I have been traveling the world and will continue to do so with the message that it is ok to not be ok. We live in a society that is obsessed with happiness. The message is that if you aren’t feeling happy, something must be terribly wrong with you. But today, we are going to look at another dynamic. We are going to look a barrier to happiness, which is when the only way to be ok is to not be ok.
In human society, envy is a reality of human existence. It does not feel good to feel less than. It does not feel good to feel like you can’t have something you want that someone else has. Envy makes people perceive a huge grand canyon between themselves and the other person. When we are not conscious enough of what is going on, we end up simply reacting to the pain. When we react to the pain of envy, we seek to remedy the gap between us and them by pulling them backwards, trying to take away what they have that we don’t have, trying to prove that we are better then them and treating them like the enemy who is hurting us. This sets up a dynamic where even though we all want success and happiness, there is a certain amount of social risk involved in getting those things or letting other people know that we have them. Even though it is socially unsafe to fail completely and to be super unhappy, there is a certain amount of social safety in talking about what is wrong with you and bad about you and in not being super happy or super successful. It guarantees that you will not be a target and can thus avoid pain.
But sometimes, this social patterning goes much deeper and being not ok is a means of survival. When most people have children, they are not in a place where they have resolved their own unresolved wounding. In fact one of the main reasons that children even happen in the universe is for the sake of expansion. They come to reflect their parents. By reflecting their parents, they needle their parents into their expansion. The shadows of the family line come to be resolved through progeny. When parents are particularly unhealed, like they are in a dysfunctional family, what is happening in a parent’s conscious mind is far different than what is happening under the surface of what they can and will consciously admit to.
This parent may say that they want their child to be happy. But the child’s happiness is actually a threat to his or her own sense of self. I will paint you a picture of what I mean. I want you to imagine a little girl who is super happy lying on the living room floor with her fruit snacks and toys. When the mother sees her daughter happy, it reminds her of how happy she isn’t. It reminds her of the way she sacrificed her own ambition for the sake of staying home to raise this little girl. It reminds her of how she feels used and abused because while this little girl plays, she has to clean the dishes and do the laundry. She feels like she has no personal success and instead is expected to be a slave with no personal worth of her own. She actually feels like her daughter is leaving her behind and abandoning her emotionally when her daughter is happy and she is not. This pain wells up in her. She is not conscious enough to do anything constructive with it or change anything about her life choices because of it. So, she feels like this little girl is causing her pain. Her subconscious rises up with vengeance. The mom blindsides this little girl by shaming her for being selfish or withdrawing or complaining to someone about motherhood in front of her or tells the little girl something that would make her sad or afraid. All of this is done to re-establish a sense of closeness with her daughter. But the message is clear: “You cannot be close to me if you are happy”. Closeness with our parents is what our survival depends on. And so the child will give up joy for fusion with this person.
When we grow up around adults like this, we learn that joy is socially dangerous. We learn it is the road to isolation and punishment. And so not being ok is our way of establishing social closeness with people. Not being ok is also our white flag that we raise to cry mercy. We know that if we demonstrate that we are not ok, people will not have any motive to tear us down or add pain to us and might in fact be manipulated into being loving towards us instead.
If we grew up with this kind of dynamic, we also learn that we can’t take things too far in the opposite direction. This parent lives their life from a foundation of shame. If we are miserable, they will take that personally too but not being able to face that shame, they will deflect it and turn you into the family problem. They will use your unhappiness as a way to escape from their own problems and to meet their needs through other people’s pity. To understand more about this dynamic, I encourage you to watch my video titled: Deflection, The Coping Mechanism From Hell.
Many parents with this pattern build their relationship with their children on obligation. When their child is not ok, out of obligation they come close to their child. When the child is ok, they vanish to do their own thing. I watch many children growing up in this kind of environment that take the crumb of obligation as a substitute for real love. They constantly create conflict or crisis or accidents to get those crumbs because the alternative they are looking at is emotional starvation.
The thing that makes this pattern the most difficult to see is that it is not that people caught in this pattern act as if they aren’t ok when they are ok. They genuinely are in hell emotionally and they genuinely have things going wrong. They are genuinely wounded. It’s just that even though they consciously want to heal and be ok or feel happy, a huge unconscious part of them resists that because the prospect of being ok is terrifying. It has been ingrained that being ok and happy means guaranteed pain. So they learn that there is a very safe but painful sweet spot called ‘I’m not ok’.
Many people, who grew up in this pattern as children, learn to adapt by creating fusion with their parent by spending their lives devoted to the wellbeing of their parent. This is the heart of the parentified child syndrome. This child gives up their happiness for their parent’s. They learn that their only worth and value is to rescue their parent when he or she is unhappy. When the parent is happy, the parent often withdraws to do his or her own thing. The message this child receives is that he or she is only going to receive connection when someone is not ok and that conversely, they are going to be abandoned if someone is ok. This person grows into a person who will withdraw any time someone is happy or will create a collapse in someone else so that they aren’t ok so they can come in and get connection through the rescue of the very negative emotional state that they, themselves created. This child grows up to be a person who feels they have no worth in and of themselves. No one could possibly want to be with them for them. The only reason anyone would want to be with them is to use them as an emotional buoy.
As adults, the people who learned it wasn’t ok to be ok and that the only way to have emotional closeness is to either not be ok or for the other person to not be ok, find each other. They find each other and perpetuate these same painful patterns of staying unhappy and creating unhappiness so as to maintain closeness. And we need to be aware of this dynamic if we want to change it. It isn’t possible to be happy and not have closeness with other people. But even if it were, happiness is not worth being alone. And so, if we don’t become aware of this pattern so as to make different choices in our relationships, we will never be ok and we will never be happy. We will side with being close to each other and unhappy instead.
We tend to project the idea that we had of our primary authority figures over the universe at large and or God. What we expect from the universe is no different from what we expected from them. If this pattern was the pattern in our childhoods, we expect that any time we are ok or worse… happy, it is a guarantee that the universe will immediately knock us out of that place with a stressor, pain or tragedy. We need to see that this has nothing to do with the universe at large. It is other people who created and may be currently creating this pattern because we perpetuate this pattern in our adult relationships. The universe is not against your happiness, but it is a real potential that someone in your life may be.
In truth, connection and closeness should have absolutely nothing to do with being ok or not being ok. Whether a person is happy or not should have nothing to do with connection. They are two independent things. We need connection if we are OK and we need connection if we are not OK. But in today’s world with today’s social shadows, we need to begin to let ourselves be connected and be happy at the same time. We need to stay connected whether we are happy or sad. Happiness has got to cease to be something that isolates us or causes us to isolate other people. By making this change in our relationships, we will create a world where it will not only be ok to not be ok; it will be ok to be ok.