Posted by fxckfeelings on January 14, 2013Share This Post
When people judge success or failure by the ensuing level of happiness, good guys blame themselves for things they don’t control and bad guys blame everyone else for their own mistakes. Instead of putting your accomplishments on a feelings-based scale, think carefully about what you really can and should control, given your values. That way, no matter if you’re a good guy dealing with bad luck or a jerk who assumes he’s a victim, you can at least feel happy about doing what’s right.
I wish there was something I could do for my older son (now about 30), but he’s never been happy and I’ve gradually got used to the idea that maybe he never will be, although I’m not sure I’ll ever not feel bad about it. He’s got a job and takes care of himself but, unlike his younger brother, he doesn’t have a girlfriend or a job that he likes. My own belief, and I’ve lived by it myself, is that everyone should at least find work that they like, and then it’s not hard to be happy, but he doesn’t seem close to finding work he likes, and he doesn’t seem to be trying. So I doubt there’s anything I can do to help him, but I thought I’d ask you anyway, because, as his mother, I’ll never feel I’ve succeeded until he finds happiness.
There’s nothing that warms a mother’s heart more than to see her kid smile, but you should also know, by the many good, well-parented, miserable adults in this world, that a good upbringing can’t stop someone from being downbeat.
Your son’s tendency towards misery is not more your fault that it is his; it’s a tough world, genetics has no mercy, and bad things happen. Don’t make those bad things worse then by making him responsible for his inability to get happy and causing you both to feel like losers.
It’s common to believe that one can be happy if they find work that they like, but, like taking good care of yourself, eating right, having regular bowel movements, and most other common sense keys to happiness, that belief is largely bullshit.
In fact, it’s wishful and falsely hopeful, given the large number of people out there who either can’t find work or, due to the economy or their age/skill-level, have to accept a shit job to make a living. It’s also dangerous because, like your happiness assumptions, it makes you and him feel like you’ve failed when you haven’t.
Once you accept the sad fact that, for one good reason or another, many good people can’t be happy, you’re free to ask yourself what he’s done with himself, given his unhappiness. Unhappiness puts pressure on people to forget about their values and become self-absorbed, withdrawn, or hurtful. From what you say, this hasn’t happened, so. despite his happiness handicap, he’s still a good guy who does his job. That’s worth noting, because an unhappy guy who lives by good values is a bigger deal than a happy guy who does the same due to the higher difficulty score. Take pride in what he (and you) have accomplished.
Next time you see your son shrug, look unhappy, or compare himself negatively to his brother, remember what he’s dealing with. Instead of giving him back a look of helplessness, pity, or frustration, smile proudly and tell him you’re impressed. No, you’re not telling him he should feel lucky because other people have it worse, but that, while you think he’s got it bad, he’s doing good things with what he’s got.
As much as parents want their kids to be happy, they want more for those kids to be and do good. I f he’s managed to be an upright person, despite always feeling down, then you know you’ve done good.
“I hate to see my son suffer and nothing would make me happier than to see him happy, but I know he doesn’t make himself unhappy and his father and I didn’t make him that way. I’m proud we raised a strong, independent kid who can tolerate chronic unhappiness and still be a good person.”
I’ve got to admit my husband was right—I threw out some of his things during my last alcohol binge, broke stuff that can’t be replaced—but now, even though I’m very sorry, he never seems to forgive me. I may be nasty when I’m drunk, but I’m basically a nice person who wants her husband to be happy, and he never seems to forgive or forget. I’m trying to stay sober—I go to meetings every day—but I haven’t been successful lately, probably because I never feel I have his approval. So I’m stuck. How can I move forward?
There’s no crime in having a bad habit that you can’t control, but there’s something wrong with your values if you feel entitled to your husband’s love and support when you repeatedly act like an Asshole™, caring more about how he makes you feel than how decently you act (newcomers, please refer to more detailed Asshole™ explanations here). Caring too much about your feelings is what got you into this mess in the first place.
If this judgment seems harsh, don’t worry, you’re not alone; it’s human to want to feel better in a world that is often painful and humiliating, and alcohol is amazingly good at screening out your painful awareness of the bad things that are happening, including the ones you’re responsible for. Being an asshole is often part of the illness of alcoholism, both as a side-effect and a gateway character trait.
So instead of seeking your husband’s approval, start a log of your own bad behaviors as they occur, binge by binge, using your own standards to decide how bad they are. Don’t apologize or dwell on your shame—that will just drive you to drink and/or husband-pleasing. Instead, develop your own asshole score, from one to 10, then tally up your points for the month and decide whether you want to improve.
If you do, that’s the score you use to hold yourself accountable. The inner asshole will tell you that you’re doing better because you cleaned the carpets yesterday, or that you’ve been sober longer than you have in weeks, or that it’s hard to be sober when your husband doesn’t love you. Tell your inner asshole to shut the fuck up and do the math.
Of course, no one is always able to keep their inner asshole under control; like the above son’s misery, it’s just a part of who we all are. You’ll become stronger at managing it, however, if you give yourself a method for monitoring its behavior that you can’t ignore, fudge, or water down.
If you’re ready to face the score honestly and without flinching, you’re ready to do the work to manage the Asshole™ inside. It’s not as easy as managing the one on the outside, but it’s just as worth it.
“I feel like I hate myself and that I can never get strong because no one loves me or believes in me. I know, however, that I can’t expect to like or respect myself or draw support from others, because I have acted like an asshole, by my own definition. From now on, I hold myself accountable for trying to act decently and I respect myself for doing so. Nothing else is as important.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname