No One Can Make Us Feel Or Behave Inappropriately
I recently noticed a post in one of my social media feeds. It started off with, “I hate it when people make me behave badly,” and continued on with the story of being wronged by another, and the justification of their angered behavior that followed. I was a bit surprised by the statement. I continued to read, hoping I could find clarification for such an account, as I know that no one can make us feel or behave inappropriately! That’s completely on us, 100% of the time!
Is Behavioral Responsibility Tied To The One Creating The Offense?
I thought it might be a good topic to address, as this is something I wrestled with for years, and never saw the leading role I was playing in my own theatrical productions, until recently! This can be a difficult concept for us to wrap our heads around, as we often think in very black and white terms regarding emotions and resulting behavior. It’s quite common for individuals who feel victimized to blame their lack of emotional control and ill behavior on another. So many feel they are justified in their responses, and that the responsibility is tied solely to the one who created the offense. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We Have No Control Over The Emotions And Behaviors Of Others
We are all confronted daily with situations that are undesirable, to say the least! We encounter people from all walks of life, experiencing varying degrees of emotional damage and turmoil, that all play a role in the interactions we have with one another. Unfortunately, we have no control over the emotional state or resulting behaviors of others. Yet, we are fully responsible for our own, even when we have been grossly wronged.
What About Trauma At The Hands Of An Abuser?
It never fails that when this topic comes up, it gets quickly and defensively rebutted by someone who has experienced trauma at the hands of an abuser. There’s a lot of triggering that happens when our actions are called into accountability, especially when we’ve been the ones violated in some way by another. Not only does it seem unfair, it often brings a torrent of emotions to the surface that can trigger very heated reactions. I get it, and honestly not that long ago, I would have likely been the person rebutting! I hope what follows will shed some light on this challenging topic, and offer some insights that could change how we think about and respond to these situations in the future. The bottom line is, bad behavior is never justified.
No Longer Being At The Mercy Of Others
There’s a perspective shift that needs to be understood and incorporated, for our emotional state to no longer be at the mercy of other’s actions. Granted, even when we incorporate that shift, we slip up periodically, but the goal is for that to be the exception, not the rule. Part of the difficulty arises when we are unable to separate ourselves from the events that have just taken place. We often make the mistake of assuming the behavior of others is about us, is personal, and tied to circumstances that have just transpired! What follows is another one of those statements that gets refuted quite often, but the reality goes something like this:
The thoughts and behaviors we engage in are always about us and the things we are processing internally, even when we think they are about someone else! The thoughts and behaviors of others are always about what they’ve got going on internally, even when they might mistakenly think it’s about us!
Why? Because contrary to popular belief, no one can make us feel anything! Let me say that again… No one can make us feel anything! Others can only trigger what is already residing within us. No matter how hard someone pushes your buttons, if you do not already have anger in your heart, they cannot trigger anger within you! No matter how deeply someone loves you, they cannot evoke a love response that does not currently exist.
When It’s Internalized It Triggers What’s Already Within
A perfect example would be an unhappy, angry individual (Let’s call him John), yelling at two different people in public (Frank and Mary).
Mary has some anger issues and very poor self-esteem. When she is yelled at, it’s easy to take the assault personally, as she already questions her worth. This is just one more person confirming she’s as awful as she feels! When it’s internalized, it triggers her already brewing emotional instability, and she responds in a way that is also inappropriate. Mary gets angry, feels victimized, becomes defensive, starts yelling back, and returns very similar behavior to John! This is how the cycles of abuse continue.
Frank, on the other hand, has done a tremendous amount of internal work. He’s dissected the false internal narratives and stories that have been embedded and running under the radar for years, and has separated truth from fiction. He knows who he is and is very comfortable in his own skin. He’s learned to love himself, and has great confidence and self-esteem. When Frank is yelled at, he is able to step back from the situation and separate what’s happening from himself. It’s not taken personally, and because he can separate himself from the situation, he can recognize John clearly has some underlying issues fueling this encounter, that have absolutely nothing to do with him. John’s inner struggles have been triggered, and have unleashed rageful behavior on whoever happened to be present. Frank realizes it’s not about him, does not get emotionally involved, and is able to let it go and walk away unscathed. Frank may even experience sympathy for John, as he recognizes John must be a very unhappy individual to treat others in this way.
