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  • Writer's picturelaurenstreetcounselling

Emotional responsibility & me

I've gone back into the therapy room for this month's blog post and looked at what's been discussed frequently between myself & my clients. Last month's post on boundaries received the highest number of views so far, so clearly struck a cord with many of you in regards to how you can put them into practice. It's been really helpful for my clients too and demonstrated that healthy relationships also need boundaries.

What appears to have naturally followed from these discussions is the concept of emotional responsibility. This has been a really interesting topic to discuss with my clients as it's not really something that's openly discussed growing up or in schools so we're not taught it. I've found a great way of describing emotional responsibility from The Albert Ellis Institute in New York that I want to share with you:

"The term “emotional responsibility” recognises that beliefs, feelings, and behaviours can only be controlled by the person experiencing them. Again, other people are only responsible for the Activating event itself. Other people can act badly if they choose to, and they can create a stressful or negative situation. REBT does not absolve them of responsibility for their actions. However, each person is responsible for the level of emotional distress that results from another person’s bad behaviour. From this perspective, the phrase, “they made me feel _______” is not exactly correct, as the other person actually created a negative situation where you made yourself feel an undue level of distress. Their bad behaviour made stress and a functional negative emotion (e.g., sadness) highly probable, but your dysfunctional beliefs are necessary to create emotional disturbance (e.g., depression)". Dan Prendergast, 2014

As a Psychotherapist I believe the above statement to be true and how I often word it to my clients is - "you're not in control of what others do but you're in control of how you choose to think, feel & behave as a result" Do my clients challenge this? Of course they do, they want to know how and why this works. The example I often use is asking them if they have any phobias; snakes, dogs, spiders & bugs seem to be the top answers. However, do we all have the same phobias? No we don't and the reason for that is we all have the ability to develop our own thoughts, feelings & behaviours about a certain object or species. My worst fear; cats!! I have my own reasons for being scared of them but not everyone shares my fear. If emotional responsibility didn't exist then we'd all be taught to be scared of the same things and not of others.

Common phrases that go against the concept of emotional responsibility are:

"they made me feel this way"

"they say it's my problem"

"they say their life would be so much easier if my problem went away"

"it's all their fault"

"it's all my fault"

How many of these have you ever said? I think I've said all of them at some point. However, I know none of them are really true. This can be a challenging concept to change and I think it's been ingrained in us for such a long time that you can blame someone else entirely for your problems. Of course, each situation is different, and the things that other people do can influence us but we're still able to react in any way we choose; healthily or unhealthily.

The aim of teaching emotional responsibility to my clients is to empower them and strengthen their well-being so that they can accept the things they can control and the things that they can't. Whilst it may not change the trigger situation they can control their feelings, thoughts & behaviours as a result of knowing how much responsibility they have in the situation and what belongs to other people. Don't be afraid to give people back their emotional responsibility if they try to give it to you. It's so much easier for them to give it away and say "not my problem" and if you don't have sufficient boundaries that know what to accept and what not to this can add additional pressure and unhealthy negative emotions such as guilt, shame & anger onto you when you don't have to take it!

Being able to accept what you're responsible for and what you're not can be a challenge; however, once you put it into practice and see how others respond as a result you'll wonder why it took you so long!

Don't forget to follow me on Instagram at @laurenstreetcounselling

Till next month

Lauren x

07801 331 880

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