Am I responsible for how someone else feels?

“You made me feel this way!”

I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Or perhaps you were even the one claiming it. During heated arguments, it’s easy to want to blame someone else for how we’re feeling. The problem is, it’s simply not true.

Saying someone else “made us” feel a certain way is a misplacement of responsibility. While their actions may have been harmful, they did not directly cause us to feel specific emotions, because emotions and emotional triggers are personal, based on our lived experience of the world. 

Other people can engage in actions that affect us, and to which we have an emotional response, but they are not responsible for our feelings.

We are. 

This concept of what we’re responsible for and what we’re not, especially in terms of emotions and feelings, is incredibly important. It sets the basis for discerning between empathetic and compassionate action, and taking personal responsibility to heal the self, repair a relationship, or make apologies where needed. 

Because of our emotion-phobic culture, it’s common for us to feel that someone else is responsible for the way that we’re feeling. This is blaming, and blaming is a way to try and off-gas difficult sensations or challenging emotions. If our emotions are someone else’s fault, we subconsciously think that we don’t have to do anything to fix them. While this can make us feel powerful or in control, it actually makes us powerless and, in the long run, eschews personal responsibility. 

Truth is, your emotions are your responsibility. (In my book, we learn how to handle difficult emotions so dealing with them is no big deal).

So, does this excuse hurtful behavior from others? Or excuse us when we hurt someone else? No, not one bit. 

If we say or do something that hurts someone else, we should apologize for causing that hurt. And vice versa. As empathetic humans, we should care when we have hurt someone else. We should apologize sincerely because we don’t want to wound our fellow humans. 

However, we are not responsible for transforming the other person’s emotions, just as they are not responsible for changing ours. If we have caused someone else a lot of hardship, we often really want to help make the other person feel better, which is sometimes an attempt at ridding ourselves of the guilt we feel. The truth is, the only thing we can do is apologize sincerely, ask if there is anything the other person needs from us, do that thing, and try to be better next time. 

Yes, division of responsibility can be difficult, especially with emotions. When we use it, we very quickly see who is responsible for what, understand blaming for what it is (an attempt to thwart responsibility), and set things to balance. The process demands vulnerability and self-awareness. 

Most of this post is an excerpt from my book, “Embracing High Sensitivity.” For greater context, or to learn more, click here!

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