One of the most important skills I have learned in life, is letting go of trying to control other people’s emotions. Many people believe that they are responsible for other people’s feelings. They believe that they need to protect others from their feelings, change other’s feelings from bad to good, or control them completely. But I’ve found that this is an impossible task. One that leaves people feelings anxious, depressed and more stressed than they need to be. When people are raised to feel responsible for other people’s feelings, they may not know that they have the option to do otherwise.
Most people don’t recognize they are doing it. They don’t recognize that this codependent way of life is causing harm to themselves and others. Feeling responsible to make other people happy or ok is an unwinnable game.
So why do we try?
How do folks learn to be responsible for other people’s feelings? You may have been raised in a family where people convinced you that you were responsible for their well being. In a healthy family, a child is made responsible for things appropriate to their age and stage of development. A healthy family instills the acceptance of personal boundaries, and behavior respectful of others’ boundaries. However, in some less-than-healthy families, children are made responsible for things far beyond their control, resulting in their developing into adults with poor or no boundaries.
- A father working on a broken car engine becomes angry with a stuck and rusted part wont budge. The child nearby playing in the sprinklers is yelled at and shamed when the splash reaches the father. The child leaves that interaction feeling like he did something to deserve the outrageous anger, even though the father’s anger has nothing to do with the boy. This child may either grow up being conflict avoidant or an angry person blaming others for his anger.
- A mother struggling with depression feels abandoned by her husband. In her grief, she looks to her daughter for comfort, communicating to the daughter that she is powerful enough to help her mother’s depression. But there’s a downside. When the daughter inevitably cannot sooth the mother’s depression, she will feel powerless, helpless and shame for not being a “helpful enough” daughter. This girl will likely grow up abandoning her own feelings in order to take care of everyone else’s feelings. She will not be able to address her own needs.
- A daughter who sits secretively listening to her parent’s fighting intervenes just before it comes to blows. The father slams the door shut and the mother begins to cry, while the child tries to make her parent’s marriage better. The daughter grows up to believe she has the responsibility to mediate, to protect and to keep peace. This girl may grow up to believe that her role in life is to abandon her own needs, and keep other people from their painful feelings.
Is it Really OK to stop trying to make other people happy?
I know it’s hard, but you have to do it. Letting other people have, own and manage their own emotions is good for you and good for them. When you allow others to have their own feelings, you:
- empower them to self sooth and to learn self control.
- reinforce the necessary boundary between you and them.
- turn your attention back to yourself for greater self awareness.
- grow your ego strength.
- attend to your own needs and emotions…. yay!!! and sometimes for the first time in a long time!
Steps to letting go.
- When you notice that the other person is experiencing a strong emotion like anger, fear or sadness, look inside yourself and see what you’re experiencing. Is it agitation, stress or compulsion? Is it dread, guilt, or fear? Is it a temptation to jump in to “fix it or make it better?” Or is it “Run! far far away!” Notice what you’re feeling and make a quick plan to address it.
- When someone is expressing their emotion (anger, fear, sadness, happiness) learn what it means to empathize without fixing or avoiding. this is not a skill learned easily or quickly, but it is a skill that can be learned. Say things to yourself like, “He is angry, and he can have his anger. I won’t try to talk him out of it. But I don’t have to fix it, control it, or excuse it.”
- When you believe someone is “dumping” their feelings on you and wants you to fix them, you can practice saying things like, “that sounds so hard, I’m sorry you’re going through that. What are you going to do about it?” Once you ask this question, refrain from answering it for them or helping them solve their problem. Remember, it is for them to solve. (Yay! it’s not your responsibility!)
Letting other people have their own emotions is scary and freeing all at the same time. If you’re a mother, try it with your kids. If you’re a daughter or son, try it with your parent. Little by little, you will be the boss of your own emotions, and you’ll empower others to do the same. So, if you can’t change them (and you can’t) then let go. It feels way better.
Whether you deal with them in business or relationships, narcissists, sociopaths and psychological manipulators can make life difficult if not down right scary. In the beginning, you may have hoped that your relationship could be successful, maybe even remarkable. But slowly as you got to know him, the shiny veneer wore off and you saw the darker side. The rules are simply mind over matter: as in “he doesn’t mind, and you don’t matter.”
There are tell tale signs and predictable behaviors that can alert you to the psychologically manipulative personality. In fact, if you missed the Part I in the series, you can click here for a refresher of the top 10 tactics used to manipulate you.
