When this statement solidified for me mid-way through my pity-party, break-up year after PhD, it was so powerful it shot me lightyears ahead in my progress toward moving on and rebuilding my life. It gave me my power back.
I choose how I feel about what other people do around me. So simple, yet so fucking genius!
Think about a situation right now in your life that is making you feel something strong. You feel sad. You feel frustrated. You feel excited. You feel mad, annoyed, scared, happy, worried.
Here are a few current ones for me.
My step-mom recently sold the house she and my dad were living in for the past 20+ years. My father died suddenly in 2008 at the age of 66. This was the house they shared for the 7 years they were married. My dad was retired then and quite a handy guy so he renovated the upstairs bathroom. He also enclosed the screened-in porch so they had another room to entertain with the family. Even though my dad has been passed away for so many years, I took comfort in visiting her in that house. A place my father had been. A place where I had good memories of him. A place he touched, worked on, enjoyed with my step-mom and the family. She downsized and moved in to an apartment. I don’t blame her, I’m not mad at her for making the choice she thought was best for her. But I’m sad, like really sad that there are no more places I can go where he was. Just a stupid apartment where some of his things or their things are. I recently had a catch-up call with my step-mom. She is looking forward to me and Nerdie coming back east after Christmas, and naturally invited us to come see the new apartment. I told her that I don’t think I’m ready yet to come over. She paused, then said, “Really?” I said, “Yes, really.” I feel sad that their house together is gone, but my step-mom didn’t make me feel sad – that was my choice. She just made her decision to move and is living her life. She didn’t sell the house to make me sad. How would she even know that would make me sad? She did stuff, sad was my reaction – my choice to feel it.
I have been worried about money for as long as I can remember. I started a retirement account at age 23 even though I was working at a nonprofit organization making $22,000 and money was tight (that was 1998-9). I have always been afraid of not having enough money to live a comfortable life or to pay for healthcare if I or someone I love gets sick or hurt. The worry has continued for the 20+ years since then. Today, my specific money worry is about the economy and where the wine business will be next year. I thought this year things would rebalance and get somewhat back to normal port-Covid. Unfortunately instead of visiting wine country, many people took those European vacations that got put off two years ago. The winery is still having its best year to date, but just by a small margin. I recently talked to a private driver who books wine tasting appointments with me for his guests and has become a good friend. He said the same – it was his best year to date, but by $60.38. I don’t know what to think of what is going to happen next year. Will things get more back to normal? With inflation, will the winery’s buyers start pulling back on unnecessary, luxury purchases like $200 bottles of wine? I am worried about paying our business bills, but also about the possible hit my commission may take if people do not buy, if people don’t visit the tasting room, if Club Members skip wine shipments. But again, this is my choice to feel worried. The world is just out there being the world, spinning around with people making choices. I decided, in this case, that I am worried about the situation. No one made me feel that. I did.
As I look back on my 17 year relationship with PhD, now that we have been broken up for 7+ years, I am left disappointed. I am now the happiest I have ever been in my life and I definitely do not want to go back, but I am disappointed that I believe he just gave up on our relationship because he didn’t want to go through the hard work of talking about it, dealing with it and trying to see if we could repair it. It was easier to continue running in the other direction with the new, shiny lady from work he started bedding and leave all the difficult stuff behind. That’s my opinion of the situation of course, and I choose to be disappointed by it. PhD just made his choices, did his thing, fucked that girl and wanted to keep doing it. All this time later, I have decided to be left disappointed. He didn’t make me feel disappointed, I did and will continue to as long as I let myself.
Sad, worried, disappointed. These are all my feelings. No one made me feel them. No one can make me feel them. These are all my feelings. The powerful thing about that realization is since they are mine, I can change them if I want to.
We have all heard someone say, “You made me mad.” “You made me sad.” “You pissed me off.” “You annoyed me.”
Those statements don’t exist. You, dear reader, cannot make me feel anything. You don’t have the power. And I can’t make you feel anything either as I do not have the power.
I behave in a certain way. I make choices. You do the same. Then I decide what to feel about the choices you make and your behaviors. And vice versa.
This mindset can be applied to anything and everything. Someone accidentally, no let’s say purposely, steps on my foot. It’s going to hurt physically probably. My reaction will also likely be mad. What the flying fuck did you do that for?
Maybe someone just stepped on their foot. Maybe I had a scorpion crawling on my shoe. Maybe a choice I made resulted in their feeling hurt so they sought revenge and stepped on my foot. Whatever it was, I could get mad. I could start yelling at them. I could then be pissed off the rest of the day.
Or I could laugh. I could walk away (hopefully the injury still left me ambulatory 🙂 and forget about it. Think they must have had a bad day and not let it negatively affect me. I could actually be grateful. Maybe I did have that scorpion crawling on my shoe. Whatever my reaction is, whatever I feel about it, it is my choice.
My feelings. My choice. My power.
Fuck if I wanted to be happy about getting a speeding ticket, I could. If I wanted to be sad about selling a case of wine because it wasn’t two cases, I could. It’s all in my control.
Just before I made this internal breakthrough after PhD, I let my sad, disappointed and mad feelings hold me down and hold me back. I was depressed and felt like a fucking cliche. I let all those feelings rule my thinking and control my behavior. Woe is me.
Then I realized I was in control of my feelings. All of them – the ones that made me feel good, and the ones that made me feel bad.
It was like a zillion pound weight was lifted off my shoulder, imploded right in front of me and then disappeared.
I just decided to stop feeling bad…period. That’s it.
Of course it is easy for me to say I just stopped feeling depressed and everything after that was sunshine, unicorns and barrel gin, but we all know it wasn’t that easy. I still have negative feelings I don’t want to have – I mentioned them in the beginning of this post. The point is now I am self-aware to know my feelings are my choice. So if I want to feel sad, I do and I realize that’s what I’m doing. And the self-aware part means generally my negative feelings don’t last as long because I have the control over them, they don’t have control over me. Not that I exactly decide when to stop feeling sad, like I can snap a finger and I am not sad about whatever it is I’m sad about. But instead of feeling stuck and mired I know I am in control.
It is a tremendously powerful feeling to be in control of one’s feelings, and I have found that it also often results in less negative feelings overall. I can more easily say fuck off to the person who stepped on my foot (if it indeed was done with malice) or who was rude on the phone or angry about a late wine shipment. Those minor negative interactions generally roll right off me.
We are all survivors of our circumstances, our environment, our upbringing. I’m not sure I like that descriptor though because I have more than survived. I’m actually better having gone through the hard parts. When it was hard, I worked harder.
Your feelings. Your choice. Your power.