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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..

hellhasnofurylikeahungrywoman Wed 26-Dec-12 18:13:10

I had an unhappy childhood with a dysfunctional upbringing but I am a happy adult. It took me a while to get there and there are fleeting times when I get that self-doubt that I somehow don't deserve happiness but it is just fleeting for the most part now. It took counselling and hard work to get to where I am but I am glad I finally have.

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

Can I ask how many years the counselling took?
You dont have to say if you dont want to.

Dededum Wed 26-Dec-12 18:21:40

Mine was an intense eight days at a residential course. Expensive but fast track.

amillionyears Wed 26-Dec-12 18:24:56

JustFabulous.
It sounds like you are in a happy situation right now.

I have learnt to deal in life with one day at a time. It has taken me a few years to do this.
If there is not trouble today right now, there is not trouble.
But it is much better. Because else, a person can always be worrying about tomorrow, and today, which may be a nice day, can pass people by.

In short, if and when you can, live for today.

JustFabulous Wed 26-Dec-12 18:33:30

I can't even do that as I panic immediately what it isn't going to last confusedhmmsad.

Salbertina Wed 26-Dec-12 18:37:53

Op- i also cd have written that, completely get what you're saying.

However, i think (western/movie) cultural push to strive for happiness is, at best, misguided, at worst deeply damaging. As others have said, aiming for the very occasional spark of sudden contentment is more realistic, imho.. The buddhist view that Life IS suffering-disease, ageing, death makes much sense to me and is strangely comforting.. Ditto yrying to be mindful and living in tge moment as far as possible.
I say all this but am a miserable cow fail much of the time. Is a good philosophy of life though. Dont know if that helps.

amillionyears Wed 26-Dec-12 18:40:24

hmm. I just googled for websites on how to enjoy today, and couldnt find any good ones.

The thing is your tomorrow has come, and it is actually nice.

Perhaps if you are feeling happy or content right now, you could put a tick in a book. And when you get another happy or content moment or time, you put that in the book too. And so on.

Salbertina Wed 26-Dec-12 18:43:21

Jf- don't beat yourself up for that, many people feel that, only natural, i reckon. Again those wise buddhist talk about the impermanence of everything...

Salbertina Wed 26-Dec-12 18:45:03

And Million is v wise also! ( waves hello)

FiveFestiveFlowers Wed 26-Dec-12 18:53:37

ededum 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."

I could have written your post ededum sad

I'm glad you found help and I will look up the Hoffman process, thank you.

Salbertina Wed 26-Dec-12 18:56:23

Ive also heard good things about Hoffman, not cheap tho but then neither is therapy...

Salbertina Wed 26-Dec-12 18:59:12

Oliver James a fan, called it a quick fix.. Too good to be true??

amillionyears Wed 26-Dec-12 19:02:02

<waves to Salbertina>

RandomMess Wed 26-Dec-12 19:14:35

My struggling is that I know I have no-one to rely on ever, if the chips are down I don't have anyone to turn to.

I am disconnected from others generally, I have long term depression and apparantly a very very critical internal voice (thanks parents!)

Salbertina Wed 26-Dec-12 19:18:09

Have you tried therapy, Rm, in particular transactional analysis? Much focus on critical parent, games people play, conditional love etc. Helped me a lot.

Dededum Wed 26-Dec-12 19:23:58

Hoffman - not a quick fix in that you have to give yourself over it to 100%, you are totally stripped bare in a safe, communal environment. No crutches, no phone, tv, Internet, books, newspapers, booze...

Everything you do for 8 days is therapy, other than sleeping and eating. You don't really have a down time. It sounds a bit cultish but isn't.

Think for me it was a chance to start again, it's like all my buttons have been disabled, my parents push them but I don't respond. That gives you choices in how you progress with your life, you are no longer trapped in your childhood. The Hoffman process talks about patterns and stopping negative patterns, that allows you to build new loving patterns. I can't change my patterns but I can change how I react to them.

RandomMess Wed 26-Dec-12 19:25:45

I've had lots of psycotherapy and because I hold down a job I no longer qualify for help on the NHS. I'm no contact with my parents which has helped in some ways but it doesn't change the fact I am on my own I don't belong anywhere all my good friends have loving family and closer friends etc etc Im just a billy no mates when push comes to shove, no amount of therapy will change that.

happybubblebrain Wed 26-Dec-12 19:26:36

I do think you can be happy in the future. I think the mind is a powerful thing. I think happiness is in part a decision.

I had a hard time growing up. I wasn't wanted by my family. I was often bullied and felt like a complete outsider. But I've been determined for the last 10 or 15 years that it wasn't going to make me miserable for the rest of my life.

I think my life still needs plenty of work. But I try and move towards the things that are positive and make me happy as much as possible. It's hard to recognise these things sometimes. Life is hard work. I used to be happy about 5% of the time, ok 20% and miserable 75%. Now I'm happy about 50% of the time and rarely miserable. I don't think anybody can expect to be happy all the time.

