Relationships: Empathy vs. Responsibility for FeelingsBy Dr. Margaret Paul
October 03, 2008
Are you in a relationship where one of you is often angry and the other withdrawn? Discover the underlying cause of this and how to heal your relationship.
William grew up with a mother who was depressed much of her life. As the oldest of three children with a father who was not around much, William took on a lot of responsibility for his mother's wellbeing. He grew up as a kind and caring man, believing that he was responsible for another's feelings, especially a woman's.
Lauren grew up in a family where she received constant criticism from her father. From the time she was little, she had learned to try to do everything right in order to have control over getting her father's approval and avoiding his disapproval. Lauren learned early in life to make others responsible for her feelings.
As so often happens, William and Lauren got together at their common level of woundedness, with William feeling responsible for Lauren's feelings and Lauren making William responsible for her feelings. But it didn't take long for William to feel engulfed by Lauren's demands and to shut down as a way to protect himself from being controlled by her. The more William shut down, the angrier and more demanding Lauren got, and the angrier Lauren got, the more William shut down. Both felt deeply lonely in the relationship, each reacting to the other's wounded self.
As long as William believed he was responsible for Lauren's feelings, he was unable to feel any of his natural caring and empathy for her. And as long as Lauren believed that William was responsible for her feelings, she was unable to feel any of her natural kindness toward him.
The fact is that we cannot feel both empathy toward another and responsibility for their feelings at the same time.
We cannot feel empathy for another when we feel burdened by responsibility for their feelings, or when we believe that the other is responsible for our feelings. As long as William continued to believe that he was responsible for Lauren's feelings, all he knew to do was shut down. As long as Lauren believed that William was responsible for her feelings, all she knew to do was get angry and blaming.
Fortunately, William and Lauren were willing to learn and practice Inner Bonding. William did deep work on understanding the sources of his false belief that he was responsible for Lauren's feelings, and was eventually able to let go of this false belief, as well as learn how to take responsibility for his own feelings when he felt attacked or pulled on by Lauren. As he developed his loving adult, he was able to take loving care of himself while staying open and caring about Lauren.
Lauren did her own deep Inner Bonding work to finally let go of her long pattern of making others responsible for her feelings. She discovered that her current feelings of abandonment were not because of William at all, but rather because she so often abandoned herself by ignoring her own feelings. She discovered that the moment she made William responsible for her feelings, she felt abandoned because making him responsible for her feelings was an abandonment of herself. As she learned to take loving care of her own feelings, her anger toward William gradually disappeared.
This is the most important work any individual or couple can do to bring about their own happiness and improve all their relationships. Learning to take responsibility for your own feelings and not for another's feelings is vital for your inner peace, joy and loving relationships.
Heal your relationship with Dr. Margaret’s 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.
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What is your first reaction when someone is harsh, critical, sarcastic, angry, judgmental, attacking? Do you attack back? Do you withdraw and get silent? Do you defend and explain? Today, honor the feeling in your body that says "This doesn't feel good" and either speak your truth without blame, defense or judgment and open to learning, or lovingly disengage and compassionately take care of your feelings.
By Dr. Margaret Paul