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S2 EP117 – How to be Happy When a Loved One is Unhappy

Episode Summary

Do you feel guilty and responsible when others are hurting? Do you try to fix their pain rather than take care of yourself? Do you believe that you don’t have the right to be happy when someone you love is unhappy? Discover how to be happy when someone you love is unhappy.


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding podcast. And today I will be talking about how to be happy when a loved one is unhappy. A woman on Facebook suggested this topic, saying “Please consider a podcast on how to be happy when a loved one is unhappy. For me, my elderly mother is more and more unhappy due to life changes, and I find I am carrying that weight…feeling heavy and no joy.”

I’m going to call this woman Nancy, and if I were working with Nancy, I would ask her to explore her false beliefs regarding carrying her mother’s misery, which is leaving her feeling heavy with a lack of joy. Does she feel responsible for her mother’s feelings? Is she an empathic person who is absorbing her mother’s feelings and believing it’s her job to fix her mother? Would she feel guilty if she were happy when her mother is so unhappy, believing she doesn’t have the right to be happy if her mother is unhappy?

I was born with an ability to deeply feel in my own body what others feel, to profoundly empathize with others. This is both a gift and a curse. It’s certainly a great gift in enabling me to do the work I do, but it has also been extremely challenging in terms of not taking responsibility for others’ feelings.

As a child, if either of my parents were in any pain, because I would feel it in my own body, I would be so saddened by it, and I wanted to do anything I could to take away their pain. My parents quickly learned that I would try anything to make them feel better. Not having empathy or compassion themselves, they used this to control me. They were often angry at me, blaming me for their feelings, and I took this on, often feeling guilty for “causing” them to hurt. Taking responsibility for their pain by trying to do everything right was the way I learned to have control over their pain, so I wouldn’t have to be so saddened by their feelings. But I was not a happy child.

The more I took on and felt guilty and responsible, the more they complained and blamed me, and the more they complained and blamed me, the more I took on. Taking on their pain made me ill as a child.

As an adult, it took me years to understand the toxic system that gets created when a child is sensitive and empathic and his or her parents are not. I’m wondering if this is what’s going on with Nancy.

Sarah, a participant in one of my Intensives, had a similar experience to mine. As I sat with her and experienced her energy, I could feel that she was a deeply sensitive, caring, compassionate and empathic woman, who was in much pain. The toxic system of her being blamed for others’ feelings that started in her family was continuing in her marriage and with her children. She was taking on all of her husband’s anger and blame and doing everything she could to “fix” him. She was overwhelmed with guilt whenever anyone in her family was unhappy. She never stood up for herself, fearing that she would hurt her husband’s or children’s feelings. She was getting annihilated.

In the course of the Intensive, Sarah learned that she had a very loving heart. Rather than being the bad person she thought she was due to all the anger and blame that had been directed at her, she started to value her ability to feel empathy and compassion toward others. Now her job was to become compassionate with herself, her own feelings – her inner child. She learned that if she directed her compassion toward her family first, she would lose herself in caretaking. But if she directed her compassion toward herself first, then she would know that she didn’t deserve to be treated badly and could begin to stand up for herself. We rehearsed some of the things she could say to her husband when he was mean to her, such as, “I don’t want to be around you when you are blaming me, so I’m going for a walk,” or “I’m no longer available to talk about anything when you are angry. Let me know when you are open to learning with me.”

It took much practice before Sarah could say these things without guilt. Having taken responsibility for others’ feelings for so long, and still feeling others’ feelings deeply within her own being, it was not easy to take care of herself instead of caretaking others. Yet she saw that in not taking care of herself, she was losing her husband and her children. Her children, who were 6 and 8, had already started blaming her in the same way her husband and parents blamed her. They were often angry and judgmental toward her, having little respect for her since she had not taken care of herself and had allowed others to constantly disrespect her. She often felt very lonely in her own family, and now finally understood why. Her family was treating her in the same way she was treating herself – ignoring her or judging her, just as she was ignoring and judging herself.

Sarah finally saw that caretaking others’ feelings rather than taking care of herself was enabling others to continue to be unhappy, angry, and blaming – that it was not loving to them to take responsibility for their feelings. She realized that by learning to love herself, she was also being loving to her family.

My client, Jackson, grew up with a mother who completely emotionally abandoned herself. When she was upset, she would get a long-suffering look on her face, her eyes would fill with tears, and she would slowly leave the room with her head down. Jackson, being a highly sensitive child, felt his mother’s misery as a pull on him to find a way to fix her, and he would instantly feel guilty because he didn’t know how. By the time Jackson was four, he had learned to completely shut down as his way of not feeling responsible for his mother’s feelings.

Now, as an adult, Jackson has a hard time being in a committed relationship. As soon as a woman abandons herself, which then creates the empty hole of misery and neediness, he feels guilty and shuts down. He ends up feeling trapped in the relationship and can’t wait to get out. Whatever good feelings he had for the woman at the beginning soon evaporate due to his shutting down to avoid feeling guilty and trapped.

