Well, It’s SOMEBODY’s Fault!   9 comments

When Kimberly said, “You are responsible for your own feelings,” I could only think, “If I am responsible, then I have control over my own feelings, and I should not be irritated.  I lack self-control, I am not ‘walking in the Spirit,’ I am bad.”  You can imagine that the continuing conversation did not go well as I tried to defend myself from the accusation that if I were aggravated, it was my own fault.

Mind you, that was not what she was saying.  In fact, she might have used the words, “You need to take ownership of your own feelings,” but that sounded the same to me.  She rightly perceived that I was angry and blaming her and expecting her to quit.  No one likes to be blamed or manipulated with angry tones of voice, so she reacted in self defense, but a very gentle self defense.  She was not returning blame for blame, but that is what I heard.

“Look, I was not irritated in the least until you started slamming the cabinet doors.  You started slamming, I got irritated.  If you had made less noise, there would have been no irritation.  Cause and effect.  If you don’t want me irritated at you, don’t bang the doors.”  It simply made no sense to me to see it any other way.  I had reasonable expectations, and if they were reasonable, she should meet them.

“I’m not telling you that you can’t get irritated, you have every right to get irritated.  I’m just not responsible for your irritation.”  A long silence on my part as my brain cells tried to break the code: “I only have the right to get irritated if she is doing something obviously irritating, and if she is, she should quit.  How on earth can you separate the two… if I am right in getting irate, then it is her responsibility to change.  If I am wrong in getting irate, then it is my responsibility to change by repenting of my frustration.”

In my perspective, if there were tension in a relationship not caused by miscommunication, then someone was right and someone was wrong (or both were partly wrong).  The way to resolve the tension was to determine who was at fault for what, have them apologize, and the other would forgive them.  Over and done.  That was always the way it worked in my family.  Frustration is either legitimate or illegitimate, if legitimate, the offender repents, if illegitimate the frustrated one repents (“I’m sorry I snapped, I was tired… it was a hard day… I have a headache”).

My wife’s approach made no sense at all—first she irritated me, and then she blamed me for being irritated (as I thought).  You can imagine how many rounds of conversation we went through as I tried to figure out what she meant, desperately avoiding her conclusions because they would only squeeze into my paradigm through the slot of shame—whenever I have unhappy emotional reactions, I am at fault and must stop feeling as I do.  But she kept insisting I had the right to feel my feelings.  Does she mean I can feel these things, but should not express my feelings?  She wanted me to express my feelings to her… just not blame her.  But if she had done nothing wrong, then wasn’t it my fault for feeling frustrated?  I was lost, driving in a loop with no exit ramps.


Posted August 4, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , ,

9 responses to “Well, It’s SOMEBODY’s Fault!

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  1. I need to find the exit ramp as well- hoping that the to be continued post will be continued very soon…thanks for sharing…I look forward to more soon, please 🙂

    • I’m always glad to hear when others can relate to my experiences. It gives us a connection. Trying to reduce literally thousands of hours of conversation into soundbites is going to take a little time. Hope you can hang in there!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I can so relate!! I beleive the exit ramp is having the understanding that different is not wrong or unequal. We each as individuals (also families, churches, and nations) have our own culture – our own set of ideas of what is right, normal, and good. We sometimes defend our own culture when it intersects with a different one, even within (maybe especially within) the marriage or family. Instead of realizing both are neutral, we try to prove ours is superior and change the other, when truly both can be right, normal, good. I believe one of the best ways to resolve these conflicts of culture is to “become a student of the other” – to humble ourselves and start asking questions. Sometimes asking each other questions will reveal a “lie” that we have falsely belived. This is most difficult for me to do with my family. Why is it I can submit and learn from the lady who hasn’t showered in weeks and digs through our trash to survive, etc, but I find it hard to turn my chair and learn from the one God gave me as a husband or the kids He gave me to raise. With them, I tend to strive hard to prove my way as “right, normal, and good” and end up damaging relationships instead. I don’t know of a single person who doesn’t wrestle with this. Even having an awareness of the issues is an amazing gift God has given you.

    • I think you’re onto something important, anonymous. Thanks for sharing! This is a big element in the puzzle. For me there were quite a few more pieces to be added before I could make sense of it all.

  3. I have many times tried in vain to express my ideas on this subject to my husband and our children (one of whom struggles with rages). I believe that we can only be responsible for our own feelings and behaviors. We can’t control anyone else’s, and no one should have the power to “make” us feel anything. But I do see the fact that that implies responsibility or even guilt/shame to the person feeling the emotions. Many times I have told my husband that his reaction seems inappropriate to me because it is unfairly extreme. So, in other words, falling somewhere between you and Kimberly in the above scenario. I can agree that between people living together there should be some fair expectation that we should be able to say “[insert behavior here] bugs me, please stop it so we can live together in harmony.” But I think that you should be able to express that a thing bugs you before you become too irritated or especially before you become enraged. It takes a lot to make me truly irritated (headache or other outside circumstances excepted, I suppose), but I release it much more slowly too. My husband goes from zero to sixty on irritation in seconds and gets more angry than I believe is fair given the short notice. 🙂 But he is over it just as quickly. Maybe part of *our* issue is that I am blaming him for his feelings (unlike Kimberly), and he is blaming me for my actions, but unlike him, I find it tough to get over my hurt quickly while he can bounce back to perfect cheer seemingly instantly.

    • A delight to hear from you, Laurel! Believe me, you do not have to have any desire to blame the other party for them to feel blamed. I speak from personal experience. I simply could not hear Kimberly’s words without assuming she was blaming me because I was raised with those same words that came with blame. You make so many good points here. Thanks!

  4. Believe when any exit ramp includes the issue of pride; assuming a position of superiority, blame, shame, self-defensiveness, intolerance, exclusion, over-reaction of emotion (usually indicates other issues exist which may have nothing to do with present situation or have not been dealt with, or correctly), etc., there will be division, derision. Taking responsibility for one’s own feelings are aware of their choices, actions, intentions – “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us”. Yes, there is sadness for knowing we have, for example, overreacted in a situation but remember realizing this is a sign one is on the way to forgiveness. When we want to get out of the shame trap we need to focus on God’s truth not our feelings too.

    Have always been amazed how quickly communications “go south” when deliberate, or unconcious decisions are made to ridicule, or justify one’s position (waste of time) and not first consider the greatest relationship doing whatever to maintain the best relationship with another – at all costs. Taking responsibility for our own feelings then having a willingness to humble one’s self before other’s tempering this with patience and will go a very long way with most people in varied situations. Also admitting when one is wrong is a key to help improve any circumstance.

  5. Thanks for sharing, anonymous. I too have found that putting the relationship first forces me to evaluate things more carefully and fully. I am inclined to believe (because it is true of me), that there is usually something else below the pride, a deep sense of inadequacy (of which the individual may be completely unaware as I was most of my life).

  6. Pingback: As I Was Saying… « Janathan Grace Reflections

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