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The Way You Make Me Feel, That's on Me

You can't control another person's actions, but you can control your response.

Source: ThitareeSarmkasat/iStock

How many times have you uttered words like “He makes me so mad!” “Her story really depressed me.” “The way he does that is irritating and ruins my day.” “Her style is so off-putting.” And so on and so on. That person is out there, and he or she does things that make me in here—emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically—react in a negative and upset manner. It doesn’t matter that the person who is guilty of the infraction oftentimes doesn’t even know they have done something, or if they do they might possibly not care. After all, it’s your problem, not theirs.

And therein lies the rub. It really is your problem, not theirs. In life, there are two variables within your control: Your actions and your reactions. Many times your actions don’t match your intentions, and you find yourself apologizing or being upset with yourself for doing something you regret. You can control what you do, and while many people don’t make the best choices in the moment, it is still a choice of how you want to act.

Reactions are similar. You can actually choose to ignore someone else’s bad behavior or reframe it and turn it into something neutral. To be clear, this does not apply to abusive situations or ignoring someone who is otherwise devious or harmful. You need to take care of yourself and your life and make good choices. This pertains to the myriad of encounters you have with people each and every day whereby their actions cause a reaction in you, that limits you and impacts what could be other positive experiences.

Everyone has a developed filter on the world. You have a background, life experiences, relationship history, education, and encounters with others that give you a certain worldview. Oftentimes this translates into what is “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad.” You may have a belief that people should treat you a certain way, or notice you, or compliment you, or support you. When this doesn’t happen, you blame the other person. They are the ones ruining your well-laid plans.

The problem actually lies in the well-laid plans. It lies in the filter and the inability to unclog the filter to see what’s really happening. It’s easier to turn around and give someone your back and walk away than it is to turn the other cheek and ignore what you consider to be their bad behavior.

In most cases, people haven’t learned how to clear the filters and be objective. They are carrying beliefs and thoughts acquired throughout their lives, and never questioning them. You might have had parents that told you to behave in certain ways or someone would not love you, or parents who told you to stick up for yourself or never to back down. Without knowing it, these beliefs get carried forward and when someone inadvertently steps on your personal “third rail,” you let them know it. They get burned, or banished, or criticized, or blamed.

What if your filters are incorrect? What if the person who is stepping on your third rail has no idea they are doing it? What if they are having a tough day or difficult time and they aren’t as conscious about what they are doing to others, just as you have times you make a choice you might regret about how you behave?

Learning to give others a break and understanding that everyone has filters clogged with their beliefs and approach is a big first step. Stepping back and understanding that your views have been developed somehow, and listening and learning from others, can only help you develop as a well-rounded human being. It’s not about you being wrong and others being right. It’s about seeing others in a more objective and supportive light. It’s about using your lens on the world to consider another’s point of view without taking offense or being put off by it. It’s about realizing you have more control than you choose to exert in any situation where someone drags you down and punishes you.

The next time you believe you have been wronged and you feel your ire rising, remember that the person’s actions are out of your control. Your response is within it. It really is.