Jackson wants to get married and have children, but the idea of commitment terrifies him. The problem is that Jackson has not yet developed a loving adult self who is capable of not taking responsibility for a woman’s feelings. One aspect of his ego wounded self feels responsible for his partner’s feelings, while another aspect of his wounded self shuts down to not feel guilty and trapped by this responsibility. Until Jackson develops a loving adult self, capable of letting go of responsibility for his partner’s feelings and can take loving care of himself in the face of his partner’s neediness, he will continue to shut down as his only way of feeling safe from guilt and engulfment.

The other issue for Jackson is that he has not validated his experience of another’s emotional self-abandonment. Because his mother’s self-abandonment was covert – no overt guilt-inducing comments at all, which might be what Nancy’s mother is doing – Jackson has had a hard time acknowledging when he feels the subtle pull of neediness. He has never been attracted to women who are overtly demanding, such as women who are angry, blaming, or critical. His relationships have all been with seemingly open and loving women. Yet energetically, these women are abandoning themselves, just as Jackson is abandoning himself, which is likely also what Nancy is doing.

Jackson is abandoning himself with his lack of validation of his own feelings and experience, and his resulting withdrawal, while the women he chooses are abandoning themselves in much the same way his mother did – not attending to their own feelings and waiting for Jackson to meet their needs. Until Jackson validates his own experience and learns to take care of himself, rather than shutting down in the face of feeling responsible for his partner’s feelings, he will not be able to form a committed relationship.

Because Jackson, and likely Nancy, are so sensitive to another’s emotional self-abandonment, it is vital that they heal their belief that they are responsible for another’s feelings. It is not realistic for Jackson to think he can find a woman who will never emotionally abandon herself, since everyone, at times, will emotionally abandon themselves.

When Jackson gets himself off the hook of believing that he is responsible for a woman’s feelings, then he will be free to stay open hearted, even when his partner emotionally abandons herself. He will be free to care without caretaking and without shutting down to protect himself from engulfment.

Jackson will become free to develop a committed relationship when he takes loving and compassionate care of his own feelings and lets go of responsibility for another’s feelings. I wonder what would happen with Nancy if she were compassionate for her own feelings and let go of responsibility for her mother’s feelings?

Many of us were raised to base our identity on helping or fixing others. Fixing others is often the addiction of choice for people who have a naturally deep level of empathy and who easily feel others’ pain.

This was one of my major addictions for many years. Deeply feeling my parents’ pain and the pain of others around me was unbearable to me as a child. I thought that if only I could make them happy then I wouldn’t have to feel their pain.

Leslie is struggling with this very issue. She asked me this question in one of my webinars. She said:

“I am completely attached and addicted to trying to help my sister. I can see now that my health and chronic pain is very much linked to hers – not wanting to be better or healthier than her for fear of rejection, abandonment, and criticism. How can I release the habit of obsessing over others’ problems and the need to “fix them” before I can be happy and free?”

I told Leslie that, as I discovered when I started to practice Inner Bonding, her fear of rejection, abandonment, and criticism came from rejecting, abandoning, and criticizing herself. She makes her sister responsible for whether or not she is okay, which means that she is making her sister responsible for her feelings. If she learns and practices Inner Bonding and learns to take loving care of herself, she will naturally be able to let go of her addiction to fixing others.

I said to Leslie, and I would say to Nancy regarding her mother, “You not only have the right to be happy and free, you also have the responsibility for creating your own happiness and freedom, instead of making your sister responsible for this. As you diligently practice Inner Bonding and develop your loving adult self and your spiritual connection, you will gradually have an easier time focusing on what you need rather than on what she needs.

“Trying to fix her has nothing to do with loving yourself or with loving her. In fact, trying to fix her is very controlling. It took me a long time to understand that fixing others is a form of control, but once I understood this and accepted that my responsibility is to love myself and share my love with others, I was able to let go of fixing.”

Sharon has a similar issue. She asked:

“How do you conquer the fear of abandonment or desire to ‘fix’? How do you find self-love and self-trust when you are always thinking about the other person’s issues? It is hard to not be overwhelmed with worry, sadness or anxiety.”

I told Sharon that, as an adult, the fear of abandonment comes from self-abandonment – such as judging yourself, staying in your head and ignoring your feelings, turning to addictions, and making others responsible for your feelings. Your worry, sadness and anxiety are telling you that you are abandoning yourself. Self-abandonment comes from the intent to control others and avoid your own feelings, and this is what leads to unhealthy relationships and trying to fix others. As long as you don’t have a strong inner connection with your feeling self – your inner child – and with a personal spiritual source of love and wisdom, you will continue to attach to others in unhealthy ways.”  

You CAN heal a ‘fixing others’ addiction by learning and practicing Inner Bonding and focusing on loving yourself rather than continuing to abandon yourself.

Dr. Erika Chopich, the co-creator of Inner Bonding, is a master at staying happy in the face of others’ misery. She has been my role model for learning to do this. So I asked her to speak to this topic, telling her about Nancy’s request and situation, and here is what she said.

“The first thing to realize is that moods are often fleeting. Other than with situations like Nancy’s with her aged mother, they’re generally temporary, not permanent. Your loved one’s mood will change regardless of anything you do, so it’s a better idea to keep yourself happy and wait for your loved one to return from their trip to the wounded self carnival.

