Living Into Not Being Responsible For Other’s Happiness

Most, if not all, of us have heard, “We are not responsible for other’s happiness.” Or the close relative, “We are not responsible for their response.”

I totally believe these thoughts, and yet I have just recently had an experience that testing this where I gained a deeper, even physical, understanding.

I was away for a weekend with friends. It happened to be a group of women, the caring, sharing type. We had a great time together in the easy flow of talking, hiking, eating, laughing.

On the last morning, we were trying to decide what to do and were dealing with logistics. Some wanted to leave earlier, some had open calendars. I had stated earlier in the weekend that I had already hiked the trail nearest to us, and that although it was lovely, I was hoping to do something new. Do we all hike something together? Will we get back in time for the earlier departures? How do we tend to all the needs?

I definitely found myself in that in-between place of trying to make us a big happy group, and trying to also be authentic to what I was feeling like doing. My old self would have just said, okay, let’s do the hike all together that I’ve already done. And I would have had a nice time but, honestly, then felt a little resentful.

So here we were, all talking with one another as we were getting ready to leave. I said to the group, I am trusting that everyone is speaking their truth. That when someone says they are okay with not doing this hike all together, that that is what they really mean.

It was a fake-it-till-you-make-it moment for me. I knew intellectually I was not responsible for keeping the group happy. I knew I wanted to be truthful and authentic and wanted others to do the same. And, ugh, you know the feeling where there is a bit of tension and you just want everyone to be one big happy family?! I could feel it in my heart.

As I drove away with another woman to find this new trail and the other two women went on the closer trail so they could leave earlier, I felt a tinge of unease. We talked in the car about it and decided to let it go. We all ended up having a lovely day doing our different things.

Once home, I knew I still had some processing to do. Although I knew there was no amount of “fixing” needed by me, I still wanted to be sure the group was all “good.” There was a remnant of my old, unhealthy behavior poking up its head: “Buoy everyone, Steph! Make sure everyone is happy!”

In my past, I stood in the background attending to the needs of others and claimed I had no needs of my own.  It’s healthy and loving to be considerate of other’s needs and feelings. That is totally different from caretaking. As Melody Beattie says: Caretaking is a self-defeating and, certainly, a relatonship-defeating behavior–a behavior that backfires and can cause us to feel resentful and victmized–because ultimately, what we feel, want, and need will come to the surface.”

We can be concerned and loving for others while also placing true value on our own needs and desires. It’s not an either-or scenario.

I was reminded of the adage: “You cannot be so sick that you make someone else well. You cannot be so poor that you make someone else rich.” It doesn’t work that way.

Through lots of work, I know I am responsible for being honest and respectful. That’s it. And, I trust that you (whomever the “you” of the moment is) will be honest and respectful. If I’m not being honest about how I feel, how can things to go well. When I think about it, it is actually disrespectful of me not to be honest.

I know this is still an area where I have some work to do. I am still peeling away the layers. In some instances, it’s so easy. In others, I’m still efforting, but my awareness is a guiding light. This time, I was honest and kind. It felt awkward, but I did it. I suspect it will be a little easier each time I am tested.

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