The Big Problem: You feel responsible for other people’s emotions.
Most of the suffering you probably go through in life stems you caring too much about other people’s emotions and shouldering the emotional baggage of other people.
Yeah, that hefty load (that isn’t even yours) is slowing you down. Walking around with unhappiness, shame, and even guilt is triggering our survival state and occupying our minds.
But this is the exact problem stopping us from doing our best work and being our true selves.
You’re not an emotional bellhop. The unchecked baggage isn’t your responsibility. And we’re not responsible for other people’s emotions.
Now, I’m not a guru at this, but the good news is that there’s a way to stop absorbing everyone’s feelings like an emotional sponge.
And this is what helped me navigate both my emotions and others without being a complete asshole.
Let me explain.
Quick pause: Before we start, shoutout to Dr. Nicole Lepera and Cole Hastings for sending me down the rabbit hole.
Is this you?
- Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells because you don’t know when “they” are going to blow up on you?
- Do you feel this guilt trip or responsibility on your shoulder for not managing other people’s mood?
- Do you find yourself playing “therapist” (without the pay), always trying to “fix” things when they go hot and cold on you?
- Do you default to people pleasing when conflict comes up?
- Are you spending sleepless nights predicting how others might react to your every action?
If this feels all too real and you’re wondering, “Kevin, how do you know what I’m going through?”, it’s because I’ve been (and sometimes still am) there.
I’ve been in the trenches. And you might relate to a few of these:
I grew up in an Asian household with my dad struggling with undiagnosed PTSD from the Vietnam War. He would be warm and snap suddenly. And it didn’t take much to set him off, like closing my bedroom door.
And as a kid, I blamed myself for dad’s anger. His unpredictable mood swings and irrational anger taught me to tip toe around and do my best to be “perfect”, hoping that would keep the peace and not piss him off.
As I grew older, I began dating some ABGs. Who isn’t a sucker for tattoos, fake lashes, heavy makeup, and their avoidant attachment styles?
We went from passionate sparks to passive-aggressive fallouts post-honeymoon phase. Whenever she was upset, I’d feel this sense of passive aggression, yet “nothing was wrong”.
It got to the point where I was walking on eggshells. I didn’t know what would set her off and felt the need to fix everything.
Eventually, I didn’t feel like I could be myself anymore.
In the crazy world of high ticket sales and paid ads, you could feel their frustration on the bad months.
They would blame me (even though it was out of my scope of work) and again I felt like I had to do whatever it took to make the client happy for validation or acceptance.
I was caring too much at how others looked at me.
While I wasn’t consciously aware of it during these times, I noticed that people pleasing was my attempt to control how others perception of me.
This tactic caters to our basic needs: control, acceptance/connection, and consistency, but it traps us in a destructive victim-savior cycle that builds long term resentment and ultimately kills relationships.
But the biggest realization was… I was a red flag too.
This would bleed this into my own relationships.
Sometimes I was the avoidant, gaslighting boyfriend or be passive aggressive in my relationships. My insecure attachment styles were running rampant, all because I didn’t know how to tactfully communicate my feelings.
Looking back I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And while it maybe not our fault, it’s our responsibility to transform our relationship with others’ emotions and better communicate our feelings.
Why does this even matter?
And when we can detach our responsibility from other people’s emotions:
- We’re no a longer victim or a slave to others emotions.
- We become immune to manipulation.
- We can avoid the victim-savior cycle.
- We can unconditionally support our loved ones.
- We can respond thoughtfully and intentionally instead of reacting impulsively.
…and you can stop being a captain-save-a-ho to your ex-girlfriend, who lost all respect for you because you neglected your own needs as a people pleaser. Fuck. That was personal.
The perfect solution
So, how can we bring about this change?
Do you need to go on a meditation retreat, seek out ayahuasca fueled enlightenment, or dive into therapy? Maybe.
But a simple reminder can help us shift out of our people pleasing habits.
You’re dealing with adults, not children.
And here are 7 reminders to remind myself that “I’m not responsible for other people’s emotions.”
And shoutout to Dr. Nicole Lepera for inspiring some of these.
#1 Adults can be in a bad mood without something being wrong.
When I look at dad, my ex, and my clients, they were often in a bad mood.
But feeling irritated, in a bad mood, or just feeling down is a natural part of being human.
This is a gentle reminder that it has nothing to do with you. Someone’s mood and you making them upset are mutually exclusive.
Remember – people project and displace their feelings all the time. Even us.
#2 A person’s mood isn’t something that needs to be fixed.
When I was in therapy, I noticed that I’d try to “fix” myself whenever I felt sad or upset.
Breakup. Getting fired. Just life shit.
And even worse – I was “fixing” my partners emotions.
As I’m older I realize that feelings aren’t our identity; feelings are part of the human experience. They come and go like the ABG’s in my life.
So if you feel a sense of anxiety or panic when someone is in a negative mood, just notice it. Ask: “Do you need any support?”. If they say no, allow them to have space.
#3 Adults can handle disappointment.
I remember when my ex-gf broke up with me in LA and I was heartbroken. I remember getting fired and I thought my life was over. I remember dad passing away and feeling like my childhood died with him.
Life happens. As that’s something that I’ve learned in adulthood.
When things don’t go as planned or someone is let down, that’s ok. Adults are capable of being disappointed. Sometimes the best way to support someone is to trust in their capability to deal with life, and not treat them like a child.
#4 Other people’s issues are their responsibility, not yours.
In high school, I remember fighting with my ex-gf Nancy.
I would have to read her mind and she would have to read mine. God, I’m cringing as I say this out loud.
The truth is we’re not in high school anymore.
If they have an issue, they’ll come to you. If they don’t, assume there is no issue: mature adults come to someone when they have an issue. Do not reward passive behavior, or try to pull things out of people. Trust their ability to communicate.
And this goes for us as well.
#5 Don’t act on other people’s emotions, just notice them.
Noticing someone’s emotions is different than absorbing them.
One of the hardest things for me in therapy was to notice and not act. It took me awhile to understand… why wouldn’t you just fix it?
But it ignores our need to be understood.
And plus, reacting to a situation (especially in high stakes emotional issues) is always worse than sitting with your feelings, processing them, and then intentionally acting.
So start noticing. You are the observer. Say to yourself: “It seems like they’re a bit down or off. I can see they are taking time for themselves. I can feel differently and go about my day.”
#6 Change rooms – you can always come back.
Sometimes the feels hit hard. For example, the last girl I dated we got into a heated fight. I had to leave and come back calmer.
And it’s okay if you need this too.
If you feel like you’re absorbing someone’s emotional energy and it’s distracting, take yourself into a different room or get some time outside. Do something enjoyable or relaxing so you don’t go into rumination.
Then you can always come back.
#7 Cut yourself some slack.
Be compassionate with yourself learning a new skill. Learning the soft skill of communication is hard.
You’re going to make mistakes. And that’s ok.
People who are in the habit of emotional monitoring generally had to caretake a parent, were the family peacemaker, or lived in fear of a person’s reaction.
So be kind to you as you unlearn this survival instinct.
Knowledge isn’t enough.
It’s great to know, but empowering to apply these concepts.
By being able to communicate how we really feel, we can live a more authentic life and build deeper connections.
If all of this feels overwhelming, remember this: All of us are works in progress. In 500 years, none of this will matter anymore. We’ll all be gone.
So, why not spend our time working on the skills living authentically, free of unnecessary emotional baggage and resentment?
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Anyways, stay compassionate. Stay authentic. Stay rebellious.