Mind your own damn feelings

Posted on December 18, 2013


{Full disclosure: An old friend asked me for some coaching advice about this topic. I am, however, so not the expert in this area and struggle with the same issues myself, almost on a daily basis. I hope, by examining this question, we all can come to a more empowered place of relating to others. }

Don't even go there

The other day, one of my Facebook friends posted the Myers-Briggs personality test and I took it again.  I did this personality assessment for the first time when I was 12, and even though I’ve had myriad life-altering experiences, I still come up as an ENFJ every time I take it. Perhaps the experts are right. Our personalities really do stay fixed throughout time, despite our life experiences.

What made me so uncomfortable about this test is that it pointed out one of my greatest personal and professional struggles: worrying too much about other peoples’ feelings.

Now, as a relationship coach, I’ve been taught to call clients out when they blame other people for their feelings. “She makes me feel bad or He always makes me feel guilty” are big red flags in my little life coaching world because they mean that someone is giving away their power . We are all responsible for our own feelings. We are all responsible for our own lives and no one can ever make us feel anything. We feel things because we choose to feel them. As soon as you start to believe that someone else’s feelings are your responsibility, as soon as you start to take their issues personally, then you are completely fucked. In life, you can only be responsible for one person’s happiness and that is your own.

That’s the kind of empowering shit I say during my sessions.

But in my personal life, I spend a great deal of my time and energy worrying about other peoples’ feelings.

I know that people are responsible for their own feelings, but I don’t want be the person who hurts those feelings. So I’m stuck in this quagmire of sorts. I don’t want to let other people manipulate me by trying to get me to do things to placate them and at the same time, I don’t want to be an insensitive twat.

So, in my typical Libran way, I have been trying to find a balance between being sensitive to others and being true to myself. I have been trying, as Byron Katie says, to stay in my own business. I am trying to mind my own damn feelings.

This, however, sounds much easier than it actually is.

Take, for example, our Christmas cards this year. We caved and conformed and had our pictures professionally taken by a photographer who was super flexible with our schedules. Then we placed these pictures on a holiday card. These damn cards were ridiculously expensive and so I only bought a handful to send to our closest friends and people we haven’t seen in awhile.  Unlike last year, I’m not going to send holiday cards to my entire rolodex. Sounds reasonable, right?

But these Christmas cards have been stressing me out. I have avoided sending them because I understand that they have the potential to hurt some feelings.

First of all, we went with a different photographer this year. We have been really busy and it was just more convenient to have a local photographer take our pictures. I know, however, that our old photographer will probably find out that we cheated on her and perhaps be upset by this.

I also know that some of my closer friends hang out with people I consider acquaintances and they may wonder why we didn’t send them cards this year when we sent them cards last year.

Ugh. I hate this stuff.

And then there’s my hairstylist.

I’ve been seeing the same hairstylist since 2009. Where we lived before, she was just a trek down the road. She’s now about 45 minutes from our new home and to make matters worse, it’s a completely awful drive to get to her salon. To risk not hurting her feelings, I’ve been making stupid sacrifices of time, energy and gas to stay her client but with my schedule getting busier and busier, I can’t continue this much longer.  The whole thought of having a goodbye conversation, and risking her getting upset, makes me physically ill.

I know that I am not alone here, either. I’ve had countless conversations with others about the best way to go about things so as not to hurt other peoples’ feelings. Despite my professional training, I don’t think this is indicative of being un-empowered. I think this is called being sensitive. And I’m pretty sure the world would be a much better place if it had more sensitive, thoughtful people in it.

Regardless of how thoughtful or sensitive you may be, though, this is life. Sometimes we have to have difficult conversations. I don’t know about you but I would like to learn to have them with some kind of grace.

So this is what I’ve come up with: When you’ve got painful or uncomfortable news to deliver, tell the other person what you appreciate about them, give empathy but then solidly state your own truth.

For example:

To the beloved boss you’ll be leaving because you’ve found a better professional opportunity: I appreciate all of the guidance you’ve given me and all of the opportunities you’ve provided. I know you’ll probably be a bit shocked and disappointed with the news I’m going to give you and I completely understand that but I’ve found a new position and am turning in my 2 weeks notice.

To the nice guy who you no longer wish to date because there’s no chemistry: Thank you for being such a kind and thoughtful person. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you over the past few weeks but I don’t feel like we match up. I know that you may feel hurt by my decision, but I just don’t think we’re a good fit.

To the parent who doesn’t agree with your childrearing decisions: I will always be grateful that you were such a great mom and that you stayed home to raise us. You’ve taught me so much and one of the best lessons I’ve learned from you is to follow what makes me happy. I know you’re probably going to be disappointed when I tell you this but I’ve decided to go back to work next month and little Lisa will be going to daycare.

Now, I’ve just gotta work on some scripts for my own life.

I haven’t figured out how to avoid that nauseating feeling you get when you know you’ve hurt or disappointed someone else. I don’t know if those feelings are ever going to go away or even if they should. I’m going to continue to practice Byron Katie’s work when they come up to see if I can shift them.

But by offering expressions of appreciation and empathy and then solidly stating my truth, I am learning how to be both sensitive to others and empowered. I am learning to do what it is I need to do. With a little more practice, who knows? This may even come naturally.

Until then, may we continue to be sensitive and thoughtful people and still learn how to mind our own damn feelings.