Am I responsible for my feelings and thoughts, or are they?

 photo credit: Lori Greig

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.



6 Responses

  1. Thata,
    I can relate to many many many of my years being lived in the way you have described. I found my great need to insure to another that I understand them stemmed from how painful it was for me growing up without someone who took time to get to know me. I judged my parents harshly for not being there for me and as a result told myself, “I’ll never be so “out to lunch” that I’m not there for others because I know how much that hurts.”
    It took a long time to realize I could not heal my inner wounds of abandonment by blaming and judging my parents and thinking I could actually be a good friend to others by trying to mind-read them to give them what I thought they needed.
    It was always about my own pain that I just couldn’t bear to face, afraid to feel it through in order for the wound to heal.
    This is my story. If it doesn’t pertain to you, it may pertain to some of those you meet.

  2. You’re so right, thata, it is not only “hard to please everybody” – it is impossible!

    We cannot control what others think, nor can we even guess, most of the time, how they will interpret what we say or do.

    This makes this need you express to “make sure that all my friends must be taken care of whether I’m okay or not …” sound absolutely exhausting!

    Don’t you think it’s a strange notion that we’ve all grown-up with that tells us we must prove we care about others by taking responsibility for their emotional state of well-being? Especially when we consider the impossibility of it!

    I’ve found that the kindest thing I can do for you is to take care of myself, for by doing so, I model for you, and grant to you, permission to do the same for yourself. If you take care of you I won’t have to. If I take care of me, you won’t have to. And since we are each the only one who knows our true needs, it seems in right order that the task of safe-guarding our well-being be left up to ourselves.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Blessings, Lynne

  3. Well, all I can say is its hard to please everybody. With the difference in feelings and reactions one has to know deeper the attitude of his companions. In that sense its really true that by nature man is unique. But if it so happened that I’m one of your companion I always make sure that all my friends must be taken cared of whether I’m okay or not and because I’m with some friends everyone’s feeling really matters to me.

  4. Sweetie, You can still enjoy feeling “moved” regardless of the source of that feeling! Whether you believe that feeling comes from someone else, or your own thoughts, it’s a wonderful feeling – why wouldn’t you enjoy it? Being “moved” is an expression of love. It comes from the state of mind we call gratitude! I notice that as I clear more of my limiting, unhappy story, I feel “moved” by compassion and love more and more often! 🙂

  5. I’m really curious to understand how we’re supposed to take POSITIVE news and control our response? When someone says or does something to show love how can I use the model you’ve described above to actually recieve their love without turning into a situation it’s really all about how I decide I feel and not about how they’re trying to make me feel? I don’t know, I understand all of the above but is there ever room for feeling moved by someone else instead of putting it all on myself? It seems like an extremely cold state of mind :S

  6. Your story use you to illustrate your point….as I read it and saw the various reactions to the restaurant serving no food my eyes rested on how beautiful each individual was so different. Each one has their own issues, thus their own very personal knee-jerk reaction. As we listen to our own initial story and view it as a loving observer of it allowing it to be as is without condition, we then can be in a position to Respond instead of React.

    I believe this area of acceptance of our own individual way of things first hitting us…validating them as they are gives us room to step out of believing everybody should think or feel the way I do. When we are stuck in that thinking we try to then manipulate our experience and people around us.

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