“He makes me so angry!” “You make me jealous when you see your friends!” “I’ll make her feel so guilty for this…” “Oh, I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings!”
Familiar in general, if not specifically? No doubt you’ve been down some version of that road a time or two. These are the kinds of statements many people make on a regular basis. And that’s because they believe it’s possible for one person to have control over the feelings of another.
Well, I’m here to tell you it is absolutely not possible.
“But wait!” you might say, able to give me a long list of examples about this person or that one who knows how to “push your buttons,” and knows exactly which triggers will get what reactions from you. They know how to wind you up and my goodness, do they ever go for it when they really want to upset you! So what am I talking about? How can I possibly say that no one else has any control over your feelings?
I can say it because it’s the truth. Those people have learned that if they say or do something in particular, you will react in a certain way. You have taught them that if they do “this,” then you will do “that.” It’s that simple. Those people do not “make” you react the way you do. Your reactions are your own choice. Every single time.
Just Like Pavlov’s Dogs
You may be familiar with the work of Ivan Pavlov. In the late 1800s, while doing research on aspects of the digestion of dogs, he ended up becoming famous for the “conditioned reflex”. He noticed that dogs salivate just before they are given their food. Pavlov began ringing a bell and then feeding the dogs. Soon the dogs were salivating as soon as they heard the bell – even when there was no food present.
A ringing bell would not normally have induced such a response because it had nothing to do with food. The bell, in and of itself, had no power to make the dogs salivate. It’s just that the dogs had learned to associate that sound with being fed.
And so it is with every single occasion upon which you hear yourself saying that someone makes you feel this or that – whether good or bad. Those people have simply learned what your response will be when they say or do something in particular. Whatever might be at the root of your unhappy feelings and reactions is up to you to discover and heal.
If you believe that other people “make you feel” angry, guilty etc., you’re handing them your power on a silver platter. You’re saying, “I’m not in control of my life or my feelings. I can’t make you stop hurting me,” and so on.
How to Take Back Control
You take back control the moment you accept that your feelings are entirely in your hands. You get to decide how you will react. If people are used to you being angry in a certain situation, and that is their desired response but not yours, you can always choose to keep your temper. And even if you do feel angry, you can choose to keep it to yourself and let them see only a calm exterior.
This really throws people who are used “pushing your buttons” and “making you react” in a way that leaves them feeling like they have control over you. But when you change your reaction, suddenly their old tactics aren’t working. Commonly, their response is to try harder to make you be the way you used to be. So they might step up their efforts to get you to react in the old way. They might push harder or throw more barbs, just waiting to see how long it takes for you to crack and return to your previous response of blowing up or bursting into tears.
If you continue to remain calm (at least outwardly) no matter how many buttons they think they’re pushing, eventually they’ll give up because they’re no longer getting the desired response. And that’s because they have no control over your feelings at all. They never did. You just thought they did (and so did they).
The simple truth is that they had only learned that they could expect certain behaviours from you in a particular set of circumstances. They just never realised that you were always free to change what those behaviours would be.
But you can teach them something else now. You can begin by reacting in ways that do not give them the desired response. Soon they will learn that they cannot “push your buttons.” They’ll learn that they do not have any control over your feelings, and you’ll learn that, too. It’s one of the most empowering bits of information you will ever have.