“In the case of having to live with someone who is impaired or ill who’s mood doesn’t change, you need to find your empathy and compassion for them – for their impairment – but that still does not determine how you feel. You can still be happy in the face of somebody else’s unhappiness by also having compassion for yourself. When I’m with them I say silent prayers and I understand how they got there, and I surround them with love, but it doesn’t determine how I feel.”

I asked Erika, “What do you do to stay in your own happiness or joy?”

“I go to my lightness of being,” she said. “I find my sense of humor. My inner child has a wonderful lightness of being and sense of wonder and fun, and that’s where I go.”

I asked her, “Do you have any guilt about being happy when they’re so miserable?”

“No,” she said. “I can’t help them if I join them in the misery boat. Sometimes, their energy becomes lighter because I stay in my lightness of being. Sometimes that happens, but it can’t happen if you’re both miserable. That’s a sinking ship. Sometimes I think that people believe they don’t have the right to be happy when others are miserable, but how you express it depends on what’s happening. If I’m with somebody who is miserable and down, and they think their life sucks and that it’s not through choice on their part, it’s one thing.  They’re choosing to be that way, it’s generally fleeting, and it does them no good for me to join them. But if it’s permanent due to illness or age or brain damage, things like that, I can keep my lightness of being inside. I don’t have to express it outwardly. I don’t need to rub salt in their wound. But the inner part of me can stay quite light.”

“But,” I asked her, “what about someone who’s always been that way? They’ve always been a complaining, down kind of miserable person, and now they’re old and they’re still that way only worse, but not because of brain damage or anything like that, but just because they chose to spend their life that way. What would you do if you were the one in charge – if they were your responsibility, which might be the case with Nancy?”

“I would still discharge my responsibilities,” Erika said. “I would take good care of them but limit my exposure and hang on to my lightness of being when I’m around them. The key is to limit my exposure and hang on to my lightness of being. They can’t force me to give up my lightness of being by choosing to be in some dark disconnected place. I get to choose who I want to be no matter what they do. It’s unloving to join people in their dark place just so they won’t feel bad if you’re in a good place. It’s very unloving to yourself if someone is in a bad place and you’re in a joyous place to give up your joy to join them in the darkness. That’s like handing a big heavy rock to a drowning person. The only place you can help lift them is from your own joy of being. Sometimes you end up lifting them out of that place with without any effort on your part. It just happens when they open to following you. So work on your own lightness of being. If Nancy is heavy with no joy, it’s because she is willing to give up her lightness – no one can take it from her.”

Author and speaker, Stephen R. Covey, said “Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.”

And this is exactly what Erika is saying. This is a powerful freedom. And, from my point of view, another way of putting this is that the ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide our own intent:

  • To protect against pain with our controlling behavior
  • To learn about what is loving to ourselves and others

When our intent is to learn about love, that is when we get to decide how others will affect us.

If my intent is to control how other people feel about me, then if they are upset with me, I will be upset. I may feel rejected or unworthy. I’ve made them responsible for my sense of worth, which then means that I have to try to control how they feel about me by being nice, doing things right, saying the right thing, performing right, and so on. This is a very hard way to live!

When my intent is to be loving to myself, then I don’t make others responsible for me sense of wellbeing. I define my own worth by my essential qualities of compassion, loving kindness, caring, understanding, creativity, perseverance, basic goodness, and so on. I learn to define myself, not by my programmed ego wounded mind, but through the eyes of my higher self. If someone doesn’t like me or rejects me, I don’t take this personally, since I accept that I have no control over who they are or how they feel, and it is not loving to me to take their behavior personally.

When my focus is on loving myself and sharing my love with others, I behave in ways that bring me joy. While painful outside events can momentarily affect me, when my intent is to be loving to myself, I quickly move into compassion for my own feelings, bringing in the comfort of my higher guidance to help me move through the loneliness, heartache, heartbreak, grief, sorrow, or sadness of a situation. 

This all depends on who I give authority to – my personal source of spiritual guidance, or others and events. When I give authority to others and events, then I become a victim of others and circumstances. When I give authority to my personal source of spiritual guidance, I always have access to a source of truth, peace, and joy.

My happiness or misery is my choice, and it depends entirely on my intent – which is my ultimate free-will choice.

The moment my intent is to control that which I cannot control, or that which is unloving toward myself, others, or the planet to control, I will create my misery. Whether I try to control my pain with various addictions, such as trying to fix or control others, or I try to control my feelings by giving myself up, or I try to control others and outcomes by acting in ways that are not in integrity with that which is loving to myself and others, I will make myself unhappy.

Staying happy around loved ones who are unhappy is about staying open to learning about loving yourself and them, and about staying connected with your spiritual guidance, and about not taking responsibility for their feelings, and about having compassion for yourself and for them, and about knowing you have the right to be happy, even when they are unhappy.

The moment my intent is to be loving to myself and others, then I will treat myself, others and the planet in ways that are in alignment with what is in my highest good and the highest good of all. Loving behavior toward myself and others always brings a deep inner sense of joy.

I hope you join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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