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The Most Controversial Thing I'll Write All Year

Back when you were a kid, you learned a lesson. It was wrong. And it's time for you to unlearn it.

You learned that you were responsible for other people's feelings.

Not that you should care about other people's feelings. (You should.) Not just that you should be sensitive to other people's feelings. (You should.) But you were taught that you were actually responsible for other people's feelings.

It happens in almost all homes, even the loving ones. In abusive homes, it's more blatant. If Dad is unhappy, you get hit. So you learn that it is actually your responsibility to keep him happy, or there would be consequences. But even in non-abusive homes, it happened. If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. 

You are not responsible for other people's feelings. That's their job. And in fact, you are crossing their boundary if you try to control their feelings. They get to decide how they feel about something, not you. They may decide that you wearing a blue shirt makes them feel sad. And they get to decide that. Because it's their feelings.

But that doesn't mean that them feeling sad is your responsibility.

But you do have a responsibility.

You ARE responsible for your feelings.

Yes, you and only you are responsible for your feelings.

Let's first break down what that doesn't mean:

You are not responsible for making your feelings palatable to others, or repress them, or hide them. You are not responsible for your feelings making others uncomfortable.

But you are responsible for how you deal with your feelings -- how you choose to share them, to act them.

Our feelings are not always logical. They're affected by mood, temperament, heck even whether we've eaten recently. And they are definitely affected by our wounds.

A wound -- not a scar, but a wound -- is an area of unhealth. An unhealed wound means that when something bumps up against it, we react in a way we wouldn't react if we didn't have that wound.

Think of it this way. Right now, you could bump up against my shoulder, pretty hard in fact, and it wouldn't hurt. And so you wouldn't get much of a response from me.

But if there is a sliver of glass in my shoulder, you would barely have to brush up against it for me to feel a rush of pain. And when I felt the pain, I'd react -- wrenching away from you, yelling, maybe even shoving back.

You are responsible for your wounds. 

Hold up, I don't mean, "you are responsible for receiving the wound." Far from it. Most of the wounds we carry came from someone else. Your wound is not your fault. 

But even though you did not choose the wound, you have it now. And the care of it is your responsibility.

It is your responsibility to choose to begin working to heal the wound. It is your responsibility to deal with how you feel when someone bumps against it. It is your responsibility to manage it.

If I am going around life with a piece of glass in my arm, it is not your responsibility to know that, and avoid bumping me. It is my responsibility. And I get to decide how I will manage it.

I learn that certain things will cause my wound to flare up. "Triggers." And so then those triggers, too, are my responsibility. They are not yours. But ...

You are responsible for your triggers.

This does not mean you are responsible to ignore the triggers, or repress your response to them. But the triggers are, until healed, part of you. And so you are the only person responsible for them. And you get to decide how you will do this.

So maybe I have a trigger about someone calling me lazy. Because I had a parent who used to say that about me, and so there's a wound there. I have identified the wound, and I'm working real hard on healing the wound. I've got a friend, and he's teased me before about being lazy. I said to him that that's a wound for me, and I'm trying to heal it, but I'm not there yet. So I request that he not make those kinds of jokes.

He keeps doing it. I remind him, again, that I'm working on this, but his "jokes" hit a wound and get me all stirred up. I explain I would like for him to not make those jokes.

He keeps it up. So now I have a decision to make, because my triggers, and my wounds, are my responsibility. I have to set a boundary. And a boundary without a consequence isn't a boundary, it's just a wish.

"Friend, I've talked to you about this multiple times. Jokes about me being lazy push on an old wound. I'm trying to get healthy around that, but I'm not there yet, and these words don't help. So if you don't stop with the 'Lazy' jokes, I'm going to limit my time around you."

You get to decide your boundaries. You get to decide the consequences.

AND ...

Other people get to decide their boundaries. And consequences.

Strawperson friend responds, "Yeah? Well, you're censoring me, then. So if I can't say whatever I want to say around you, even tease you about being lazy, then forget it, I don't want to be your friend."

They get to decide. And you get to decide.

We live in a time where emotional self-responsibility is not the expectation. And you see it on every side: the person who feels they should be able to say whatever they want without consequence, the person who feels that the world should protect them from ever feeling uncomfortable.

Learning how to become responsible for what is ours, and knowing we are not responsible for what is someone else's, is the key to emotional maturity.

You are responsible for your feelings. 
You are responsible to your wounds.
You are responsible to your triggers.

You are not responsible for the feelings of others.






--
* Credit: this post, like much of what I write concerning Bowen Family Systems Theory is highly inspired by the work of Dr. Ken Shuman. Until he publishes his wisdom in this area, if you want to read more, read:

Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud 

Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions, by Roberta M. Gilbert






Comments

  1. Thank you for this. It's got my mind working overtime!

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Bless you."
    And I know that word will accomplish the purpose for which I spoke it. So too, will yours. I speak again, "Bless you."

    ReplyDelete

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