Why no-one can "make" you feel anything. – Caroline Ferguson, Mindset Trainer

Why no-one can “make” you feel anything.

By Caroline Ferguson | Mindset optimisation series

Image of a woman pointingHave you ever heard yourself say, “She made me angry”, or “He made me feel like a failure”?

We all do it – ascribe out hurt feelings to other people’s words and action. But the fact is, no-one can MAKE you feel anything. Yes, other people may ‘trigger’ you, and yes, it’s natural to feel upset when they do. But it’s actually your beliefs about the situation – and specifically, the unconscious demands you hold – that are really responsible for you feeling hurt, angry and not good enough.

This sounds bleak (“What, you mean I’ve been doing it to myself?”), but in fact that’s great news because your mindset is the only part of the equation you CAN control.

Here’s how it works:

You accidentally overhear an acquaintance saying less than flattering things about you. Result? You’re left feeling enraged, hurt and inadequate.

But not everyone on the receiving end will react that way and feel hurt. Some will shrug it off as jealousy or a misunderstanding. Others might feel upset for a while but choose not to take it on. And others might punch that “friend” in the nose. They all behave differently because each of them has a different belief about what’s happened.

But back to you. What’s really causing your hurt and “not good enough” feeling isn’t so much what this person said, but your unconscious demand: “People mustn’t say horrible things behind my back!”

Because when your rule gets broken (or even if you get an inkling that it might ) the “or elses” kicks in.

“Or else it’s really bad.”

“Or else I can’t bear it.”

“Or else it means I’m rubbish and she’s a back-stabbing b*tch.”

And that’s what’s really behind the hurt and plummeting self-worth.

Understandable though it is to prefer that people didn’t slag you off, it’s irrational and illogical to demand it, because a) you can’t control what others do, and b) there’s no law of the universe that says people mustn’t talk about you – or, that if they do, they can only say good things.

So decide today that you’re not going to let others hurt you and take charge of what you feel.

When someone says or does something that “makes” you feel hurt or angry or any other kind of toxic emotion, take a couple of slow breaths to give yourself space for a thoughtful response.

Then, say to yourself, “I’d much rather it hadn’t happened, but I accept that it did. I don’t like it much, but I CAN cope, and their opinion doesn’t make me worthless. So what’s the best outcome in this situation, and what can I do to make that happen?”

This takes some practice but it’s really worth doing. It may not take all of the hurt out of someone else’s behaviour but it will definitely make you more resilient and better able to cope with what life throws at you.


About the Author

Caroline is a Mindset Trainer and speaker who works with sensitive, high-potential leaders who know they were born for something more. She shows them how to beat mindset blocks and habits, such as limiting beliefs, low self worth and procrastination, that are preventing them from making a bigger impact.

  • jennifer says:

    We are all responsible for our own actions… No one has the right to comment on anyone elses life. Spend more time minding your own business and people wouldn’t have to feel like crap. Mental illness is real! You never know what type of person you are dealing with. I have been a manager for years now… I am successful because I am one of the few people that know everyone is different and no not everyone will react to the same stimuli. Don’t be a closed minded, self centered fool. Its not ok, or as you might say “It’s ugly”… shame.

    • Thanks for reading and for your comment, Jennifer. Unfortunately everyone has the right to say and do pretty much as they please. The reality of life is that not everyone will be on our side. Developing self awareness and understanding our thoughts and emotions goes a long way towards helping us become more resilient to challenges and better able to choose our own way, rather than reacting to triggers.

    • Anon says:

      Hi Jennifer, I would like to say that Caroline is right here. I am a psychotherapist and it is true that our feelings are completely in our own control and no-one else’s. With certain mental illnesses’ such as Borderline Personality Disorder, you can become distorted emotionally and be triggered by outside stimuli but we are the authors of our own emotions and it’s about how we internalize situations that lead us to inevitable emotional conclusions.

    • Caitlin Scott says:

      But Jennifer, at times people do and will say hurtful, inappropriate things that may evoke negative emotions in someone else. They’re just people being people and it’s not our job, or our place to train them to do and say what’s suits us. It’s our job to accept people say hurtful things then to choose how we feel about it. Humans are flawed and we naturally tend to lean towards the negative. Being aware of this can positively change the way you feel about a situation.

  • justaguy says:

    I find this discussion interesting. I think the author, interestingly, highlights a paradox here. I agree that if someone “triggers” a feeling in another (trigger is how most laypeople are using the phrase “made me feel” I think) regardless of what feeling that is, you can then use CBT type approaches to overlay a cognitive process on top of that evoked feeling to create a stronger defensive structure and from there some distance for yourself that pushes the feeling away or “changes” the feeling somehow. But I still to be convinced on the larger point of not being able to make others feel things. We function and survive, fundamentally, by making other people feel things in relation to us. We achieve justice and change, generally, by evoking a feeling, usually guilt, in others, and from there, evoking a sense of social responsibility. Without the power to “evoke feelings in the other,” we simply would not exist, not as a collaborative species anyway. We can’t always be sure what feelings we will evoke in the end because each person is unique, but I’m pretty sure we can make people feel things in a general sense.

    • Thanks for reading and for your intelligent response. You’re right that as humans we are conditioned to respond to others and we do it all the time. Skilled communicators deliberately use persuasive tactics to elicit an emotional reaction – whether that be feeling inspired, anxious, angry, or any one of many emotions. And mostly people accept their emotions as truth, rather than a response to a trigger. When we develop greater self awareness and learn to tune into what’s going on in our minds, we can interrupt this automatic pattern. Challenging the veracity and our story around the trigger gives us an option to choose a different point of view. It won’t necessarily prevent hurt and other less pleasant emotions but it can greatly reduce their impact and our ability to behave in a constructive way.

    • Caitlin Scott says:

      How they feel is still
      It’s still
      Their choice – it’s always a choice.

  • Christin says:

    From my perspective, how I feel is my choice. If someone cuts me down I have the choice of not only how I react, but how that makes me feel. If I step back and realize the person isn’t rational (I.e.: has psychological issues) then why would I allow that person to hurt me? Let it roll like water off a duck’s back.

    The problem is where the workplace is concerned, a backstabber can ruin a career. I can choose to ignore the backstabber, and take their comments with a grain of salt, but that doesn’t mean my co-workers and superiors won’t take the backstabber’s words to heart. That can become a major issue. At that point my choice of feeling isn’t necessarily hurt, but justified anger. No one has a right to put my job in jeopardy.

    There are times when I feel sad by words spoken to me. I am married to a man who has OCPD. He has no compunction when it comes to cutting to the bone with razor sharp words. His words are not what hurt me. I don’t think about myself in the terms he lays out, and I’m pretty comfortable and happy with me. The person who is supposed to be my partner has such a negative view of me. It’s not about me though. It’s about him. He has a psychological disorder. I could cut off all emotion, and look at him as if he were a bug in a microscope. That isn’t always the best, but I’m capable. I choose to be unhappy about it, but also accept it for what it is.

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