Bull Horkey

What a title for a post, eh?

So in a discussion the other day someone said to me “no one can make you feel anything”, a phrase I’ve heard before in my work in mental health, and a phrase that I hate. And in the last few days I’ve been thinking about why I so vehemently dislike the phrase… Here’s what I’ve come up with…

First, the things the phrase attempts to say that I do wholeheartedly agree with:

1. There’s no sense in being a victim — in many ways, for most of us, and in most day-to-day cases, victimhood is an attitude, and not a very effectual one. So blaming without taking responsibility for your own part in something (even if it is how one reacts to emotions) is bad strategy.

2. There are not always one-to-one causal relationships between one person’s actions and another person’s feelings. Lots of factors go into the creation of emotions, including past emotions and situations, personality types, learned meanings, etc.

3. A person does have an amount of choice in the messages that (s)he tells him/herself about emotions and situations, and thereby a choice in whether emotions get escalated or acted out or dealt with effectively. A person certainly has full responsibility over how he or she reacts to emotions through behaviors.

4. One person should not have to (and indeed cannot) protect another person completely from emotions. Emotions happen.

5. I’m all for “I statements”, as they are usually the most effective way of coming to understanding about emotions — all I can say with certainty is that which pertains to me and my point of view, and assumptions and blame assigning are dangerous.

Now for the reasons I think it’s a bunch of bull horkey:

1. Emotions are not controllable, at least not in their pure forms. Emotions are primal, and usually pre-verbal to begin with. The statement “no one can make you feel anything” most often carries with it an idea that the person with the emotion can control his or her initial emotion, which I believe is quite incorrect. (controlling initial emotion is very different from controlling internal messages about the emotion and controlling reactions based on the emotion) Besides that, it puts too much pressure on a person to say that all emotions can be controlled — it gives too little permission for emotions to come and go, as they inevitably do.

2. We live in a world in which there are not always direct causal relationships. However, we work on probabilities. If probability is 99% that if I go outside when it’s raining then I’ll get wet, then we know that to avoid getting wet, I should avoid going outside. To say, “but there’s 1% chance that you won’t get wet”, doesn’t negate the probable causal relationship. Therefore — if I do something that I know has 85% chance of annoying you, it is reasonable to assume that, if I don’t want to annoy you, I shouldn’t do it. So, though it’s not a one-to-one, action-causes-emotion relationship, it’s often a probable causal relationship — enough to be able to predict probable results. (Enough of the math side of it…)

3. It’s a cop out. If we really believed that “no one can make anyone feel anything”, we wouldn’t care about compassion or justice. We wouldn’t need to liberate the oppressed, because the oppressors “can’t make the oppressed feel oppressed or shamed or any other negative emotion” — the oppressed could just choose to feel something else. We wouldn’t worry about the golden rule, if we truly believed that statement. To say “I can’t make you feel anything” just lets me off the hook of taking responsibility for being part of the cause. (notice I say “part”)

4. Most often this statement comes out when someone is feeling something and another person is not wanting to take responsibility — not a good time to say this satement, as it is only going to be inflammatory. In relationships, this is simply not a helpful way to approach this subject, because the reality is much more complex than just a slogan.

K… enough of my ranting… I do like having this blog sometimes because I can get on my soap box when the people around me are not wanting to hear it, and it still allows me outlet… so thank you for indulging me in blowing off steam. =)

And tip — don’t ever say this to me. Say it, if you feel you must, but probability is 95% that I will get supremely annoyed with you if you do. 😉

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