On Feeling Responsible for Other People’s Emotions

A painful lesson I’m trying to learn is that I’m not responsible for other people’s emotions. I’m trying not only to learn and understand, but also to believe, that as long as I do right by people — by not violating their rights or acting unnecessarily cruel — that I am fulfilling my end of the social contract with my fellow human beings. It is just really hard when faced with close relatives who harbor unreasonable expectations about what a relationship with me should look like. I have always felt a need to be a solution-finder and peacekeeper, and the mental and emotional toll of needing to keep people happy and trying to stabilize their extreme reactions can be overwhelming and guilt-inducing. Anybody else going through the same thing?

Hey, it’s been a while…

I’ve been busy with work and school and dealing with a close family member being seriously sick. Been meaning to make another blog post for a while now. I’m not myself when I’m not writing out my feelings.

A couple thoughts I’ve had recently:

I’ve realized I’m always either hypersensitive or numb. Either blowing something out of proportion and creating a mess or ignoring something important, tamping it down so I don’t have to deal with it in a mature and reasoned way. I know this isn’t the way to handle things that will make for a satisfying and peaceful life.

Also, I’ve realized even change that feels good can be daunting because you know the depression you’ll experience when you realize how long you’ve been miserable and how long you could have been happy. That you’ll hate yourself for not having made the change sooner.

Can anyone relate? Let me know your own thoughts.

I’m Holding Back in My Writing

Recently I’ve realized how stunted my writing is. I’m constantly holding back. Writing, for me, has always been an essential outlet for releasing my emotions and getting thoughts out of my head and sorted into some kind of more tangible, manageable form. And yet, even privately, I’m unable to keep from censoring myself when putting my thoughts and emotions down on paper. It’s like I’m scared that by committing them to paper, all of my fears, bad memories, and wildest assumptions will take on a whole new, scarier reality. That by putting them to paper, they’ll become more powerful, more actual, more determinative. No more trapped inside my mind to be conjured up and played with or dismissed at will — now unleashed, a separate entity with a will all their own.

Yet what if I’m wrong? What if the opposite is actually true and, after writing down my thoughts and emotions, they seem a lot sillier and more insignificant to me? That’s in some ways more terrifying. I might realize my positions aren’t the most reasonable. I might realize I need to take some kind of action or change my perspective — that scares and unbalances me, makes me feel as though my legs have been swept out from under me. And worst of all, I might realize I have been living a mere existence, based on self-delusion, instead of the full life I could have been living. Is it possible I have created a meaningless existence for myself? Is my life made up of small things? Am I unfit for more important concerns and undertakings? The possibility I’ve been wasting my life on pettiness is crushing to consider.

Lastly, there are things I don’t want to admit about myself that I’m hardly able to think about, let alone put down on paper. Past actions, loathsome character traits I see in myself, reprehensible thoughts. Things that are already so painful to humor for even the brief moments they flit through my mind that I can’t imagine inscribing them and experiencing them via other senses, as well. The feeling of the pen in my hand as I write them. Looking at them on the page. Even smelling the paper and ink. The words, stark and accusing: “See, we are real. All your worst fears, most jaded perspectives, embarrassing memories, and horrifying suspicions about how others view you, they’re all true. We weren’t just ethereal synapses firing at random, easily rationalized away. We represent reality, and you’re going to have to confront us in a meaningful way sooner or later or your life will only ever be pain and sadness.”

Depression and anxiety have both affected my writing negatively. In turns, I feel each emotion. Depression numbs me to the point of no feelings, paralyzing my writing. Inversely, anxiety causes so many feelings to arise I become overcome with emotions and can’t think to write. Can any of you relate?

Eight Tips for Staving Off Depression During the Holidays

While the Holidays are touted as an inherently happy, uplifting time of the year, for many people it is anything but. In fact, it can be a depressing time that many just try to “get through”. This time of the year can highlight the things that are wrong in your life, such as a lack of money or family or love. So what can you do to ease the pain?

Be grateful. I know this wisdom can often come off as trite and preachy, but it has worked for me. Whenever I am feeling disconsolate, that the world is against me, that nothing ever goes my way, I think about the positives in my life. I think about what I have that many other people lack. I think about the ways in which I’m fortunate, what I’ve achieved, what I’ve been given, and the ways in which my life is a lot easier and fuller than other people’s. I don’t do this to gloat but instead to foster a grateful attitude in myself and to avoid encouraging negative thinking patterns. And it almost always works. Don’t criticize yourself for not having what others have. Others might have more money, closer families, and better love lives. They most likely also had different upbringings, experiences, and opportunities in life. They also likely face struggles you don’t know about. Keep your focus on you.

