In her book “Feel the fear and do it anyway” Susan Jeffers asks herself the convoluted question:
“What am I not doing in my life that I could be doing that I am blaming him for not doing?“
She was talking about moments of anger with her husband and making the point that she was giving him the responsibility for making her happy.
When I’m with my clients we often come back to the idea of someone “making” us feel something. People say that someone made them feel happy, sad, angry or bad.
It took me a long time in counselling training to realise that no-one can make me feel anything.
What I feel in response to what someone says or does is in fact my responsibility. My emotional reaction is due to the way I interpret what they are saying.
For example, if I’m feeling bad about myself, a rejection can make me feel worse because it confirms my fears that I’m rubbish and unlovable. If the same rejection occurs when I’m feeling confident I see it completely differently. I may not see it as rejection at all. If I do, I’m able to rationalise it in terms of the other person feeling a particular hurt, or hearing me in a way I don’t intend, or that we’re just not the sort of people who will be friends. I don’t take it personally.
This is an illustration of the way in which I create my own experience of life.
There is an incredible freedom in realising that people are in control of their own feelings. It means:
- I’m free of the illusion that I can make people like me
- I’m free of the burden of trying to make people like me
- I’m free to be myself. I don’t need to be different to make people like me
- I’m free of the illusion that if people don’t like me, it’s because I’m unlikable. Whether or not they like me is their choice
- I’m free to be happy or not – it’s my choice
- I’m free of the need for other people to make me happy.
- I’m free of anger around my nearest and dearest. If they’re not responsible for making me happy I can let go of my need for them to serve my needs
- I’m free of my expectations of others. If they don’t have to be what I need them to be, they can be themselves
- So I’m free of the need to control others
- This often leads to being free of worry about them. They can be themselves, they can make their own mistakes, they can forge their own path.
Wow, what a relief!
By thinking that other people can make us feel something we give them the power to do so. When we react to something they say we are giving them control. This sets up a dynamic where we are subject to their opinions and their moods. It can make us a victim.
It can also make us seethe with anger and resentment. We think they should recognise and meet our needs. We look to them for the help, the love and the self-esteem that we can in fact provide for ourselves.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong in asking for help and there’s nothing wrong in wanting loving relationships. There is, however, a difference in the dynamic of expecting others to fill an empty, needy space in us to the dynamic of sharing with an equal. The first is coming from a position of “not enough”, the second from a place of “I’m OK, you’re OK”.
The trick is to recognise when we’re expecting others to take responsibility for us. The clues are in emotions such as anger and disappointment, and behaviour such as manipulation and drama.
We’re grown-ups. No one else is responsible for us. We make our own decisions and we are responsible for the outcomes. If we have no choice over the outcomes, we are responsible for the way we respond to them.
If we find ourselves responding to circumstances and people with anger, that’s a clue that we’re giving our power away. It’s time to ask ourselves what we are expecting others to do for us that we could in fact do for ourselves.
The following video talks about this in relation to parenting and the way we interpret our childhood experiences: