A complete understanding of the range of control we have over our situations, how we react to them, and our emotions surrounding these circumstances can lead to empowerment.
As a therapist and school counselor, I often hear from people who misunderstand how much power they have in a situation, which results in thoughts and feelings of being a victim and feeling like they have very little ability – if any – to change the situation. In reality, we almost always have the power to change things for the better. But to do that, we must start with ourselves, not the outside influences that we often reflexively choose to blame first.
Our thoughts and emotions regarding life circumstances are almost always under our control. I often hear statements such as, “She made me mad,” but the reality is nobody can make us feel any one way. The litmus test on this concept is to imagine there are 10 people reacting to the same situation. Would everybody have the same reaction? The answer is no because there would be 10 different reactions.
While it might not seem like such a big difference, a much more empowered perspective is to change the response to “I am mad that she…” In this example, the person owns and is in charge of their reaction to a situation. This is an important skill for children and adolescents to develop, as there are many dynamics of these stages of life in which the one thing they can always control is how they respond to situations in terms of their thoughts and emotions.
Owning our thoughts and emotions is also the first step in being able to regulate our moods. Once we have identified our thoughts and feelings about something, we get to decide if they are working for us or if we want to shift them. When we own our emotions, our energy is focused on our experiences rather than placing blame.
Reflecting on how we respond to situations can lead to greater insight and self-awareness. A universal truth about our feelings and thoughts is that they are always about us. For instance, I could ask myself a reflective question, such as “Why do I get mad when my parents tell me I need to get out of bed?” If I am honest with myself, the reasoning is not because of my parents at all, but because I am exhausted and I would just rather stay in bed. Who among us couldn’t relate to this? But if we are not willing to look deeper and understand our feelings and thoughts are always about us, we miss the opportunity to change how we navigate a situation for the best outcome.
Sarah Lloyd is a clinically licensed professional counselor and co-founder of the Geneva-based Action Consulting and Therapy. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.