Daughters of unloving mothers often have trouble finding emotional balance in their adult lives; some complain that true happiness in the day-to-day eludes them. Part of the journey toward healing from childhood is understanding the degree to which you may be standing in your way; it’s part of what I call “conscious awareness.” Because the lessons we learned about feelings and relationships are internalized and operate unconsciously, bringing these patterns to the surface so that you can see how they work in your life and in your interactions with others is a huge step forward.
So, here are five questions you need to ask yourself when you feel as though happiness has yet once more eluded your grasp
1. Am I replicating my childhood in the present?
All of us are drawn to the familiar which is fine if you had a childhood that was full of support and love and less than ideal if your childhood made you feel unloved and alone. Sit down and think about the key relationships in your life and how the people you’re closest to make you feel. Do they echo the past or do they validate and make you feel good about yourself? Sometimes, there is emotional clutter in our lives that warrants our attention. If aspects of key relationships actively make you unhappy, you need to address them.
2. Is how I connect to people getting in the way?
Our childhood experiences create an internalized template for how we understand and react to intimate connections; this is the basis for attachment theory. If what you want is intimacy and true partnership but your own behaviors and perhaps those of the partners you choose make it well-neigh impossible, you need to increase your understanding both of yourself and the lovers you’re choosing. Following is a short attachment scale developed by Kim Bartholomew and Leonard Horowitz:
____ A. It is easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.
____ B. I am uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.
____ C. I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.
____ D. I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.
These are the broad patterns with description A corresponding to secure, B to preoccupied, C to fearful, and D to dismissive.
Ask yourself whether you’re choosing the right people to connect with. If you actually want intimacy, do you find yourself going after men who seem content to stay on the emotional sidelines? What attracts you to them? Alternatively, if you tend to be preoccupied, do you choose partners who find you way too needy and volatile? Have you been told, again and again, that you’re just too much of a drama queen? These questions apply both to lovers and friends. Think about the choices you’re making and how making different ones might increase your happiness.
3. Am I working at managing my emotions?
Much of our happiness depends on how well—or badly—we recover from the occasional setback or disappointment in life. Again, securely attached women are, in fact, better equipped to recover from emotional turbulence and are confident in their ability to set new goals for themselves than the insecurely attached who tend to see the bad stuff as “proof” of their own inadequacies or flaws. If you ruminating about something that didn’t work in your life—caught up in a repetitive cycle of negative thoughts—you have to be proactive at dealing with it. Make sure that you’re not in a self-critical mode, attributing what’s gone wrong to some basic flaw in your character:“The relationship failed because my mother was right—I’m unlovable” or “I didn’t get the job I wanted because everyone on the planet is smarter than I am.” If all you can imagine is a worst case scenario— “I’ll never meet anyone good again” or “I’ll never get a good job”—you need to confront those fears and recognize their source.
4.Am I using abstract thinking?
Studies on goal setting and motivation show that we become more creative problem solvers when we think about our needs abstractly, rather than specifically. Say that you feel lonely and wish you had more friends. Rather than thinking about it as a goal to make new friends—which sounds pretty daunting—instead understand it as a need for connection—which opens the door to thinking about activities that would put you in a communal setting. That might encourage you to join a dance or yoga class, do some volunteer work for a cause in your area, invite your coworkers over to dinner, or any other activity that gets you out and among people.
5. Am I subtracting my blessings?
This is one of my favorite pieces of research and completely counterintuitive since everyone is always telling you to count your blessings to feel happier with your life. Based on the movie It’s A Wonderful Life—specifically the scene in which the angel convinces George Bailey not to commit suicide by showing him what the other’s lives would have been like without him—researchers found that by thinking about what would life would be like without a certain person or something else increased both gratitude and happiness.
It’s true that research shows that we can only control roughly 40% of what constitutes happiness. But putting yourself in the driver’s seat is a necessary first step.
Photograph by Kate Zaidova. Copyright free. Unsplash.com.
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Bartholomew, Kim and Leonard M. Horowitz, “Attachment Styles Among Young Adults” A Test of a Four Category Model,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1991). Vol. 61, no.2, 226-244.
Koo, Minkyung, Sara B, Agoe, Timothy D. Wilson, and Daniel T. Gilbert,” It’s a Wonderful Life; Mentally Subtracting Positive Events Improves People’s Affective States, Contrary to Their Affective Forecasts.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 95, no.5 (2008), 1217-1224.