There are two distinct ways of perceiving our thoughts and feelings. We either believe that the world outside of us, particularly other people, determines our feelings OR we believe that it is our thoughts that determines our feelings. The perception we choose makes a huge difference in the quality of life we get to experience!
When we believe others make us feel, we perceive life as victims. We see others as having say-so over our emotional well-being, therefore we are at their mercy. As a result we constantly attempt to control, or change, the way they interact with us so that we don't get hurt by them.
When we understand that it's our thoughts that determines our feelings, then we are not at the mercy of external events or other people. We mind less what others think or do, because we know that we have a choice about how to perceive what happens. This perception leaves us free and in charge of our own emotional state.
Here's an example:
Let's say several of us are scheduled to meet for lunch today. When we all get to the agreed upon restaurant, the maitre'd informs us that food is no longer being served. Even though he says the same thing to all of us, everyone of us has a different reaction to the news. As we look around we notice an array of different emotions on the faces of our friends.
Ted is angry, thinking, “why didn't anyone check on serving hours before we made the trip?! Beth, on the other hand feels disappointed, “this is the only place that serves something that works on my diet, she pouts. Jerry is anxious, “My blood levels are dangerously low – now I have to wait even longer before I can eat! What if I pass out?!” And Sally feels excited! “Oh, this is great! she thinks, “finally a chance to try that new restaurant down the street that I've been wanting to try!”
So each person is having a totally different feeling experience in response to the external situation. If it were the situation causing our feelings, the feelings would be the same around the circle – but that's not the case. Instead the emotional response is different for each person, because their reaction has nothing to do with what was said, but is about what they are telling themselves about what was said. Therefore it is their thoughts that produces their emotional response, not the external situation. External situations are triggers, nothing more; they are not the cause of our emotional state!
If someone punches us in the face, and we spiral into a negative, fear-based train of thought (which, granted, is what most of us would tend to do automatically simply because it's what we expect to feel in such a situation), then we will feel all the feelings that go with that set of thoughts and beliefs.
If, on the other hand, we are punched in the face, and our thought is “Glad that's over! Let's move on,” and there's nothing in us that needs to hang on to that negative event, or make the other person into an enemy, or to make them see what they “did to us!” then we may find, much to our amazement and delight, that we are able to move quickly into a totally different feeling experience, one that returns us more quickly to peace.
Being at peace does not mean condoning “bad behavior” by the way (see my last post). We might take immediate and decisive action to intervene on a situation in some way, but we have learned that we don't have to hold onto a negative spin about what happened in order to move towards change.
We learn to take action to protect ourselves, but how we feel about what happens in our lives, i.e. the story we tell ourselves about how, what, and why things happen, is up to us. We can choose to see our life situations in terms of unfairness, and feel persecuted and mistreated, or we can see the things that happen in our lives as stepping stones to a better place. Since what we tell ourselves determines how we feel, why wouldn't we choose to perceive our life situations in a kinder, more loving way?
The truth is that when we assume responsibility for the feelings of others we easily move into the need and compulsion to manage their responses and outcomes (for example. “I shouldn't tell them the truth because they will feel bad” or “they shouldn't say those things so I'm going to set them straight…” etc.). We move into ‘shouldville' and try to control things into being the way we think they should be. Resistance inevitably results.
The healthier alternative is to assume 100% responsibility for the thoughts that are (ALWAYS) responsible for our feelings and to simultaneously treat others with the respect and kindness that comes from aligning with basic guiding principles. Such guiding principles allow us to see that others (always) respond the way they do because they believe what they think. We further come to see that what others say to us, regardless of whether we think they should speak to us thusly or not, is not coincidental at all, but, because the world is a mirror, their responses will be for us a reflection of our own beliefs.
Being responsible for our thoughts and feelings vs taking responsibility for the thoughts and feelings of others means we assume responsibility for our own tone of voice, for our choice of words in conveying our message, for maintaining respect for ourselves and them, if for no other reason than because we want to be treated with the same degree of respect and kindness.
In short, we can assume 100% responsibility for our own feelings and know that others are responsible for their feelings without being cold and unkind towards them.
My book, Guiding Principles for Life Beyond Victim Consciousness, goes into great detail about learning the difference between these two ways of perceiving the world. You will not only learn how to recognize when you are in a victim mentality, but also how to extricate yourself from it. I highly recommend it if you want to enhance your understanding of these principles.