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.
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.
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.
- Emotions: My Choice (socyberty.com)
- Compassionate Communication (Marshall Rosenberg)
- Responsibility and blame (toughmindedoptimism.wordpress.com)