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It's Not About Them

I read an advice column over breakfast. Each day, one or two questions are answered by the columnist. Take a look at some issues covered in recent columns:

  • I dropped by unannounced at my daughter-in-law’s house and she didn’t answer the door even though she was home

  • My husband opposes me taking a trip with our daughter during her college spring break

  • My son and his fiancee are not inviting children to their wedding and won’t make an exception for my sister’s kids

  • My mother-in-law criticizes my healthy lifestyle

  • I told my friend about the perfect venue I found for my wedding and she booked it for hers

What do these questions have in common? The letter writers feel hurt/offended/resentful/angry because of a circumstance in their life. Something happened and they are upset. Cause and effect.

It’s easy to blame someone else when we feel bad. It’s their fault. It’s because this happened. We are sure the blame is justified and we wait for something else to happen to make us feel better. Like the letter writer who stopped by unannounced, who was waiting for the daughter-in-law to acknowledge her “poor behavior”. Daughter-in-law continued to live her life like nothing awful had happened. Meanwhile, the letter writer is fuming.

But the problem (as the letter writers see it) isn’t really the problem. It’s not other people who make us feel bad. It’s not the situation that makes us feel bad. It is our thoughts about what happened that make us feel bad.

Thoughts create feelings.

To look at this more closely, I like to play with what I call the Virtual Sidewalk Test. Let’s take an example from the advice column: the critical mother-in-law. Let’s imagine that we walk down a busy street. As people pass by, we tell them the circumstance: “Her mother-in-law says running will ruin her knees”.

How do you think they will react? Will they become angry? Upset? Write letters to advice columnists? Or will they shrug their shoulders and walk on their way? Yeah, the latter. It isn’t a big deal at all to the passersby.

But it is a big deal to the letter writer. It is her thinking about her mother-in-law that is causing her stress. Her thought may be, “This is none of mother-in-law’s business” or “My family should be supportive” or “She is mean”. It could be one thought or several thoughts, but they each lead to the same place: upset. frustration. conflict.

Recognizing that your thoughts cause your feelings is a huge life-changer. If you hold others responsible when you feel bad, you are giving away your power. You will always be waiting for others to make you feel better. That’s going to be a mighty long wait.

Instead, take a look at your thinking. You have the power to change how you feel by changing what you think.

"When you believe that your problem is caused by someone or something else, you become your own victim" – Byron Katie

“If you want to be somebody else, change your mind” – Sister Hazel, Change Your Mind (check out the song here)

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