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Who's Responsible for this Emotion?

With her tongue in her check, she said, “Oh, I don’t need any more emotional maturity — in fact, I probably need to turn it down a notch.” I know you are smiling in complete agreement. But the fact remains Covid-19 has exposed our emotional maturity (or is that immaturity). The news reels have caught countless examples of the immaturity.

Most of the time we think of emotional maturity as the ability to use our emotions well (and it is). It is also knowing that we are not responsible for others’ emotions. That seems obvious when you read it in black and white but it’s not obvious when emotion is bouncing around the room. When someone losses their marbles on us, we feel the need to do something, fix something, react to something. If their emotions are truly their responsibility, what would be required of us? What if we did nothing?

When the boss comes into staff meeting and blows up, invariably someone starts trying to clean up the debris flung around the room. They start by minimizing the problem, placing blame on a different department, and finally, defending themselves or the team. If instead the response was: “We can see you’re upset. We are too. How would you like to proceed?” Who would be held responsible for the anger that hangs in the air?

An electrician hands us a bill that is twice the quote he gave us, to avoid a scene we pay the bill in full rather than say, “This is not what we agreed on. I won’t pay this full amount. What can we work out?” Worrying about his emotion, i.e. taking responsibility for his possible emotional response, costs us significant cash but his emotion is not our responsibility.

Taking on other’s emotions is directly tied to our need for validation. In other words, we believe if he is upset, there is something wrong with us. If there is something wrong with us, we need to do something to fix it. His emotion = my okay-ness.

Separating from other’s emotion is a necessity for our own emotional maturity. If we’re not responsible for our teenager’s outburst, our spouse’s sadness, our boss’s angst, a big weight just fell off of our shoulders. We are freed up — freed up from needing to fix something; freed up from other people’s emotions dictating our next step; freed up from needing someone else to tell us we are okay; freed up from what other people think about us. We can take calm, positive, logical next steps regardless of what emotion is in the room.


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