When Happiness Is A Problem
Did you have big dreams as a kid but were not encouraged to pursue them?
In dysfunctional families, being happy isn't a priority. Not because parents don't want their children to be happy but because they're focused on surviving. This is especially true when a parent has an addiction or mental illness. Achieving success or contentment gets overshadowed by the stresses of everyday life.
A dysfunctional family lacks the ability to cope with life's disappointments. Abuse, destructive anger, and unresolved conflicts create an unstable environment for kids. According to John Bradshaw, a pioneer on dysfunctional family dynamics, a reported 96% of families have some level of dysfunction. So basically we all have some!
If you've ever struggled with feeling happy or letting yourself enjoy success, this blog is for you. There is a reason why success or feeling happy doesn't feel right!
Where Happiness Starts
When you were growing up, were people reasonably happy? I don't mean "Brady Bunch happy" where everything looked perfect on the outside. I mean did people in your family feel secure and content for the most part? Did you feel loved? Were your dreams supported?
Some of you might be thinking - children aren't supposed to be happy, they should contribute, be quiet and take care of their siblings. If life revolves around obligations happiness isn't an option. Sadly, there is no joy in that.
Success and happiness are what most people strive for, but not in dysfunctional families. The parents take their stress out on the kids and the kids grow up in fear. You act out, hide or become a people pleaser to gain approval.
When attention from family members is scarce you find it in negative ways. Your life becomes a race for attention which sets up intense sibling rivalry. Being happy is a luxury you can't afford.
What Children Learn to Ignore
As a child you learn to ignore feelings because the adults' needs take precedence. Maybe you carried the responsibilities of an adult at a young age. When success is perceived as a threat achievements are not something to celebrate.
Being noticed becomes an opportunity for ridicule. Anything that demands the adult’s attention becomes a nuisance. You get used to having problems, but when it comes time to enjoying the moment you're lost.
Comparing yourself to others coupled with a lack of confidence make it tough for you to see the good. Hurting yourself with substances or picking partners that don't treat you well creates more chaos.
Unfortunately, growing up with chaos you learn to repeat those patterns in adulthood. Even though it hurts, the pain of not enjoying life is easier than risking the unknown. You know what to expect if you stay unhappy.
In childhood you learn messages like:
Don't outshine your family.
Keep everything close to the vest.
Don't get noticed.
Happiness isn't realistic.
Don't let success go to your head.
Life is about survival not enjoyment.
Sabotaging yourself becomes a coping mechanism in dysfunctional families. You're more comfortable failing than succeeding. You learn to stay under the radar. The pain of not being enough becomes a secret no one talks about. It leaves you feeling alone and empty. You long for acknowledgement but you can't let yourself receive it.
How To Change It
It's your right to be happy and enjoy life. Change only happens when you're tired of hurting and willing to take new action. Even small steps add up. To start, write a list of traits and accomplishments that you're proud of and literally sit down and take a moment to acknowledge them yourself. This may sound silly but letting yourself feel good about something changes the pattern.
Take steps to reconnect and fulfill a dream. Years ago, I started attending film festivals to get autographs. I dreamt of meeting celebrities as a kid but thought it would never happen. I cannot describe the joy I felt in getting autographs from people like George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Al Pacino and many others. Fulfilling that dream gave me hope that true joy was possible.
Happiness doesn't have to be a problem. Redirecting your focus on what's going well takes practice. It may feel like you’re going against your family. That's why change takes so much effort. Learning new behaviors means saying goodbye to old beliefs that are familiar. Start looking for what makes you happy. You deserve it!
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