Our expectation of happiness is interwoven into our society. It is supposedly ‘in fashion’. This is particularly evident in our relationships with family. A family gathering is something to look forward to for many people. But afterwards we are once more disillusioned and disappointed. In my practice, I hear stories from people who find this difficult to deal with. You may also hear these complaints and problems from clients in your own practice or you can recognize them from your own life. In a two-part series on happiness, I’d like to examine this phenomenon together with you.
How does this actually happen? We all plan together for such a family celebration; good food is prepared and everything is ready for a good time. Why do many people feel so out of place and would they really prefer ‘normal life’ rather than spending time with their loved ones? Why do family events often turn out so differently from what we want?
There’s a lot to learn here if we dare to look objectively, not only about family events, but also what happens in our day to day lives! Where does the disappointment come from?
We all long to get on well with our family and with others who are dear to us. We would like them to see us positively, and that they love us unconditionally. And that we are allowed to be seen as we are without that causing difficulties.
During such family events, we renew the close contacts with our first family, our family of origin. We often fall back on behaviour from the past. We then confirm an old story, an old self-image, to ourselves. You see? I’m not good enough! You see? I’m the only one washing up. You see? I’m the one who has to give in in order to keep the peace.
There are a number of unwritten rules in every family. “That’s how we do it in our family.” “We do not talk about certain things.” When we are together in that old family configuration, we are immersed in those old codes. We all play a game, a play to keep the peace, and thus ignore our own needs.
A Psychological Game
In family situations, there are always patterns present. For example, in the way a mother shows her love to her children. This can be by preparing tasty and plentiful food. That is her way of saying: I love you, so I make good food for you. Her expectation is that her children, by eating all the food and visibly enjoying it, will respond to her love. In short: “I love you, so I give you food. You love me, so you eat that food. “When one of her sons is actually on a diet and wants to eat healthier or less food, that puts him in a difficult situation. When he chooses to eat the food anyway, he disappoints himself and does something that’s not good for his own health. But if he does not eat the food, he disappoints his mother. We often see that people opt for self-sacrifice in such a situation. In such a case, the behaviour of this son doesn’t match what’s going on inside him. The outside doesn’t reflect the inside.
You’re playing a Psychological Game. We always play such games with the intention of maintaining harmony, keeping the peace. Often it looks pretty peaceful and harmonious, but inside people sometimes experience a deep loneliness. Intuitively, most people feel that something is wrong, but part of the Psychological Game is not mentioning that. For fear of disrupting the fragile harmony. Which keeps disruption at bay.
Desire for happiness and what we can learn if we do not feel happy
We long to be happy our whole lives. That is exactly the reason why we continue to play that Psychological Game. We would like to have a good time with family, so we are not going to be difficult. We will do everything we can to preserve the harmony, just as we did in the past. Afterwards we feel annoyed because we have kept our mouths shut, eaten too much or not been ourselves in a different way.
In Transactional Analysis (TA) we use the drama triangle of Karpman for these situations. In short, this triangle contains a Perpetrator, a Rescuer and a Victim. I have described this theory in more detail in this blog.
The drama triangle fits in this way in our example: Mother prepares too much good food to show her love. Son Hans steps into the Rescuer role and sacrifices himself. He eats the food because he wants to protect his mother and does not want to hurt her. Then he feels he is the Victim because he has eaten too much and does not feel comfortable with it. In the end, as a Perpetrator, he gets angry with his mother because she gives him too much food.
Hans notices that what he feels and how he behaves do not match. That feels wrong. But when he realizes that he is playing this game out of love for his mother, he can accept that it is so. TA can help Hans to get that insight.
Insight into communication patterns gives peace
When applying TA, you gain insight into your own communication patterns and learn how to recognize those of your clients. This way you can help them better understand why they do things the way they do. You help them – and yourself – to get everything out of life! Do you want to know more about this? Then come to the try-out-evening on Transactional Analysis. More information about this and the next date can be found here.Yes, I want to know more about the TA Try Out evening
Not just family
Old patterns don’t only occur in family situations. We often see that learned behaviour also causes problems in the workplace and in daily life. That’s the second part of these two perspectives about happiness. You’ll read that in 4 weeks.