“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
I was working with a woman who shared she is struggling with the fact that her ex-partner ‘gets to move on with his life and just be happy’.
It was making her unhappy, that he was happy.
I asked her why it was a problem for her if he’s happy?
“Because he gets to be happy and I don’t.”
“Because I have to worry about the kids and he doesn’t.”
“Because I’m left having to figure out finances on my own, and do things on my own that I didn’t used to have to do.”
“Because I never asked for any of this, and I’m the one left holding the bag.”
I used to feel exactly like that.
I didn’t choose to be a single parent. I hadn’t chosen any of it. It was, to me, the epitome of unfairness that he got to ‘ride off happily into the sunset’ living life exactly the way he wanted, doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and I was the one left holding the bag.
I was the one left to handle the emotional wreckage that our kids were experiencing around our separation. I was the one left feeling fearful about money, unsure what was going to happen to us next. I was the one left wondering how I was ever going to make it on my own.
I remember that oh. so. well.
And while I completely understood what she was saying, what I know for absolute sure is that it isn’t actually her husband’s happiness that’s upsetting her.
It’s all of her thoughts about her husband’s apparent happiness that’s upsetting her and keeping her feeling anxious, unhappy, and resentful.
What I know now that I didn’t know then is that it’s never the circumstance that’s causing our unhappiness, it’s always what we are choosing to think and believe about the circumstance that’s the cause of our unhappiness!
Circumstances are always neutral until we attach meaning to them. So, in my case, it wasn’t the fact that my ex-husband was happy that was upsetting me, it was what I made it mean that he was happy that was actually causing all my pain.
I had a whole story going on about the fact that he was happy without me, which to me meant I really wasn’t good enough, or worthy of love, that I was inadequate as a wife and that no one would ever love me or want to be with me again.
And I suspected that was exactly what was causing her pain too.
I told her that the truth is she can be happy regardless of whether her ex-husband ‘gets to move on with his life and just be happy’, or not.
That she can choose happiness for herself in any given moment.
Our happiness is never dependent on anyone or anything else.
And as long as we believe that our happiness is dependent on what someone else does, or how someone else feels, we will forever be at the mercy of their life choices.
Next time you notice you’re upset by something someone else has said or done, ask yourself three questions:
1. Can I know it’s true? (i.e. “my ex-husband gets to move on with his life and be happy.” Can I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my ex-husband is happy? The truth is we can never know what someone else is thinking or feeling.)
2. Is believing this thought serving me? (i.e. is it helping me or hurting me believing the thought that “he gets to be happy and I don’t”?)
3. Is there another thought(s) I could think that feels better?
What if you thought that you’ll take charge of your own happiness, and leave his happiness to him? That you’ll claim ownership of your own happiness and remind yourself that your ability to be happy will never again be determined by his actions?
What if you thought that having the majority, or all, of the responsibility for the kids means that you get to peacefully raise your children without someone challenging everything you do?
What if you thought that figuring out finances on your own and taking full responsibility for them means you will actually empower yourself financially beyond your wildest dreams?
What if you thought that being the ‘one left holding the bag’ means you finally get to meet yourself? You get to tell yourself the truth about yourself – about where you are in your life, how you got here, what you’re afraid of, and what’s causing you pain. And in doing so you discover the truth about who you really are – strong, resilient, wise, brave and worthy of love.
Because the good news about thoughts? They are always optional!
Are you choosing your thoughts, or allowing them to choose you?