Have you ever felt like someone made you extremely angry? Who hasn’t! When someone does something we don’t like, something that seems designed to bug us or piss us off, we naturally think they made us feel upset. Have you ever felt like someone made you feel safe or loved? I hope we’ve all had that experience at least once! When people we love do something kind, considerate, or loving for us, we tend to feel love, and attribute that feeling as coming from them. That seems natural, doesn’t it?
“You make me so angry!”
“He makes me happy, so of course I want to be around him.”
“That crazy driver is to blame–I have road rage because he was driving like an idiot!”
The reality is, though, that no one can make you feel any emotion. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She was completely right, but it extends even further than that. No one can make you feel anything without your consent! I know it sounds crazy, because that’s not how we’re used to looking at the world. We like to think of life as happening to us, and our reactions and emotions as just a natural by-product of whatever comes along. But what if you could get back in the driver’s seat of your own emotional well-being, stop being a victim to whatever emotions seem to come your way, stop allowing others to “push your buttons” and make you angry, sad, annoyed, or even loved.
Inside Out or Outside In?
My wise friend Jamie Smart says, “The patterns of addiction are a reflection of two “flavours” of the outside-in misunderstanding:
Flavour 1: It often seems like a person’s feelings of stress, boredom or emotional discomfort are coming from somewhere other than Thought in the moment (E.g. it seems like their feelings are coming from their workload, their boss, next week’s meeting, last week’s argument, their bank balance, their childhood, what they’re like as a person etc). But that’s not how it works. We’re always living in the feeling of Thought in the moment, even when it seems like our feelings are coming from somewhere else.
Flavour 2: It often seems like a person’s feelings of relief, peace and excitement are coming from somewhere other than Thought in the moment (E.g. it seems like their feelings are coming from a drink, a drug, a cigarette, gambling, sex, food, habitual behaviours etc). But that’s not how it works. We’re always living in the feeling of Thought in the moment, even when it seems like our feelings are coming from somewhere else.”
My husband and I went to a luxurious all-inclusive resort in Mexico one summer. It was beautiful, lavish, and had just about everything you could want for a relaxing vacation. The second day, my husband left his wallet in a cab and was met with a lot of frustrations and hassles trying to coordinate with Spanish-speaking cab drivers to find his wallet, which held both of our id’s, the only credit cards we had brought with us, and all of our money for the trip. He was furious with himself for losing the wallet, I was furious with him for losing the wallet, and we were both furious and frustrated at the slow pace of the search for objects that were undeniably critical for our return flight home.
At one point during the worst of the frustration, I happened to look out at the many happy couples enjoying the pool, sipping fruity drinks by the perfect beach, or walking hand-in-hand outside to explore Mexico and realized we were the only ones who were not enjoying this place. Worse yet, during some loud complaining at the front desk we realized we weren’t even the only ones in such a predicament—another American had lost his passport and credit card while on an excursion and was also trying to figure out a way home. This man, however, was still very much enjoying his vacation, and noted that “I’ll get home eventually, I may as well enjoy this while I’m here!”
At the time, we scoffed at his laissez-faire attitude and how we felt it was reckless to not be worried about his return trip, but looking back with understanding we now realize we were the careless ones who wasted many hours being angry, worried, and stressed out about our situation and even after the wallet was again safely in hand, we seemed to be unable to shake off the frustration of our trip. This is so obvious to us now that we understand where our emotions are coming from, but at the time it seemed so obvious that our dislike of Mexico, our entire vacation, and even some of the people appeared to come directly from what we went through. Luckily, none of that was true, and we will never miss another resort trip!
When is the last time you can remember being really happy? What were you doing? Where were you? Was everyone who was present (in the same place) or doing the same thing also as happy as you were? Were some people having a different experience? If the experience was coming from the place or activity, do you think everyone would feel the same way about that place? Here’s a helpful litmus test: if everyone in the world at any time would feel exactly what you’re feeling about it, it’s probably true. But if there’s even ONE person who might have a difference experience of your boss, your bank balance, your family relationships…then it must be coming from you. (Spoiler alert: It’s coming from you!)