Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

You Are Not Responsible For Someone Else’s Feelings – Only Your Own (And They Aren’t Responsible for Yours)

You Are Not Responsible For Someone Else’s Feelings – Only Your Own
(And They Aren’t Responsible for Yours)

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot.
When you realize that everything springs only from yourself,
you will learn both peace and joy.”

~Dalai Lama

How many times have you heard or said some version of the following: My mother always makes me feel so guilty! Or, I don’t want to say that to my friend because it will make her feel bad.

The operative word here is make. Nobody can make you feel anything you choose not to feel. Nor do you have the power or control over someone else’s feelings. Your feelings are your responsibility, and other people’s feelings are their responsibility, with the exception of knowingly and deliberately saying or doing something cruel with the express purpose of hurting them.

Blaming someone else for hurting your feelings shows a lack of maturity. Your feelings emerge from your thoughts, and are not caused by what someone else says or does. This is not to say that you are not affected in some way by what someone does. But you still are responsible for taking care of your own emotions. Don’t hand over power or control of your emotional life to someone else by playing the blame game, and by doing so, making yourself a victim. Empower yourself by accepting responsibility for your feelings.

And conversely, you can’t create or control someone else’s thoughts or feelings. You might say the exact same thing to two different people and each could react in a completely different way. If you believe you’re responsible for whatever they feel, you’re giving yourself an imaginary power of control over them and how they react to you. Unfortunately, you don’t have that power.

Your feelings belong to you. You own them. That makes you responsible for them, and for taking care of them in whatever way works for you. What to acknowledge when you are angry, hurt or sad (or any other emotion you’re feeling):  this is what I am feeling right now, and if possible, name it as precise and narrowly as you can.

I most often hear people say they’re “upset.” Upset is very broad and can mean a lot of different things. Say “angry,” “enraged,” “furious,” “guilty,” “ashamed,” “embarrassed,” “irritated,” “annoyed,” or whatever word best describes the emotion you’re feeling at that moment. Then remind yourself (and this will go a long way towards resolving it) that you won’t always feel that way. Because you won’t.

You have to keep in mind that something that comes from somewhere or someone else cannot make you feel something if you choose not to feel it. I know it’s a hard concept to grasp and own, and often you experience it that way. But you cause your own feelings – they’re not caused by someone or something else. They’re caused by your thoughts and reactions to what has happened.

Not to say, of course that you should simply tell yourself “oh it’s nothing, it’s fine, no problemo,” and shove your feelings under the rug or try to push them away. It’s important to always give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling in the moment, but name it, and remind yourself you won’t always feel that way.

So far we’ve talked about what could be called “negative” feelings (anger, hate, resentment, etc.), though I don’t really like labeling feelings as good or bad, right or wrong, they just are what they are on the grand spectrum of emotions we all possess, even if we’re not in touch with them.

The same concepts apply to the other end of the spectrum. You can’t make someone love you. How they feel towards you is on them, and again, you’re neither in control of nor responsible for it. And you don’t want to be dependent on someone else for your own happiness. That , say, being with someone “makes you feel special,” or you feel deep love only because of how that person treats you. Again, it’s a bit tricky. Sure, if someone does something sweet, you react with pleasure and gratitude. But it’s still YOUR feeling, and you own it.

I’m sure there’s rebellion floating around in your heads at what I’m suggesting here: that you’re responsible to and for only your own feelings. I’m going to propose a way to mitigate what many of you must be sure is the case. Instead of saying “he made me feel,” make a slight semantic adjustment. Use an “I statement.” Say “I felt angry when he did that,” instead of “he made me feel angry.” It expresses the same thing, but by using an I statement you are shifting the responsibility to yourself and taking ownership of that feeling instead of placing the blame onto the other person.

Simple, right? Well, I get that it’s hard to accept, and even harder to internalize. There will be triggers everywhere from what you’ve been taught and heard around you most of your life. You didn’t invent this way of thinking, but somewhere along the line you learned it. It’s common, possibly pervasive, passed down from one generation to the next. But you can break that cycle, and grow into a more mature person in your recognition of how this optimally works.

Remember, as Eleanor Roosevelt so wisely said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

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