You Can't Put a Feeling Into Anyone

Three Things You Need to Know for Rock Solid Relationships — Part 3

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We are literally living on a spinning top that’s rocketing through space… 

  • if you’re at the equator, the speed of earth’s rotation is 1,000 miles an hour

  • in addition to spinning, the earth is orbiting the sun at 66,000 miles an hour

  • and our solar system is orbiting the center of the galaxy at around 483,000 miles an hour.  

So technically my body is hurtling through the universe at speeds I can’t even fathom, and yet, it seems like I’m sitting perfectly still!!

The topic I’m introducing today is like that. It seems as if people and situations can put feelings into us… but the truth is, it doesn’t work that way… in fact it’s quite impossible.

We've mistakenly been taught that our feelings come up as if they're pre-programmed.  If I'm in situation Y then I'll experience feeling X, always and forever.  

Before I share my own story I want to put a high powered spotlight on this and open a little space in our brains.

One of the most horrific situations I can imagine is being a prisoner in a concentration camp.  Yet, in his AMAZING book My Adventures With God, Stephen Tobolowsky is talking with his friend Abe, a holocaust survivor.  “Abe, did you ever have a good day at Auschwitz?” Stephen said. Abe laughed “Many of them! Are you kidding me? I was alive. There were days when the sun was beautiful, or working on the roads I smelled something nice.”  Not only had Abe survived to a ripe old age, he’d thrived and led a happy life.

On the flip side, there are people like Anthony Bourdain, the writer, TV personality, and chef who had a successful career, a young daughter, good looks, and charisma for days.  But he felt so disheartened, or trapped, that the only way he could see out was to end his life.  

Clearly, situation Y does not create feeling X.  

The way it really works is that people and circumstances are outside of us and we’re interacting with them all the time, however, our experience is coming from the mind energy within us and it’s ever shifting.  It is the human design, it is how we are all made and how we experience EVERYTHING, there are no exceptions.  

Try naming one thing you can experience without a message coming from your brain.  

I can’t even experience a sensory deprivation tank without my mind telling me that it’s different from “normal.” Without the energy flowing through my mind, I have no sight, no sensations, no thoughts, no feelings. Without the energy flowing through my mind I have no reality.

Why do we care?  How does it make a difference to us?  How does this help our relationships?

I’ll show you. Here are two scenes from my life... one from before I understood this, and one from after…

Right out of college I went to work in the corporate world as a software engineer.  The manager of our department would raise his voice when he was frustrated, or trying to make a point.  I always felt like he was yelling directly at me and I hated it.  Here's a day that was pretty normal for me:

I pulled into the office parking lot, grabbed my purse and coffee and started the trek to the entrance, all the while scanning for my boss's car.  Was he at our facility today?  Was he around?  

And then I saw it, “Oh crap, he is here” I said.  His car was an exquisitely polished, charcoal gray Lexus sedan, it seemed like the perfect ride for an undertaker.  The day was cool, a crisp spring morning, but my silk shirt and pantyhose were clinging to my now perspiring skin.  

My stomach had clenched and I was wishing I’d just stayed in bed and called in sick. My mind darted, “Which meetings are we having today, did he need to be at any of them? Were any of my pieces on the critical path? Did I get out all the emails I promised yesterday? I think I might have a headache coming on, I might have to go home at lunch.” 

I dropped my keys into my purse and went into the building.  I left my office door cracked open so I could hear approaching footsteps.  His pointy toed, well-heeled shoes made a distinctive noise on the industrial tiles, and I wanted a warning if he was coming my way.  

The day passed with no sightings of him and I escaped, once again unscathed. Fingers crossed tomorrow would be as successful.  

Because I didn’t understand how humans work, I thought this man could put feelings into me.  So my only strategy was to avoid him in case he decided to yell and give me bad feelings.  The interesting thing is, he didn’t always yell, in fact, sometimes he was nice.  Once, he was happy with some work I’d done so he told me to take my husband to dinner and bring him the bill.  

You may have also noticed that during that particular day in my office, I never even had an encounter with him.  I saw his car and listened for his footsteps, but never actually saw him.  In my innocence, I thought he was putting feelings in me via his very existence.  

Let’s fast forward 14 years from that first job to a professional conference I was attending.  I’d just listened to this highly respected Ph.D. speak, and was impressed by what he had to say.  He’d also raised a question, but left it unanswered, and I thought I had a helpful perspective to add.  

I went up to him afterwards and tried to share my thoughts, but my words just weren’t coming out properly, I was getting wrapped up and turned around in my own ideas.  After patiently waiting for me to say something useful, he said, “Will you just get to your point!” 

I couldn’t hear anything after that.  The blood had all rushed to my ears, and my cheeks too — I was the color of poppies in August.  I had to keep my arms at my sides so he couldn’t see the growing sweat puddles at my armpits.

Why did I have to speak up?  That was so stupid.  Now he’s going to think I’m a blubbering idiot.  So much for my reputation.  What a disaster!  

I opened and closed my mouth a few times, mumbled something barely coherent and walked away.  Grateful that it was the end of the day,  I went straight to my hotel room. I belly flopped onto the bed and my salty wet cheeks stuck to the polyester, blue paisley quilt.  How could I have been so stupid?  "I’m an idiot!” I said into the blankets.

Even though it seemed as if he had hurt my feelings, I knew that I could have had many responses to that situation.  I could have been angry and thought, “What a jerk!” I could have been slightly embarrassed, apologized to him for rambling, then gone for drinks with my friends.  I could have been forgiving with myself and thought, “It’s OK, I just tripped up on my words, that happens sometimes.  I’ll be more coherent after some sleep.” 

There are an infinite number of experiences I could have had.  In that moment, my mind energy brought me, “I’m so stupid.” But the speaker had not shoved that feeling into me… and I knew it.  

I spoke to him the following day, and was able to get my thoughts out coherently; and have had many pleasant exchanges with him since.  Because I knew where my experience was coming from I realized I didn’t have to run away.  

This is a pretty big thing to see, so here are some thought experiments for you to play with:

  • Notice, if a situation where you “always” feel the same actually feels different one time — even if just for a moment.  

  • Notice if you wake up one morning in a particularly bad mood… or a particularly great mood and you don’t have an external reason for it.  (Though we’re usually quick to make one up.)

  • Notice if you have the same situation multiple times, but you have a different experience each time — like a person cuts you off in traffic, one time you feel angry, another time you don’t care at all.

  • Notice if there’s a person you think is funny, but someone else finds them annoying.  If someone else has the ability to shove feelings into us, wouldn’t we all get the same feeling from the same people? 

There is a point I’d like to clarify.  Knowing how we work doesn’t mean we become doormats and let people walk all over us and then say, “It’s just my mind playing tricks on me."  But it does mean that when we choose to take action, we can do so with a clearer head and a more peaceful heart.  

We can act from a place of empowerment and understanding instead of from a place of victimhood, blame, or escapism.