The most important thing I have learned in a long time is this: I am not responsible for other people’s feelings.
This goes four ways:
1. I am not responsible for other people feeling badly.
2. I am not responsible for other people feeling good.
3. I am responsible for my feelings, good and bad.
4. Other people are not responsible for how I feel, good or bad.
For my entire life I have felt it was my responsibility to make sure people felt good- loved, cared about, seen, understood, happy. If they weren’t happy, I felt responsible and was miserable and tried to fix it. I felt especially responsible for people who were especially challenged with their feelings. This individual doesn’t feel loved- I can fix that. This individual feels left out- I can change that. This person feels sad- I can make it better by showing them I love them. Likewise, I thought real love and healthy relationship meant other people took care of my feelings. If I was sad, they sought to cheer me up. If I was angry, they listened and validated. I held them responsible for my feelings about their actions and words or lack of them toward me. I did not think of myself as holding the power for creating my feelings. I gave all of that power to others.
I wasted a lot of time and made a lot of decisions in my day to day life trying to manage how other people felt- and almost no time managing how I felt without seeking someone else’s intervention. And I was miserable, and tired. While I was working myself to the bone to control something I couldn’t control (other people’s feelings) believing that’s what real love looks like, I wasn’t taking care of myself and I was pissed with other people for not recognizing that and letting me off the hook. While trying to create good feelings in other people (because that’s what love is, right?) I wasn’t creating the things that I was really capable of and talented at creating. I thought the path to my success in life was to love other people genuinely and with self- sacrifice, and that meant making sure they felt loved. I was wasting my time, embittered at them for not seeing me and reciprocating “love”, and holding others responsible for my feelings. My marriage, parenting, family relationships and friendships suffered under the weight of my exhaustion of trying to manage to make sure everyone around me felt loved.
Getting out of this was difficult. I was in over my head, doing a lot of things I didn’t want to do in order to try to “help” others feel good. When I stopped doing those things, I lost the relationships that were built on the expectation that I would do those things out of love. But my understanding of love had changed. Love wasn’t making sure other people felt love. I could only be responsible for my loving actions, not for how someone felt or interpreted me. I didn’t need to fulfill all of someone else’s desires for me in order to make sure they were loved. I could love them without doing everything they wanted me to do. This may sound obvious to you, but to me it was not.
So now, for example, I could see that going to someone’s event in order to make sure they felt loved and didn’t see me as cruel, would not in fact be loving. It was dishonest, dishonoring to myself, and would deteriorate the relationship. Being loving was to bring my whole honest self to my relationships, not holding back the things I was pretty sure the other person wouldn’t like or the things they might interpret as unloving or the things they would assign a meaning to that meant I looked mean or rude in their eyes and created unsavory feelings in them. Being loving was not trying to control another person’s emotions or make sure they never felt bad about me. That’s not love.
I learned that consenting to anything in order to control someone else’s feelings is not love, even if they feel unloved by your “no”. I still believe we have to do things we don’t want to do sometimes. I just don’t think that those things should be done in an attempt to ensure a feeling in someone else. I experienced that some people, like I had myself, hold everyone else accountable for their feelings, and are a victim of everyone else’s decisions, instead of empowering themselves to create the feelings they want. Even this, I had to learn I can’t control. Sure, it may be loving to share with a friend how you’ve grown and how they can be freed from this mentality too. But I’ve seen that it’s not loving to try to control where someone else is on their journey in life. The most loving thing may be to walk away, letting them feel however they’re going to feel, and let them have their own journey.
Love isn’t controlling other people’s feelings. Love is letting them have their feelings, and being honest and responsible for your own.