Many of us are taught a powerless way of perceiving ourselves in the world.
This matters because #firstworldpain is still pain, and it can be crippling. You may have clean drinking water, food security, a family, a job, relative safety, and you can still choose to feel a real and powerful misery-- a misery that can find you no matter how good you have it. In some ways we are trained into this belief system.
Meet Isaiah. Isaiah doesn’t like to share. Sally doesn’t think that’s fair, feels envious, and those feelings lead her to take one of Isaiah’s things. Isaiah gets upset and screams. An adult enters to tell one or both of them that they did a bad thing by “hurting the others feelings.”
The well-intentioned reprimand is meant to teach Sally and Isaiah a valuable lesson about being considerate of each other. It has also taught a subtle concept that will be reinforced over an over as they grow up learning to think as you probably do: that other things and people are responsible for your feelings, and you are somehow to blame if others have uncomfortable, conflicted, or difficult feelings about you.
This is a concept one of my mentors, Brooke Castillo, labels "emotional childhood.” It means the emotional mind has not matured past the childhood stages of responsibility. In other words, deep down you still kinda believe that other people are responsible for you.
In a belief system where others are responsible for your feelings, and you are responsible for theirs, you tend to cling to the belief that it’s your job to MAKE others feel a certain way.
Therefore, you subconsciously run all your choices through a filter to evaluate what feelings others may have about it: “my friends will admire me,” “my mom will love me for this,” “my church would approve of me,” “my dad would be ashamed of me,” “my boyfriend would desire me,” and so on. You then make your choices depending on who you want to control most (ie: who you most want to make feel a particular way about you).
You do all of this instead of learning to instinctively run your choices through your own values or dreams, your own opinion of yourself, your core faith and beliefs, and what’s courageous and wisest for your circumstances.
The flip side of this belief is you learn to expect others to make you feel the way you want to feel. And in this model of thinking, when people don’t behave how you want them to, you believe you have no option but to feel bad or uncomfortable. And when you feel bad or uncomfortable you either make it mean something is wrong with you (self-worth issues) or you make it mean something is wrong with them (blaming, judgment, and anger).
Many of you spend a lot of your precious energy trying to control and manipulate others (ie: trying to make others feel good or like and approve of you).
- Parents who bend over backward to make their kids happy often find, years later, that the demands are unending and happiness is more and more fleeting (and expensive).
- When violence happens (maybe murder, maybe hitting, maybe yelling, maybe just passive aggression) the perpetrator feels justified because the other “made me so upset.”
- You compromise your values, you give too much of yourself away, you don’t speak the truth, you say yes when you mean no, all because you wanted to try and make someone have feelings of approval and desire for you or avoid seeing them angry and disappointed.
Parents, if your kids are responsible for how you feel, you will be desperate to control them so you don’t have to be uncomfortable.
If your spouse is responsible for how you feel, your brain will spend more time focused on ways to subtly control their actions then it will on how to love them or be a great partner.
If your boss is responsible for how you feel you will need them to agree with your opinions and values and behaviors in order for you to feel you are competent or good enough.
Emotional childhood looks like this:
“You MADE me upset.”
“She hurt my feelings.”
“He made me do it.”
“I have to”
“I can’t help it”
“He has to consider my feelings.”
“It’s all your fault.”
“I demand it/you/they.”
When you believe (overtly or subconsciously) that someone else is responsible for your feelings, to varying degrees you are essentially believing you don’t have to have any control over yourself. You are more likely to feel helpless and as if someone else has all the power— over you.
If you believe you are responsible for how someone else feels, you will find yourself constantly striving, manipulating, pretending, pleasing, lying, blaming, or judging. You will likely have much nicer ways of explaining (disguising) those behaviors such as: defending yourself, putting your foot down, being helpful and responsible, being selfless, putting others first, fixing, or holding up standards.
The difference between those behaviors and “disguised control” will show up in the fruit of the tree you are being. The demand for sacrifice from you will feel like it never ends, you will often experience bitterness, and your relationships will lack the feeling of connection no matter how pretty they look.
Most of us fall somewhere on a spectrum within this outlook. And no matter where you fall, maturing more and more into emotional adulthood is always possible and always worth it. Don’t believe the tempting lie that blame is less painful than the work of honesty, surrender, detachment and the willingness to get help.
“Emotional Childhood means you blame other people for how you feel and emotional maturity means you take full responsibility for all your own feelings.” - Brooke Castillo
The more you learn to practice emotional adulthood the more you truly believe whatever feelings you have are your own responsibility. Other people don’t get to decide for you how you will feel because you don’t ever give them the power to decide what you think. Instead, you manage your own thought life. This doesn’t mean you don’t ever feel bad. It means you don’t let these feelings decide for you. You can allow others to be who they are and still love them, and you can learn to be yourself.
Read more about this in: “Sometimes I'm controlling” or “How to become someone who makes courageous choices and feels more love.”
I know how challenging this work can be. I also know the payoff is priceless and support makes all the difference. That's why I offer free 30-minute mini-coaching sessions to my blog readers. Shhhh!!! Check out my calendar here.