An important life lesson.
Earlier this year I was talking to my supervisor about a client that I had that made me feel so incompetent. I went on and on about how this person made me feel like I was not capable of doing my job effectively, I was not able to help anyone, and I wasn’t ready.
Now, there’s clearly a lot wrong with those statements, as I am capable and I am helping others and I was ready. But, the main point of this story is the takeaway. My lovely supervisor said to me:
“Nobody can MAKE you feel anything.”-lovely supervisor
When they first said this to me I was taken aback for a moment. “What do you mean, nobody can make me feel anything? She clearly makes me feel so small!”
Except, thats not how it works. Let me explain:
If we are feeling something, it’s not because someone made us feel that way, it’s because that feeling was already there. Whatever this person happened to do or say could have magnified it or made it noticeable, but they did not place a feeling onto us.
They literally can’t. It is not humanly possible.
Let’s take my example, to start. This client was very difficult to work with. She made comments that would get under my skin and tap into my insecurities. I felt vulnerable in sessions and felt as though she could see through my confidence façade to the real me: nervous and afraid of failing. I would leave session feeling angry, upset, incompetent. But the fact of the matter is, she did not make me feel any of these things.
So why was I feeling it then? Well, I was already feeling a bit incompetent, I was just starting this new job and had almost no clue what I was doing. She was challenging. Her presentation was complicated, and quite honestly, probably not fit for a new therapist. The anger was actually just me being defensive because I felt like she could see behind my exterior. I didn’t want her to know I was new at this, or that I was not totally confident in my skills. I was upset that she was getting to me. All of these things are on me. She was just being herself (albeit a little aggressive) and presenting the way she would with any therapist (I’d like to think).
I have held this lesson from my supervisor close to me since that day. Any time I am facing difficult emotions, I remind myself they are feelings that were already there. Nobody placed them upon me and I cannot blame anyone for how I feel.
Let’s run through a few other examples to really demonstrate what I’m talking about. We’ll use nice, fake Jenny as our person of interest:
Jenny is feeling guilty about going out with her friends while her partner stays home. “They always make me feel guilty when I want to go out!”
Sound familiar? Probably does. Sorry, Jenny, they are not making you feel guilty. You are making you feel guilty. In this scenario, Jenny is torn inside between wanting to go have fun with her friends, and wanting to stay home with her partner. Perhaps her partner makes comments about being alone or about her going out, but they are just expressing their thoughts (maybe not in a productive way, but that’s beside the point). Reality is, there is already a seed of guilt inside (which is normal) and any action her partner takes will only bring more attention to that which Jenny is trying to ignore.
So in the above scenario, Jenny may also start to feel angry towards her partner. How dare they?! Now, Jenny will likely say something along the lines of “They make me so mad!”
No, dear. You’re likely angry because of some other emotion (cough, guilt?). I’m a huge believer of the concept that anger is solely a secondary emotion, but that’s a whole other story for a whole other post. The anger that Jenny is feeling is being displaced onto her partner because it’s easier accept being mad at someone else than it is to accept being mad at ourselves.
To shift gears, let’s say Jenny is at work. She works for a private practice and her office manager schedules her client calls. She notices this manager frequently schedules her during hours that she isn’t available, or that aren’t convenient. “[This person] makes me sooo frustrated!”
Oh Jenny, wrong again. Perhaps if she had taken the steps to make sure her calendar is blocked when she’s unavailable, this particular assistant wouldn’t keep scheduling her during inconvenient times. But the point here is, Jenny’s frustration is truly coming from herself for not taking the necessary actions to let her manager know what she wants/needs in her schedule.
It is so unbelievably common that we get frustrated with other people for not listening or not understanding, but the frustration truly lies within. People don’t like to be inconvenienced by repeating themselves or having to reword their thoughts. We are frustrated that the way we expressed ourselves wasn’t effective. We are not actually frustrated that this other person couldn’t follow along.
I was in a crisis prevention training a couple years back and the instructor said something that really stood out to me.
We were talking about the point in which staff were to become “hands on” with the patients during a crisis. I can’t remember the exact details anymore, but ~the gist~ was that people tend to act impulsively and inappropriately when they lose their patience. The key takeaway being: impatience does not come because of someone else. We experience impatience because our expectations are too high.
Think about it. The last time you were becoming impatient with someone or something, what was it? It is extremely likely that it was something minor. We become so aggravated when things don’t go the way we expect them to. We have these expectations that we’ve constructed and experience such emotional upheaval when they’re not being met.
Now, I’m not referring to basic expectations, like respect or basic regard for other people. I’m referring to our expectations about when things should get done, or how fast we should get somewhere, or how organized our partners should be. If we take a step back and think about the nature of our expectations, we may come to realize they are just too damn high. So if you find yourself frequently losing your patience, take a few moments to reflect on what it is that’s getting to you so much, and see how you can rework your expectations.
To bring this lesson a more uplifting place, inappropriately attributed feelings can even occur with positive emotions.
For instance, have you ever been volunteering at a homeless shelter (or any organization that helps those less fortunate) and suddenly felt so grateful for all that you have? Despite any parts of your life that may be (subjectively) lacking, you felt like you have all you need and that you should be grateful rather than complaining about what’s missing? Well, this is a great example. It was not the kind older man who smiled at you or the energetic children that bounded around with exuberant laughter that made you feel this way. These people did not do anything to make you feel grateful. You already had it inside of you, you just hadn’t tapped into it yet.
It’s quite easy for us to get caught up in what’s missing or what else we could have to make life “better.” It doesn’t come naturally to stop and take a few moments each day to be grateful for what we have. This is something we have to practice daily in order to make it part of our natural routines. However, it is so worth it. The universe has given us all we need and then some, we just have to pause long enough to notice it.
*Need help? Try starting a gratitude journal. Each day list a couple things you’re grateful for and watch as your view on life changes.
Moral of the story; All of your feelings are already inside of you, just waiting to be let out. It may take certain people to help you notice how you feel, but nobody can make you feel anything that isn’t already there. Including the positive emotions, like happiness and gratitude. You have all you need, you just have to access it!
Do you have a story of a time you felt a strong emotion based on something someone else did or said? Comment below or send me a message! I want to hear your thoughts.