There is one sentence I preach to all my clients: “You are responsible for how you feel.” Part of the break down in today’s culture is everyone is finding something to blame for their own emotional state. “He cheated on me, so I’m crushed.” “She irritates me.” “If I had a boyfriend, I would be happy.”
Don’t get me wrong – life is hard. Good and bad things are going to happen in our lives whether we make responsible decisions or not, there are going to be uncomfortable emotions, and yes, sometimes people do things that cause us pain.
However, no one (and no thing) can make you feel anything, and placing our feelings in someone else’s hands is very much the opposite of responsible or powerful. We choose how we feel every day. Granted, you have unconscious thinking patterns that are governed by your values/beliefs about the world, but with mindfulness and efforts to change these patterns can be altered.
How different would your life be if you took accountability for how you feel 100% of the time? Think about it, I can step in dog poop on my way home, get a bill I can’t afford in my mail box, the neighbor can flip me off, and I still have the power to have a good night. The mind is an extremely powerful thing and emotions drive our behaviors and relationships. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way a smart man or woman realized the powerful implications of influencing people to think that getting that “thing” will make them happy.
Suddenly, the TV blasts how sharing a Coke will bring us closer to others and Maybelline will make us confident. We are force fed media every single day and through the span of our lives we are subconsciously being taught that external forces are responsible for our happiness. This thinking is not only engrained in us for the 20 to 70 something years we have been alive, but it’s also a lot easier to embrace this line of thinking than the alternative.
Taking accountability for your emotional state is hard. It takes brutal honesty and exposes us to deeper truths about who we are that are uncomfortable to face and change. Change sucks. It’s exhausting and takes effort and patience (another value that lives in the trash can, but let’s not go there). While this is true, changing your thinking to take accountability for your feelings is also extremely freeing and empowering!
Sold? First step in mixing up that brain of yours is to catch yourself in the blame game. Become aware of how you are feeling. Literally print out a list of emotions or one of those silly charts with different emotions and matching faces to put on your refrigerator and start to label how you are feeling as specifically as possible. Labeling your emotions is the first step to communicating them.
Shift the way you communicate with those around you. “You are frustrating me” becomes “When you rush me to make the baby his bottle, I feel very overwhelmed.” “I deserve a raise” becomes “I feel my compensation is unfair with the amount of work I do.” Do this for one week with everyone in your life including family, friends, coworkers, clients and tell me your life isn’t better already… I dare you! This way of being with others is attractive: you are not burdening people to make you happy or okay, you are simply sharing with them what you are experiencing and giving them an opportunity to empathize with you. Check out my earlier blog on Communication In Relationships if you are interested in this topic.
Challenge your funky thinking when you catch yourself feeling upset. The other day I caught myself feeling unhappy and uncomfortable in my own skin; I had to evaluate where this feeling was coming from. Venting to a friend, therapist, or writing in a journal are all very helpful ways of evaluating and processing how you feel and the thoughts leading you to that feeling. I caught myself blaming an unfair situation in my life for my unhappiness and had to actively challenge the thought by listing all the reasons the situation was positive in my life overall and worth a bit of unfairness.
This blog strike a nerve? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a great way of shifting our mood through changing our thinking patterns and behaviors. You can invest in a book (I like the “Feel Good Handbook” by David Burns) or invest in your own wellbeing by starting with a therapist in your area.
Kayla Coughlan MSW, LCSW is an individual and couples counselor in Wilmington, NC. She founded Evolution Wellness in 2018 after learning that clients evolved and found a happier life when they address not only their mental but physical well being (and sometimes spiritual). In order to create a place for people to achieve true whole well being, she decided to open a wellness center that offered several holistic modalities to help people achieve their goals.