Barbara Fish Counselling Services ... helping your life work

You Can’t Make Me

Helping Your Life Work

Volume 9, Issue 7

July 2013

Dear Reader,

For the past several months, I have asked various colleagues to share their expertise and serve as guest writers for my newsletter. This month is somewhat different in that the writer does not work in the field of mental health, but happens to be an old friend from summer camp. Susan Singer has been a long time reader of this newsletter as well as a frequent commentator to past issues. I have always found her insights to be intelligent, perceptive and relevant and asked if she might like to contribute a piece this month.

A retired sales and marketing executive who escaped the big cities to live quietly in the Missouri Ozarks with her husband, their horses, dogs and cats, Susan is an avid news junkie who loves learning and pondering whatever crosses her mind.

When a child says “You can’t make me!” parents’ bodies tense, anticipating a battle. For me, learning to apply that phrase to adult life is an ongoing, empowering journey.

I heard the simple one-liner said during a weekend workshop: “No one can make you feel anything.” What? Wait a minute. Really? Why didn’t I know that? It was one of those rare ‘aha!’ moments when time seems to stop, the air stills and there is a shift of consciousness. The classic question “How does that make you feel?” would now be answered, “It doesn’t make me feel anything. I choose to feel…” Going forward, it would no longer be “You make me mad” or “You hurt my feelings.” It would become “I feel mad or hurt or happy when you do or say …” The power had shifted, emotional victimization lost. The guilt button had been turned off. You can’t make me hurt. You can’t make me happy. I can and will choose how to respond to your actions. How to respond emotionally to external events is a choice within my control. This choice is such an essential thing that it likely once had been part of me, yet somehow was forgotten for many years.

It turned out that rediscovering that power of choice is only the first part of this aha. Exercising choice about feeling responses starts a process of regaining personal authority. Conditioned, accustomed, taught to give away little pieces of ourselves, we let others’ expectations influence our actions until it feels like life is a leaf floating in the river current. It takes practice and intent to choose our feelings and trust our own instincts above outside influences. Editing internal dialogue to “I feel, I want, I choose” can go a long way toward reassembling the whole of one’s authority. Start teaching people how you expect to be treated.

The path of least resistance works for that leaf in the stream but being your own authority requires taking responsibility for every step you take. While it is freeing to stop letting external influences rule, letting go of fault and blame feels scary. What if we stumble or someone doesn’t like us? ‘Oh, well’ is one of my favorite lines. Let it go, stuff happens or doesn’t. Laughter helps, a lot. There is freedom in seeing that life is not just about getting it all right Just be your essential self, brave enough to keep moving forward.

Envy that child using willfulness not as a weapon but as a tool, unlikely to be bullied, who stands up to peer pressure, chooses worthy friends and follows their own path early. But then, it is also good to learn, when ready and willing to change negative patterns, to attract those who support the journey and let go of those who do not. I can choose, and do. You can’t make me.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”

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