Question: I have a hard time not allowing other people’s moods, especially my spouse, affect me. Sometimes I feel like I am on a roller coaster and just want to get off. Can you help me?
Michele Louviere responds: Many people struggle with healthy separateness or differentiation. Sometimes, a lack of differentiation comes from a person depending upon others for needs, satisfaction and happiness. If a person is not okay inside his or her own skin, then that person becomes very dependent upon others. So, maybe your sensitivity to your spouse’s moods could be a lack of complete differentiation on your part.
How does a person develop a healthy identity that stands strong even when others disapprove or struggle emotionally?
One key is to take responsibility for your own level of happiness and satisfaction. God never intended for another person, even a spouse, to be our source for emotional fulfillment. Ultimately, we are to pursue an intimate relationship with God, where He gives meaning and purpose to our lives. Relationships with others are merely a gift from Him, never meant to replace Him.
Sometimes, to become a healthy, differentiated person, one must go back and explore his or her family of origin. Sometimes, we have learned powerful lessons in the families we grew up in. We play roles in dysfunctional families and often continue those roles in adulthood, unless we purposely work on becoming healthier. If you grew up in an alcoholic family for instance, then you may have developed a great sensitivity to others’ moods. Knowing the alcoholic’s mood may be critically important for your safety.
To be differentiated or having a healthy self-identity means you do not let outside circumstances affect the way you think and feel. When you know who you are in Christ and are secure in how He has created you and understand your own beliefs and gifts, then you can internally control yourself when others around you are upset.
A person who is differentiated can nurture him or herself in healthy ways. Making time to enjoy hobbies or spend time with friends are examples of healthy self-care. A differentiated person also cultivates the ability to grow and to change, as well as pursue new dreams and giftedness.
A differentiated person has equal status in his or her marriage relationship. This person will build the other person and will encourage being all that he or she can be.
As Jill Peyton, LPC, LMFT, says, “when a differentiated person does not receive the same from his or her spouse, then that person should ask for it, using “I” statements and a respectful tone of voice.”
Achieving a healthy self-identity helps a person feel calm, capable and competent, no matter what others around him or her do.
Michele Louviere, LMFT, serves as Clinical Director of Celebration Hope Center, a ministry of Healing Hearts for Community Development (HHCD). You can connect with Michele by visiting www.HealingHeartsNola.org.