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Own it.

So, here is the last comment/question from averageinsuburbia’s post about happiness.  She said, “Sometimes we are not made unhappy by HUGE things.  Do I say, my life isn’t as bad as Anna Karenina’s therefore I’ll just put up with it?”

As I said, I meandered off topic, and found myself talking about communication, ownership, and follow through.  Again, this isn’t a response to anything specific regarding averageinsuburbia, but just the thoughts and opinions that came to mind when I considered how we handle the “small things” that sometimes seem to plague our existence.  I can barely run my own life, and in no way imagine that I’m in a position to offer advice to someone else.  (Okay, I offer advice all the time, but I don’t really expect anyone to pay attention to it.)

So, the topic is basically this: 

There are things that get on my nerves to the point where I want to put a hurtin’ on my significant other/my child/my co-worker/my parent/random human beings.  But my life could be worse, so maybe I should just suck it up.  (Um…I don’t actually want to suck it up.  You know that, right?)

On Wednesday’s post, one of the questions was about deal breakers.  But there are also many small frustrations that can daily build up to create unhappiness in our lives.  They may not be “choose to stay or choose to leave” issues, but in a way, these are almost harder to deal with because of their relative insignificance.  I mean, it’s mentally and emotionally easier to leave your spouse for philandering, than it is to leave him for being sloppy.  Sloppy is not a love-crushing betrayal; it’s an annoyance.  That makes you want to pull your hair out one strand at a time.  Some things you can’t live with and some you simply don’t want to live with.

If you do choose to just suck it up, I think you can also decide not to be unhappy about that.  You can TRULY accept – which means that you choose to let it go, and refuse to let it get to you any longer.  Acceptance does not mean you keep your mouth shut, but shoot him dirty looks, huff and puff, slam things around, and otherwise make sure he’s also unhappy, even though he doesn’t know what he did wrong.  

How do you annoy me, let me count the ways…

I’m going to say something that people don’t like to hear: it’s your problem, not theirs.  They don’t have a problem.  If it doesn’t bother them, then it’s not their problem.  If they don’t even know it’s an issue at all, then it can’t possibly be their problem.

When I talk to people about this, I get blank stares, or they keep going as though I didn’t say it, or they nod their head and agree with me and then immediately contradict it.  That happened just last night, as I was talking to a co-worker about her boyfriend.  They have a child together, but don’t live together, and she wishes he would do more to support and care for the baby.  She told me, “Last time I saw him, he gave me a bunch of diapers and wipes.  I thought, she can’t eat diapers or wipes!” 

I told her that I was just writing about this very thing: instead of focusing on what the other person is or is not doing, consider what you can do differently.  There are always options, steps we can take. 

Sometimes we just need to change the way we view the situation.  She can attempt to alleviate her frustration with him by adjusting her viewpoint of his situation: he isn’t around the baby as much as she is, he has no other children, and so he really has no clue what a baby needs.  Maybe he’s not doing more because he just doesn’t know how to do more.

She can take action: I suggested she make him a list of things the baby needs.  “See what happens.  I imagine he’ll start buying the things on your list.  I don’t have children, so I’d be buying diapers and wipes, too – those are things I’m sure a baby needs.”  She nodded her head; she understood that.  “He has no idea that he’s buying the wrong things.  As long as you don’t communicate your needs to him, then it’s your issue – it’s on you, not him.”

She nodded again, “Yeah I know.”  Two beats.  “But I just think he should step up more and be a bigger help without me having to tell him what to buy.”

I couldn’t help laughing.  “Oh my goodness!  You are my post!” 

The truth is that it’s not that easy to turn away from our emotional upset, and instead focus on changing our own behaviors.

Take off those blinders!

Ultimately, we are in charge of our own happiness.  It’s really nice to blame other people, but the truth is that we allow things to bother us.  We think we can’t help it, but we can.  We put blinders in front of our eyes and refuse to see options, refuse to focus on ourselves, to see where we can change.  Our sights are set on the other person, what we want them to do or not do, be or not be.

I’ve talked to a lot of people who were unhappy with an interpersonal situation, but refused to accept any responsibility for their own happiness.  The only option they were willing to consider involved the other person making a change; they were blinded to anything else.  Basically, I think they were clinging so tightly to their anger, bitterness and resentment, that they were unable to see past those emotions.  I don’t think that we necessarily want to feel those negative emotions, but when we do, we can’t seem to let them go.

