Friday, April 22, 2011

Owning Our Feelings

“You make me so ...!” Sound familiar? All of us have probably said this at one time or another. Probably more than once. Possibly many times. And it must seem that way. Someone does something and afterwards we feel pleased or upset. Our minds attach a causal connection between the act and our feelings. But is that true?

We learned earlier this month that our feelings are based on our own thoughts and beliefs. When someone does something and then we feel a certain way about it, we are attributing a causal link that overlooks the role of our thoughts. It is our thoughts about the act that give rise to our feelings, not the act itself.

Attributing to someone or something else the power to make us feel a certain way leaves us helpless and passive. We see our feelings as an uncontrollable response to outer stimuli we can’t control. We are at the mercy of other people and events. We become “feeling victims.”

We can shift from being feeling victims to feeling victors by a simple shift in language. Instead of saying “You make me so...,” say “I feel [name feeling].” Own it. Your feeling is your responsibility, not someone else’s.

Consider the difference between “You make me so angry,” and “I feel angry.” Or “You make me so happy,” and “I feel happy.” How do you feel (!) if you say one or the other?

When I say “You make me feel so...,” I feel powerless and anxious. I want you to behave a certain way so that I will feel a certain way. My emotional well-being becomes your responsibility and I become dependent on you. If I’m feeling happy, good for you. But if I’m not feeling happy, it must be your fault. Chances are I won’t feel happy all the time, so I’m setting you up to fail. And even if I feel happy, there is always an underlying anxiety because I know I can’t control your behavior. It will only be a matter of time before you do something to “cause” a distressing feeling.

But if I say “I feel...,” I feel grounded and centered, even if the feeling itself is distressing. Owning my feeling gives me the opportunity to examine my underlying thoughts and beliefs and to adjust them if appropriate. I recognize my power to transform my feelings. Even distressing feelings are less scary because I have tools for dealing with them.

The bonus to owning our own feelings is that we also recognize that we are not responsible for someone else’s feelings. What a relief!


  1. Good morning.....great post....yet again. Our feelings are one of the ONLY things we have complete control over. I agree with you completely in this post.


  2. It is true that we tend to 'victimize' ourselves. I never realized that this was one of the ways of doing it. Thank you for sharing this in such a clear and simple way!

  3. Jo--Thanks for commenting. Yep, our thoughts, actions, and words are about all we can control. That's a relief and a big responsibility all at the same time!

    Beliza--I think most of us don't catch this one when we do it. I know I say that sometimes before I even think about it. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Owning the feeling is a simple concept that is difficult to implement. Humans are quick to shift blame or responsibility. "You make me feel..." is the perfect example. No one can make you feel anything except yourself.

    This truth is quite important in a married relationship. A lot of unhappiness could be avoided if we understood that giving up control of our feelings to another is not a recipe for stability.

  5. Galen: You are getting there. Someone I know once said, "Many of us sabotage our happiness by habits that we might not even be aware of. Identifying and changing these habits can build a reservoir of well-being to enhance our happy times and sustain us during challenging times."

  6. Hi Galen,
    good job with this post. I see so many 'victims' out there who don't take responsibility.
    Be good to yourself

  7. Bob--You are so right about relationships. Taking responsibility for our own feelings makes for much stronger relationships with our spouses, children, and friends. Thanks for commenting.

    JJ--Who said that?? You are funny...and sweet.

    David--I think there are so many ways we give up our power in relationships and in our (American) culture. Don't get me started! Thanks for your comment.

  8. Thanks for an enlightening and powerful post! It was later in life that I realized that no one else can make me happy, it must come from within. There is an old saying "If it is to be - It is up to me"

  9. It's funny, but I feel awkward saying the words "I feel". Must be a 1950s guy thing. I try to say "I'm upset" or "I'm hurting", but verbally identifying feelings explicitly AS feelings is difficult for me. How interesting. I must think some more about this.

  10. That is an interesting thought; I always believed we should not be controlled by our emotions. We have been empowered by the holy spirit to find grace to control these things. What you can not control will control you:)

  11. Great job Galen! My hubby teaches people this in counseling sessions... I feel _____ when ____. It really makes a difference in communication!

  12. This was inspiring so thanks for sharing. I need to be better about sharing my feelings, and doing my best to OWN them. To concentrate on what I'm feeding to myself, and work to improve those negative thoughts that so often attend my mind.

  13. Ellene--I learned this later in life as well. Great saying...thanks for reminding me of it.

    Mikey--I hear you! I was even more of a hold out on this topic. I didn't even want to have feelings, much less own them or, god forbid, express them. And I'm not even a guy!

    Toyin--Thanks for your perspective. Always glad when you stop by.

    Alida--Well, I learned it from my therapist, so I'm sure your hubby is helping lots of people with this technique.

    Christian--As you say, the first part is to be aware of what we do with our feelings. Once we see what our habits are, we can change them. Thanks for commenting.

