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Whose Feelings Are You Responsible For – Yours or Others?

On Relationships
About Dr Margaret Paul

Do you believe you are responsible for causing others’ anger, hurt, sadness or anxiety? Is this causing you to feel guilty?

“My wife is so upset that I have to travel more on my new job,” Chuck told me in our phone counselling session. “She feels so alone and lost when I’m gone. When I talk with her she is either crying or angry. I feel so badly and guilty but I don’t know what to do.”

“Do you feel responsible for her feelings?” I asked him. “Do you feel that you are the cause of her feelings?”

“Yes.”

* * * * *

“I’m just starting to date again after my divorce and I’m having a hard time with it,” Jeanette told me. “I just don’t know how to let a man know that I’m not interested in dating him any more, or in pursuing a sexual relationship with him. It feels like such a sticky situation.”

“Is it sticky because you are worried about his feelings?”

“Yes. The last man I dated hung his head and looked so distressed when I asked him to leave. I know that he was really attracted to me and I wasn’t at all attracted to him. I felt so awful that he was so hurt.”

“Did you feel responsible for his feelings?”

“Yes.”

* * * * *

“My 14 year old daughter is so angry at me for the divorce, even though she knows we are divorcing because of all my husband’s affairs,” Alissa told me. “I feel so guilty, even though I am not the one who had the affairs.”

“Do you feel responsible for her feelings?”

“Yes, of course!”

* * * * *

The Wounded Self Wants To Believe We Cause Others’ Feelings As A Form Of Control

Do you believe that you CAUSE others’ feelings, and are therefore responsible for them?

This is a major false belief. Some of our feelings, such as heartbreak and grief from losing a loved one, or helplessness over others, or loneliness when we want to share love with another and no one is available, are caused by others and by life events. But many of our feelings, such as anger, anxiety, depression, hurt, guilt, or shame, are caused by our own thoughts and actions. If Chuck’s wife is abandoning herself by not attending to her own feelings, or by judging herself, or by making Chuck responsible for her, then she will feel alone and angry at Chuck. It is not Chuck who is abandoning her – she is abandoning herself. Since there is nothing Chuck can do about the fact that his wife is abandoning herself, he cannot possibly take responsibility for her feelings. But he CAN take responsibility for his own feelings. As long as Chuck is telling himself the lie that he is responsible for his wife’s feelings, he will feel upset and guilty. His guilty feeling is his inner child’s way of letting him know that he is telling himself a lie.

Beyond Toxic Guilt

If Chuck or Jeanette or Alissa were to take responsibility for their own feelings instead of someone else’s, they would say to themselves, “I WANT responsibility for causing my feelings of guilt. What is the lie I am telling myself that is causing my guilt? Oh, I’m telling myself that I’m responsible for the other person’s feelings (the wife, the date, the daughter), and the fact that it is causing me to feel guilty is letting me know that this is not true.” Then they would open to learning with their higher guidance about the truth – that we cannot take responsibility for others’ feelings. We can certainly be kind, gentle, caring and considerate, which is part of taking responsibility for ourselves, but no matter how loving we are, we cannot take responsibility for what others tell themselves and how they treat themselves that causes their fear, anxiety, aloneness, emptiness, anger, hurt, or depression.

What would change in your life if you decided that you WANT responsibility for your feelings and not for others’ feelings? If you really made this decision, you would stop being a caretaker by taking responsibility for others’ feelings, and you would stop being a taker by making others responsible for your feelings.

You would be free to be truly loving to yourself and share your love with others. Imagine the possibilities of that!

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