December 7, 2015
“You make me feel so mad!”
“He makes me feel so bad about myself whenever he’s near.”
“My mom makes me feel so guilty about not calling her.”
This is common language for us. We are often looking at others as the cause of why we feel what we do. But this is completely disempowered thinking. Others have no more control over what we feel than they do what we wear.
“But-but-but… it’s true! My mom makes me feel so guilty.” No, not exactly. She may use manipulative language in an attempt to evoke those feelings within you, but those feelings are yours.
I was in a conversation with one of my first teachers when I was a teenager, and we were speaking about how I felt in life. In a moment of frustration, I blurted out, “I have no control over my emotions!” to which she calmly, almost bemusedly, looked at me and said, “Well, whose emotions are they?”
If when I speak with my mom, I feel guilty, the guilt is mine. If I feel bad about myself whenever this one person is in my vicinity, I feel badly. If I get angry when I’m speaking with a coworker, I am the one who is angry. To say that my emotions are the fault of someone else is to say I don’t want to take responsibility for how I feel.
So why do we feel these things? The key is to realize that I already feel guilty about not calling my mom with a certain frequency, and when she says something about it, my guilt comes up to the surface and smacks me in the face. The conversation with her simply acted as a catalyst for the guilt to arise. It is not her fault. She did not make me feel that way.
She could attempt to use the same manipulative language, “Oh, it’s so nice to speak with you, David. I wish we could do it more often. I so rarely hear your voice.” To which I can take the bait, and feel guilty, or I can recognize that my mom is working with her own issues of abandonment and feeling unloved, which existed long before I was born.
No one can make me feel a particular way any more than I can make anyone else feel something. Suppose I am walking down the street, and I pass someone whose hair strikes me as attractive. I pause and say, “Hi there, I really like your hair.” This woman may feel flattered and happy, and say, “Oh, thank you so much!” She may frustratedly say, “Ugh! I hate my hair. I totally messed it up this morning and I’m on my way to get it cut short cause I can’t stand it.” Or, she may suddenly burst into tears, as her hair is a wig she just put on because she’s going through chemotherapy.
My intent in that statement is one of spreading joy and positivity. Her reaction is 100% about her. I did not make her feel happy, or upset, or devastated. She was already feeling those things, but they were quietly hanging out under the surface until I came along and stirred the pot.
Does this mean I was wrong to say something? No, not at all. But it would be misguided for either of us to say that I made her feel a particular way.
I will encourage you to take note of your own feelings, and use what shows up as a signal of what is already going on within you. Your feelings are yours!