“I try so hard to make her happy.”

"Noble Love" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Noble Love” by Mimi Stuart ©

Responsibility for another’s wellbeing

People who put excessive energy into trying to make others happy tend to lose their sense of self and the accompanying groundedness and objectivity. The suppression of their own values, needs and desires often leads to growing resentment and a lack of vitality.

The more compelled a person is to promote someone else’s wellbeing, the more anxious that person becomes. People who put excessive energy into “helping” others and to making them happy are often completely unaware of the anxiety which drives them, because they are projecting their own anxiety onto the people they are trying to help.

Dependence on validation from others

The opposite dynamic also leads to trouble. The more your own wellbeing depends on validation from others, the more anxious you become. Thus, when people are desperately seeking validation, they tend to use emotional manipulation to get it. The resulting validation isn’t very gratifying because it has been coerced. Thus, their craving for validation is never satisfied, and becomes a drain on the relationship.

People who crave a lot of validation may be aware of their own anxiety, but they believe it is up to others to take care of them. Their efforts to get others to relieve their anxiety are ineffective in resolving the ultimate problem—that is, learning to tolerate their own anxiety.

Escalation of anxiety

Anxiety increases when you have less control over achieving your goals. Since you are not in control of someone else’s wellbeing, and you are not in control of someone validating you, anxiety for both parties increases. Hence relationships between emotionally fused people tend to generate considerable chronic anxiety.

The more anxious people become, the more reactive and intolerant they are of others. They become more frantic to “fix” things. They may feel alternatively overwhelmed and isolated, needing more emotional connection, but rejecting all but the “right” kind of connection, that is, total validation. A lack of response or the wrong kind of response hurts or angers them, which causes them to say hurtful things or withdraw, leading to an escalation of anxiety and conflict.

It is paradoxical and unfortunate that undifferentiated people have more need of emotional support, but are less likely to get it or to be satisfied by it.

Healthy relationships

In healthy relationships, people are helpful, considerate, and care about the one another’s wellbeing. They will do things they think might make the other person happy. However, they are emotionally differentiated, which prevents one person’s anxiety from infecting the other and spiraling out of control. Differentiation means that you avoid emotionally manipulating another person and you avoid walk on eggshells. Instead you respect that person as autonomous, though perhaps interdependent. This requires being aware of and tolerating your own anxiety when someone else is not happy or when you are not receiving the validation that you were hoping to receive.

Murray Bowen, who developed the notion of differentiation, puts it this way: “The goal always is to work on oneself, not to attempt to change one’s family. The goal is not to get the family to “accept” you, to “love” you. The goal is to be more of a self, which is not contingent on acceptance.”

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Recommended Kerr and Bowen’s “Family Evaluation.”

Read “Happiness: ‘We must have a terrible marriage because I’m so unhappy.’”

Read “I can’t live with her and I can’t live without her.”

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

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