Are Your Eyes On Your Own Plate?By Phyllis Stein, Ph.D.
December 31, 2006
Phyllis shares the challenge of taking 100% responsibility for your own feelings by keeping your eyes on your own plate - no matter what!
One of the most fundamental, but difficult, concepts in Inner Bonding is that of taking FULL responsibility for your feelings, of keeping your eyes on your own plate. This is especially true in close relationships. I remember Margaret at an intensive likening this to looking under the hood of someone else's car when yours breaks down, but the seductive part of this belief is that fixing someone else's car will actually make yours run better, certainly compared to being completely broken down. This logic is almost irresistible. My husband is mad at me. I feel very lonely. If I can get him to open his heart, I WOULD feel much better. My wife is late. If she were on time, I would NOT be feeling this anxiety. The truth is that your "car" will never run well unless you take good care of it, but this truth goes against all of the evidence. Only when we actually learn to take responsibility for ourselves and take back our power do we see that this evidence is false. It turns out it actually feels very unsafe to be depending on someone else to feel okay.
I have already written in another column how I finally got, when I was in the deepest pain of my husband leaving me for another woman, that even this horrible pain was not about his leaving, it was about my abandoning my little girl. I realized also, that if THIS pain was not caused by him but by how I was treating myself, then it must also be true that none other pain that I had felt, so many times when we were together, was about him either. That all of it was always about how I had not been able to show up for my little one and instead taken it all personally. This is the meaning of taking responsibility for your child. Nothing you are feeling that you believe is being caused by what someone else is doing or not doing, certainly not your anxiety, your anger, your emptiness, your sadness, your stress is being caused by them, not matter how logical this seems. Certainly, things get triggered, and it feels like if someone causes something they should "uncause" it, but what you feel is totally about whether you are there for your child and what you are telling him or her. It is NOT caused by another person. Most of the pain in relationships comes from making the other person's actions about us. Eventually, I was able to look back at all of the painful times we had during our marriage and realize that if I had not taken what he did personally, nothing would have been painful. I would have been lonely, but I was anyway. And if your eyes are on your own plate, then you have realized it is up to you, not someone else, to handle your loneliness.
Furthermore, until you actually learn to take care of your little one, to fill him or her up with love, there is no way out of this trap. If the person in your significant relationship is okay with respect to your, you are okay. If not, you are not. If your boss likes your work, you are okay, if not, there is something wrong with you (not your work, with YOU). You can, as I did, consciously, stop trying to get your significant other to open their heart and, knowing that they are having an issue, wait until they deal with it (in my case several days in general). In truth, though, I was waiting, not really taking care of myself. I could tell my little girl that he was having an issue, but still, I did not know how to be there for her and bring her the love and connection she needed. I was still bleeding on the floor, telling myself that it was my job to stop the bleeding, telling myself that I was bleeding because I was not taking care of myself and still not really knowing how to do it. In theory, I did. In theory, I completely understood. I just did not know how to get there. I hadn't experienced how safe I could make my child feel. Until we do, we remain co-dependent, because we really don't know that we have another way to feel better and that the "better" we can feel is MUCH better than getting it from another person.
On some level I still held my husband responsible for not acting like a husband should. He married me didn't he? Aren't married couples supposed to be loving and supportive of each other? I could not let go of what I saw, which was what he could be doing to make it better. I accepted that I couldn't do anything to get him to do it and I would even try to stay away until he was open again but I would get depleted, because I had no other source. I didn't have a "good" choice. That is why becoming able to connect with a source of love; however you manage to do it, is the most basic part of Inner Bonding. Without your own source, it is impossible to let go of trying to get someone else to be your supplier and once that happens, every action, both yours and their, becomes about whether they will deliver or not.
I have come to see that happiness is a choice that follows from the connection with a source of love and the creation of a loving adult to take responsibility for our feelings. Of course this is basic Inner Bonding, but there is no way around it. As long as someone else's behavior or opinion or action controls how we feel, we remain powerless and dependent, but once it is all about how we treat ourselves we can choose to treat ourselves in a way that makes us happy. We can give ourselves love and praise. We can focus on our gratitude. We see who we really are. We can do all the things that loving spiritually connected parents would have done for us and become to joyous people we would have been had that happened. And it starts with getting, completely, that how we feel is an inside job.
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Today, notice what is more important to you - trying to get others to like you or loving yourself. If you are devoted to having control over how others' feel about you, notice how much energy this takes!
By Dr. Margaret Paul