This is a reblog of something I wrote a couple months ago, which I was asked to share with the intentional community I am currently living in on the Big Island of Hawaii, called Kalani. At our Monday morning all-hands meeting I signed-up to give an “inspiration moment” to our community. I felt intuitively that our ohana could benefit both as individuals and as a whole from hearing what I had to say about emotional ownership. Afterwards I was humbled and overjoyed to find that it resonated with so many people. You are all welcome to enjoy, or even make use of my words, I just ask that I am given credit for them. Thank you!
Owning Your Emotions
by Clara Lawryniuk
Today I would like to talk about an important lesson I have had to learn again and again and again… taking ownership of my emotions. It is one of the most important (and sometimes most challenging) skills we need to develop in order to have healthy intimacy. Part of emotional ownership is establishing healthy boundaries, another part is delineating where your own feelings begin and another person’s end, but a great deal of it is an active, intentional practice.
The concept of emotional ownership is not always the most intuitive. I could tell you that to have better intimacy in your friendships and romantic relationships you should strive for honesty, vulnerability and trustworthiness – however, these goals and all the good intentions behind them often go awry when we are not taking responsibility for our own feelings and expecting the same from others.
Emotional ownership is not obvious or intuitive for most of us because of many ideas instilled in us from society, culture, our families and often personal experiences. We are encouraged to accommodate and protect the feelings of others, often at the cost of our own emotional needs. Furthermore, when we find ourselves in discomfort we have been taught to figure out who is at fault while simultaneously depending on others to relieve the discomfort.
Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?
- He made me mad, now my day is ruined because of him.
- If I tell her the truth, it will make her jealous and upset and it will be all my fault.
- I’m so lonely, please someone make me feel better
When we engage this way it puts the responsibility of how we feel and how we handle emotions off on others, giving up our own power in the process. This can be extremely convenient at times, and even satisfying in the moment, but it means living a life where how we feel is at the mercy of others. Perpetually living in reaction to others emotions, or on-edge, worried you will upset someone, is an exhausting and anxious way to live. It is tremendously difficult to build healthy intimacy when carrying on that way. Thus I advocate for everyone taking their power back and owning their emotions. When we empower ourselves in this way we open the door for making conscious choices about how to deal with how we feel. Furthermore owning our emotions allows more space for self-love, self acceptance and self-intimacy.
I have often found it is helpful when discussing this concept with people to use physical metaphors to draw more tangible comparisons. There are so many things that people unequivocally agree with when it comes to respecting our bodies, yet have a hard time extending the same rights and responsibilities when it comes to emotional health. For example, if someone is being physically abusive and excuses their violence by claiming the victim “made me do it!” we would all see that as total bullshit. I ask you though, what about emotional abuse? In our culture and society there are still too many people making excuses for emotional abuse and blaming the victims. I realize I am highlighting some extreme cases, but still it is too common to see people shirking responsibility for their own feelings, blaming others for those feelings and then excusing the actions they chose to take as if it were beyond their control.
Now, all of this is not meant to invalidate your emotions, push you to feel differently than you do, or tell you to cut it out. Your anger when you feel slighted, your jealousy when you feel neglected and your pride when you feel successful are all valid and meaningful. Or as two of my favorite authors put is so eloquently:
“Emotions are never wrong; only actions can be wrong. Emotions are an expression of our emotional truth, and truth cannot be wrong. Nor do they need to be justified. They just need to be felt.” – Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
We need to accept that we cannot always consciously control our emotional reactions and experiences, nor should we, they are an important part of living a full, healthy life. They tell us something important in the moment and we should listen. But we can control the actions we choose to take. When we take ownership of our feelings (anger, jealousy, insecurity, joy, triumph) we are giving ourselves and those we care about permission to be authentic and vulnerable. It also demonstrates that we are safe and trustworthy. It allows us to know and experience each other and be intimate.
The positive changes that will take place in your life by owning your emotions are plentiful. You will be less vulnerable to emotional manipulation and will be less likely to manipulate others. You get to take your power back and become a person with agency in their life rather than a passive victim of other people’s’ moods. You get a chance to learn that the emotions that scare you aren’t so scary after all – almost always they are more tolerable than you thought. You still get to be compassionate and empathetic towards others without feeling the need to fix/change their experience. True compassion and solidarity happens when we let others experience their feelings without trying to change them, define them, or co-opt them. I know we have all been involved on one side of that or both…do any of these sound familiar?
- A family member is feeling sad and looks to you to change that for them.
- Your significant other is jealous about how you were interacting with someone else and lashes out with mean-spirited words to get back at you rather than have a discussion about it.
- Someone tells you something you don’t want to hear and you think, “How could you do this to me? You made me feel this way!”
- You confide in someone about your feelings and the impression you get from them is ‘Don’t be sad around me, because it will make me sad. I can’t handle the truth of your feelings.’
Taking responsibility for our own feelings is just as difficult as it is liberating. I’m not going to lie, it is hard sometimes. Certain feelings are painful, some can seem downright unbearable, and at times you fear they will go on forever. Ask yourself what would happen if you really let yourself experience and embody your feelings? I can tell you one thing, you will survive. You will see that as unpleasant as they can be, they are tolerable. And experiencing them will make you feel stronger. Now there are times when emotional pain is so great that for a multitude of reasons a person might contemplate self-harm or suicide. I am not advocating for white-knuckling through serious distress alone until a person feels hopeless. If you or someone you know ever contemplates self-harm or suicide, please seek help.
There are resources out there to help you get the help, comfort, love, or attention that you need. Taking responsibility for your emotions does not mean suffering alone, does not mean keeping silent about how you feel, it just means recognizing that these feelings are yours, these choices are yours. You do not have to censor yourself, be silent, deny your subjective experience or be blamed for other people’s feelings.
Now I would like everyone to take a deep breath and please take what I am about to say to heart. This is a sort of pledge that I have made for myself, and I encourage you all to take it:
- My body is my own. It is my responsibility to take care of my physical health and needs. I will ask for support when I need it. I do not owe anyone access to or control over my body. Others cannot force me to take actions or enact behaviors (if they did that would be assault). I have the power to choose what I do/do not do with my body.
- My feelings (yes, all of them) are my own. It is my responsibility to take care of my emotional health and needs. I will ask for support when I need it. I do not owe anyone explanations, excuses or apologies for how I feel, nor do they get to dictate to me what my feelings are/are not. Others cannot force me to feel a certain way. I may not have a choice on what I feel at any given moment, but I do have a choice of how I treat myself/others and the actions I take.
Go on now, own it.
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