Options?  What options?  Do not speak to me of options, woman!

One often avoided option is simply to communicate what you’re feeling.  And I don’t mean all that complaining you’ve been doing to your friends, sister, co-workers and family pet. 

In my personal and professional experiences, I have observed that people do not communicate.  Even when they think they do. We speak volumes with silence, expecting the other person not only to notice, but to understand what we’re not saying.  “If you don’t know, then I’m not going to tell you!” But I reserve the right to make your life miserable when you don’t figure out what I refuse to tell you.  It makes absolutely no sense.  Or we scream so loud that nothing is heard over the din. Or we talk and talk and talk, never saying what really needs to be expressed.

We also avoid following through.  If dirty socks left on the floor is the bane of your existence, and you choose not to put up with it any longer, then there should be calm communication to express the issue and find a resolution. If the agreement is that those socks will be thrown in the trash, then you must never again scream or fume about dirty socks left on the floor. You must be willing to pick them up and throw them in the trash. Communicate your issue, calmly come up with a solution together, and follow through. After a time, one way or another, there will be no more dirty socks to walk over.

I mostly find that people are not willing to follow through.  Perhaps they are unwilling to let go of their emotions, their anger and righteous indignation.  For some of us, throwing those socks away would involve a great deal of emotional detachment: but, what if he runs out of socks?  I can’t let him run out of socks.  But those socks cost money!  But that’s wasteful!  But those are new socks!  

But, but, but, but.

Understand that those are your buts – you are thinking, saying, feeling those so-called reasons not to follow through.  You alone are in charge of how you think and what you do.  We allow our buts to keep us from following through with the agreed upon course of action, and yet somehow, in our mind, it’s still the other person’s fault.

Conflict resolution requires a certain amount of emotional disconnect; you have to be willing to do things that are against your emotional nature.  You have to be willing to let the other person suffer the consequences of their own actions.  At its simplest, throwing away the socks is an exercise in behavior modification.  It’s a sharp, or humorous, or shocking reminder to the other person that they agreed to stop that behavior.  On a deeper level, creating this agreement and then not following through is the same thing as saying, “I know I made a big stink over this, but it’s not really that big a deal to me.”  Following through with throwing away the socks is a way of reinforcing that this is important to you.

It’s your choice.

A friend was once complaining to me about doing laundry for her grown son, who “doesn’t appreciate it.”  He doesn’t thank her, and he doesn’t help out around the house.  I asked her, “How did you start doing his laundry in the first place?  Did he ask you to do it?”  Well…no.  “So stop.”

“But if I stop, then he won’t have clean clothes.”  Her but, not his – and yet it’s his fault.

We all do this at one time or another.  He’s a grown man, and he has the choice of doing his own laundry, wearing dirty clothes, or going naked.  She has absolutely no responsibility for that whatsoever.  But she chose to take that task on for herself, she chooses not to stop, and she chooses to blame him for all of it.  He should know; he should do; he should…  

I wondered if he even wanted her to do his laundry, and asked if she had considered that.  Maybe he doesn’t act appreciative in the ways that she expects (don’t get me started on expectations) because he thinks she wants to do it, as opposed to doing it because she feels obligated.  Maybe he doesn’t want her to touch his dirty underwear, but doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, since she clearly likes doing this motherly thing for him.  I also questioned whether or not he knew what kinds of things she wanted his help with, and found that she doesn’t ask for his help.  Because, you know, he should just intuit what to do.

Or maybe it’s not your choice.

Now here’s something to wrap your mind around: she has taken his choice away from him.  Do you think he would choose to let his mother to do something “nice” for him, when she actually resents it?  Do you think he would choose to be complained about to anyone who will listen?  Do you think he would really choose not to help her, if he knew she needed it?

By not communicating with him honestly, she has denied him any choice in these matters, and at the same time condemned him for the results of those choices he had no part in.

I made suggestions: that she talk to him about it, that she simply stop doing it, that she ask him to do specific things that would help her out around the house.  There are always options.  But she absolutely would not consider any suggestions that involved taking ownership of the situation herself.

