Getting back to the idea of taking responsibility for my own feelings, I got to thinking about why we push responsibility onto others. After all, the feelings are coming from inside us, right?
Let’s say we’re having a conversation, and you say something about my mother, and I get angry.
Why do I get angry?
I’m not a psychotherapist, in spite of my education in psychology and a family full of psychotherapists*. I am a student of human nature, so I’ll take my best guess.
I’d say there are some good possibilities: I feel disrespected; I feel that I – through what you said about my mother – am being judged; I love my mother, and feel that you’ve disrespected her.
All of these are valid. Yet why angry? Why would any of these lead to me feeling angry?
I believe that it comes down to my sense of self-worth – that somehow, by disrespecting and/or judging me and/or my mother, you have also called into question my value on this planet.
Okay – I get that, too. Having someone question your value could be annoying.
But why? Why does someone else’s opinion, belief, or random thought matter?
Because I don’t want to – or can’t – acknowledge or deal with my own fear of being less valuable. And you’ve just put it out there in words!
So I blame you. Internally, I believe it’s your fault. Externally, I take action on that belief.
I’m lying. I’m lying to myself and telling myself that I’m angry because you have disrespected me. I’m lying to you in the same way.
Perhaps the real problem is my self-image and sense of self-worth. Perhaps if I felt more comfortable with who I am and what I do and all the rest of it, instead of feeling angry, I’d feel some pity and/or sympathy.
In retrospect, this is part of what happened with my friend the other day in our email exchange that I mentioned in Learning to type. It would have been very easy to react to his hostility and his hurtful words. It was tempting now and then.
Fortunately for me, I’ve been working on not lying to myself, not lying to others, not taking responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors, and not assigning responsibility for my feelings and behaviors.
He didn’t make me angry, nor did I feel angry, because I recognized what was going on. It was like a rain storm – nothing I can do about it, it’s got nothing to do with me, and I just have to wait and it’ll end.
Being honest with myself is hard. Being honest with you is harder. And both are worth doing.
* Here’s the story: My father’s father was a psychologist. My father and his sister were psychologists. My older brother is a psychologist. My two younger sisters are psychotherapists. I’ve had a couple of stepmothers who are psychotherapists. My mother worked in business and then in foundations until she was 60, went back to school to get a graduate degree and became
a psychotherapist. In spite of my undergraduate and graduate education in clinical psychology, I’ve never been a practicing psychotherapist.
I refer to myself as the white sheep of the family.