When we tell everyone that they’re “responsible for their own feelings,” we lose something we need desperately in our world: compassion.
I see it time and time again when someone mentions being triggered, or when someone has a hard time dealing with a confrontation. There’s always that one person (or several people) proclaiming, “no one controls your feelings but you.” Or “You’re responsible for your own feelings.” Or they quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And while all that might be true, it ignores one very important factor: the aggressor is responsible for the actions they take, too. And they’re responsible for the consequences of those actions.
Yes, you have some responsibility for how you make people feel.
There have been a couple of times in my life when I was going through a terribly difficult time, and along came the straw that broke the camel’s back. You don’t know what people are going through, and you don’t know if you’re going to be that straw for someone. So treat people with kindness.
True, you don’t have control over other people’s feelings, and you can’t live your life stepping on eggshells in fear of setting someone off. However, that doesn’t give you license to demean others, call them names, and tell them to just deal with the feelings you’re causing. Yes, you do have partial responsibility for how you make people feel. And you should act accordingly.
So the next time you feel inclined to tell someone “you’re responsible for your own feelings,” think back to what you have said to that person or what might have been said to them. Consider the history you might not be aware of—how this person might still be working really hard at healing from an abusive relationship. How this person might have a loved one on their deathbed and is especially vulnerable in this moment. How this person needs compassion and unconditional love desperately, and how all you’re giving them is disdain.
Consider how your own self-development journey into being someone who isn’t affected by “triggers” might be playing out for the people around you. It’s great to be strong and “trigger-proof,” but if that makes you someone without compassion and without love for others, was it worth it? Consider that perhaps not everyone is as strong as you. That everyone experiences things differently and is at a different point in their journey. That in the time it takes for you to say, “only you can manage your feelings,” that person may be having physical symptoms from an anxiety disorder, and you’re exacerbating those symptoms with your lack of compassion. And that’s just one example.
Stop judging others for their reaction to events and start offering a listening ear, a “walk a mile in their shoes” attitude, and learn that your way of dealing with things doesn’t have to and never will be everyone’s way.
And most importantly, remember this: people won’t always remember how emotionally strong you were, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Want to leave your mark on this world? Stop belittling those who are still healing from emotional upheaveal and are struggling to not let things affect them. Want to leave your mark on this world? Let people remember that you made them feel wonderful. Want to leave your mark on this world? Be kind.