How Taking Responsibility for Others' Happiness Causes Anxiety
The issue usually starts out innocently enough. For a whole host of reasons, we care, and we want others to be happy and feel that the responsibility for their happiness rests on our shoulders. That's why we end up doing everything in our power to ensure that they are happy.
However, the people we care about often still end up unhappy since suffering is an inevitable part of life. This, in turn, causes us to feel a sense of guilt as if we have failed them, and then we feel anxious because we’ve failed.
We tend to almost become perfectionists about this, feeling that other people must not merely be happy, but they must be as happy as possible because we carried out our happiness-inducing job perfectly. Of course, this unachievable standard further increases our anxiety.
We may be under the impression that catering to everyone's desires will bring happiness and avoid conflict. While it's true that conflict increases anxiety, trying too hard to please others in order to avoid it typically causes a greater deal of anxiety.
When we worry too much about the happiness of others, we become afraid of the perceived consequences, thereby fueling our worries and fears with an endless stream of anxiety-triggering “what-ifs.” And thus, the cycle goes on and on.
How to Stop This Behavior
The feeling of responsibility for the happiness of others is a complex web of connected feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of therapy that revolves around focusing on your thoughts and actions, has been found to be effective at reducing the anxiety that stems from perceived responsibility for others’ happiness.
Begin by tuning into your own actions. Try to spot when you are instinctively catering to the others' needs. Neglecting your own needs and wants should be a big clue. Now, start paying heed to your thoughts. A good time to perform this is when you’re feeling anxious and concerned about a person's state of mind.
Next, you'll have to challenge your mind. Once you’ve become aware of your anxious thoughts, you'll need to question them. Are your worries justified? Are they realistic and rational?
Exchange your thoughts for more realistic ones. You need to feed your brain with thoughts that will allow you to internalize the fact that you can never be fully responsible for the happiness of others, regardless of how much you worry about it.
Finally, use your newly-formed beliefs to direct your actions away from people-pleasing and move them towards people-supporting. This includes supporting yourself. So, what are you waiting for? Give this method a try, and you may just find your inner peace.