Therapy has come a long way over the last few decades. It used to be that only truly mentally ill people went to the insane asylum, and it was a big, dirty secret. Nowadays, it’s really easy to find a friend or family member who goes to therapy. It’s even easier to find people who are on some kind of mood medication. The stigma is much better than it used to be.
However, there is still a long way to go. I still hear comments about how a divorced woman could possibly be a marriage counselor. They are rare, but they happen. My dad still doesn’t think I have a “real” job and that will probably never change. And now, the therapy world has been around long enough that there have been changes in the verbiage or reversal of ideas. Freud was a genius back in the day, now some of his ideas are discounted. Church/spirituality used to be seen as a psychological crutch for people who needed one. Now there are classes in master’s programs on spirituality and how to use it appropriately in therapy.
I am not sure who thought of this idea, and quite frankly I’m too lazy to look it up. But the idea that “no one can MAKE you feel anything” became a big buzz phrase years ago. Now? I think that it is mostly just psycho-babble.
Of course there is some truth to it. When I discuss this concept with clients who are being asked to travel down a very painful road, I tell them about Viktor Frankl. He wrote a book called “The Meaning of Life.” My understanding is that he was a Holocaust survivor. He lost everything. I mean everything, like Job of the Old Testament. Most of his family were killed. All of his possessions were taken. He lived in a concentration camp and slept in his own urine and feces. It was in those conditions that he arrived at the bulk of his psychology and philosophy. He determined that the one thing that another person can never take away from you, is your freedom to react. He chose to be positive and helped others around him. I’m quite sure he survived long enough to be released because of his disposition. I have the utmost admiration for him.
I don’t know if that is where the idea that no one can MAKE us feel anything comes from or not, but he is the example that comes to mind when I think of the truth of that concept. But like anything else, there is another side.
Where is our common sense? Being human is about having emotions and responses. If other people did not affect us, we would have to be rocks. Brainless. Heartless. I know people like that and I’m sure you do too. And I am convinced without a doubt, that those kinds of people are NOT the epitome of mental health.
There is one time that saying, “I am not responsible for your feelings” may be appropriate. That is when other people try to manipulate us with guilt that is not legitimate. Or when standing up to an abuser causes them to have painful consequences, something like that. But 90% of the time I have heard people say, “I am not responsible for your feelings” or something similar, it is nothing more than an excuse for really bad behavior.
You can be insensitive to others, say hurtful and/or mean things. You can be an asshole and blurt out whatever you feel and then let yourself off the hook by saying how others respond to you isn’t your problem.
And I say that is utterly ridiculous. Of course we are responsible for how we effect other people. We have no right to walk on others or their feelings. No right whatsoever. You don’t get a pass for being a jerk but trying to make it sound like the other person has issues or is overly sensitive. I call bullshit. And it’s a total abuse of what therapy is all about. Therapy (and it’s philosophies) are meant to help people heal. They are meant to help relationships heal, not drive wedges between them. It’s a therapist’s job to help communicate that message clearly to their clients.
I remember once years ago when I had a client come in who couldn’t wait to proudly tell me how she had told her mother off. She thought she was taking my advice and practicing self-care and assertiveness. I had to completely back pedal with her and clarify what I meant. I was horrified that she thought I would have approved of the way she had run another human being over with her words.
So as a therapist, let me be clear. Of course people are responsible for their own reactions. But if you even slightly give a damn about others, you are also responsible to try NOT to hurt other people. There is no legitimate therapy in the world that would support someone being harsh and attacking to others. None. Hope I’ve been clear about that.