I love working with people who are introverted, people pleasers or very conscientious, because a lot of their work is the same work I had to do for myself. Also, it is much easier to teach a selfless person how to love better, than it is to get a selfish person to care about others.

One of the big lessons I had to learn as I became an adult and that I see many people struggle with, is to realize that:

Loving people does not always mean making them happy.

I think the impulsive need to try to make people happy comes from childhood. As a child, you have very simple, black and white thinking. If you upset someone, you are told you did something wrong and you need to go fix it. If you make someone happy, you are told you are a good little boy or girl. Perhaps this is even more ingrained in homes where an upset adult may become abusive, so the best way to protect yourself is do whatever you can to make them happy.

Either way, it results in a powerful emotional impulse to make everyone happy so that you feel safe, loved and good about yourself. Those are some of our most crucial needs in life.

But as you get older, more and more situations arise that require increasingly complicated value judgments.

If your friend is stumbling around drunk and asks you for their car keys, do you give them the keys to make them happy and protect your friendship, or do you risk upsetting them and possibly losing the friendship to keep them safe?

I use that example because most everyone sees the clear loving choice is to keep the keys even if they get mad. But what about when the stakes are a bit more grey?

Do you tell your boyfriend that you are not comfortable with his actions and risk having him reject you?

If you feel really guilty for something that has happened to your child, do you let them get away with bad behavior?

If your girlfriend had a horrible childhood and is deeply depressed, do you stay in a relationship you do not want in order to love and protect them?

Some of those questions are more difficult than others, but it is really hard to figure out the ethical choice, or even the most healthy thing for the other person, if you measure the rightness of your actions based solely on whether people like them or not. It takes more a mature morality to discern that love is focused on the the well-being of another person, which is not always the same as their happiness.

Someone once told me that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather the opposite of love is fear. I’ll probably go more into detail on this another day, but this knowledge helps greatly in decision making. When you are struggling to figure out the right thing to do for someone you care about, ask yourself:

Am I doing this out of love, or out of fear?

When I realized that most of my dilemmas were an internal struggle where I worried about upsetting people or how they might think of me or that they might leave me, I realized that most of those concerns were based on fear, and fear is the opposite of love. When I removed fear from the equation, usually the right, loving choice became fairly obvious.

So, if you want to be the strong, confident, loving person you want to be, you need to remember, “Loving people does not always mean making them happy,” and ask yourself, “Am I doing this out of love, or out of fear?