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What if you aren’t responsible for other people’s reactions and feelings?

2022.04.28

When was the last time you censored yourself or contorted your words and behaviors solely in anticipation of how someone else would (disproportionally) react?

Maybe a better question is how many times today so far?


I get it. When you know someone is prone to flying off the handle, becoming dismissive, or lashing out it can feel easier in the moment to head off an uncomfortable outburst.

Also, we tend to dislike disappointing people, being misunderstood, and being blamed for things.

That’s normal. But it isn’t healthy to shrink ourselves to make space for someone else’s reaction.

It comes at a personal cost – it drains our energy. When you prioritize someone else’s feelings or space to process but they are not offering you the same respect, that is a boundary issue.

I’ll say it again for the people in the back. Your energy gets drained when you sacrifice your boundaries.

You aren’t responsible for other people’s reactions and feelings. Period. You are responsible for your own.

This isn’t a license to go around insulting people and then telling them that their feelings are not your problem.

But even if you do insult someone, how they feel about it and what they do about it rests with them.

Perhaps they’ll avoid you. Perhaps they’ll exercise their own boundaries and confront you about your behavior and let you know how they’ll be responding if you continue to do it.

I also don’t mean that we shouldn’t take the time to consider our approach to a tricky conversation. Or that we shouldn’t try to soften hard news.

There is a difference between being kind in difficult situations and shrinking ourselves out of fear/avoidance of the other person’s reaction and subsequent behaviors.


Recognize You’ve Made a Choice

It’s easy to be mad at the other person for violating your boundaries. But you are the sovereign of your inner self, and it is solely up to you to maintain your own healthy boundaries. Literally no one can do this for you.

You might not feel like you have a choice. Sometimes a coworker or leader (or family member) behaves in really toxic ways and you are retaliated against if you stand your ground or rock the boat in anyway.

In situations like that, it is scary to consider the possibility that a relationship might get worse or cease to exist. It means you might choose to stay in a draining job because you value it more than no job (which is sadly normal these days). It means you might choose to stay in an unsupportive relationship (including family) because you value it over the unknown or anticipated fallout from modifying its structure or of severing ties completely.

Recognize that in such situations you have prioritized the existence of the toxic relationship over the potential of no relationship at all. You have made a choice, yucky as it may seem to frame it that way.

But once you recognize it as a choice, you reclaim your agency in the situation. I can’t explain it but when you feel your own agency, even if the situation hasn’t changed your perspective often has.


Challenge

I’d wager, however, that sometimes you choose to shrink yourself in the face of others’ feelings or reactions when it’s not such an extreme situation.

Chalk it up to force of habit. Maybe from when you were younger or had less emotional intelligence or less confidence.

However it started, if it has become a default operating mode or happens more than you’d like, my challenge for you is to ask yourself what it would take to accept and make peace with believing you are not responsible for other people’s feelings.

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