To All of You Who Have Ever Felt Responsible for How Someone Else Feels (which is probably just about everybody on this planet)
It started when you were young. When your parents became parents. And when theirs became parents. Long before that, still.
They were bigger than you. You had no hair, no teeth, could only see vague colorless shapes, couldn’t sit, couldn’t feed yourself and pee’d yourself.
No wonder they thought they were more full of wisdom than your diapers.
You were their sole responsibility and they took that responsibility seriously. It was their assignment to show you the way, to guide you, and to hold red flags up to all of the things you should watch out for.
According to the World Book of Parenting - they the parents, were here to teach you lessons.
The ones you were born to had strong opinions about how things – and you – should be. It was their charge to show you how to behave. If you behaved in ways that were appropriate and likeable to them, you got the high-ho’s and praises, “We like this”, they said. This translated to you as, “I do what they want and what they like, I receive their approval. Approval feels good.”
If you didn’t do what was fitting and suitable to them, they said (or gave you the look that said), “We don’t like this”, and you changed your behavior to accommodate their preferences of your behavior.
If you did what they wanted, everyone was happy once again – until you did something else that they didn’t approve of.
Once again, “Approval feels better than disapproval, so I’d better do what they want.”
If (when) you misbehaved, were naughty, acted out and up, you often got - an ultimatum. Maybe it was, “Go to your room.” Maybe it was, “You need a time-out.” Maybe it was, “If you don’t do this thing I need you to do, or if you don’t stop that thing you’re doing, I’m going to take away your most prized possession and throw it in the garbage. Maybe then, you’ll listen to me and do what I say.”
Anytime anyone has ever misbehaved is because of a perceived lack of personal power. That also includes your parents’ misbehaving.
Is it any wonder that when we’re in relationships and when we parent, what we do is lash out and want to hurt others given that in that moment we’re feeling a perceived lack of our own personal power?
Is it any wonder that your parents took away – or at least threatened to take away – your most prized possessions when they felt powerless?
…So they took away your stuff so you could think about how bad you were.
Approval or disapproval, you got the subliminal and overt messages that you got their love, or the withholding of their love, depending on your behavior.
You don’t feel safe because the people around you told you that you needed to behave in ways that pleased them. You needed to stop what you were doing. You needed to tone it down, reign it in, ship-up, shape-up, get over it and get responsible. Especially – stop being so playful and excited. That was really annoying to the people around you who weren’t excited about their own life.
You needed to stop being unacceptable in whatever way you were being so that your parents (and other people) could find you more acceptable. You also needed to know that what was acceptable was always changeable depending on their mood.
You – all full of yourself and tuned-in at first, didn’t pay much attention to their conditional love.
They rolled their eyes, they yelled, they – gave you the look. They (a good majority of the time) took life very seriously while you didn’t.
Eventually, somehow-someway, they convinced you of your inappropriateness. You began acclimating to their approach to life (to some extent) because after all, they were bigger and they gave you consequences for the “bad” behavior that they didn’t like, and nods for the behaviors they did like.
You now never have to wonder again how you interpreted that you were responsible for how other people feel.
This is not a bash on parenting. We live in a conditional world where we react and respond to things we’re observing. We live in a world where people have lost sight of their own guidance and internal compass. Many people believe they need others to be a certain way so that they can feel in-control of how they feel and have a better experience. “If you do this, I feel good.” “If you be this way, I feel good.” “If you don’t be or do as I say or want, I don’t feel good and it’s your fault. You’re responsible for how I feel. I apparently have no control of my perception of the situation or of you and therefore, I believe that in order to feel good I need to control you and I need you to modify yourself and/or your behavior in the ways that make me feel good. And remember, that’s variable. I may feel this way about you in this moment, but just give me some time to get happy or get upset at something else that I’m paying attention to and the behavior that I require from you may or may not be different.”
All along you had this voice inside of you that said, “But they’re wrong about me. I AM good,” and that’s why their disapproval and reprimanding felt so bad.
The feeling you had was never affirmation about your inevitable badness, it was that deep inside, you knew you were good. Yet, you had these people around you pointing out that you weren’t appropriate or pleasing them in some way.
When people feel bad - even if it’s directed at you - it’s about the feeler of the emotion. It’s not about you.
You learned about love. You learned how to treat other people. You learned to yell when you were mad. You learned to repress, suppress and modify any emotion you ever had to be sure that whoever was watching you - would approve. You learned you were good or bad and you learned that God, Santa and the Easter Bunny would all come for you if you were the former of the two. Otherwise – punishment, ultimatums, withholding, and things taken away.
You learned to be defensive because the people who said they loved you made demands and wanted you to obey their rules – rather than your own internal compass.
People believe that in order for their world to be the way they want it to be, you have to do something you don’t want to do to please them.
They were feeling disrespected.
They were feeling responsible.
They were feeling tired, busy, frazzled, frustrated, out of control, overwhelmed or depressed.
Trying to parent you, guide you, and lead you from that feeling-place would be like driving drunk with no shoes on. …. I know, that doesn’t make sense, and neither does approaching parenting from that perspective.
They weren’t consistently happy therefore, how could they consistently be pleased with you?
It’s all been a misunderstanding about your relationship to you and your relationship to others. Everybody thinks that it’s everybody else’s job to make them feel better. Have you been on FB lately? ;)
Most people are well-meaning and well-intentioned, especially when it comes to parenting. All of us innately want to feel good and when we observe people and things that feel good, we draw the conclusion that it takes our control to keep things that way. When we observe people and things that don’t feel good, we draw the conclusion that we need to control the people or the things around us because they’re the cause of our not feeling good. It’s understandable that we’ve deduced from that, that the more we control people and things the more control we have over how we feel.
What most people don’t know is that we all have the ability to feel good whether anyone else does something about it or not.
You don’t reprimand and punish anyone into feeling better.
You can’t control enough people or things to feel better.
No one ever had the power to grant you your worthiness.
You were never responsible for how anyone around you felt – even if they blamed you for it.
It’s the feeler’s sole responsibility – it was never your assignment to be different so that the people around you could feel good.
It’s the feeler’s sole responsibility – it’s never anyone else’s assignment to be different so that you can feel good.
Feelings are the sole responsibility of the feeler. Period. Anything else is powerless.