Mary will likely ruminate on the encounter all day, working up anger and a strong victim mentality, reveling in her justification for striking back in kind. Frank might later tell a friend about the weird encounter he had, but will let it go from there and likely not think about it again. The contrast between Mary and Frank is enormous, as Mary will continue to tell her story, possibly for years to come, to whoever will listen and offer their attention. Our stories are such powerful narratives!
Responding In Protective And Reactive Ways
Let’s look at another example. No matter how much someone loves you unconditionally, they cannot make you feel loved if you don’t already love yourself and foster love within! Remember, the behavior of others can only trigger emotions that already exist within you.
Let’s say Frank has fallen in love with Mary. Remember that Mary has some significant self-esteem, worth, and abandonment issues, among others, that remain unaddressed. No matter how intensely and sacrificially Frank loves Mary, she will likely not be able to accept and/or reciprocate that level of love, as individuals are only capable of meeting us as deeply as they have met themselves! Learning to do the introspective digging necessary to identify, address, release, and heal from past wounding, is what brings us to the places where we find self-acceptance and begin to develop a true love for ourselves. If we fearfully choose to abdicate those responsibilities, and consequently don’t yet know who we are authentically, deep meaningful love is not possible.
What she may feel is attachment, desire, and infatuation (which are often mistaken for love). As more difficulties begin to arise, Frank finds the relationship less and less satisfying. Mary just isn’t able to reciprocate the same depth of interaction and emotional vulnerability, which is not possible from her current state of protection mode. What happens instead is that Mary might sabotage the relationship, as it triggers fears of all sorts (potential abandonment, jealousy, unworthiness, and so many other negative, self-believed, false and embedded narratives). She will continually find herself responding in protective, reactive, but inappropriate ways that guard her fragile heart. Even though Mary longs to be loved more than anything else, until she clears away the embedded false beliefs that leave her in a fearful, protective, reactive state, she will not be able to receive, access, or return the levels of intimacy Frank hopes to engage.
Internal Struggles Impact The Ways We Interact With Others
These are just two of many examples where the internal struggles being experienced impact the way we interact with others. We really have no idea what has happened in the deep recesses of other’s lives. These are often invisible wounds that influence their emotional state and personal interactions significantly! The fact that Mary can’t deeply and freely show love in abandon towards Frank, says absolutely nothing about Frank’s lovability! It speaks only to Mary’s internal, unresolved wounds from the past. Frank may know nothing about her prior wounds, yet he’s healthy enough to be able to recognize these are her issues, not his, and they say nothing about him or his character.
We begin making profound changes in our perspective when we can learn to pull back and separate ourselves from both the situation, and the responses of others. When we finally understand that the reactive, and sometimes damaging, behavior of others is typically generated from already existing pain, it provides the insight we need to not get emotionally embroiled in a battle that is not ours.
We’re Not Completely Off The Hook
Let me clearly state that this doesn’t get us off the hook for carelessly triggering another or pushing their buttons. Though their reactions may not be about us, this doesn’t give us license to negligently or purposefully provoke a response from someone who is struggling. If we find ourselves in this situation, and can determine the response is about inner battles that don’t involve us, we still need to take responsibility and genuinely apologize for triggering an inner issue that resulted in further pain.
The Red Flag Of Blame
Considering what we’ve just discussed, I’ve learned that anytime I catch myself casting blame on another, it’s an immediate red flag that should be investigated further. Just as the original statement in this post was falsely blaming another for their poor behavioral choices, when the red flag of blame comes up, it should be viewed as an invitation and opportunity to identify, process, and release buried emotional debris that is begging to be exhumed! It wouldn’t be coming up again otherwise!
So the next time we find ourselves in the receiving position of someone else’s vitriol, remember to step back and consciously assess the situation before responding. If it triggers reactivity in us, that’s a clear indication we also have some unresolved work that needs to be done.
Love & Light,
Laura Lum Corby
Also published on Medium.