“I’m sorry I made you mad.” “I’m sorry I upset you.” “He hurt my feelings.” We hear these things and say these things throughout our lives and assume they are true. But they are not. In reality, believing that we can control how people think and feel actually keeps us from accessing genuine compassion and kindness.
Over the past few months, I’ve talked a lot about how other people and external circumstances don’t cause our feelings, but rather it’s our thoughts about them and what they do that create our feelings. When we start to accept our role in our own suffering and get curious about how our perceptions, thoughts, and stories can add to our suffering, we grow into a level of emotional maturity (*please note this podcast is not meant to be applied to deep unprocessed/unhealed trauma without the support of a therapist who feels it is an appropriate time to explore these concepts).
Today, we’re going to the next level: integrating that wisdom with the reality that in the same way, we don’t cause other people’s thoughts and feelings.
Yes, this is true even when you might think you’re being extra rude, or when you’re feeling guilty about how you acted because you feel/know it was unskillful (breaking agreements, violating boundaries etc).
But for some reason, this is even more challenging for many people to grock than the first concept. It definitely was for me. (Anyone else a Catholic-raised guilt expert?)
Other people’s thoughts come from their brains. Their stories are running in their mind in the same way it happens in yours. We all have our own stories, narratives, biases, and thought patterns that determine how we think or feel.
You’ve heard me mention that all circumstances are neutral – empty of inherent qualities. It’s when we add thoughts to them that take on qualities like “good” or “bad.” The same is true for us as individuals: we are a neutral circumstance that someone else is having a thought about, and we can’t control how they interpret what you say and do.
We can see this more clearly when we do the exact same thing and two different people have very different reactions. This happens because they have two different brains and will interpret that action totally differently! Through their own filters. They have different reactions because their thoughts are different. Heck, sometimes even the same exact person can change how they react to the same thing day-to-day, right?
Now, this isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card or permission for you to be an asshole to anyone you want because you don’t “cause” their feelings. That would be some serious spiritual bypassing and gaslighting. Rather, this is about showing up in the world in the way you want to, and doing your best to do that with wisdom, integrity, and compassion, and then releasing responsibility for whatever others think or feel about you.
Why are we so hell-bent on taking responsibility for other people’s feelings? And why are we always apologizing for how people feel – as if we control that? I think we apologize a lot for how someone feels because we think if we don’t take responsibility for other people’s feelings, then we are a “bad” person. We’re taught from a young age that if we love or care about someone then it means we make them have good feelings and help them to not have bad feelings. So often we believe that if we don’t act on that, then we’re being selfish.
But what’s being missed here is that we don’t need to take responsibility for their feelings. If we break an agreement or violate a boundary, then we can take responsibility for what we DID. How someone feels about what we did is out of our area of control, and if we keep thinking we are responsible for that, we can spin in an endless cycle of trying to change how other people think about us so we can feel better about ourselves but since we can’t control what people think and feel we end up spinning.
Remember: not taking responsibility for another person’s feelings doesn’t mean we’re selfish. It doesn’t mean we’re a “bad” daughter, manager, partner, mother, sister, friend. We are simply releasing that which we have no control over.
In fact, believing that you cause other people’s feelings doesn’t actually make us a “better” anything. It’s not a kind action when we try to change how people feel because we want to feel better about ourselves, because it stops being about them and ends up being about us instead, and we have less access to genuine compassion and kindness.
When we release responsibility for other people’s feelings, we can actually have more genuine compassion for their suffering. We don’t try to change them. We can love them and be more present and more in our hearts than in our heads. That’s authentic kindness!
Now, we also can’t control whether someone else notices or appreciates your felt experience of compassion and kindness and acceptance. But you will feel more kindness, compassion, and unconditional love. Which is something you can control.
In this Episode you will learn:
// How we literally cannot be responsible for how people feel and act
// Why this concept is important to us… and how NOT to use the knowledge
// Why we’re always apologizing for how people feel
// How to correctly apologize to someone (and when)
// How owning others’ feelings is actually LESS kind to them and yourself
// Episode 2, How to Not Care What Other People Think About You
// Episode 11, How to Stop People Pleasing
// Episode 28, Practical Emptiness
// Episode 74, How to Set Healthy Boundaries
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the starter kit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll get access to the private Facebook group where you can ask me questions! Once you join, there’s also a weekly FB live called Wake the F*ck Up Wednesday, where you can ask questions that come up as you do this work – in all parts of your life.
// If you’re interested in finding out more about how to free your mind and free your life, join Freedom School. Enrollment is open, and we are diving DEEP into ways to cultivate clarity and courage so you can create your best life. There are also some sweet bonus courses for you there. It will set you up to live the best version of you in the year to come. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com.