Since my last post, I've had so many people asking questions, making challenges, or simply imploring me to have more empathy for people's emotional experiences! They said things like "Saz, don't you know how hard it is when people do things to upset you?!" and, "That's the whole idea about getting pissed off, Saz! People piss you off and you can't do anything about it! People just act stupid and you end up getting pissed off and then you have to do something about it! or, "Oh Saz. You can't just pretend things don't upset you. If you do, you'll keep all that emotion bottled up and things will be really awful for you then." (These are the ones who are concerned about my emotional well-being). And then there are the more erudite among the naysayers who say such things as, "You know, Saz, [and by the way, as an aside, I wonder why people who disagree with you make a point to use your name in every sentence… I wonder if that's significant.] research has shown quite clearly that stress can cause memory problems, inability to concentrate, poor judgment, constant worry, irritability, depression, aches and pains, loss of sex drive, immune suppression, even diarrhea!" They're even willing to go so far as to cite peer-reviewed studies and websites in support of their contentions!
But here's the thing. They all have very legitimate concerns. However, I believe that they are each missing a vital point. And that point is, neither stress nor emotional upset is some mysterious external force that acts upon us. Each of those things come from within ourselves. It comes from the way that we talk to ourselves. It comes from the way that we respond to our world. It comes from unrealistic demands that come disguised as expectations. It comes from a lifetime of being taught over and over and over from earliest childhood that other people control our emotional experience. That other people make us feel. That our happiness depends on the behavior of others just as our frustration and our emotional upset is dependent upon them. Living this way we are relegated to often futile hopes that others will behave in ways that we anticipate they will behave. So what happens when their behavior is not consistent with our expectations? What happens when their behavior is not consistent with our hopes for how they will treat us? If I am dependent on others to make me feel; to make me feel happy, to make me feel fulfilled, to make me feel worthy or valuable, then I experience joy and happiness and fulfillment and a sense of worthiness wholly and completely at the whim of others.
Let me give you an example. Have you ever been cut off by another driver and traffic? If so, and most of us have, I want you to visualize that experience. Did it piss you off? Now I want you to ask yourself, did it cause you to be pissed off? We talk about it as though it does cause these pissed off feelings when, in fact, being cut off is not what caused the pissed off feelings at all! But let's take it one step further. Now think back and remember the things that you said to yourself in your head (your thoughts as the incident occurred). Were they such things as, "Oh my god that guy such an *%~£x!! Or "Wow! They could've run me off the road!" or "He's such a jerk! He's endangering everyone around him!!!" Chances are, you were saying such things to yourself if you ended up feeling pissed off. Anybody might feel pissed off if they're saying those types of things to themselves! By the time you're done pissing yourself off by all the things that you're saying in your head, the person who cut you off is probably long gone! What's the likelihood that they actually had more control over your emotional experience at that time than you did? Are we really prepared to suggest that this individual who cut us off had more emotional control over us than we had over ourselves? Or is it possible that we maintained control over our own emotional experience and only gave that event and that individual driving an illusion of control over our emotional experience? What if what you were saying in your head, your self statements, had been different in nature when the cut off occurred? What if you had instead thought to yourself, "Oh my! I hope that driver is not having a seizure or a stroke!" Do you think you would've experienced the same pissed off feelings? Or do you think you might have felt worry instead? We often fail to recognize the power of these self statements. And we often fail to recognize our own power to change them! The philosopher Epictetus said, "People are not disturbed by things but by the view they take of them." Once we come to realize that, guess what… we'll feel a whole lot better! And we will begin to take ownership of our own emotional experience!
By the way, didn't I start this post out by giving you the impression that I would tell you what this blog was about? Are you feeling disappointed? Does it make you sad that I didn't? Does it really?