Interdependent

I keep trying to write about dealing with other people’s feelings, and it gets pretty tangled pretty quickly!

Let’s see if I can give a nutshell version.

If someone is anxious (or depressed or angry or whatever) it’s not helpful to pour all your energy into stopping their anxiety. Exhorting them to snap out of it or grow up on the one hand, or bending over backwards (or hovering, or tiptoeing) to remove or fix their anxiety on the other hand. You’ll make them feel more freakish than they already do, and you’ll actually increase their anxiety. You might even make them feel responsible for solving your upset about their anxiety.

To whatever extent you can, stay calm and unperturbed, accepting the reality of their current feelings even if you don’t like it. Express compassion, acknowledge the feelings, without judging or demanding.

The tangles?

Well, the anxious (or depressed, angry, etc) person could be told to respond to the other person’s upset the same way.

You could say “But the anxiety makes it really difficult for them to do that.”

But we could also say that about the other person — their upset makes it really difficult to stay calm about the first person’s anxiety.

The truth is both that we are in fact affected by other people’s feelings, AND that we are not responsible for changing other people’s feelings.

Radical acceptance can fit at all the levels. The anxious person can work to accept their anxiety (and the other person’s upset) without judging it or demanding that it stop, and then their actions to help themselves will be more effective. The person upset about the other’s anxiety can work to accept both their own upset and the other’s anxiety, and then their efforts to help and to show compassion will be more effective. Everyone can work on communicating information, without judgment or demands — about their feelings, about their responses to each other’s feelings, about compassion, etc.

Let me reiterate two things: 1) Radical acceptance does not mean you have to like whatever’s going on — it just means you have to accept that it is in fact going on. And 2) This post is about feelings, not behavior. Feelings have no moral content — they’re not right or wrong.

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