“How could she be so cruel? She made me feel so hurt.”
I have heard variations of this in therapy from my clients, where they strongly believe that another person is responsible for how they feel, not aware of how they are falling into a victim role with this stance. Lack of self-awareness also makes one project one’s own negative self-beliefs and criticisms onto others, attributing these judgments onto the other, without any self-examination.
There are others who take responsibility for how others react to them or how others feel, and go to great lengths to manage the emotions of those closest to them. This confusion is especially prevalent among adults who grew up with childhood emotional neglect and in those whose parents have used guilt and blame as a form of emotional manipulation. In such clients, there is a great fear in hurting the other, or that the other is going to react in an emotional manner, especially since they believe they are responsible for how the other feels. A common negative self-belief here is “It is my fault”, that was ingrained mostly by experiences in early childhood, and therefore this belief has not been questioned or examined deeply.
So let me state it clearly: You are responsible only for [managing] your own emotions, and only you are responsible for [managing] your emotions.
To learn this experientially, mindfulness practices are the first step. Being mindful simply means observing your own thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, with a non-judgmental attitude. As you practice being an observer in your daily life activities, it gives you the space to respond mindfully, rather than react automatically. This practice will help you identify triggers that are the source of strong emotional reactions, which are usually rooted in unresolved events and memories from the past. This helps you see that it is not the environment or the person who is around who is to be blamed when you are triggered.
A related maxim is “Don’t take things personally”. Everything a person does (including their emotional reactions to you) is a result of their own internal state, which is a reflection of their own histories, beliefs and awareness (or lack thereof). Living by this maxim frees us from unnecessarily carrying emotional burdens and feeling responsible for what is not ours.
Each one of us is responsible for our own choices and happiness alone. This does not mean that one is self-centered or selfish. It simply means that happiness is a very personal task, which simply cannot be done on behalf of another. However, working on your own happiness, lifts all those around you - at-times an unintended, but positive, side-effect!
Check out Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The 4 agreements” for further reading on this topic.