Advice Column, Parenting

Owning How We Feel

Recently, I reviewed an article I found online after a very serious discussion evolved from one of my lectures with some B.A. students, about the way others can activate our emotional response. What follows is a summary of the essence of this train of thought and I find it unendingly useful.

Have you ever blamed another for how you feel? Uttered the words “They upset me” or “S/he made me angry!”? For a reader to say no, with complete truth would be rare! For most of us, it is commonplace and simply the way we have been taught to experience our emotions – by attributing them to the actions of another individual or group. Is it really the case though, that another person has made us feel a certain way, or is it possible that instead, their actions have evoked an emotional response in us? The differentiation can be subtle, until we look a bit deeper into it!

Owning our emotions makes so much sense that it has become necessary to incorporate it into daily life. At first thought, taking responsibility for your own emotions is a recipe for crushing your self-esteem, and amplifying your negative feelings. It threatens our ego to stop pointing at others and start looking inward as the only authors of our own destiny. We spend a lot of time focussing on and preparing for positive experiences, whether it be in love, life or career. Yet it is inevitable that every now and then we will experience negative emotion in our interactions with others.

Take a look at an example: you meet somebody and start having an intimate relationship with him or her. Everything is wonderful, your life seems much happier than before, and you enjoy some weeks or months of elation and deep connection with your partner. But alas, after a relatively short time, something unexpected happens. The person you were feeling such a beautiful resonance with, suddenly starts to be distant, cold, without any apparent reason. After a few days, he or she abruptly decides to put an end to your relationship – without any logical explanation. You fall down from heaven to the hard, cold ground in a matter of days. You feel empty, neglected … and most likely, angry. How could this person treat you like that? Isn’t it clearly his or her fault if you’re feeling the way you do now? Isn’t his behaviour the obvious cause of your miserable situation? The answer is “no”, but maybe that requires some explanation.

In any interaction between conscious, adult human beings, each one is responsible for their own emotions. This does not mean that it is your “fault” if you feel sad or angry: there is an enormous difference between fault and responsibility. “Fault” means that you are wrong, and that you should fix yourself to conform to some external standard of goodness or strength. “Responsibility”, on the other hand, means that you are a fully conscious, powerful and self-determined human being, who takes merit for his own successes and happiness, and responsibility for his own failures and shortcomings. Blaming others for your negative feelings actually makes you seem powerless to avoid them: the only way you can get better, is by changing the other person’s behaviour by force, plea, or manipulation. Conversely, when you accept that every emotion arises inside you because you allow it, you open the door to the possibility of feeling better thanks to yourself. In this light, modifying your patterns of behaviour is not a matter of fixing a broken thing, but rather of consciously choosing to evolve – to change for the better, to attain more harmony and connection for you and everyone around you.

So much of our energy goes wasted into blaming others for our own unhappiness – with scarce results, since most people don’t react well to blame. It is both easier and more effective to recognize that we are the authors of our own lives, although we often need the help of others to develop this.

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