How do I stop feeling responsible for other people's happiness?
December 15, 2016 6:57 AM   Subscribe

My friend group of over 10 years mostly knows each other because of me. These are all women in their early 30s. There are A LOT of different personalities which I love one on one, but as a group, not so much.

I don't know if it's because I am the central link or because I've always been a people pleaser (or a combination of the two) but I feel the need to make sure everyone is happy and having a good time when we go out together. I need to stop this but I'm not sure how to.

I am an anxious person being treated with medication. Despite this, I get VERY anxious about people being mad at each other when I am with them (or mad at me). I want everyone to be happy and get along and I fall into the moderator/parent/people pleaser role without even realizing it. Even group emails that are sent about planning a get together can make me anxious when I perceive people being passive aggressive to each other.

Because of the group dynamics (different personalities, some especially strong), I often feel annoyance between people while we're all together. It's sometimes side comments, sometimes tone of voice, sometimes direct comments. While others seem to be able to let them go, I feel emotionally exhausted after being with everyone.

As I type this I realize I should probably just not go out with everyone as a group but please assume that because of life events this isn't something I'll be able to avoid for the foreseeable future. I recognize that the anxiety is directly related to people not being happy with each other (or me thinking that) and I will do anything to make the anxiety go away so that means mitigating the situation. I've always had issues with people being mad at me.

How do I stop playing this role? How do I become ok with people being annoyed or angry at me or others? Coping strategies? I've seen this question and that helps some but I did not grow up in a household where anger/annoyance was an issue. Thank you.
posted by whitetigereyes to Human Relations (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You become okay with it by practicing and planning, plus reframing. When you have an event coming up, or planning going on, pick one boundary - say, the urge to rearrange time/location to make someone happy - and decide what you'll say (or not say, just think) to leave it alone to be dealt with by the others. Just that one thing, to start with; you can cave or fret over other things, but decide that one thing is neither your problem nor your responsibility, and use the appropriate muscle to back that up.

Practice being uncomfortable, too.

And work on your narrative. People have a right to feel inconvenienced or anxious or indecisive or whatever-the-hell reason they can't be happy. They get to do that, you don't get to decide how they feel. Allow them to feel what they choose. All you get to decide is what is and isn't okay for you. If someone is being shitty to you about it, your choices are a) push back b) remove yourself from their range c) change something that is in your power to change but only within reason. But if they are just venting shittiness into the universe in hopes that someone will come wipe them, leave them to it. Especially in a group, where happiness is an average.

Alternately, if this is one of those groups that suffers for lack of leadership, sometimes it's the least painful thing to choose to be the bad guy and take point and say "we're doing this thing, fight me". Often nobody will because they don't want the responsibility, which means you have a clear demarcation of how their feelings are not your problem.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

One of the things that has helped me is to have a mantra of "they're adults, they manage these things when I'm not around, so they can work it out now, too". And then I try to stop monitoring how each and every interaction is going and simply talk to one other person and really focus on them for awhile, ie start being a person hanging out with friends instead of "the organizer who is responsible for everyone's happiness always".

Because as Lyn Never says above, as autonomous adults they get to choose to be slightly unhappy if they want to be, and deal with it in their own way. And, unsurprisingly, when I stop trying to control everything and everyone, I'm happier, and so are the people around me, and we all manage to have a better time.
posted by ldthomps at 8:49 AM on December 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

So, not a child of strife, but could this mean that instead of "peacemaker," you're being a "peacekeeper?" That is, not avoiding the devil you know, but avoiding the devil you don't know? That is, perhaps conflict is simply something you've been sheltered from, so I would try to sit back and wallflower a bit just to see how things play out when normally you'd be concerned and involve yourself. "Resist the impulse," I guess.
posted by rhizome at 10:06 AM on December 15, 2016

I've seen this question and that helps some but I did not grow up in a household where anger/annoyance was an issue.

Growing up in a household where no one ever displayed overt anger can be damaging, too, because the kids end up not learning that anger and annoyance is a normal part of life and so don't develop the skills to deal with it at all. Reading about learning how to feel and constructively express your own anger will likely be a good starting point for the work you want to do.
posted by lazuli at 10:26 AM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

You can't manage other people's relationships. Next time you go out, practice releasing control. Pick the one or two people you like best in the group, situate yourself near them and then relax and enjoy their company. Focus on the people nearest to you and turn off your radar to the group dynamic. And when there's a problem, like splitting the bill or organizing desserts, go use the restroom or practice smiling and saying, "oh! I'm happy with whatever!" And turn your focus to the people you are closest to. You'll have more fun and so will the group. Let someone else fill the vacuum of leadership lest you become a martyr to the cause.
posted by amanda at 12:34 PM on December 15, 2016

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