But there are signs inside of yourself that can alert you to psychologically manipulative people too. Here are some practical ways to understand the unwritten rules to the narcissistic game.
Crack their Secret Code by Listening to Your Own Feelings
You may not know exactly what he is doing or why he is doing it, but you can know how you feel about it. It is impossible to know what is going on inside someone esles’ head or heart. It’s especially difficult to recognize motive if pscyhological manipulation is used to hide that motive. Often times we can’t quite put our finger on it, but we know something is wrong. This article will help you identify your own feelings so you can better trust your red flags. Your feelings can tell you a lot about another person. Here are the emotions you may feel when encountering a narcissist, sociopath or psychological manipulator:
- Exhilaration: First, you may feel excited about the opportunity you have as he sets his sites on you. You feel special, wanted, and you believe his promises. Like a drug, you may feel like you just can’t get enough of his high. At first.
- Confusion: Second, you feel confused because there’s things about him that don’t add up. His actions don’t match with his words. His body language doesn’t match with what he says. You want to believe what he has promised, but the way he talks, or the way he treats people makes you concerned about his true intentions. You reason with yourself and decide there is nothing to worry about- that his good traits outweigh his bad traits.
- Self doubt: Third, you feel guilty for doubting him, judging him or questioning him. You wonder if you are the one with the problem, not him. You notice that you’re self esteem is down, and you don’t feel good about yourself as you once did. You start to second guess yourself, not knowing who or what to trust.
- Whirl Wind of Emotions: Next, you start to feel crazy. You try to please him, but he seems so unpredictable. You try to do what he wants, but something always upsets him. You never know what you’re going to get with him. Elation turns to fear, and you try hard to use reason to figure out how to make this thing work.
- Disappointment: You start to realize that the promises are not going to come true, that you are being taken advantage of, and things aren’t going to get better. You start to feel a sense of dread. Feeling helpless to change him, you fear being trapped in this relationship indefinitely.
- Regret: Finally, you feel such a sense of regret over trusting him, you start to blame yourself. You wonder if his mistreatment was really your fault. You say things to yourself like, “I should have known better,” and “What did I do to deserve this kind of treatment?” You may not see a way out, and the guilt feelings seem to overwhelm you.
Sometimes the sociopathic static is so loud, recognizing how you really feel is difficult. Spending some time evaluating how you feel and why will give you important information. When dealing with a narcissist, sociopath or psychological manipulator, your emotions may seem out of control. Finding someone to help you sort through them is a good first step. When you have the freedom to share openly and honestly about your true feelings, your load won’t seem so heavy. A professional counselor can help you put a plan together to fit your unique relationship circumstances.
If you believe you are dealing with a narcissist, sociopath or psychological manipulator, take steps to give yourself some needed distance and perspective. Disengaging from this personality type will seem uncomfortable and even scary, but necessary for your health and wholeness.
Hello friends! The topic of “Control” has come up in my life lately- like changing the things we can control, letting go of the things we can’t, and knowing precisely where the line is between the two. These words are easily repeated in the serenity prayer and oh so hard to carry out. Here are a couple of examples where control becomes an issue for all of us.
Sickness. If you’ve ever suffered with a life altering illness, you know that the line between control and surrender is blurred. How and what kind of treatment should you pursue? When is it time to rest and when is it time to fight? What behaviors are driven by fear and what behaviors are driven by wisdom?
Kids sports. Your kid’s sports are supposed to be fun learning opportunities to improve skill and ability. But you know and I know that watching your kids from the bleachers can be an overwhelmingly powerless feeling. You are powerless over their safety, their attitude, their performance, their coach’s decisions, or the other kids on the team. How much pushing is ok? And what if they get benched or get a concussion or get ignored by their coach? When should you step in and how? How much control should you exert?
Unemployment. You try and you look and you interview and you ask around. You submit resumes and queries and then you wait. You feel completely powerless over the “when,” the “what,” or the “how.” When is it time to give up and re-tool? How much pestering should you do? There are so many things out of your control, it’s nearly impossible to control your insides.
The Paradigms we hold affect the way we handle powerless feelings and situations that are outside of our control. The most important decisions in our lives depend on where we draw the line between what we can control and what we need to let go.
Take a look at the differences between a Controlling Attitude and an Attitude of Letting Go. The more you can control your inner life, the less out of control things will feel in the outer life.
In every situation that feels outside of your control, take a look at your paradigm. Where can you give yourself a voice, some strength, some options? You are more powerful than you think, because God’s strength is always there for you. Force that strength through the funnel of love- love for yourself, God and for others.