Taking Responsibility for My Emotions

Have you ever blamed someone for making you feel the way you do? Maybe your student swore in class, so you blame her for the frustration you feel the rest of the day. Maybe your colleague vehemently disagrees with your teaching beliefs, and so you make a direct link between his response and your encroaching rage.

can you take responsibility for how you feel?

Some of you may have read the above paragraph and thought,

“Well, aren’t they responsible? If they hadn’t done that or reacted in such a manner, I never would have felt that way. “

Sure, they can be the stimulus, but the fact of the matter is, that depending on your personal disposition or life experience, you will have a different reaction.

As an example, imagine two friends get a tattoo. One friend passes out as soon as the needle hits her skin. The other gets transported to a zen-like zone, and tunes out the pain so the etching simply feels numb. Same stimulus, different feelings. If this example is a too gruesome to help you see my point, maybe one about skydiving will have a stronger connection. Check out this article, We Are Responsible for Our Own Feelings to find out more.

So how does this relate to the classroom? On a few occasions during my two-year experience as a teacher trainer, I’ve witnessed participants blame other participants for “making” them feel a certain way. Up to date, the expressed feelings have usually been embarrassed or angry.

What’s wrong with feeling embarrassed or angry? Nothing. However, when we blame someone else for the misery we feel, we are simply perpetuating a vicious cycle of suffering.

…if you respond to another’s anger by getting angry back, rather than by taking care of yourself through choosing an intent to learn or lovingly disengaging, you will not feel safe. You have not responded as a loving adult in a way that leads to being treated respectfully. Instead, you have responded from your ego-wounded self, trying to have control over the other’s behavior. Since the other is likely to respond with more anger or withdrawal, you end up feeling bad from the interaction.

Margaret Paul, “Who Is Responsible for Your Feelings?”

But if we go from the premise that we are responsible for our own feelings, then this means we have the power to move forward in a more compassionate manner. If I acknowledge my embarrassment, and take responsibility for feeling this way, then I am less likely to cause more pain to myself or anyone else. I am also more likely to get what I really wanted, which in relation to the participants, was more than likely understanding and respect.

I take comfort in this perspective on emotions. Knowing that I am responsible for my feelings frees me to follow my heart. It gives me the space to heal and to possibly change the way I react to a similar stimulus in the future. This doesn’t mean that I am free from the bonds of blame yet, but I am much quicker at clearly seeing my position in the matter.

When I see participants suffer from the belief that their classmates are responsible for their pain, I feel sad and concerned. I feel this way because it is important to me that they feel safe in my classroom. At such moments I realize the sense of safety has been lost, and it will not easily be regained.

Considering the great loss that can happen when blame is seen as the only way to deal with feelings, as teachers what can we do? What is our role? How can we help our students understand that they are responsible for their feelings? It’s a complex issue I look forward to explore with you.

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13 thoughts on “Taking Responsibility for My Emotions

  1. Found your blog through Leo SElivan and your visit to mine. Thanks for stopping by.
    Loved reading this post. I think, especially when dealing with ‘difficult’ students, it is indeed key to remember that we are choosing to find the behaviour annoying- and, another thing I try to remind myself of, is that the things that most annoy us in others, are always those things we don’t like in ourselves!!

    1. My pleasure! I discovered your blog thanks to Michael Griffin. I’m happy he made the link and I look forward to getting your insights delivered to my inbox.

      Thank you so much for your comments. This is one of my favorite topics, probably due to its complexity. I think you summed it up perfectly when you wrote, “the things that most annoy us in others, are always those things we don’t like in ourselves!!” I think this is what makes this topic so complex. It’s incredibly hard to admit this concept, but when I can see that what I dislike in you is also within me, then I think the complexity subsides.

      Thank you for bringing this post back into my awareness. Peace.

  2. This ties in with an excellent book I’m reading at the moment called ‘The Explosive Child’ by Ross Greene. In it Dr. Greene talks about those children who are locked into ‘meltdown’ by the actions of those around them, simply because they do not have the tools to process emotions verbally and take charge of them. In their case, there is usually also a mental and/or a physical problem which makes them unable to switch agendas quickly, and are generally very inflexible as regards their surroundings, their routine, or any decisions they’ve made. When these children are then confronted by another inflexible (adults who demand that they comply) severe emotional outbursts, physical outbursts and general mayhem ensue.
    Dr. Greene’s advice to parents and teachers who deal with such children is to be their pre-frontal cortex for a while, all the time training them and giving them the tools with which to take responsibility for their emotions.
    So, really, by us taking the steps in our lives to see our emotions as belonging to us and our response to a situation rather than inherent in the situation, we become more mature. And mature people can handle life’s problems with reason and wisdom, rather than ego.

    1. Thank you for sharing this Leonie. I hadn’t heard of Dr. Greene’s work before this. I appreciate the introduction. I liked the idea of the parents and teachers becoming the child’s pre-frontal cortex. Such an interesting way of putting it. Of course, this makes me wonder what happens with adults. Who becomes their pre-frontal cortex? This is rhetorical question at the moment, but definitely something to think about.

      As always, Leonie, thank you for your comments! Happy New Year!

  3. I am thinking this is valuable information to remember when I am working with emotionally charged children who often point at others as the reason for their emotions. Thanks for making me think :-)

  4. For me, I have found it very true that I cannot change my actions until I change my heart, and also true that I cannot change my heart. However, there is One who is stronger than I, Who did change my heart, is changing my heart, will change my heart even more, to perfection. In that I rejoice.
    He is the Spirit of the Living God.

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