  14. What a relief! Wow that was powerful way to end this piece of good work...It was such a relief to me when I discovered this piece of truth.

    a friend at book group got all worked up about a news report she had heard. When called on it she had to go home and think about what she was feeling...She believes lying in wrong, the person in the story may well have lied, good works happened because of the lie, but lying is wrong....because she believes that then she is choosing to suffer
    I am grateful for the good works, but also concerned about the suffering that may have been experienced because of the I too am choosing to be was so freeing to have that conversation and not need to worry about what the others felt and it encouraged such a much bigger dialogue and values discussion It was freeing.
    Thanks for sharing

  15. I get it... I really do. But I also think in some ways we [are] responsible for other people's feelings especially if it was we who caused them to feel that way. I know they can choose not to own it. But the fact that they were hurt is not really their fault... it's ours... we did it... we said it... they felt it. And that's entirely natural. I understand entirely what you are saying though and applaud the taking of responsibility for our own experiences here on earth.

  16. Patricia and Jean--You both bring up good points. What we say and do does indeed affect other people and we are responsible for our words and actions, and even thoughts. But let's say someone does something that hurts my feelings. That person is responsible for what he did, but how I handle my feelings in response is up to me.

  17. I'm new to your blog, but this approach sounds similar to something I came across in a book on non-violent communication: say what you feel, and why (in terms of yourself), and then make a specific and actionable request of the other person, e.g. "I feel sad when I come home late and have to start cooking. Could I ask you to start dinner on Mondays and Wednesdays?"

    Sadly, I am not very good at this form of communication yet. If I feel resentful at having to cook dinner, I am much more likely to cook something I know my spouse doesn't really enjoy or add more chili powder than strictly necessary. Thank you for reminding me that there are definitely better and more constructive ways to communicate!

  18. Absolutely. Another great topic Galen :-)

  19. Yes, I agree... people find it easier to blame external events like the economy, the school they went to, or their parents, for their lack of success or for the way they feel emotionally.

    You can only really move forward in life once you decide to take full responsibility for your happiness and results in life.

  20. noteasytobegreen--Welcome! And thanks for your comment. I had to chuckle at your cooking example. We all do things like that, don't we? The model you gave from the book sounds very useful.


    Andrew--So true. Thanks for commenting.

  21. If I understand correctly from the entries and exchanges thus far, we should take responsibility/ownership for how we perceive what comes at us, but we don't need to worry about what we send to/aim at others. Therefore, I can choose whether or not to let anger aimed at me make me cry, but I don't need to be concerned about whether my actions or words aimed at others make them cry because they can choose whether or not to be bothered. On a surface level, that sounds good - i.e. you take care of yourself and I will take care of myself. But...hmmm: Wouldn't it be even better if we spent some blog time talking about a higher level of responsibility that required us not to make people cry or suffer in the first place? The attitudes I have read here seem to condone an acceptance of bullying, hate-speech, etc. based on the idea that the recipients of it get to decide whether or not to be bothered by it, so the perpetrator really isn't a bad guy after all. For example: While a black woman and her two little children are waiting for a bus, a group of white teenagers slows down to pass the family, thus allowing each of them ample time to direct a few hate-filled sentences at the woman and children. The words aren't threats and there are enough other people around that the woman doesn't fear for her safety; however, the woman is left to comfort her hurt and confused self and children. Yes - I agree with you that the woman should provide comfort based on not giving the teenagers the power to bother her and her children and to let their comments roll off of her(hard as it would be), but it is the lack of responsibility your comments allow the teenagers that concerns me. If an observer approached the teenagers to chastise them about the ugliness that had just spewed from their mouths, would you find it acceptable for one of the teenagers to say, "Hey man, if the ___ing ___itch doesn't like what we said, that's her problem"?

  22. Anonymous--I believe that you have misunderstood a big part of what I have tried to convey in this blog and in the entire 10 steps program. I have consistently said that we are responsible for our thoughts, words, and actions. In fact, during much of March, when we focused on step 3 about control, I said that our thoughts, words, and actions, are really all we can control, since we can't control the thoughts, words, and actions of others.

    I don't believe you have seen anything in this blog to suggest that we can or should absolve ourselves of responsibility for the impact our thoughts, words, and actions have on others. If you have, then I apologize for misleading you by not being clear.

    Owning our feelings does not suggest that we are not responsible for our own behavior. On the contrary, we are responsible even for our thoughts. Everything we do or say or think has an impact on our world. We are entirely responsible for that impact and we can choose what sort of impact we want to have.

    If this was not clear, then I appreciate your bringing up the issue.

  23. I was responding to just this one post - not to all your other postings, most of which I haven't had a chance to read. In particular, I was responding to the summary line of your original post, when you said, "The bonus to owning our own feelings is that we also recognize that we are not responsible for someone else’s feelings. What a relief!" These words of yours are what triggered my response. I think we are responsible for others' feelings and should not find it acceptable for people to be disrespectful.I think the teenagers in my example were responsible for someone else's feelings.


Your comment is valuable and valued. Comment moderation is enabled to block spam, so please excuse the brief delay until your comment appears on the blog.