I Can’t Make Me Happy

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I think all the time. I have always been overly cognitive. Inhabiting my body was not safe when I was a child. I invented a much nicer world in my head and it helped me through some horrible situations. But constant thinking is a recipe for disaster. It is easy to take small things and turn them in to big things. That’s how the brain works. It stays in charge that way.

The problem with the “brain on trauma” is the creation of problems that do not exist. The brain will take those old separated emotions and create a problem to accompany them. Then, the brain will create all sorts of approaches to resolve the non-existent problem. This overactive brain of mine has led to heavy anxiety levels and an exhaustion that reflects running a marathon a day.

While constant daily “planning” can lead to exhaustion, it also leads to another detrimental problem. Expectations. In order to meet my needs for safety through general life perfection, everyone must meet my expectations. Since I believe I have life figured out, life can become disappointing very quickly, because life is not something that can be figured out.

And while some of my expectations are unfairly aimed at the people around me, most of my expectations fall squarely on me. And there is nothing worse than failing to meet my own unrealistic expectations. The punishment never stops. I can’t get away from me.

And while I have learned to ease up on myself in many areas of my life, I am abusive about my parenting. When I say I am abusive, I don’t mean I am abusive to my children. I mean I am abusive to me. Every time I yell at my children, the nasty internal chastising begins. “You promised to end the cycle. You promised to be a good parent. You are supposed to leave the old dysfunction behind. You aren’t allowed to yell, to have a bad day, to say the wrong thing, to be a human being.”

I made an unrealistic pact with myself to be perfect. And I am constantly disappointing myself. So when I attended a parenting workshop recently, imagine my surprise when the instructor mentioned her thoughts on breaking cycles. She said these changes in parenting will take generations. She said that if we can move the meter just a little, we are doing amazingly well.

And that part of me, the one with the unrealistic expectations, wanted to scream about how that just wasn’t enough. We must achieve perfection and we must achieve it now. We don’t have time. We don’t have generations.
It is this part I have answered to all these years, that I rebel against when the expectations get overwhelming. And it is the battles with this part that drain my energy to a bare minimum, making it more difficult to be a good parent.

So maybe there is a way to ease the pressure. Maybe there is a way to change my expectations slightly and give myself a little less trouble when I am not having a peaceful parenting moment. Maybe those expectations just make the bad days worse. Maybe, just maybe, I could benefit from a little benefit of the doubt. I am, after all, only human. And I am attempting to break a cycle that has lasted for generations upon generations. If it was easy, others would have figured it out by now. And my childhood would have been much different.

So yesterday, when I told my son that he “blew it”, I knew I should not have said it. I knew I was not being the parent I wanted to be. And unlike years before, I knew it quickly. So I said I was sorry. I said I understood that he was nervous. I said I totally got why he couldn’t handle the pressure. And he took a deep breath of relief.

But I didn’t because I had to go through hours of self-analysis and abusive internal comments. I had to spend time evaluating why I just can’t seem to figure out how to be a perfect parent. Why do I always have to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing? Why can’t I just be better?

But I’m making an effort to stop it. Of course, expecting to instantly stop my expectations seems a bit ridiculous. So I have to expect that my expectations will take time to shift. I have to be easy on myself, even the part of me that is too critical. The inner critic is a part of me too, a part that needs love. I just need to shift my awareness to my expectations and say, “Oh look. I am expecting again.” No judgment. No expectation to stop expecting.

And slowly, things will shift because they do.

And slowly, my energy will redirect from that internal battle to living life.

And magically, I will be a better parent, because I am not expecting to be a perfect parent.

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23 thoughts on “I Can’t Make Me Happy

  1. Thank you for all you have shared about your journey in healing trauma.I can relate to sooo many of your experiences, in particular the self criticism & expectations of yourself that can never be met. But I also feel inspired by what you have achieved in your work on yourself. Right now I am going thru a period where I feel like I’m drowning. I have not had a therapist since Jan of 2014 when I broke my hip & I desperately need to find a good therapist with experience in complex (development-
    al) trauma. Until then people like you are a lifeline, just knowing that I’m not crazy (but
    still feel that way) & give me hope that I will be able to heal from my abusive childhood or come to a place of peace in myself & stop the self hatred that keeps a running dialogue just below my conscious awareness, but still affects everything in my
    life. I did just re-purchase a book I believe I had over 30 yrs ago (or book by same author very similar to this) & that did help me a lot @ the time. I’m sure you’re familiar with the author, Louise Hay & her book “You
    Can Heal Your Life.” This has been a much longer reply than I intended, but I’ve been following you & just haven’t had it together to send you a reply. Thank you for being on Twitter & having your blog, it has helped me tremendously~~

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so happy that my words have helped you. I know this journey can feel very isolating which is one of the reasons I chose to start this blog (for me and others). I do know the book you mentioned and I am sure it is very helpful. One step in the direction of awareness has a much bigger impact than you think. Keep going. I know how hard it is.

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      • Thank you for your quick response. I feel that the title alone of this blog (I Can’t Make Me Happy) speaks Volumes. It could be the title of my life story. But even though I know in my MIND that if I can’t make myself happy, love myself, feel worthwhile, etc, then I can’t expect anyone else to do these things FOR me. Yet there has always been a part of myself that has sought to have these needs met by another, regardless of my KNOWING it doesn’t & never will work that way. Thanks for listening~~it just helps to express the feelings & all that accompanies them to people who understand~~

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      • I know that place. It is the definition of co-dependence and I cannot tell you the number of those relationships I have had. I have the same difficulty you do.

