“How is it true?”
When someone says something that touches a nerve and we get offended, angry, annoyed, defensive, and reactively reject what’s said and go into fight-or-flight … Whose responsibility are those reactive emotions?
Are they the responsibility of the “offender”? Did they really “make” us feel this way? Do they really own responsibility for tending to our feelings, thoughts and historical, emotional baggage? Is it their responsibility to anticipate our triggers, and see our invisible instructions … “Fragile: Handle with care”?
Or do we bear the responsibility of our reactions and emotions? Just a bit? Maybe a lot?
The psychological armor of playing victim, of deluding ourselves into thinking others are to blame for our emotions and inner dramas, and for our life stories at large, is heavy. It burdens us, and all who are in relationship to us and, consequently, must recurringly encounter that unnecessary barrier in their dealings with us.
A friend, Jessica Patterson, who is spiritual teacher and mentor to many, and who I’ve talked with for the Humanitou podcast, helped me to accept this fact: We are responsible for our own reactions, our own emotions, our own inner work and paths forward.
When we breakup with self-deluding victimhood and we accept that self-responsibility, it is liberating, even empowering. We can see (and feel) that others, that external forces no longer are in control, and that they never really were.
Sure, we lose our scapegoats when we accept responsibility for ourselves. We lose our stories of drama and self-righteousness. It takes work to go inward and face ourselves in the darkness. But throughout that lifelong process, we gain a lightness, an increasing ease. We improve our relationships to ourselves and others. We learn that we have the capacity to live on our own terms, peacefully.
Hiding behind the self-delusion of victimhood and scapegoats is a false security blanket. It fosters disconnection, dis-ease, scarcity, fear, isolation, anxiety, stress. And that is what we ripple to those around us, as well.
First step: When someone says something that triggers reactions within us, the first step is acknowledgement of those reactions. That awareness is the doorway to everything we need.
Second step: Once we’ve noticed the way we’re feeling, is to ask, “Why do I feel this way? Is it really because of those words/actions? Or is it because of something deeper, such as the way it challenges the rigidity of my beliefs, that needs my attention?”
With that self-inquiry comes the big one, also shared forward by my friend Jessica. “How is it true?”
Third step: When someone says something you feel is triggering, take a breath and sit with this oh-so-helpful question, “How is it true?” How is what that person said true, in whole or even in tiny part? And what do I do with that recognized piece of information?
That’s our path to more calmly responding to the trigger and cultivating a healthier way forward, for ourselves and in our relationships, rather than reacting in the fiery emotional urge of the fleeting moment.
“How is it true?” Therein lies the life-altering, liberating revelation: It’s not you, it’s me.