How To Be Happy: Be more open to things others can do for you

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The Independent Online

Q. 'I have never really felt understood or cared for, yet I have spent my life trying to take care of everyone else. I feel angry and hopeless. What is happening?' C.

Step 1: The feelings you describe are classically associated with a deeply entrenched sense of deprivation, triggered by the belief that our needs cannot be met. It is usually formed during a childhood defined by parents who are self-absorbed – perhaps because of work, emotional distress or substance misuse. As adults, we can become hypersensitive to cues that make us feel invisible, unnoticed or not interesting enough to attract attention. This is particularly painful when we experience this from the people we love, particularly when we try to heal ourselves by taking care of their problems.

Step 2: The anger you experience is probably a defence against deep feelings of sadness that you do not feel nurtured. We all long for warmth and affection but a sense of deprivation can make it very difficult to be open to such responses – we believe we will not receive the things we long for most. This is then complicated by investing in other people's wellbeing, which gives the impression that we are sorted and do not need help ourselves.

Step 3: Those of us with this sense of deprivation often forget that people cannot read our minds and so do not know what we actually want. One way of overcoming it is to be more open about our vulnerability and our need for genuine intimacy. Remind yourself that you cannot keep giving without receiving. Moreover, your feelings of deprivation may well be disguising the reality that those you care about also care about you. In addition, your protective mechanisms of denying your own needs – for fear of being let down – might mean that you are not able to take on board the good things others offer you. Do not be afraid to make your real feelings known in a non-(self)judgmental way. Talk about yourself and listen to what support people can offer you, remembering that your sense of yourself is likely to put pressure on you to go your own way for fear of disappointment. The more you can accept love from others, the less your sense of deprivation will distort your life.