or inaction mean something we can feel so much more peace. We can also get curious about why they do what they do. Like in last week’s article, we can start to ask questions around how their lives were formed. This can create empathy in us once we understand the other person better. They have their own wounding that causes them to act in a certain way. When we can stop taking everything so personally we can take some much of the stress away. A persons actions says everything about them, and nothing about you.

 

Another way of doing thought work is to literally work out – what would I have to think to feel better about this situation? – then practice that thought, instead of the thought you were thinking that made you feel shit. I talk about thought work a lot in my blog titled THOUGHTS (attached).

 

We can also choose to let go of all our rules and conditions, and just love people for who they are, warts and all. We can love them for their foibles, chuckle every time they’re late, love them for their inappropriate remarks or their loud behaviour. We can have a ‘no strings attached’ relationship where we just accept the other person as they are with no conditions attached to the relationship.

 

If a person’s behaviour starts to negatively impact our life then another choice we have is to set a boundary, which is essentially the consequence to the behaviour. If you have respectfully requested that they don’t shout at you when you’re having a discussion and they have decided that they would like to continue their behaviour of raising their voice, you can put a boundary in place. A boundary says, it is your right to continue to do what you want to do, but it is also my right to not accept that. So the next time you raise your voice I will leave the room and I won’t continue the discussion until you have calmed down. I discuss this in detail in my blog BOUNDARIES (attached).

 

I honestly believe that when we are all on this planet, walking around carrying all of our baggage and our internal wounding, doing this intricate dance of life together, it is possible to be courteous and respectful of others, without having to abandon ourselves and resort to people pleasing, or being obnoxious and selfish. I don’t think there is anything wrong with knowing that our partner carries certain core wounds and trying, within reason, so honour that. But I do also think it’s our responsibility, being the other person in that partnership, to own our own shit, do the work, and take responsibility for our own emotions without handing the power away to other people. Let go of your expectations, and focus all that energy into yourself, and into creating a life where you can be happy without having to depend on anyone else’s behaviour.

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