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Margaret Paul, Ph.D. Headshot

Who Is Responsible for Your Feelings?

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If you pay careful attention to your emotions, you will discover, in your relationships with others, that it is often not another's behavior that is creating your misery or your inner peace or joy, but rather your own responses. When you respond to another's unloving behavior with anger, blame, resistance, withdrawal or compliance, you will likely end up feeling anxious, stressed or depressed.

On the deeper level of your core painful feelings, others' unloving behavior causes loneliness, heartache, heartbreak and helplessness over emotions. As adults, however, we all can learn to manage these painful feelings.

One of our greatest challenges is to understand what, as adults, personal responsibility means regarding our own feelings and behavior. This is especially difficult when someone is behaving in a way that feels unloving to us -- attacking, blaming, lying, guilting, and so on. It is so easy to believe that your misery is coming from their behavior, rather than from your own response to their behavior.

If you pay careful attention to your feelings, you will discover that when you are willing to compassionately embrace your core painful feelings without protecting against them with your own unloving behavior, you do not feel anxious, depressed, stressed or miserable. When you fully embrace the sadness, sorrow, loneliness, grief, heartache, heartbreak and helplessness, you move through these core painful feelings very quickly and into loving action on your own behalf.

If, as an adult, you are miserable in the face of another's unloving behavior, it is not their behavior that is creating your misery, but rather your own unloving response. Your own unloving behavior toward another is also unloving toward yourself.

For example, if you respond to another's anger by getting angry back, rather than by taking care of yourself through choosing an intent to learn or lovingly disengaging, you will not feel safe. You have not responded as a loving adult in a way that leads to being treated respectfully. Instead, you have responded from your ego-wounded self, trying to have control over the other's behavior. Since the other is likely to respond with more anger or withdrawal, you end up feeling bad from the interaction.

I discovered that whenever I did not take care of myself when being treated badly -- such as failing to lovingly disengage from the interaction and compassionately embrace the core painful feelings -- I felt awful. It was so easy to think that I felt awful because of how I was being treated by the other person, rather than because of how I was treating myself and the other person. Now, when I respond to another's anger, blame or other violating behavior by either moving into an intent to learn about myself and them, or disengaging without anger, shaming or blaming, and tend to my core pain, I feel great. It is deeply gratifying to me to know that my feelings are always my responsibility because then I can do something about feeling badly -- I can practice responding lovingly no matter what.

A number of years ago, while dialoguing with my inner spiritual guidance, she told me that one of my soul's lessons is to learn to respond lovingly no matter what -- with no conditions under which it is okay to respond unlovingly. At the time, I found this very challenging. As soon as I got it right in one situation, spirit arranged for me to be challenged by new situations. This appears to be the way our souls grow when we have opted for spiritual growth. However, we are never given more than we can handle, and each time I learn to respond lovingly in a new situation, I feel more loved, safe and valued.

It is so easy to revert to my wounded self and claim that this time, my feelings are not my responsibility. This time it really is the other person's fault. This time they have gone too far, and no one could expect me to feel okay in this situation. But each time I keep my loving adult self present and take loving care of my feelings, the lesson hits home anew -- all my feelings really are my responsibility.