Really, Am I Responsible For My Emotions?
In April of 2009, I presented a post entitled, “You Make Me Emote!“ In the posting, I declared that each person is responsible for her/his emotions. I have been thinking a lot about that declaration lately. It’s possibly much more complex than I originally thought. In other words, maybe the simplicity of declaring each person is responsible for her/his emotions needs to take into account the many reasons for emoting, along with the imperfection of humanity. Hmmm… Let’s explore this further.
Having recently experienced the complex emotion called grief, I’m immediately confronted with the powerful statement made by H. L. Mencken: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” So, as I consider emotions that I find negative and then say, “I am responsible for them,” should I simply declare they all are my responsibility? Am I taking responsibility for something that I shouldn’t?
Perhaps, we should investigate the cause of our emotions before determining responsibility. So, what causes our emotions? What causes me to feel angry? Suppose someone hits me with his fist. The first thing I feel is the physical pain of being hit. The next feeling might be anger. If so, what caused the feeling of anger? Is it because I’m feeling physical pain? No, because the feeling of physical pain doesn’t necessarily produce the emotional feeling of anger. Take, for example, the pain resulting from accidentally bumping your head while getting into a car. Usually, there would be no direct emotional feeling of anger from the physical pain felt after the accident. The point is, that a certain emotional feeling doesn’t necessarily come from a particular physical feeling.
So, what causes these things you (and, I) call emotions? In the past, I’ve answered that question with a simple three-letter, one-word answer: “YOU!” Yes, you are the cause of your emotions. I know in my previously mentioned posting, I never specifically stated that each person causes her/his emotions. Instead, I talked about owning our emotions and not blaming anyone else for them. We not only own our emotions, but we’re also the cause of them.
Assuming each person causes her/his emotions, is s/he responsible for them. In other words, does cause imply responsibility when dealing with emotions? If I cause my anger, am I responsible for it? If I cause my happiness, am I responsible for it? I suppose the answer is yes to both questions, but somehow, it doesn’t seem to fit reality. Many people, including myself, will make sincere statements like: “Kathy makes me happy!” or “Ron made me mad!” In these types of cases, we are saying (and most likely mean) that Kathy and Ron caused and are responsible for the emotions.
If we cause AND are responsible for our emotions, then I think it’s our thinking that’s at the root of our emoting. What I mean is we shouldn’t blame an external source for our emoting. If I am responsible for my own thinking, then I am the cause for my emoting.
Of course, circumstances can make it difficult to not emote in a particular way. For example, when I experienced a death of a close loved-one, my grieving was difficult and for me to say that it was caused by me is hard to accept. On the other hand, if I don’t take responsibility for my grieving and not accept that I caused it, then how will I ever be able to overcome it? Either I control it or it controls me!
So, am I responsible for my emotions? YES! But, what controls my emotions? MY THINKING!
Remember, we are not emoting due to what happens; we are emoting due to what we think about what happens.