Emotional Independence—Taking Responsibility for Our Feelings
We are all responsible for our own feelings.
Even though our feelings are intertwined with the feelings, words, and actions of others, the responsibility for them is ultimately ours and ours alone. There are extreme situations in which another person can significantly impact our emotional state, but we are still responsible for what we do in response to that impact. We should never give that responsibility to anyone else. When we abdicate responsibility for our emotions and give that responsibility to others, we give them power over us—power that is rightfully ours. Realizing this can give us a great sense of freedom: freedom to act in ways that will give us happiness, fulfillment, and peace, and freedom from others’ control over us.
You are responsible for your own happiness. You have the power to be happy. If we can assimilate this fact into our outlook, it is a game-changer.
It starts with control—realizing that we don’t have control of many of the things we think will make us happy. What we can control is what we choose to focus on. We have control over our feelings of gratitude for the good things in our lives. We can be mindful and cultivate non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. We can be happy about who we are, without any hint of self-doubt or regret. If we can do these things, we will have the power to be happy within us, and not sometime in the future when we achieve our goals, but right now.
When someone makes us angry, it can be easy to place all the responsibility for that anger with the other person. But it’s important to understand the distinction between a person being culpable for their words or actions and being responsible for our emotions. Yes, we should hold someone accountable if they did something that resulted in harm to us or others we care about. Yes, we should work to see that there is an appropriate response. But, we should also examine our anger and ensure that it is appropriately placed; we should take full responsibility for that anger when moving forward. Others may cause anger, but we choose how we respond to that anger and how it impacts our outlook, our state of mind, and our words and actions. It’s our responsibility to make room in our lives for peace and positivity, even in the face of unrelenting anger. If we can’t do that, the anger will overwhelm us and poison our souls. We may not be able to help feeling angry, but we do have responsibility for how we incorporate that anger into our lives and what we do with it moving into the future. We also are responsible for transforming that anger into insight and wisdom.
Violence and Betrayal
Another way our feelings can be affected by others is through violence. If you are the victim of violence, the reason for the way you feel is the action of the person who attacked you. A friend who is a rape victim once told me that her attacker “took away her capacity for happiness.” People who inflict violence on others are certainly culpable for the impact they have on others and should be treated accordingly. But again, we should never give these people power over the way we react to their actions or over our emotional path when moving forward. Of course, this is not easy—it’s extraordinarily difficult and takes a lot of work—but people who commit violent acts against us have taken enough from us. We shouldn’t give them more—we shouldn’t give them power over our emotional state.
Betrayal is another area in which it feels like another person has taken control of our emotions. There are all kinds of betrayals with varying levels of severity. One of the most hurtful and, unfortunately, one of the most common, is cheating on a significant other. When this happens, it can feel like our world has been taken away—like the Earth has been swept out from underneath us. We can feel totally devastated emotionally. But, as with violence, we should hold these people accountable, but we should not give them power over or responsibility for our emotional state. If it seems like this is happening, this is likely a red flag about the nature and health of the relationship.
Love and Loyalty
The other side of this coin is the influence that our healthy, loving relationships have on our emotions. When we think about our children or others we care deeply about—so deeply that their emotional state can literally drive our emotional state—it’s difficult to believe that we have any control over our emotions. Parents say that it’s their job to worry—that they can’t help but worry. When our child feels pain, we care so deeply that we feel that pain too. Romantic relationships are very different but can be just as intense. When we’re deeply in love we feel we would take a bullet for the one we love. Family can also elicit feelings of intense loyalty and empathy. All of these seem like such hard-wired emotional responses; is it possible to alter them and, equally importantly, would we ever want to?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these strong feelings of love and loyalty—they are part of what makes life worth living. If we are mindful of them, we can incorporate them into our own emotional landscape. We can take responsibility for them and make them a fundamental part of our essential self.
Your emotions are your emotions—no one has responsibility for them except you.
The Other has acted again and I am Victim.
Its persecution engulfs me and I am powerless.
My power, if it ever was, is no more.
I don’t see it. I don’t feel it. Did I ever have it?
I’ll ask The Other.
The Other ignores my question.
I am anger. I am sadness. I am desperation.
I come to The Other and ask,
Is this all I am?
The Other ignores my question.
Where is the power? The power to defeat anger, sadness, desperation.
The power to defeat Victim.
I feel a fleeting sense of the power, but I can’t know it.
The Other has this power—I’ve experienced it.
The Other wields this power. The Other must know this power.
I look for The Other. The Other is no longer here.
The Other is not with me, yet I feel its presence.
I feel anger, but not at The Other. I feel anger at Victim.
When The Other acts, I am Victim.
There is no one here. Not Victim or The Other. There is only me.
I am here, now. I am present.
I feel awareness, but not judgement.
There is no anger, only me.
There is no sadness, only me.
There is no desperation, only me.
There is no Victim, only me.
The Other is here. It has the power!
But here, in the present, I know the power.
The power is in me. The power is me.
I am The Other. The Other is me.