You Are Not Responsible for Other People’s Feelings: Let Go!

Do you take careful consideration of other people’s emotions? Did you know that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings?

When you’re overly concerned about how others feel, it’s easy to feel responsible for their emotions. However, their feelings aren’t your responsibility because you can’t control people’s emotional reactions.

Find out how to let go of controlling how other people feel.

Know What You Control

Taking responsibility for people’s emotions is unrealistic and disrespectful because you unintentionally treat someone as incapable of handling their emotions. Instead, Not Nice by Aziz Gazipura recommends treating everyone as a fully functioning adult who’ll inevitably feel a range of emotions, and fully accepting that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings.

(Shortform note: When overly preoccupied with others’ feelings, it’s easy to inadvertently assume responsibility for their emotions. Yet, as Martin Buber emphasizes in his seminal work I and Thou, authentic interactions entail recognizing and truly seeing another person without attempting to change or control them. Such genuine encounters go beyond mere superficial exchanges, delving into a profound, mutual recognition that respects the individual’s autonomy, emotional agency, and complex humanity. Gazipura’s advice to view everyone as a fully functioning adult aligns with this philosophy, suggesting a deep, respectful acknowledgment of each person’s individual humanity.)

If you find yourself constantly feeling responsible for other people’s feelings, Gazipura offers several strategies: 

1. Sitting With Emotions is a meditative exercise you can do anytime you’re feeling guilt or anxiety about how someone else is feeling. When these feelings arise, close your eyes and bring your attention to where your discomfort is sitting in your body—maybe it’s knots in your stomach, a constriction in your throat, or tension in your jaw. Breathe deeply while focusing on the physical sensation of the emotion, and then try to soften the area of tension. As you practice sitting with your own discomfort, you’ll find that it’s not as scary as you imagined and the feelings become easier to manage over time.

(Shortform note: As you sit with difficult emotions, it can be helpful to remind yourself that there are no bad emotions. In her TED Talk, psychologist Susan David explains that all our emotions, including guilt and anxiety, are natural and a crucial part of personal growth and fulfillment.)

2. The Personal Bubble is a visualization that can help you stop taking responsibility for people’s feelings. When you first wake up, or as you go through your day, imagine a giant translucent bubble around your body. The bubble is semi-permeable, is in your control, and can let in connection, love, and excitement, while blocking judgment and anxiety. Imagining this bubble can help you empathize with others’ feelings without taking them on as your own.

(Shortform note: Just as you can imagine your bubble being semi-permeable, you may also imagine your personal bubble changing in size depending on your environment or the people around you. Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist who studied how people use space in their interactions, posited four different levels of personal space: intimate distance (touch to 18 inches) reserved for close relationships; personal distance (1.5 to 4 feet) for close interactions with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances; social distance (4 to 12 feet) for more formal interactions; and public distance (over 12 feet), used for interactions with large groups of people, such as lectures, concerts, and sporting events.)

3. The Pattern Interrupt is a practice of noticing your tendency to take responsibility, and then changing your behavior. First, notice when other people’s feelings are making you feel guilty or anxious. After you notice your instinctive response, intentionally introduce a new one. Maybe when someone else is feeling strong emotions, you take a few deep breaths, or say to yourself, “I am not responsible for their feelings.” The goal is to find a new behavior to replace the old one and implement it until it becomes a habit.

(Shortform note: Pattern Interrupt is a specific technique commonly used within the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP emphasizes the role of language and communication in shaping our experiences and mental states. Pattern Interrupts often involve verbal communication or cognitive techniques to disrupt and reframe unproductive thought patterns or limiting beliefs.)

While you’re not responsible for others’ feelings, you can still provide support during tough times. Gazipura explains that challenging emotions often arise from unmet core needs such as certainty, connection, and contribution. He recommends asking questions to help others identify these unmet needs and explore ways to support them in fulfilling those needs.

(Shortform note: To better understand these core needs, one can refer to theories such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and ERG Theory, which portray human needs in hierarchical layers from basic physical needs to self-fulfillment. Conversely, models like McClelland’s Theory of Needs emphasize specific needs such as achievement, power, and affiliation.)

You Are Not Responsible for Other People’s Feelings: Let Go!

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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