Ownership

On the other hand, I recently had a co-worker say to me, “I busted my butt all last week to get that done.  It always falls to me, I always bust my butt, and I always resent it.  It just occurred to me last night that she never asked me to do that.  So I shouldn’t be holding that against her.  I can’t keep blaming her for something I chose to do.  It’s clearly not important to her, but I put that pressure on myself.”

You have to be not just able, but willing to set aside what you feel and rationally examine the whole of the situation.  That means taking into consideration what the other person feels, differences in personality and viewpoint, various options for working together, and most importantly, your own culpability.

One thing I can tell you is that taking ownership over the issues that cause you frustration and irritation can change your relationship.  In my co-worker’s case, I can guarantee that her boyfriend knows something is wrong, even if he doesn’t know what it is.  And he may not intend to act on the anxiety that causes, but it will show.  It may come out as irritation and shortness of temper, sullenness, silence or anger.  She in turn will react to his behavior, and so on and so on.  These emotions build one upon the other, until a relationship is destroyed under their weight.  Because he bought diapers instead of formula.  

If she wrote him a list, I bet he’d be glad to receive it.  For one thing, it would alleviate any pressure and anxiety he may already feel in his own right.  For another, being knowledgeable about what her needs are will build a confidence in his ability to meet those needs.  Subsequently, he will be likely to offer up more of himself in the future.  And when her expectations and desires begin to be fulfilled, then she will unconsciously start to interact with him differently, which will prompt him to treat her more gently as well.  That emotional build-up will be working for them instead of against them.

Results

I can tell you this, because it worked for me.  I looked at my relationship and finally understood that all the frustrations and irritations I felt were my problem to resolve.  If I wanted the relationship to change, then I had to change myself.  And so I changed the way I viewed the other person, from a place of judgement and condemnation, to a place of compassion.  I changed the way I responded to this person’s words and behaviors, teaching myself to react in accordance with their motivations, instead of according to how they made me feel.  I learned to be a supporter, a helper, and an ally.  I stopped being a criticizer and started looking for ways I could ease the burdens this person carries.

As my behaviors began to change, so did theirs.  I had no idea before how much of my disapproval had been evident, and it made me ashamed.  As my disapproval moved toward acceptance, and finally to appreciation, those positive emotions were mirrored back to me in ways that I scarcely had imagined possible a year before.

So, that’s what I think about that.

Items of Interest:

Who Said Life Was Supposed To Be Happy by averageinsuburbia

To Be, Or Who I Was Meant To Be: That Is The Question by Mind Margins

Is Life Supposed To Be Happy by me

Being in the thick of things isn’t all it’s cracked up to be by 365daysinthegarden


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amazing. I think that part of growing as a person is constantly working on your part in relationships. 😀 I’ve got to run right now, but this post was spectacular. Well done!

    May 18, 2012
    • You are very sweet.

      I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure out that maybe I should focus on what I was doing instead of what everyone else was “doing to me”.

      May 18, 2012
  2. Damn, woman, you have a better grasp of this than many professionals. The only thing I don’t see you “getting”, is that some people are happy being unhappy. They say they want the situation to be otherwise, but can’t let go of the Poor Little Me display which garners them so much love and attention.

    May 18, 2012
    • You’re absolutely right! Angela said on Wednesday that whole books can be – and have been – written on this kind of stuff. There’s just no way for me to fit it all in. When I write these posts, it’s hard not to shoot down all those interesting alleys, but these are so long already.

      I could write volumes on the subject of people who are happy being unhappy. (Happier still if they can pull you into it.) Those are so irritating to me, because I am a “fixer”. I rack my brain for solutions, but hit a wall with suggestion. I don’t realize at first that they don’t want it fixed. They just want to bitch.

      The two co-workers are just frustrated. Sometimes we get wrapped up in it all and can’t see the simple solutions. In the work issue, we have high standards, and put pressure on ourselves to reach them. It can lead to resentment when your boss isn’t reaching that high. We have to step back and realize that we chose to take that on’ our boss didn’t ask us to. So, we can’t blame her for that.

      As for the other girl, we SO WANT the people we love to read our minds somehow, to fulfill our needs without prompt. But we’re all different, so we’re often either guessing when it comes to pleasing other people, or doing things that would please us, assuming that what works for us would work for them. Why it’s so “bad” to ask for what you want, I’ll never know.

