DANA'S MINDFUL MINUTE: YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S FEELINGS
posted: Apr. 29, 2022.
Inspiration This Week: Over Investment in Managing Others
I hear several times from clients situations where they are anticipating a response from another person and planning accordingly. For example, "my partner is going to be so upset when I tell him about this trip I have to take for my job." My client then spends their energy figuring out how to share the news in a minimally upsetting way, or tries to make compromises with the trip to preempt any issues, or may even try to find a way to avoid the conversation altogether.
I get it, you mean well by this person. Your intentions are good. You don't want any unnecessary conflict. You want to shield the person from discomfort or pain. Or maybe you just want to shield yourself from that discomfort or pain. But here is some perspective on how these well meaning actions are actually ineffective and more damaging than helpful.
Theme This Week: You Are Not Responsible for Other People's Feelings
If you've been a client of mine or even a loved one who's had some heart to heart, I guarantee you've heard me say this at least once. So let's break this down a little more. While we can be responsible to a person, we are not the cause of their feelings, nor can we control how they choose to respond to them. And the same rules for ourselves; no one else is the cause or the solution to our feelings. Feelings are a natural response to environmental stimuli, which informs our brain on how to respond, therefore directing our behaviors. If I touch a hot stove, my emotional response is to be in shock and fear, which then communicates and tells my hand to let up off of the hot surface. The partner in the example above may have feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, jealousy, or loneliness emerge as a result of hearing their partner is leaving on a work trip. That feeling is a communicator to tell them what values are important to them and guide them in sharing those values and fears with their partner.
But what happens when we do the work for them is we take their power and respect away. We are exerting our own control by assuming how the other person is going to feel and trying to think for them. And we are not respecting their individuality and ability to feel for themselves and make their own decisions. And then comes the tried and true, but damaging power dynamic of "I didn't tell you because I didn't want to upset you" matched with "I am now more upset and less trusting of you because you chose to hide something from me rather than just letting me know in the first place." We've all been there before, it doesn't end well. And in all reality, the pain and frustration you were trying to control against in the first place ends up being much larger and more damaging in the long run, so did you really help things?
Instead let's play out the scenario a little differently. Imagine instead of anticipating and controlling for the upsetting response, you choose to focus on what you need to say and your needs in the moment instead. You also choose to respect the person as a human who is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions and trust them that they may handle the difficult moment better than you think. Or accept that they may respond exactly as you imagined but also accept that their feelings are valid and give them the space to navigate and figure out how best to respond to those feelings.
Challenge This Week: Accept the People You Cannot Change and Change The Person You Can...YOU!
One of my favorite mantras is the serenity prayer, but once I heard a variation on it and I love it just as much, if not more. "God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to know the person I can change, and the wisdom to know that person is me." Instead of running over all the ways you could go through this difficult conversation with a loved one and trying to control for their feelings and responses, choose acceptance of the fact that you are only responsible for you and your actions and feelings. Choose acceptance and respect of your loved one to navigate their own emotional response. And focus your attention on being open to whatever that response may be and choosing how you will respond in that moment.
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