Truth Byte #48
“Some people don’t know how to be happy for you.”
People who know me know I am an exclaimer. When people tell me good news, my voice rises, my face cracks into a wide smile, and I exclaim. When people tell me bad news, my eyebrows furrow, my jaw slackens, and the concern is all over my face like an “I’m sorry” card from Hallmark.
People love telling me good news. I think if we had had Instagram when I was at university, much of my feed would be other people capturing my delighted, surprised, oh-so-happy face.
But let me back up here. I am not trying to say I am always happy. What I am, consistently, is expressive.
Maybe it comes from a long line of adventurous, immigrant women who had a flair for the dramatic. Or maybe it comes from watching Young and the Restless with my grandma when I was way to young to watch it without giggling through the kissing scenes. Or maybe it’s just that I have always secretly wanted to be a stage actor, and these live-out-loud expressions are the closest I can get.
Where ever it came from, this expressive trait is here to stay, and sometimes I forget that not everyone is wired like I am.
Recently, I shared some really excited and game-changing news with a family member. I was met with a blank stare. I assumed he didn’t quite understand, so I explained why this was such a big deal for me. To which I got a slight nod and a “Good for you” in a “there-there-dear” tone of voice. As I reflected on it, I realized I was looking for a big reaction. But this is a person who never gives big reactions.
So my expectations weren’t really fair.
A few months ago, I told a different family member about a new project I was launching. And this person is very expressive. And I care about her opinion (first mistake), so was excited to have her in on it. What I got was “Why would you want to do that?” When I explained, her next question was, “How much more money will you make it you do that?” After that second question, I got it. No matter how many “correct” answers I gave her, she was not going to be happy for me.
She had dug in her heels into her life’s own unhappiness, and was just not willing to let anyone else be happy in her presence.
If you talk to this person, she will tell you she loves her life. She has a successful career and close relationships. She has hobbies that are meaningful and travels often. And yet, there is this air of unhappiness about her. All the time.
For many years, I thought I could change that. I thought if I continued to be bubbly and loving and optimistic around her, she would soften. I now know that when someone is steeped in bitterness, the road back to the sweet life is slow and deliberate, and that first step has to be taken by them, not me. It’s their road to walk, not mine.
I have walked this hard road.
I have lots of good, reasonable, justifiable reasons for being miserable. In less than four decades, I have battled depression, obesity, sexual and physical assault, relationship betrayal, and all kinds of other physical and emotional barriers to my well-being. When I finally got my own inner house in order and reached out to help others, I had to face the glum reality that nobody around me was really thriving either. Some of the people closest to me were struggling with drug addiction, divorce, death, potential incarceration, and all forms and flavours of trauma.
Plus, I had chosen a career in which people spent their time with me talking about their problems.
At some point, I had to make a decision about who I was going to choose to be. Was I going to be a feather in the wind, tossed around by the events that Life was throwing at me, or was I going to be the bird, choosing my own path? Being a bird took grit and perseverance. It also required that I do something that no one else in my world was doing at the time: taking accountability for every part of my life.
I had to examine my wings, and recognize that they were made up feathers. I had to come to the understanding that the events in my life had impacted me, sure, but I could choose whether or not to let them define me.
I call this learning how to fly.
I had to start re-framing those past events as character-building exercises, and journalled until my hands were raw about the lessons I could look for in them. I had to stop blaming the people and situations that had wronged me, and begin letting the past truly go.
I took a course in forgiveness.
At the Master’s level, for credit.
With one of the world’s leading-edge experts on the topics.
Cuz’ if I was going to learn this stuff, may as well throw my whole self into it, and learn from the best. (He has written some great books by the way, if you are interested. His basic intro and the one that changed my perspective on Life pain is "Forgive for Good" by Dr. Fred Luskin.)
And I had to make choices in all arenas of my life that would bring me closer to being that intentional bird rather than the victimized feather.
So yes, I am expressive. And I get in trouble now because when I sense someone is about to tell me their sob-story, they can tell within seconds that I am going to re-frame it with them. I am not going to sit around and let my friends and family members talk badly about themselves, their partners, their lives, or their choices.
I am going to call them out.
Every graduation/closing session I have with a client, we talk about flying. I tell them, through guided images and a simple completion ceremony the following truth:
“You don’t need me, or any other therapist. You have recognized that you are not a feather. You now know what’s in your wings, and you have been getting stronger. And now you know how to fly. You can’t un-learn that. All you need now is to remember who you are, and set a course for where you are going.”
And every decision has it’s consequences. One of my consequences is that I have stopped hanging out with feather-like people. Another is that I have found a flock that knows how to be happy for themselves and for me, and shares my flair for expressiveness.
And while it’s scary at times to be up here, soaring above the bitterness, it just feels so much better.
Want to join me, and learn to fly too? My good friend Jena and I are starting a Get Happy Club. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details on how to join!