Yesterday I told my kids about the time I stole a pack of bubble gum from the store. I was about 6-years-old. I really wanted bubble gum and my mom said “no.” I said, “yes” and I slipped it in my pocket.
Because I was a very generous and thoughtful thief, I offered a piece to my big brother Jared once I got home. He promptly turned me in and I found myself apologizing to the store manager and paying for the gum out of my piggy bank. (Note to self: Big brothers are not cool.)
My parents used my poor choice as an opportunity to teach me about consequences, repentance and to take responsibility for my actions. You probably have a similar story about when you learned these lessons, but what most of us are missing, is the story about learning to be responsible for how we feel.
Later in my adult years, when I first began learning I was the one responsible for how I felt it made sense. Happiness is a choice right? Everyone knows that. Sticks and stones, your words can’t hurt me. But when I began applying it to all areas of my life it didn’t feel so true. When I’ve just cleaned the house and the kids come along behind me and destroy it, of COURSE I’m going to be frustrated! You’re telling me I AM the one responsible for that feeling? Get real!
Or how about when I’ve gotten really bad, sad news about a friend who just unexpectedly lost a loved one. You’re saying the heartache I feel for my friend is all on me? How can you say that?
And the day I got married and was surrounded by all of our friends and family and I felt so full of love, joy and happiness, that had a bit to do with the circumstances of the day don’t you think?
Here’s what I understand now that I didn’t initially. Taking responsibility for how you feel is different than blaming yourself. Blame means you’re doing something wrong or that something is wrong with you. Responsibility means you are simply owning it.
It also doesn’t mean you’re always going to want to feel good. It simply means that when you recognize YOUR MIND is the ONLY reason you feel any emotion, then you keep control over the power to change how you feel if or when you want to.
Did I lose you? Stay with me.
Example #1: Your sister is up to her old tricks again.
Blaming Others = SHE drives me CRAZY! Forget her! I’m not inviting her to anything anymore and that will teach her a lesson!
Blaming Yourself = WHY do I let her get to me? Why do I always fall for her games? I’m going to Target to buy something. That always makes me feel better.
Responsibility = These are the thoughts driving me crazy:
- She shouldn’t act that way.
- She should behave the way I want her to.
- If she loved me she wouldn’t do what she’s doing.
- It’s not fair.
When you blame other people, you give them all of the power. If they are the cause of your pain, they have to be the cause of you feeling better. The best part is we’re usually giving all the control to someone completely incapable of knowing what to do with it. Like your troubled sister for example.
When you blame yourself, you’ll want to hide from your mean self so you’ll distract yourself or take ineffective action. (arguing for example)
When you take responsibility, you know exactly why you’re feeling the way you do (because of your thinking) and that means you can decide if you want to keep thinking those thoughts or something different.
- My sister’s behavior is very consistent so I know what to expect.
- Knowing what to expect means I know exactly what to do to protect myself emotionally.
- I want to lover her and love myself so I’m going to think about what to do that feels the most like love.
- I will know exactly what to do.
- I can be a happy person experiencing the situation and not become part of the situation.
Example #2: Your son didn’t make it onto the High School Basketball team and he is devastated and you feel devastated for him.
Blaming the circumstance = I’m so sad for my son because he didn’t make the team.
Blaming yourself = I am so weak. I can’t figure out how to be strong for my kids but I think my son needs me to be so I’m going to pretend like everything is fine and this feeling will go away eventually. Someone pass the chocolate chips.
Taking responsibility = I want to be sad about what happened so I’m going to allow myself to be sad for a little while. When I’m ready, I’ll examine my thoughts about it but for now I want to be sad.
So many people don’t allow themselves to feel negative emotion, which is physically and emotionally harmful. It leads to high blood pressure and ulcers and it subtly tells our kids they don’t have permission to feel badly either. Allow it, but own that it’s your choice to feel it so that when you’re ready, you have all the control over changing it.
Finally, remember that when good things happen and you feel good, it’s also because of your thoughts. When your husband gets a big promotion, the reason you are happy is not actually because of the promotion. It’s because you’re thinking things like:
- I’m so glad he is getting recognized so he can feel good about himself.
- We are going to have more money to buy the things we want and need now.
See how that works? Take ownership of how you feel whether it’s good or bad without blaming, and you will begin to understand how to feel what you want to even during difficult times. Once you master this, you can teach it to your kids and one day they will have a story to tell about when they learned to take responsibility for how they feel and how it changed everything.
Don’t forget to check out the new video series that will give you more tips like this. Each video is under 4 minutes and you’ll get one per day for the next 3 days. Simple tips you can apply right away. Did I mention IT’S FREE?