Owning My Emotions

A friend quoted a line from a book awhile back about being “responsible for your own feelings” and then I saw a quote elsewhere along the line of “nobody can make you feel anything.” I have turned this over and over in my brain for weeks now.

On delving into it further, what I understood them to be saying is that nobody can hurt you, nobody can make you angry, nobody can make you sad, etc., that you alone are in control of your emotions and if you do feel hurt, sad, angry, you just do.

I disagree and here’s why.

If this were true, no one would ever choose to feel negative emotions. Who in their right mind would ever choose to feel anger, pain, betrayal, loss, abandonment, gut-wrenching grief?

For example, if a spouse cheats, they most certainly make the wronged spouse feel anger, hurt, betrayal. I can’t imagine any spouse chooses to feel those things or has any control over those feelings.

A person who has been told by the love of their life that they no longer love them is certainly made to feel many painful emotions, none of which I believe they choose to feel or have control over feeling.

As a very personal example, I could list all the awful gamut of emotions that resulted from a suicide. I certainly didn’t choose to feel those emotions, nor did the loved ones left behind, but the person who committed the act certainly made them feel many negative emotions. They had no say in the matter. They didn’t choose their emotional reactions. The person caused untold damage and a myriad of emotions to everyone around them by their actions. I don’t believe one single person had a choice in feeling the things they felt, or continue to feel.

On a smaller scale, we all experience hurts by unkind or outright mean remarks, deliberate attacks on our person, being excluded, etc. People are flawed. Sometimes it’s unintentional, sometimes people are deliberately unkind. Life hurts.

This thought process, that no one else can make you feel hurt or angry or whatever, that it’s all on the feeling person, bemuses me. Unless I’m missing something, it basically gives a free pass to treat people like crap because it in essence says that if you are hurtful to another, be it intentionally through a spiteful comment, a callous remark, a betrayal of trust, etc., or unintentionally through neglect or thoughtlessness or whatever, that you bear no responsibility whatsoever for how that makes the other person feel, that you cannot make them feel anything because you don’t control their emotions, and thus any negative emotion they might feel as a result of your behavior is entirely their responsibility.

I don’t believe that for a minute. People hurt each other all the time. I don’t think anyone ever chooses to feel hurt by other people’s actions. I know I personally would have embraced the option not to feel gut-wrenching grief, tremendous sadness, loss, hurts from friends, hurts from family members, some deliberate, and some not. I don’t believe there was ever a choice about what I felt. I didn’t feel those things until they did something to make me feel those things.

And if no one else can make you feel anything, then where would those emotions come from, out of the blue, if not caused by interactions with other people? (I distinguish this from the melancholy I sometimes feel that is part of my personality.)

Likewise, if I have caused hurt to another because of something I said or did, I take full responsibility for that. I don’t blame them for feeling the way they do if I did something to cause it. I own it, I apologize, and I do my best to repair the damage. I can agree, however, that if someone feels hurt by something the other person did unintentionally and they are unaware they caused hurt, then the onus is on the person whose feelings are hurt to explain their feelings and why, so the person can become aware. If they do not do so, then I think by that response, they are choosing to stay hurt. (Does that make sense?)

Granted, I think I feel things on a much deeper level than most people do. I love with a ferocity and a passion and with every fiber of my being, and likewise when I am hurt by someone, I feel it intensely; when I lose people, in any sense of the word, I grieve for them with that same depth of emotion.

What I think I do choose – and bear full responsibility for – is my response to feeling those emotions. I can choose to let anger consume me or channel it into something constructive. I can choose to sit in sadness or to try to set it aside and move on, even though the pain is still there. I can choose to let an unkind remark sour my mood and ruin my entire day and take it out on other people, or I can choose to let it go, smile, and move on, even if it stung.

I can choose to be stunted or paralyzed by grief or become bitter over losses, or I can choose to take those feelings and draw from them to express compassion and empathy for others who are hurting.

I can choose to wall myself off in self-preservation and close my heart to new relationships because of hurts from prior ones, or I can choose to open myself up again and risk being vulnerable yet again. I think as a result of hurts I may have a greater sense of caution that I didn’t have before and I have to work harder to combat that to allow myself to be vulnerable again, but it is still a choice.

I can choose to let my experiences make me cruel or kind.

I don’t choose to feel or what I feel. People make me feel things all the time, every single day, and I feel those things too often to the very core of my being. That doesn’t mean those people control my emotions or I’m not in control of myself, it simply means I don’t live in a bubble. I am affected emotionally by other people simply because I have contact with them. I have no choice unless I become a complete hermit.

Being the intensely emotional person that I am, I don’t choose how deeply I feel my emotions or for how long. The more intensely I feel an emotion, usually the longer I have to sit with it, acknowledge it, and just let myself feel what I feel. I’ve learned that trying to deny my emotions doesn’t work.

And then when I’ve felt what I feel, or continue to feel, and reach a place of acceptance of my feelings, that’s when I have a choice. To some extent, I don’t have a choice how those emotions affect me, because sometimes they stay with me, sometimes they change me in some ways.

However, it is always my choice how I respond after feeling those emotions, what I do with them, how I behave. That is where I believe the choice lies.

I believe people do, indeed, make us feel many emotions. I don’t believe they have any control over my response to those emotions that they have made me feel. (The only example I can think of where I truly believe someone can’t make someone feel an emotion, are love and hate. You cannot make someone love you, we just love who we love and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to that, and I believe hatred is always a choice, an emotion that has to be willfully fed. I believe it is always a choice to respond to a person or a situation with love or hate.)

I try to respond with patience. Rather than be reactionary, I try to always understand why someone does what they do and ask for clarity when I don’t and hope they will be willing to give it. I try to always give the benefit of the doubt, even if it hasn’t been afforded to me. I try to stay open and be forgiving when needed. I try. Sometimes I fail miserably.

People definitely make me feel things. Every day.

I think the point I’m trying to make is that there is a big difference between feeling an emotion and having a response to an emotion, and people definitely make us feel things and we can’t control that, but we do choose and control the response to the things they make us feel and how we choose to behave.

I don’t think I am responsible for how someone else impacts me emotionally, for how they make me feel. If someone has discovered how to not let people make you feel things, I’M ALL EARS. I am responsible for my responses to those feelings. I am the only one who can control my responses to the feelings people evoke in me – I choose whether I rule my emotions or my emotions rule me.

I own my emotions and when I am in a place of conflict, hurt, or confusion, I try very hard to explain how I am feeling and why, as many times as it takes, and ask for dialogue to hopefully come to a place of understanding, and forgiveness on both sides if needed, if at all possible.

I want to respond from a place of love and kindness.

As always, I am a work in progress.

Thoughts? Is my perspective wrong on this?

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