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Do you think if your family of origin was very unhappy you can ever truly be happy as an adult?

(54 Posts)
lonelyredrobin Sat 22-Dec-12 22:34:41

This is the first time I've posted on Mental Health. I wasn't sure whether to do so as I can see some of the posters on here are in real turmoil and this thread, well, I suppose is a more reflection on my situation and wondering what other people's thoughts were iykwim (sorry, badly expressed!).

Anyway, I'm 35. Throughout my adult life, I've had long periods of discontent, emptiness and alienation - but weirdly, I wouldn't call it depression. It almost feels like my default setting. There are times in my life I've been happy: when I fell in love for the first time, when I did well in exams / jobs, when I was pregnant, times with my children (although, only times, I find it very difficult with them at times sad ).

But the "default setting" always returns - and gets really bad at times so I feel totally alienated from everyone and just want to be alone. Everything feels hard and stressful. I drink more (not loads but too much for me), don;t take care of myself (food, exercise, maintaining friendships etc). I'm in one of those periods at the moment. I've been trying to understand why I'm like this. I've had a little therapy in the past - it helped a bit but not really as much as I thought it would - maybe the therapist.

The thing I keep coming back - the only explanation it seems to me - is my very unhappy family (of origin) life. My mother and father had an extremely unhappy marriage but as practising Catholics would never have divorced. They seriously dislked eachother. My childhood memories are of them either having screaming rows (never violence afaik) or silent treatment for weeks.

I have 3 older brothers (2 much older). None of them were really any support or provided any solidarity to me though this (and nor to eachother). It was like we were 6 people under the same roof but all separate and alone - there was no unity or sense of family.

My weekends as a child were spent in my room, trying to enter myself. We never did anything together as a family and there was no expectation whatsoever that my parents would do acitivities with us. We would all "go our separate ways" under the same roof. We would have our meals together, and then it was like we were cast adrift: look after yourself.

As an adult, I have found close relationships difficult. I hate group situations. I only really tolerate socialising one on one or one on two. I find team work at work difficult. I find my children's neediness for me suffocating - I push them away and crave being alone.

I don't want to be this sort of person. I don't know how to change. I don't know if I can. Is my past so deeply engrained there's no way to break free?

Any thoughts welcome. Thank you.

lonelyredrobin Sat 22-Dec-12 22:35:31

Tring to enter myself!! Should read trying to entertain myself smile

herewegoloubylou Sun 23-Dec-12 00:08:53

Very interesting question.

This is a good book - it's a deeper kind of CBT - Schema therapy.

I'll be interested to see what others say.

amillionyears Mon 24-Dec-12 17:52:01

I think feeling discontentment, emptiness and alienation is understandable after what you have been through.
It may not be your default setting, it may be all because of your childhood.

I dont know anything about therapy, it may be the best thing for you right now.
Am partly bumping this for you.

Earlybird Mon 24-Dec-12 18:14:11

When you have grown up in a deeply dysfunctional and deeply unhappy family, it is hard to make a different path for yourself. You imagine most everyone else has a much more positive outlook, better relationships, and happier families (especially at the holidays, when the 'lack' in your own experience contrasts most painfully and poignantly).

I think you can learn to think and react differently, but it is a long process - a life's work. Think about what 'sets you off' (for me, it is when I feel inadequate, out of control and pulled in all directions), and then think about what you can do to avoid (or lessen) those situations. (Again for me, it is recognising that tight feeling in my chest/head and consciously deciding to take a different approach, or even a 'time out').

Lastly, a friend once confided that she had stopped thinking she should work toward some general state of constant happiness, because it was almost impossible to achieve or sustain, so she was bound to feel unsatisfied most of the time. Instead, she worked to feel content and at peace with her life. She also made an effort to recognise, appreciate, embrace and cherish those brief moments when she felt happiness. They were/are there - like diamonds glittering in the mundane routines of every day life.

Hth. And have a good holiday season.

RandomMess Mon 24-Dec-12 18:16:19

I could have written the op, I just don't know how to enjoy anything much, particularly life.

msrisotto Mon 24-Dec-12 18:21:09

I've been studying positive psychology recently and can say that how happy we are is partly down to how happy our parents are, however you can increase your happiness but you have to make effort to. Here's a website which has a ten ways to increase your happiness. www.actionforhappiness.org/ It's personal to you so you can choose the things that suit you had give them a go. Don't try and force ourself to be something you're not

amillionyears Mon 24-Dec-12 18:23:09

Good posts.
I would like to add, from someone who has probably had what would be described as a "normal" childhood, that contentment is probably the best thing to aim for long term.