Don’t overextend yourself. It’s not worth getting into debt or stressing yourself over money in order to spend more than you can afford just to fit in with everyone else. Avoid getting wrapped up (pun unintended) in the commercialism of the season.

Don’t concentrate on the past. Times might have been better back then. Holidays past might have been a lot cheerier. Thinking about those times might remind you of what you had and what you lost. We can’t go back, only forward, so concentrate on the changes you can make NOW to ensure happier future Holiday seasons.

Make your own traditions. Maybe your family didn’t have any or you don’t subscribe to them. Make your own and start a new generational tradition among your family or friends. Post about it on social media if you have an account. Start a trend. Inspire others.

Attend to self-care. Be extra gentle with yourself around this time of year. It can already be a dreary, cold time. Don’t beat yourself up for having a different life than others or for not being able to enjoy the season the way many others can.

Avoid over-indulging in sweets. While they make you happy in the moment, the inevitable crash can lead to depression. You don’t have to totally deprive yourself unless you have an issue with self-control around food, but make sure you’re not using sweets to fill the void in your life that this season can trigger.

Keep yourself busy. Attend to tasks you’ve been putting off like cleaning or donating unwanted items. Use this season to concentrate on productive pursuits instead of allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity.

Be open to happiness and light. Don’t harden your heart or allow resentment to occur. Consider attending a Holiday party, inviting a friend over for dinner, or taking a drive to see the festive lights and decorations many people put out this time of year. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or help an elderly neighbor. Embrace the good parts of the season even though you might find it sorrowful, as well.

I hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving today is having a wonderful holiday. And I hope you’re taking care of yourselves in all of the most important ways, including attending to your mental health, and that you will continue to do so throughout this Holiday season. Stay safe and warm!

The Thought Patterns Ruining My Life

We are not our thoughts. But we are the thoughts we allow to control our lives. And the thoughts we indulge are the thoughts that create ruts in our minds and eventually become thought patterns. Here are my thought patterns and the ways in which they are ruining my life:

Worrying About the Future

I constantly “borrow trouble”. I worry about what the future holds, including those things I don’t have control over. I worry about things that haven’t happened yet and even about negative outcomes that are unlikely to occur. I build them up so much in my mind that I become sure they are going to happen. If anything close to what I fear does end up happening, I see it as a sign that my worry was justified.

Grieving the Past

I go over and over the past, including mistakes I made and mistakes others made that negatively affected me. I dwell on missed and bungled opportunities. I mentally recreate dialogues from years, even decades, past. I yearn for the more positive, alternative outcomes that could have come to fruition “if only…”. I beat myself up for how I used to think, feel, and behave, even though I was younger, less worldly-wise, and hadn’t had many experiences yet. I remember and obsess over dates I find significant (for example, “In the year 2002, this happened” or “May 5, 2008 was the day that…”). I’ve never learned how to “let go”.

Assuming People’s Motivations

I often assume people have malicious motivations towards me which explain their actions. Instead of assuming they are just busy or forgetful or ditzy, I assume they dislike me, maybe even want to harm me, and that is why they do the things they do or don’t do the things they don’t do. I am the guiltiest person when it comes to black-and-white thinking, and this type of thinking does not lend itself well to being able to see context or nuance in any given situation. I have been hurt and disappointed by so many people, I now suspect everyone of malintentions. I feel enraged over the thought that others would mistreat me when I would never mistreat them. Others’ mistreatment of me evokes obsessive thoughts over the matter, which I often whitewash as righteous anger. It is easier for me to claim the moral high ground instead of admitting I mentally and emotionally hold onto these hurts to an extent that is not warranted and that is actually self-destructive.

Trying to Please Others

I constantly try to please others and “fit in”, even when I don’t immediately realize I’m doing so. For example, sometimes I respond in a politically-correct, socially-acceptable way that doesn’t covey my true feelings. This comes to me very naturally and without forethought. Only afterwards do I realize how I compromised myself. It seems although I generally dislike people, I secretly crave their acceptance. This causes me to feel weak and become irritated with myself.

Internalizing What Others Do to Me

I take what others do to me as a measure of my own worth. Instead of thinking of them less, I think of myself less. Even if I get upset with them, it pales in comparison to the way their actions make me feel about myself. In reality, the way someone treats another person reveals more about themselves than the other person. And when a person treats others poorly it’s often a sign they think of themselves poorly.

Trying to Control Things

I try to control my feelings, circumstances, and environment. These are things that are impossible to control. Feelings arise uninvited, but they are generally based on the thoughts I allow to take up space in my mind. Environment can only be controlled to a certain extent, and circumstances often occur unbidden, unplanned, and unwanted. I know that the most peaceful people are those who can “roll with the punches”, let things “roll off their backs”, and successfully adapt instead of trying to mould situations to fit their desires.

