She Made Me Feel That Way!

There’s a pervasive myth that victimizes all of us: the myth that another person can “make” you feel an emotion. How often do we hear someone else say, “She makes me feel guilty,” “He makes me so mad.” How often have you heard someone ask, “How did that make you feel?”

No one can make you feel any emotion.

I know what you’re thinking: Elaine, don’t be ridiculous! Are you telling me that Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton doesn’t piss you off?

in charge of our attitudesYes, that’s what I’m saying.

The emotions you feel are entirely self-generated.

Feelings arise spontaneously within us. They are morally neutral. They are distinct from attitudes and actions. There is nothing good or bad about feeling rage when you listen to a political debate.

Acting on that rage by planning an assassination is bad.

Acting on that rage by volunteering to register people to vote is good.

Similarly, Trump and Clinton aren’t getting into your soul and pulling the “anger” switch. Your brain interprets the words they say, creates a narrative for you to comprehend their statement, and then an emotion arises in response. You pulled your own “anger” switch.

Yes, you might become angry when listening to political commentary. Yes, you might become sad when a friend criticizes you. Yes, you will be happy when the object of your desire showers you with affection. Other people are triggering emotional responses, but you are also triggering them. You create the narrative in your head that reinforces triggers.

This is not to say that people can’t injure or hurt you. Of course another person or object can cause you physical pain. If your husband punches you in the gut, you will feel pain, and he made you feel than pain. But if your husband calls you a bitch, your internal narrative tells you how to interpret that and how to feel. You can feel hurt, or shocked, or angry, or defensive, or insulted. (And if your husband does either of these things, you are in a domestic violence situation). Your husband didn’t make you feel sad: he acted one way and your narrative told you how to emotionally react.

This is not blaming, this is empowering. You are in charge of both your emotions and your actions.

I can hear your objections already, and I share them! Yes, if my husband were to call me a name, I would be hurt emotionally. I wouldn’t believe that I was in control of that feeling. That’s because my narrative about our marriage includes this story: “My husband doesn’t call me names because he respects me and he follows the rules of common courtesy.” If he called me a name, my narrative would tell me that he didn’t respect me after all; that I was wrong about our relationship; and therefore I need to feel sad. My narrative also goes on to say: “If my husband called me a name, I would kick him out of the house until he got some anger management counseling.” But ALL of that is within my own mind.

Here’s your action step around this.

Remove all language of force and control around your feelings and other people.

Instead of “How did that make you feel?” ask “How did you feel about that?”

Instead of “She makes me so ___,” say, “I feel ___ about her actions.”

Instead of “He hurts my feelings,” say “I don’t enjoy being around him.”

Want to talk with me directly about this? Schedule a Breath of Fresh Air with me today!

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