      May 18, 2012
  3. Wow! That was amazing! Very insightful!
    One point that particularly stood out to me was :
    “Understand that those are your buts – you are thinking, saying, feeling those so-called reasons not to follow through. You alone are in charge of how you think and what you do. We allow our buts to keep us from following through with the agreed upon course of action, and yet somehow, in our mind, it’s still the other person’s fault.”
    I see myself here!
    I realized this somewhere along the line. I can’t blame someone else for my unhappiness if I am not willing to take the steps for my own happiness. Sometimes taking those steps involves ruffling some feathers and this is where I, personally, jump in with the ‘buts’. I don’t like ruffling feathers, even if the feathers are only slightly ruffled and even if the owner of the feathers is likely to get over the ruffling quickly and is on my side.
    So then, I’m resentful. And I only have myself to blame!

    May 19, 2012
    • Naturally I see myself there, too, haha!! Cause I lived it – okay, continue to live it. I still can’t believe how much that particular relationship changed as a result of my looking internally and wondering, “what can I do differently?” The changes I made took practice, but eventually, I looked back and wondered when everything had become so much better. It was so gradual that I didn’t see it happening. We still have our frustrations, but we are both so much more apt to handle them with humor and patience, instead of anger, impatience, resentment, etc., etc., that those little frustrations don’t have enough oxygen to keep them alive.

      Having said all this, I still don’t approach my life in this semi-detached, less emotional, problem-solving way. I am as generally irrational and emotional, impatient and frustrated as I ever was. With my work situation, with traffic, with stupid or rude or annoying people. But I’m trying to translate that big lesson into other parts of my life.

      I am also non-confrontational. Clearly, that doesn’t work – I am angry and the other person has no idea what they’ve done wrong. They only know that I am generally annoyed and testy with them. How terribly unfair of me!! I am possibly making that person unhappy, definitely making her uncomfortable, and sometimes I feel that she (who is also non-confrontational) is on egg shells. I should just come out and tell her, “This pisses me off and you need to fix it!”. That would be me taking ownership. If she chose not to fix it, then I would have recourse to take it to the next level. Since I do nothing, I have no real right to be pissed about it. Well, I guess I have a right to be angry, but I really can’t blame her for “making” me feel this way, if she doesn’t know that I’m angry. I am allowing myself to continue to feel this way, because I won’t stand up for myself and ruffle those feathers.

      I should mention that I’m talking about something as simple as my boss not getting the schedules out in time. Why is it so hard for me to just say, “Schedules are due two weeks in advance, and your team is not happy about getting them two days in advance. That is not acceptable, and it needs to change.” I am a coward!!

      May 20, 2012
  4. You are on a roll! 2 fantastic posts back to back! 🙂 You got a great handle on this. And if more people were to even begin to understand and practice some of what you just wrote, I think they might find themselves much happier 🙂

    May 20, 2012
    • I would certainly find myself much happier if I could put it in practice all the time, that’s for sure. 🙂 It’s fairly easy to look at someone else’s situation and see things clearly, but not as easy when you’re immersed in it yourself, when it’s your life and your emotions.

      May 21, 2012
  5. Thank you for this wonderful post! (And for the link 🙂 ) Owning your own choices is so important. Over the past year I have been doing a much better job of it, and it really does change your life and interactions with others. When my students and I have a heart to heart about behavior, or anything really, it’s flat out what I tell them. And it is absolutely amazing to watch a 7th grader grasp that concept and grow up over the year. Everyone has control over their happiness, you just have to make the decision to take that control.

    June 10, 2012
    • I still struggle with this one – it’s much easier to say than to do, that’s for sure. And it’s much easier to see where this can apply to other people’s lives than my own. And the big issues, like relationships, are easier to apply this to than the little irritations that go on in life. I am worst about this at work. I will complain and complain, but not do the simple thing that would help alleviate the issue.

      Like you said, everyone has control over their happiness. Sometimes we’re just not willing to do what it takes – to make the decision to take control. But, we can keep trying, to be aware of ourselves and where we can make improvements. Your post fit right in with this – stop adding to the hurt and the cycle of gossip. Even if the only action you can take is to not participate, at least that’s something on the positive side! That’s owning yourself and your actions and your responsibility for what’s going on.

      June 10, 2012

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