Volumes have been written on the importance of taking responsibility. Some of it is psychological, some of it legalistic and much of it moralistic. This article is about taking responsibility for your own emotions, with a focus on marital conflict.
An argument typically starts over something small. If it can be nipped in the bud, it’s nothing. But sometimes it escalates to the emotional boiling point, where voices are raised and both parties are hurling unrepeatable expletives at each other. Alternatively, one or both parties may slip into a seething silence.
Either way, both blame the other for their getting into this emotional state. You know the signs: “You made me do it.” “If only you would…” “I got angry because you…” “I wouldn’t drink if you…”
You are probably familiar with the typical advice for conflict resolution. Develop better communication skills. Learn to take a timeout when things begin to escalate. Sleep on it. Never go to bed angry. Platitudes! Platitudes!
You’ve tried a few, but then there’s another blowout, walk away, week of silent fuming, drinking binge or spending spree.
What if there was something you could do to change this pattern to avoid marital problems, other than ending the relationship?
To answer this question we have to take a small detour into the psychology of being. You have a story, but you are not your story. You have a body, but you are not your body. You have emotions, but you are not your emotions. You have a mind, but you are not your mind. Your true self is pure consciousness.
Within your brain there is a part called the limbic system. It is an area without language and without any sense of time. It is pure emotion.
Before you learned to talk, intense emotions like anger and fear became associated with events and certain corrective actions. These associations became hard wired. What you experience as emotions today are bodily responses to brain circuitry. Because the amygdala is timeless, intense emotion hijacks your rational thought and distorts your perception of reality.
Therefore, we can add to the above list, “You are not your internal tripwires,” and “You are not your negative core beliefs,” like “I’m not good enough,” or “It’s unsafe for me to be happy.”
Becoming clear about what you are not will make it easier for you to dis-identify with problems, instead of fighting them reactively and escalating the inner stress. Becoming clear gets you closer to your true self.
Your task is to observe and experience the internal connections and allow them to change from something very negative to something positive. The fact is, we now know from the recent studies of brain plasticity, that your thoughts and imagination can change the structure and function of your brain.
The old standby excuse, “That’s just the way I am,” just doesn’t cut it anymore. You may have reacted that way since you were two, but that’s your story, not you. Putting the old excuse in the past tense is a very simple first step in dis-identifying with that old, extremely restrictive and false core belief.
Yes, you got angry when your spouse…, but you and you alone are responsible for your emotions. Take responsibility for them.
I’m still working on this one for myself. It’s hard, because it’s so satisfying to blame someone else for how I’m feeling!