Are we responsible for the happiness of other people?

People having fun

Have you ever felt responsible for how someone else feels – as though it’s your job to make sure they feel happy?  Of course, we often choose to do things for other people – to be generous with our time and our love – and we get satisfaction and pleasure from giving.  But what happens when we constantly seek to please other people because that’s just what we always do.  Perhaps it makes us feel better about ourselves, or we’re worried about upsetting the other person – even when we’re missing out on something ourselves. 

Recently, a friend asked me if I could pick something up for her whilst I was out.  I sighed, said yes and couldn’t help adding ‘I’m always very nice to you, aren’t I?’  She reminded me that I had a choice and that I didn’t have to say yes every time.  And she was right.  I’d felt responsible for making her feel happy and I realised that, not only was I hoping to feel better about myself, but I wanted her to tell me what a good person I was too. I wonder what would have happened if I’d taken the opportunity to put a boundary in place by kindly explaining why I couldn’t help her out this time?  Perhaps my boundary could have been a point of connection between us.

Or have you ever felt responsible for cheering someone up when they’ve seemed down?  Perhaps you’ve worried that you’ve done something to upset them and caused them to feel low – you may even have felt guilty.  Or perhaps their low mood might simply have made you feel uncomfortable and so you’ve done your best to cheer them up. This is a subject that often comes up with clients and something that fascinates me.  So often we automatically take on responsibility for another person’s feelings.  How would it be instead to  acknowledge their feelings without needing to own or fix them? Perhaps we could even create a point of connection by checking out whether they want something from us.  We might be surprised to learn that they simply want to be allowed to feel low for a while. 

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