Are you in control of your feelings?

Last Updated 11 July 2012, 12:22 IST

A crisis or argument can be easily avoided by shifting perspectives and managing one’s feelings optimally, says Subha Parthasarathy

Some years ago, when my son was  five years old, he came back from school with his report card and said, “Mummy, are you happy? I got good marks!” What he said hit me like a ton of bricks. I was stumped and did not know what to say.

Introspection led to a lot of uncomfortable questions. Does my happiness depend on his performance, on what he did or did not do? Am I not happy to just have him here with me?

We have all gone through such experiences, where we put the responsibility of our feelings on the situation around us (for example, I get annoyed with long queues which causes me to lose my temper) or  people putting the responsibility of their feelings on us, (“what you said hurt me.”) or blaming outcomes (“I feel sad because you lost your match so badly.”).

What is happening here? We seem to be putting the responsibility of what we feel on what is happening to us or the situation around us.

Recently, I came back home after a long, tiring day to find that my husband had been in the kitchen to make himself a meal and the whole place was a mess. I was angry and this led to an exchange of harsh words. I was already tired and he was adding fuel to the fire
by adding to my workload. My response seemed fair enough.

On another occasion, I had a great day at the office and I came home and found the same mess in the kitchen. The situation was similar. But instead, I told him,“Thanks for helping out in the kitchen. Let me help you clean up the kitchen.”
 The situation was the same but my response was different on the two occasions. Though I was looking for an excuse for my response, it was in my control in both the situations. It was my state of mind which engineered the response.
I realised that, in most situations, I was in control of what I feel. The awareness that I am in control of my feelings (and it was not dependent on the situation or people around me) made me realise that I am open to looking at options to manage my feelings.
My son is 12 years old now. His response to a test result is distinctly different from earlier. When he comes and tells me, “I am thrilled with my marks”, I know that his happiness is not dependent on how I feel.
 Alright, now that I know I am in control, how can I respond in certain other situations where I feel something and I want to express it? Let’s take a few examples and see what happens when I change my response:
nOld (blaming) response: “I am angry because you are not listening to me.”
Response with ownership: “I am feeling frustrated. I want your attention.”
nOld (blaming) response: “You disappointed me. You have made mummy sad”.
Response with ownership: “I am feeling sad.”
n Old (blaming) response: “You hurt me.”
Response with ownership: “I am feeling hurt. I expected you not refuse to do what I asked you to do.”
A response with ownership does the following:
nHelps me express my feelings and expectations
nI do not blame or pass judgement on the other person
nEnables me to  take responsibility for my thoughts and feelings
nProvides me the vocabulary to express my feelings
The other day, my daughter brought her friends over for play and by the time the children had left, the whole room was a mess, with all the toys lying around the room. I was ready to tell her how much it upsets me when she does not listen to me. But the thought that I was giving away my control stopped me.
 The realisation that I was irritated because I wanted the room to be in a certain way took away the focus from my daughter. I told her that I was feeling irritated as I expected the toys to be back in the shelves. She was willing to do it and as we both cleared up the place together smiling and singing, I felt happy for having made this choice  as I enjoyed the time we spent together. Apart from helping me, it helps the child to become aware of her feelings and provides an opportunity for her to develop the vocabulary .
I have come to the conclusion that in any situation, when I am expressing a feeling, if I take out time to pay attention to my feeling, take responsibility for those feelings and then express it with my need or expectations, it not only helps me to have choices, it also helps to make my communication more effective.

(Published 11 July 2012, 12:21 IST)

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