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  2. Elisabeth, I was struck by your paragraph, “The problem with the “brain on trauma” is the creation of problems that do not exist. The brain will take those old separated emotions and create a problem to accompany them. Then, the brain will create all sorts of approaches to resolve the non-existent problem. This overactive brain of mine has led to heavy anxiety levels and an exhaustion that reflects running a marathon a day.” It made so much sense to me, actually putting words to what i have done myself and to what I have seen others do. I would love to share that paragraph on facebook if that is ok, I will make sure it is sited so people can find you. I just think it helps sort out why we do some of the things we do.

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  3. I think it’s the thought that counts. You are trying and you are correcting. Children who grow up in abusive homes can grow up okay so long as they have a protective witness. Someone who sees and knows, and the larger part of you sees and knows. Everyone makes mistakes. You have normal mom guilt. You get to have some of that without beating yourself up.

    I felt guilty hanging out with my niece and nephew this weekend. I felt guilty setting boundaries with my niece which made her pout. I felt guilty for telling her to stop being so cranky. I felt guilty for trying to make her smile when she was feeling ornery.

    One thing we must do is to keep more record of what is going right than what is going wrong. Focus on the good things we do to counteract the false belief of incompetence. Science shows that we are unable to unclog old pipes, so we have to build new pipes of positive expectation, noticing positive things, noticing the good and letting go of the bad–once we’ve processed and worked through it.

    When does the noise become rumination? Where is the line between processing and over-indulging in old, negative patterns. Therein lies the secret. Finding that middle ground of the pendulum. Knowing when to let go of old gunk that’s just muddying the waters. When you find that place, let me know.

    Also, on stuff like this, I think it helps to tell the Inner Critic to KMA. That anger pulls me up out of despair and into protective mode. I don’t embrace my Inner Critic. I tell it to get the hell out of my head. I love this separation and I feel not one ounce of guilt.

    I love your story.

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    • I have found in my own journey that my inner critic is actually a child part of me who still believes the horrible things she was told by my parents. She is horribly in need of love. So I have tried to change my approach with my inner critic. I have tried to tell her I know she means well, but I can’t believe the parental lies any more. I have been able to make more progress that way. I have let go of some old lies that way.

      I agree with what you say about the “pipes”. We do build new “pipes” when we can see the good. Of course, sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. 🙂

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  4. Elisabeth, I’ve had people and therapists say things like, “as long as you’re doing the best you can, and your children’s lives are a sliver better than yours, you’re doing good.”…and that has always felt like a blow to me. I relate so much to the inner voice you described–” “You promised to end the cycle. You promised to be a good parent. You are supposed to leave the old dysfunction behind. You aren’t allowed to yell, to have a bad day, to say the wrong thing, to be a human being.” So much so, it’s left me questioning whether or not I should just check out. The fear of failure, especially where parenting is concerned, is that real. For me and I think so many other survivors. You really made me think about that with this piece. Really, from beginning to end, this is beautiful, insightful and powerful. There was something that made me think of you today and I am so glad that thought sent me to your blog. Will be sharing on the Trigger Points FB page.

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  5. Oooh feels like seeing myself in a mirror, reading your post. Us ‘Little Professors’, trying to analyse and make sense of the crazy world we inhabited as children. I’ve found meditation helps to encourage me to engage with ALL of myself, not just my brain. No downside to it, might be worth a try. Good luck with the struggle, your determination to break the cycle will win out, I’m sure.

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  6. This post rings so true to me. I was largely neglected during my childhood (was left with grandmother Since my mother was working very far). I ended up with a high level of anxiety and mostly living inside my head. I’ve been pushing myself for not to parent like my mother ever since my son was born two years ago. And yet I find myself yelling at him, even hating his free spirited nature(which is just like mine) at times. Then I cry for ending up just like my mother. Last few days were unbelievably peaceful. Then my brain thinks up reasons and wants to analyze if I’m bipolar!!
    Your posts are helpful in knowing the why part of my behavior. Its like you solve puzzles which I didn’t think that deeply. Thank you for this and all your posts.

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  7. I get the sense from reading some of your posts that it is not really precisely that you created a nicer world in your head, but that you are the head. “You” is just recording an experience of what “head” is like. There are other aspects of the self that are recording other, dissociated experiences. But “head” is what this side of the dissociation feels like.

    “Head” is executive function. It is good at planning, organizing, and goal-setting. So this is what it is doing. Just its thing. I want to suggest diversifying the goals. “Head” understands the importance of “safety” and by safety it means predictability and power. Fine. These are good. But it can be directed towards providing comfort also. Every time it gets all perfectionistic, it’s responding to anxiety. There are other ways of responding to anxiety aside from exerting more control: comfort. A nice smell, a soothing taste, a soft fabric. Something sensory and something emotionally “loud,” because as a survivor, dissociation has to be part of the mix, and this makes some stimuli hard to “hear.” It’s just a suggestion.

    Take care.

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    • I can’t agree more. To be fair to “head”, it is largely responsible for the “behind the scenes” work related to my recovery. “Head” reminds me when I need to take time and calm down too. “Head” reminds me when it is time for self-care. It isn’t all bad up there.

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  8. Just like Melissa I was struck by that same paragraph because I am notoriously guilty of keeping myself overwhelmingly busy. Ever since I’ve acknowledged my trauma, I have comforted myself in a constant state of “busyness”. I will not allow myself to just stop and relax for the fear that I’ll be spiraled into a black hole of shame and depression and the idea of being in that place terrifies me. So, this post was very helpful for me in identifying that coping mechanism of mine and learning to find a way to balance it out with moments in which I’ll allow myself to breathe yet keep myself from succumbing to negative emotions. Thank you.

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    • “Busyness” is and always will be my favorite defense mechanism. I can always tell there is something looming on the days I am doing one thing after another without slowing down. Thank you for your comment.

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