One of the great secrets of life is that ‘it’s not all about you.’ When we interact with others, we tend to see ourselves as the cause of their reactions and emotions. The folly of this perspective is that, in truth, we are responsible only for ourselves, and our own feelings. We are not responsible for the feelings of others (although we are responsible to them), and we cannot, nor do we, cause those feelings to emerge. Unless we do something intentionally hurtful to another person, the feelings that they experience are those that they have created for themselves. Similarly, others do not cause the emergence of our own feelings.
Failing to recognize this balance of responsibility within our relationships can get us into the dance of managing others emotions. When we do this, we immediately introduce inauthenticity into those relationships. As soon as we begin to anticipate another’s reaction, and shape our behavior to meet our expectation of their reaction, we engender a subtle deceit. Firstly, we deceive ourselves into believing that we are somehow helping the situation, and, secondly, we deceive the other into believing that things are different, sometimes vastly different, than they actually are. This dynamic is at the core of both codependence and counter-dependence, and it can be destructive for a number of reasons.
Attempting to manage the emotions of others engenders our relationships with a complex dynamic of power and control. In proposing to anticipate another person’s thoughts and feelings we are effectively proposing to think for them. And, in anticipating another while imposing our perceptions upon them, we rob the other of their power within the relationship. As we too are not being authentic, we are also giving away our own power. Within this recursive system, we are giving away our power by trying to exert control; while the other is exercising a subtle and unwitting control by virtue of the power they gain through our attempting to anticipate their thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Rather than the participants interacting in the relationship, the relationship is running them. And the paradoxical outcome is that the relationship itself becomes inauthentic and invalid because the interaction upon which it is based is false. Within this circumstance, rather than having created an authentic, productive, and progressive relationship, we have created a system of devaluation. First, we are devaluing the relationship because we are not giving it the respect of a living, breathing entity compelled by the input of the persons involved in that relationship. Secondly, we are devaluing ourselves because we are not being authentic by virtue of our efforts to manage and control the other person’s emotions. And finally we are devaluing the other person by operating with the expectation that they cannot think for themselves.