Dreaming of the Future

On the face of it, dreaming of the future doesn’t sound like a negative thought pattern. What could be unhealthful about having goals, being excited for what’s to come, and allowing it to lift my mood? While these things aren’t inherently problematic, spending my time dreaming of what “could be” instead of taking the necessary actions to make it a reality only traps me in a sad, unfulfilling present with a false sense of achievement.

Striving for Perfection

Fear leads me to always strive for perfection. I can’t stand making mistakes. I can barely bring myself to read my past blog posts for fear I realize how awful they all are and delete them. I often don’t start something I really should for fear of not doing it perfectly. Past failures, even from very long ago, continue to haunt me. However, the logical side of me knows that progress can be made alongside failures and that those who don’t try, don’t succeed.

Being Overly Sensitive to Injustice

This is another thought pattern that might not sound unhealthful. However, my sense of justice often clouds my better judgment. I end up struggling too long towards a goal I don’t even want due to feeling I deserve it. Realistically, I know that’s my ego sabotaging my peace and contentment as well as my refusal to move past negativity and to accept myself in whatever situation I find myself.

Have you noticed any thought patterns that steal your happiness away? Have you been working on changing which thoughts you focus on in order to change those patterns and find lasting peace?

Anger is Deceptive

What makes you angry? Have you ever considered what makes that feeling arise? Any qualified therapist will tell you that anger is typically a secondary emotion that hides another more primary emotion. It is often easier to deal with anger than with admitting to suffering from low self-esteem, grief, guilt, etc., and our mind protects us from processing those other more poignant emotions by using anger as a haze.

I have identified the situations that inspire anger to arise in me. I am a creature of habit and do not handle disruptions in my daily schedule (especially at work) well at all. My anxiety immediately kicks in, my chest gets tight, breathing gets rapid, and I can’t think clearly. I begin to panic. Feeling out of control and unsure of the future is awful.

People not responding or acting the way I think they should makes me feel disrespected or taken advantage of. It lowers my self-esteem and compromises my sense of worth. It makes me question our relationship, what I think I know about them, and, consequently, what I think I know about myself.

Feeling impotent is another of my triggers. Often when I’m in an argument I will get so frustrated and emotional that I cannot gather my thoughts and form responses. As a result, my frustration greatly intensifies my anger and overdramatizes the situation. I then make myself even more miserable by later imagining conversations with those people and things I should have said or done differently.

Anger disguises deeper, more specific, less comfortable emotions. Anger is usually directed outward and so allows the angry person to avoid self-reflection and the processing of trauma, confronting of unhealthful coping mechanisms, and acknowledgement of personal weaknesses.

Ultimately, anger isn’t the problem. Nor is it organic or healthy, the way primary emotions are at pinpointing what is wrong and what we need to focus on fixing to live a happy, healthy existence. It’s an unhealthful coping mechanism used as a way of avoiding acknowledging what actually is the problem — in my case, my lack of self-love, my need to always be in control, and my fear of making mistakes. Anger, when handled correctly, is a catalyst for introspection. The most enlightened and brave of us are those people who are able to use the anger, look past it, and ask of ourselves the honesty, effort, and vulnerability that is required for transformative inner work.

The Negative Side of Always Being Positive

Is it always right to be positive? Always wrong to be negative? Is it possible for negativity to be positive and positivity to be negative? Can positivity ever be counterproductive and negativity productive? Here are my thoughts.

Positivity doesn’t always acknowledge your feelings. You are everything and all you feel, and it all has value to you, even your grief, heartache, confusion, and anger. You must honor your feelings and their underlying motivations before you can move past them to other more pleasurable emotions.

Positivity implies there’s nothing redeemable about the existence of the supposed negative in life. However, there are almost always important lessons learned going through tough situations and coming out the other side alive. Trauma, death, loss, and destruction are not thought of as inherently positive, but can act as teachers revealing the direction of one’s life.

Positivity denies the opportunity for growth. You learn about yourself moreso through the bad times than the good. In the good times, facades are impenetrable and masks don’t slip. In bad times, your mettle is tested and character is revealed. Your triggers, your natural responses, your learned coping strategies, your natural tendencies all come to the forefront, and it’s a time of self-exploration and digging deep.

Positivity is often unrealistic. Things sometimes suck, and it’s okay to call a spade, a spade when they do. Denying reality seldom fixes anything.

Positivity, or “putting on a brave face”, is often used as a charitable act towards others. People seen as “positive” are generally more well-liked and enjoyable than those seen as “negative”. Negative people can even be seen as a burden to others.

