You Are Not Responsible For My Feelings
And Vice Versa
“But if you would just stop doing that one thing that I hate — then I wouldn’t have to keep reminding you not to do it!”
“But if you’d just done what I asked you when I asked you to do it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation!”
“But if you were just this way, instead of that way, I wouldn’t be reacting to you the way that I am now!”
Does this sound familiar?
It took me a long time to figure out that no one could “fix” my feelings but me. I wanted to give consequences. I wanted to rant and rage and drive my point home because I was RIGHT and I wasn’t going to rest until I felt seen and heard. Shockingly, that strategy never worked the way I wanted it to.
Just recently, I’ve begun to understand that my feelings are never the consequences that I want them to be. Not only do they not have the desired effect on the other person, they usually cause more hurt than I ever intended. When I try to make you responsible for my feelings, I hurt both of us. I hurt myself by stewing in pain, anger, jealousy, sadness, or resentment. I hurt you by going after you or disconnecting from you.
Me being angry won’t convince you to change your behavior. More likely, you’ll feel defensive and attacked, and fire back with your own anger. Holding onto my anger, whether or not I express it, will only escalate whatever we were trying to resolve. If I can move through my anger quickly, and get back into a state of connection, we’ll have a much better chance of working out whatever went wrong in the first place.
But You’re Hurting Me!
OK, I hear you. You feel hurt, betrayed, dropped, ignored, etc. But what if that hurt has nothing to do with the person standing in front of you?
Well, believe it or not, what you’re reacting to is probably not the person in front of you, or the circumstances surrounding you. Most of the time, you’re reacting to the story you’re spinning around what that person or those circumstances mean for you.
For example, your daughter forgets to call you for Father’s Day. You feel slighted! How could she forget you? What’s wrong with her? Did you do something wrong? Have you not been a good parent? Is she dead? Is she trying to punish you? Does she still love you? — see the story?
If you were able to recognize these thoughts as just that — thoughts — you could admit that you feel hurt because you think your daughter doesn’t care about you.
Instead of staying in anger, resentment, or disappointment, you could decide to be the better parent and call your daughter. Try going in with the intention of checking out whether or not this story you’re spinning is actually true, or if it’s just that — a story!
The conversation might go something like this —
“Hey Honey, I’m feeling a little hurt because it’s Father’s Day and I didn’t get a card or even a call from you. I’m wondering if you still care about me?”
“Oh my God! Dad, I’m so sorry, I completely forgot! No, of course, I care about you. I’ve just been super busy lately.”
“OK, thanks for telling me that. I feel a little better, but I’m wondering if you can give me a little more reassurance? I’m still worried that I’m not a priority for you.”
“Oh yeah, Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I’m sorry you don’t feel appreciated, but I really do love you and I’m grateful for our relationship.”
“Thanks, Honey, me too.”
Scary? Yep. Direct? Hell yep. Effective? Yep yep. No guarantees it’ll ever be this easy. There will be pushback from the other person, and there will be brick walls of resistance to admitting your part in this hurt. This is a lot different, however, than say, this scenario:
“Hey honey, do you know what today is?”
“Um, no…? Sorry Dad, I’ve been really busy lately. What’s today?”
“I can’t believe you have to ask!”
“What are you talking about?”
“The least you could do is call your old man and wish him a Happy Father’s Day!”
“Well, I’m sorry that calling you isn’t my #1 priority, Dad!”
You get the idea…The first conversation is connected. Each person is owning their own part in this situation. It might be a little tense, but it’s not unmanageable. The second conversation is passive-aggressive, defensive, and each person is so stuck in their own reactions that they can’t see the other.
But It’s Your Fault!
Aka, you’re not doing what I want you to, so I’m going to blame you for my own inability to take care of my feelings in a calm and contained manner.
Instead of going straight to blame and outright persecution, take the time to get clear on how you can protect yourself in the future. If this person hurt you, betrayed you, embarrassed you, inconvenienced you, it is 100% your responsibility to keep that from happening again. Not theirs. The consequences for their actions are not your feelings. The consequences are whatever boundaries you put up after the fact in order to keep yourself safe moving forward.
This can be as simple as deciding to buy your own damn tampons at the grocery store instead of giving your partner hell for not remembering. Or it can be as complicated as extricating yourself from an abusive dynamic. Regardless of the circumstances, there is always going to be something you are responsible for — and that’s yourself.
I can never be angry enough, sad enough, or disappointed enough for you to change your behavior. Simply because people never change unless they want to. If you’re raging at them, turning every day into a soap opera, or giving them the silent treatment, what reason do they have to change?
I can, however, decide to disengage and go take care of what I need taken care of. The biggest caveat is that I have to communicate what I’m doing. If I want to stay connected to this person, I have to tell them what I’m doing to take care of myself and why I’m doing it.
This doesn’t look like — “You hurt me so I’m going to ignore you until you crawl back on your knees and beg for my forgiveness.”
This does look like — “I felt really angry when you did X, so I’m going to take a break and go do X because I don’t want to hurt either of us.”
I Think I Get It?
My anger, my hurt, my sadness, my anxiety — are not your responsibility. Did your words or your actions trigger this emotional reaction in me? Probably. Does that mean it’s your job to resolve my reaction? Not one bit.
There are always two sides to any situation. Each person always has a part. Does that mean you get to give them hell for their part? No. Own your own part, and then go do what you need to do to be right with it. This doesn’t mean you automatically forgive the other person. It doesn’t mean you trust them to take care of this thing that they never take care of. It doesn’t even mean that you have to like them! It just means that you don’t go out of your way to do unnecessary damage — to either of you.
I don’t go to the person who hurt me for comfort from the hurt they gave me.
I don’t blame someone else for actions I didn’t take or words I didn’t say.
I don’t try to connect when I’m stuck in my own story.
I don’t ask you to change so I don’t have to.
I don’t give you responsibility for what’s mine.
The most we can do is try, and fail in fireworks, and try again. Until the stories become easier to identify — the reactions get quieter sooner — and the feelings are resolved in calm containment.