How To Own Your Emotions and No One Else's
By being yourself you put something wonderful into the world that was not there before.
- Edwin Elliot
Have you ever been made to feel guilty for making someone feel some kind of a way? Like you made a witty (albeit insensitive) comment, but caught by the shrapnel of your humor was a person who felt that your thoughts/opinions were a personal affront to them or their thoughts? If you're like me, guilt quickly set in and you feel like it is your responsibility to explain that there was no harm intended, and perhaps you become overly nice and polite in order to make that person feel comfortable. If this has been a familiar scene in your life, then you’ve just got mail… emotional blackmail. It has taken me many years to not assume responsibility for others’ emotions and in the equal and opposite reaction, not blaming my emotions on others.
Emotional responsibility probably sounds like drinking responsibly, or driving responsibly. However, emotional responsibility relates to what things you take responsibility for, and what you do not. If you do or say something that is hurtful to someone else, how do you own your mistake or poor decision? If you find yourself constantly blaming others for things that happen, you may not be taking the proper amount of responsibility. The danger here is that the more you practice these kinds of behaviors, you will constantly find yourself mired in toxic relationships that drain your energy, keeping you from being your best self and living a healthy and happy life.
For some of us, the opposite extreme may be true. You might easily take responsibility for what you do and say, so much so that you find yourself taking the blame for every single argument and conflict that you ever face! This in itself is its own form of being emotionally out of shape. It’s highly unlikely that you intentionally sought this habit out. Perhaps you were raised by a very needy parent, and you always felt like it was your job to make him or her feel ok, despite the fact that you were the child and they were the adult. Or, maybe being the naturally compassionate person that you are, you continually enter relationships or friendships with people who are self-centered who too often allow you to assume all responsibility for their negative feelings or emotions. No matter what the origin is, it isn’t fair to you. Emotional responsibility means being able to differentiate between what you are responsible for and what you are not. So, to sum up:
I AM responsible for my own words, actions, thoughts, or feelings
I AM NOT responsible for others’ reactions, words, actions, thoughts, or feelings
There are two core principles that undergird a healthy estimation of your emotional responsibility. In the book The Conscious Parent, Dr. Shefali Tsabary explains that there are two principles that should guide your raising of an emotionally healthy child (which requires an emotionally healthy parent!): Authenticity and containment. (Note: This article contains an affiliate link.
Authenticity could be easily summarized as just that - being authentic! Some questions to ask yourself are, “am I in touch with my feelings?” “Do I recognize when I am not pleased with something that is done or said?” “Do I ignore, hide, or downplay my feelings to make others feel better or more comfortable?” If you said yes to some of these, you are struggling with being inauthentic. This relates back to being emotionally responsible for others where you do not need to be. This inauthenticity is often done out of goodwill, or care, for others. However, this often backfires, leaving both you and the other party feeling hurt or deceived. The situation unfolds where your true feelings and/or dissatisfactions finally made themselves known to the other person. They likely responded with shock and almost felt victimized by your seemingly sudden dissatisfaction. They probably told you that they wish you said something sooner, or maybe that for that reason the issue is at least partially your fault. They’re right! By not being aware of and/or true to your authentic self, you are doing yourself a disservice, and are actually not helping others either. In family therapy, I am constantly telling parents that the healthier they are, then the healthier their children will be. Martyring yourself, being inauthentic to your values, feeling, or thoughts for the comfort or sake of others does not make you a hero! It hurts you and it hurts them as well.
The next dimension of emotional responsibility, or the other side of the coin, if you will, is containment. In regards to raising children, this refers to teaching them how to respect the rights and boundaries of others. It’s the classic adage of democracy: you should have complete freedom up to the point where it impinges on the freedoms of another. This is a great thing to assess, not only for yourself, but for others in your life. Do you constantly find that you are inviting yourself into others’ situations? Do people accuse you of prying, or “butting in” their affairs? If so, you may struggle in the containment department. Or, maybe these are often done towards you. Either way, the struggle of containment, or the lack thereof, is very real. If you struggle with this, you might be the kind of person who deeply hates being wrong, or doing something less than perfect, especially when others are watching. It is often shown that those who are the most critical are also the ones who most fear criticism themselves.
A lack of containment of stems from a lack of adequate or proper love and attention from caregivers at a young age. The young self then works hard to match the astronomically high expectations set for them. Or, the child works hard to get the attention and approval of an emotionally absent parent. Either way, unsurprisingly, a lack of containment, for understandable reasons, usually indicates a lack of self-love.
Thou Shalt Love Thyself
It’s the old saying by Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself that has the answer to this process of learning what it means to live an emotionally and spiritually healthy life. He says it in Matthew 22:39, and Mark 12:30. But did you know that this isn’t the first time the Bible says this? All the way back in Leviticus 19:18, God says to love your neighbor as yourself.
Think of someone you know as a hateful person. We all know some people who unfortunately are bitter, negative and ultimately toxic to be around. It is almost always certain that you will find that this person hates himself or herself, for deeply entrenched reasons. The problem is, if you do not love yourself, you will never consider yourself to be valuable enough to give your true feelings worth and respect. If you do not love yourself, you will not be your authentic self and have peace and emotional (and physical) health! If you do not love yourself, your relationships will likely be toxic and you may be used and abused, or abusive yourself.
If you do not love yourself, you may value others as much as you value yourself. You will be harsh, and hard on others, and you will find nothing wrong with this because you do the same to yourself, so it is only fair. In the end, you still do not value yourself, and your relationships will be toxic, and you will not be given the love that you so deserve and need.
The Journey of 1,000 Miles
Loving yourself isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen quickly. It takes time to undo the damage done over a lifetime. But, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step (Lao Tzu). Why don’t you grab a mirror, or turn your phone to the selfie camera. Look at it. Look at yourself. Keep looking....
And tell yourself “I love you.”
Do it again tomorrow.
It’s awkward, I know. I’m doing it too! But, one day, it won’t be. And then you’ll start to realize,
You’re not bad.
HOW TO MOVE FORWARD
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