The One About Emotional Culpability

This is the last mushy gushy, ewwy gewwy, let’s talk about our feelings post. I promise. Or rather, I hope. But I’ve had something of a revelation, and I wish to put it down in my own writing, for, at the least, my own future reference, if it fails to reach an outside audience.

I am not responsible for other people’s feelings.

Doesn’t sound like much of a revelation, does it? Of course I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings! But allow me to explain the importance of that statement.

I have, for as long as I can remember, felt responsible for other people’s feelings. In fact, I have felt crushed under that responsibility. And I still do not believe that this is without basis. It’s not as if I have no control over how other people feel. Those feelings do not occur in a vacuum. Any interaction I have with someone is likely to elicit an emotional response of some sort or other. And while my interaction with that person is not the only factor acting on their emotional state, it is possible that, if I fuck up that interaction badly enough, it could be the primary factor in making their emotional state a really, really bad one.

I’m not sure how I became so thoroughly indoctrinated to this way of thinking, but the tendency to take responsibility for the well being of those around me, to put myself in charge of keeping other people happy and healthy, to do this at the expense of my own health and happiness, and to believe so thoroughly in my own culpability as to cripple myself into inaction, may be one of the most fundamental principles by which I’ve lived. I don’t think it’s a great exaggeration to say I’ve based most of my life on this. Where I go the idea, when my parents have made it clear they don’t believe it, is beyond me.

When I say my parents don’t believe it, I should make it clear exactly how thoroughly they don’t. My father manages not to see the connection between his constant declarations of his disappointment in me and my constantly increasing feelings of worthlessness. Even when the connection is explained to him. Repeatedly. His philosophy is that my feelings are my feelings. He can’t do anything to change them. That’s my job.

I think it’s safe to say he’s wrong. Really obviously really wrong. If you say upsetting things to people, they will be upset. We all should be held accountable for our affects on other people’s emotional state when it’s that cut and dry, certainly. But where does one draw the line? I should not hold people responsible for upsetting me when they say something completely innocent which happens to call to mind something unpleasant from my past. They didn’t know. They didn’t mean it.

I feel, very deeply, that more people should be aware of the effect they can have on others. I believe most people are blissfully oblivious to the power their every word might have, and I would love to see that change. But, equally, no one should be made to feel complete responsibility for things completely out of their control, no one should be so afraid of the possible effect of their words they’re unable to speak them.

My emotional martyr complex is my own problem. It is something I have spent the past twenty years developing, and it may take the next twenty years to reprogram. I cannot ask for help, because, aside from the fact that no one sane person would actually relieve me of responsibility for my emotional effect on them, having that immunity from responsibility bestowed on me by someone else would defeat the purpose. Even if everyone I know banded together to form an Ian Isn’t In Charge of My Feelings Treaty, the rest of the world would not hold to it. I must learn not to hold myself responsible even in the worst of situations, even if someone is crying in my face and shouting that it’s my fault. That sort of thing is liable to happen, and I can only do so much to prevent it. I must learn to live my life free of this learned cowardice.

In fact, the protect myself from my feelings of culpability, as well as my oversensitivity, I probably have to become kindof a dick. This is hardly the first time I’ve had that thought, but I have always been afraid to launch an attempt at developing the kind of emotional armor I need. What if I do become a dick, and nobody likes me? It’s the same fear which has brought me to the point where I’m considering offense as the best defense. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to chase my loved ones out of my life. But I can’t take the status quo much longer.

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~ by onetiddlyridley on March 27, 2011.

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