I dont think, as far as I know, that anyone is constantly happy.

RandomMess Mon 24-Dec-12 19:29:12

I suppose I wouldn't say that I feel content, I constantly try and be grateful for what I have etc yet underneath it all I'm unhappy and unfulfilled.

amillionyears Mon 24-Dec-12 20:16:39

I think, and I might be wrong on this, that the underneath needs to be sorted as best as can be, before the contentness comes.

JustFabulous Mon 24-Dec-12 20:25:59

I get what you are saying, OP, though I have never thought of it as a "default setting."

I have moments of feeling really happy but then it scares me and the moment passes.

RandomMess Mon 24-Dec-12 21:26:34

THen it's back to the same old thing, I don't know how to/can't sort the underneath thing and the grind of the pretence is just so wearing.

amillionyears Mon 24-Dec-12 21:41:39

RandomMess, do you have a thread about your situation?
Or are you fed up with talking about it all?
Sorry if today is not the best day for you to talk about it. If so, feel free to ignore me.

RandomMess Mon 24-Dec-12 21:44:06

I do a long time ago in a different name and not much has changed in the years since tbh

I can do all the happiness things for a while but you can't build relationships when you have no-one to build them with, you can't force people to be your friend.

amillionyears Mon 24-Dec-12 21:50:01

There is a MN friendship bench. Dont know how that is going, or whether it is running in your area.
Might that help at all?

Perhaps start a thread again sometime, RandomMess?

amillionyears Mon 24-Dec-12 21:53:57

Have often wondered whether self help books are any good for this sort of thing op?

Also, I am wondering if more therapy might help you? You said it worked a bit the first time. Maybe a lot more is needed?

jessjessjess Tue 25-Dec-12 01:47:23

It sounds like therapy could help.

Also, I sort of think this kind of question isn't helpful. What is true happiness? Does it even exist?

I think better questions might be:
- can your adult life be happier than your childhood
- can you overcome feelings of grief, rage and/or sadness

I think you can have a better experience of the present. There are some good links and book suggestions on the But We Took You To Stately Homes thread.

RandomMess Tue 25-Dec-12 09:32:33

My marriage isn't helping, but I'm unconvinced that divorce is the answer.

amillionyears Wed 26-Dec-12 17:39:21

RandomMess, do you want to describe what emotions or issues you are trying to deal with?

JustFabulous Wed 26-Dec-12 17:43:00

I am scared to allow myself to enjoy the rare feeling I have of being happy as I know it won't last.

Dededum Wed 26-Dec-12 17:52:14

I did not have an unhappy childhood as such, I was we'll cared for but my parents were very into their lives and I was deeply lonely, a very adult, self sufficient childhood. As a teenager I dranK a lot, took drugs etc..

I recognise that knawing depression, which is always there. For me it was an idea of never being good enough, never asking for help and not believing that anyone was interested in me and what I had to say. I functioned well, achieved etc... But I was always disconnected.

About 5 years ago I was having a really tough time, unexpected pregnancy, abortion and had to do something as the bleakness was overpowering. I did the Hoffman Process, it really allowed me to explore some bleak places and give myself some emotional freedom. It has changed my life, I do still suffer normal downs and am still quite a contained person but the self loathing has gone.

Ephiny Wed 26-Dec-12 17:53:41

I get what you're saying too, OP, and have wondered the same myself. I want to say, yes, you can be happy, but I feel my default setting is unhappy as well (and I recognise the feeling that even ordinary life is hard and stressful, and also the difficulty with group situations and getting close to people).

Maybe it just means we have to work harder than other people to actively 'be happy', to form new thought habits through practice?

amillionyears Wed 26-Dec-12 17:59:51

JustFabulous. I have seen that happen before. You sound like you are self sabotaging.
As I have not been in that postion, but know of someone else who was in an unhappy family situtaion, I always struggled to understand why that person did that.

Is it because deep down you dont think you deserve happiness?

amillionyears Wed 26-Dec-12 18:07:19

Dededum, I think a childhood where you felt very lonely was an unhappy childhood.
Glad you found something that worked.

JustFabulous Wed 26-Dec-12 18:10:05

Rationally I know I deserve it as compo for my childhood being so horrific but I can't believe it will last so...

I used to feel so secure in my marriage but then I would feel it was just a matter of time before DH leaves me. My kids are his and his families by birth, I am only there by marriage. It can change on a daily basis. Nothing good has lasted so..

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