Years ago during a marriage counseling session, I confronted my wife about a particular situation. “You made me feel …” I began saying. The counselor cut me off before I could finish my statement.

“No one can make you feel anything,” he said.

“What kind of dumb psychobabble is this?” I wondered. “Of course they can. She did it, I felt it, so clearly she is making me feel what I feel.” It’s cause and effect, I thought.

Different thoughts, different feelings

It wasn’t until a few years later that I seriously considered the counselor’s challenge. Chalk this delay up to my stubbornness in considering different viewpoints. Then, I realized he was right.

The truth of his statement became clear when I learned how our brains work. Someone says or does something, then our minds interpret their words or actions. In essence, we tell ourselves a story about what we observed. The emotions we feel depend on thoughts we have–or the story we tell ourselves–about the incident.

Here’s what surprised me: there are always different ways to think about everything. Having different thoughts creates different emotions. Telling a different story generates different feelings.

How you made me feel

Let me give you an example. The other day, I was having trouble with my cell phone. So, I stopped at a local service center to see if they could help.

As I was describing the issue, the tech interrupted me and launched into a long explanation about how I could fix it. He didn’t listen to my whole description of the problem. If he would have let me finish, he would have known I’d already tried the solution he was suggesting. I felt disrespected.

In the past, feeling disrespected seemed like the natural result of an experience like this. In fact, it appeared to be the only logical outcome. If someone interrupts and doesn’t listen, of course I’m going to feel disrespected. Everyone would feel that way, wouldn’t they?

Correction: how I made myself feel

Applying what I learned from the counselor, I challenged my initial “you made me feel” notion. I looked more closely at my thoughts and how they led to me to feeling disrespected. Here’s what I was thinking while at the service center:

  • Interrupting and not listening are rude behaviors.
  • He doesn’t care if he is rude because he doesn’t respect me.
  • Suggesting a solution I already tried means he thought I was stupid.

With these beliefs, is it any wonder I felt disrespected?

However, these statements were my interpretation of the events, not the events themselves. He did interrupt, and he did explain a possible fix. The rest was my take on the incident:

  • “Rude” behavior and his “long” explanation were my subjective descriptions.
  • The tech’s caring or not caring, respecting or not respecting me is a judgement I made, but not necessarily a fact.
  • That he thought I was stupid is my attempt at mind reading—I have no proof that was his thought.

Upon closer inspection, it was me that made me feel disrespected!

Changed thoughts, changed feelings

The path out of the “you made me feel” trap is to identify and challenge our thoughts. It’s possible the service tech was simply too anxious to be helpful and was not interrupting out of disrespect. It could be that he didn’t think I was stupid, he was just suggesting the most likely fix first. Even if he does think I’m stupid, it doesn’t mean it’s true. I have no reason to defend myself or feel a need to prove him wrong.

By thinking differently, I could see my experience as a more neutral rather than offensive one. Worst-case scenario, I might view it as disappointing or inconvenient, but I didn’t need to feel disrespected. With these easier emotions, I’m less likely to react to the service tech with anger or indignation.

Why “you made me feel ___” is rubbish

Yes, certain circumstances can and do cause emotional reactions. We might say that we were triggered or that someone pushed our buttons. In reality, however, we are responsible for our buttons being there.

For the most part, others are not trying to push our buttons—they’re probably just accidentally bumping into them. Even if they are intentionally pushing them, we’re the ones who have them there. After all, they are our buttons. If we get rid of our buttons (over-sensitivity), other people can’t push them.

This idea of “owning our buttons” might seem like it is letting the button-pushers in our lives off easily. However, it’s actually a very empowering concept. Getting stuck on the false idea that “you made me feel ___” solves nothing and helps no one.

Rather than trying to convince others not to push our buttons (good luck with that), we can focus on something we can control—disconnecting them. And, we benefit because we feel upset far less often. Let’s face it, it’s really no fun to feel distraught all the time.

If you catch yourself saying or thinking, “you made me feel ___”, try a new reaction. Identify your thoughts that created those emotions, then challenge them. This response helps us disconnect buttons, stop blaming others, and avoid controlling or hurtful behavior. Perhaps the best part is we end up experiencing more peace.

 

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