Sunday, February 9, 2014

Whose problem is it anyway?

There is a tendency to want to blame someone else for how we feel about them.  We’ll say, for example, that You’re annoying me rather than say, more truthfully, that I am annoyed by your behaviour, a semantic and cognitive tweak that shifts the onus for my feelings onto someone else in a moment of confusion about the source of my experience.  
According to infant psychiatrists, this is what babies do.  Before they are able to differentiate between themselves and the external world, before they acquire the sense of an “I”, infants confuse their bodily experience (inside) with what is going on peripherally (outside), in a symbiotic relationship with the world and those around them.

Once I acquire a sense of self, however, I can know myself as the source of how I feel such that, when others’ behaviour triggers bad feelings in me, I know that is not their “fault”, let alone their problem.  To hold them responsible for how I feel is a regressive delusion, not to mention counter-productive, particularly if others don’t have a problem with their behaviour, or don’t want to change just because I want them to.

What’s more, in blaming others for how we feel, we declare war against them, escalating an already problematic situation.  The origin of the word war is the German verwirren "to confuse, perplex" and, indeed, when the boundaries between your experience and mine become blurred or confused in this way, violence is a real possibility.

So, unless someone has misused a position of power with me or broken an implicit or explicit agreement, he or she is not responsible for my feelings and I cannot blame him or her for my feeling hurt or upset  by his or her behaviour.  My feelings are my own reaction, not universal signposts by which do judge others.  If we are involved in a dance that doesn’t work for me, like it or not, that makes it my problem.  

The only person I can change is myself and, if I’m not happy with how someone behaves, I’m the only one who can do anything about it.

Big disclaimer: This is not to be used as a way to push responsibility for an act of aggression back onto the victim.  Acts of aggression are not projections.  They also blur and transgress boundaries.

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