Your happiness is not my problem… or yours

Written five years ago….

“Mommy,” my son said. “I am not in the mood for a lecture right now. I need you to just be there for me. I need you and Daddy and Katie and everyone else to just shut up and let me dump these feelings somewhere.”

To which I said, “Well, honey, you can’t have that. Not from me. I am not your emotional garbage can.

Thus began our wrestling match – with each other, and with this tender and difficult principle, which doesn’t make sense to people who have been raised to take care of other people all the time. People like him – and me.

I want to help him but I don’t want to carry his life. I don’t want to solve his problems for him (because that would disable him) I want him to know that he’s loved, that he’s not alone and that he has the resources to deal with this. But saying that makes me feel like I’m abandoning him – and that makes me feel bad.

How can I help him without taking on the problem for him? Is this really any of my business? He’s almost 22. What should I do?

All of this comes out of a family pattern that he inherited from me – and I felt terrible about that, and responsible to fix it for him (which is part of the pattern, too – the part where we make another person’s emotional state our business.)

But it’s not our business.

Watching him go through this is breaking my heart. It’s also opening my eyes. And making me really really really uncomfortable.

I mean REALLY uncomfortable.

Cuz what he is going through is, at the essential level, exactly what I’m going through.

And we both have a choice to make.

When I asked him, he said: “The choice is: Leave and feel better but risk losing something precious; or stay and feel uncomfortable and unhappy the rest of my life.”

That’s not the choice, I said.

The real choice is: Am I willing to feel this and let it teach me who I am and what I really need? 

We think it’s about feeling better. But it’s not – it’s about feeling itself.

It’s about letting ourselves feel uncertain, uncomfortable, sad, lonely.

It’s about letting sadness crack open our hearts and being with the sadness, just letting it come.

Without pushing it away.
Without doing anything to distract yourself from feeling it.

Just letting the feeling set up a tent and a campfire; and watching it – and noticing where it goes and what it does and what it eats for dinner.

You know, stalking your own feelings. Getting uber-curious about the pain so you can learn its ways.

We may believe we’re running away from a person but really, we’re bailing on our feelings – and evacuating our Own heart. What makes us run is the fear that we’re gonna find out something we really don’t want to know about ourself: I mean, maybe you’re not special or perfect or even all that nice. Maybe you’re not handsome, maybe there’s no reason anyone will ever love you again.

Taken to its extreme, this really is terrifying. Luckily, it’s also total BS –
but you can’t know that unless you set up that campsite and watch.

I can promise you this is worth it. And that when you stop running away from big feelings, it will be easier to be with other people -because it will be easier to be with yourself.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Dazie Starr

    I don’t think letting someone “vent” about troubles in their life is bad. Venting is one one way to put the problems in perspective. If we can’t listen to others and empathize with them that makes us psychopaths.

    • Amy Oscar

      I think you’re right, Dazie. In fact, when I read back through this post I find that I no longer really understand the point I was trying to make though I suspect it was, simply: I wish my son wouldn’t talk to me that way. That son, who was 22 when that was posted, will be 31 in a few days. He’s such a beautiful man, full of light and curiosity and courage. Looking back, I’m grateful for the emotional wrestling we did in those years. It taught both of us how to speak feeling language in a clear way, without blaming or dumping. Thank you for leaving a comment so that I could return to the post – and thank you for reading it.

  • Linda Stephens

    shaking in resonance. thank you.

    • Amy

      <3 Sitting with you.

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