I think self-help books work, good friends, talking, counselling maybe, doing things you love doing, getting enough sleep, eating well. Don't let the actions of others get you down. Don't rely on anybody else for your happiness. You can be in charge of you own emotions and the way you feel about yourself. Treat yourself as you would a really good friend and be kind.

OP - I wish you lots of happiness in the year ahead.

MULLYPEEP Wed 26-Dec-12 19:35:36

I second the transactional analysis. It has changed my perspective and given me great tools for dealing with lives ups and downs. Mine was 35 per session.

amillionyears Wed 26-Dec-12 19:50:28

Some good posts here.

RandomMess, having no contact with parents is hard.
Do you have any other relatives to help at all?

When you say you dont belong anywhere, do you mean that in an emotional sense, or a physical sense, as iin you have moved around a lot and dont feel like any place is home?

RandomMess Wed 26-Dec-12 19:54:10

Nope because I was youngish when I ran away to uni and everyone thinks my family was good/perfect so how could I be in contact with my relatives and not my parents, it has cost me not having any family.

Emotionally I don't belong anywhere, ILs aren't interested, dh is emotionally distant and my few friends all have more significant family/friends in their lives because they are healthier than me and have those connections.

Salbertina Wed 26-Dec-12 20:01:43

Well you're not alone,RM plenty of us in same boat. I understand what you mean about others (seemingly?) having more significant others, have generally felt that too. I try to fight it tho as don't want to feel victim any more than i already am. We
all have different crosses to bear and this is mine. Not easy though.

amillionyears Wed 26-Dec-12 20:08:40

Would you like to say what your parents behaviour was like when you were young?
Apologies if you have said about it elsewhere already.
And do you have a disability?

RandomMess Wed 26-Dec-12 20:09:00

I suppose with the few friends I'm closest too they really do have warm loving families (not necessarily their parents) it is very apparant and it makes it even harder to try and reach out to them because it doesn't feel like a balanced friendship.

It's not about the victim mentality or bearing a cross it's the reality that when life gets too much I just drown silently because there isn't anyone to pick up the phone to and call.

Salbertina Wed 26-Dec-12 20:14:55

Rm, was talking about me- my counsellor warns me against playing victim role, reverting to type so am extra wary. There may be a parallel for others, or not.
You have those friends though- they obviously think you're worth bothering with. Also MN. Where we are now i have plenty of acquaintances, no proper friends. A couple of good ones in the uk tho have been avoiding them blush- cant quite handle too much RL communication atm even by email

RandomMess Wed 26-Dec-12 20:20:51

Salbertina that's what happens to me when things go downhill I just withdraw because I can't cope and they either don't notice or don't care enough to bother. They are good friends because I've known them for 30 years tbh

sensesworkingovertime Wed 02-Jan-13 16:41:30

To try and answer your question I think you can find happiness but I am sure as you say your family has a lot to do with how you feel and behave.

I had a similar situation in that my parents just seemed to tolerate each other, were never particularly chatty, friendly or enjoyed doing anything together and they are still the same now I am in my mid forties. It does get me down a lot at times and I've feel ashamed about it. you sound like it has made you a stronger person to have got through it but it clearly bothers you and it would probably help you to talk with through with someone who understands.

It is difficult aswell not to have time to yourself when you have DCs ( how old are they) esp if your tendency is to worry about them most of the time, that's what I do anyway! What are your relationships like now with your parents/siblings? Do you feel like you are succeeding with your DCs where your family failed you?

orangeandlemons Tue 08-Jan-13 20:30:29

I understand how you feel. If you learnt to behave in a certain way when very young to deal with adverse events, them that is your default setting. You may be able to change this through therapy or meds, but that is how your brain learnt to behave when faced with certain events. You obviously learnt to distance yourself during the rows

I often feel similar, and also had nasty childhood. I have found medication much much more helpful than any therapy

Muttonboon Wed 09-Jan-13 11:13:15

This thread has struck a cord with me. I did not have the best of childhoods and now have no contact with my family - for the last 15 yrs or so.

I don't know the answer to your question. I suspect that the aim is for a contentment and an acceptance. We all know people who are light, smiley, fun, for whom life appears (and it is only appears) not to weigh heavily on them.

I think, as others have said that if your default setting, developed through years and years as a child and then reinforced as an adult is not like this then that cannot completely change.

I have on and off taken ADs and am now having pyschotherapy. My aim is to come to that acceptance, that is how it was, it was not ideal. Contentment and being at ease with oneself is my goal.

In terms of the children, I have treated my children to some extent as I was treated and i am ashamed of that. I have shouted at very small children, I have not regarded their feelings when I have been frustrated. Anger was so much the currency of my childhood that it is so difficult to break free. I too understand the suffocation, I have no recollection of being cuddled, listened to or felt that I was loved.

Yet the children are my salvation, they love me as no one else now will. It is through our children that maybe a part of us can be reformed.

So I think it is possible to gain a sense of contentment and appreciation for now. It is hard, what comes naturally to others will not come naturally to you.

I have a library of self help books so I am reluctant to recommend, however my therapist recommended "The Whole Parent: How to Become a Terrific Parent Even If You Didn't Have One " by Debra Wesselmann.

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