So what’s the take-away? It’s natural for your mood and outlook to be aligned with your current emotions and circumstances. If they’re not, you risk being untrue to yourself, sacrificing self-care and the hard work of self-discovery on the altar of social acceptance.

Strength vs. Weakness

Something I’ve learned is that strength can appear weak and weakness can appear strong. It shows strength to hold your tongue and not react emotionally to another person who is pushing your buttons, even though it might feel like weakness at the time or be taken as weakness by others. On the other hand, it shows weakness to give in to an unnecessary squabble and allow yourself to become emotionally overwrought, even though it might feel like strength at the time or be taken as strength by others. This is something I struggle with a lot and constantly have to remind myself. Most situations aren’t worth getting involved in a dispute with someone and letting your inner peace be jeopardized. Although there are times when it’s necessary to speak up and it would even be immoral or dangerous not to do so, speaking up and giving one’s opinion usually comes from ego. And ironically, not letting other people outwardly ruffle you can show them you are strong enough to ignore the drama and encourage respect for you.

Intellectually, I know the more things I “let go”, the wiser and stronger I am. However, getting to the point where things “don’t bother you” (or at least bother you much less), takes a lot of practice, self-restraint, and taking the “high road”. Emotionally, it is not easy. Like a muscle, it must be used often to become strong and remain that way.

Here are some tips I’ve used to help me in this regard. First, realize that your own viewpoint differs from those of other people and colors the way you interpret something. You are probably looking at a situation with different experience, understanding, and knowledge than another person.

Second, understand that people don’t necessarily see you in the way you see yourself or the way you believe others see you. It is human nature to believe that other people think about you more than they really do or that they are more critical of you than they actually are. This often comes from low self-esteem and insecurity.

Third, decide not to take things personally. Because you cannot be sure of where someone else’s opinions, feelings, or attitudes come from, there’s no reason to assume they have ill intent or motives towards you. Even deciding to not take something personally that was in fact personal can help alleviate a lot of the anger, stress, and energy expenditure you’d experience by pursuing the issue.

Fourth, ignore everything that is possible to ignore (and that is most everything). By filling your life with positive people, activities, and work, it is easier to tune out negativity without feeling like you must react or “do something” about it. Also, I have personally experienced that being slighted stings less when I have other, better, more important things going on in my life. I also have less time to stew about them and for my anger to build. It’s when I am idle, perhaps unemployed, don’t really have any direction, have too much free time, that I am more likely to pursue every small perceived slight.

Fifth, feelings fluctuate constantly. You might be steaming mad over something you just found out about, especially if you were already in a down mood, even though the issue doesn’t justify extreme anger. Spend time on things you enjoy or that make you feel productive (like chores), and you might just realize your anger has reduced significantly or even disappeared.

I hope this post helped someone out there who struggles, as I do, with self-restraint and not letting emotions take control. I know I admire those who are always able to be “above it” all, and I view them as some of the strongest, most noble, and independent people I know. On the other hand, people I know who constantly require others to “walk on eggshells” around them seem small, fragile, and scared. I will continue to try to be a strong, noble, independent person instead of a small, fragile, scared person.

Gaining Closure on Closure

The desire to “gain closure” is a common one, experienced by people who have extended feelings of hurt and loss that ensue following a negative event, such as the breakup of a relationship, death of someone close, or not getting a promotion at work. Pursuing closure is usually thought of as a healthful, positive way of dealing with hurt. However, what happens if closure never happens? If it’s never offered to you? It’s understandable to feel the need to know why things happened the way they did. However, one thing I have had to learn is that many times in life, you never get answers.

Dwelling on gaining closure can act as a defense mechanism that lets us indulge in self-pity rather than making necessary changes, letting go, and moving on. For example, it can be easier to obsess over why your partner broke up with you than to stop thinking about them at all. At least in the first scenario they are not out of your life totally, because they’re still on your mind. Meanwhile, you’re living in the past, convincing yourself it’s the present, and robbing yourself of a future.

Other less-serious incidents than your partner breaking up with you, such as day-to-day interactions out in the world with strangers, can also be hurtful. Examples are not getting a call for a second interview or a stranger in the grocery store sneering at you. These can be smaller in impact but can still add up to a pretty large pain body over time if the right perspective is not taken. What should that perspective be? That we have the power to improve our lives by not dwelling on situations and circumstances, but instead moving past the hurt and confusion, regardless of whether we got the explanation, apology, or atonement “due” us.

Did something happen in the past that isn’t relevant today, but still plagues your mind? Is the presence of this hurt impeding you from living your fullest life? Let go of what you have no control over and empower yourself by making the decisions today that will allow you to grow, overcome, and thrive.