Do you let others control your emotional life?

I have often been surprised at how frequently people make others responsible for how they feel. How often do you hear things such as: “You make me so mad” (usually said to our kids)? Why would you give people that much power over your life? (Especially a teenager!)

Not only do we tend to give people power over our feelings by reacting emotionally to what they say, but we also imagine that we know what their motivations are for saying what they are saying. “She is just jealous”, of “He just wants to get a reaction”. Those suppositions, of course, might be entirely accurate, but then again, they might be way off the mark.

What we say to ourselves about comments has more of an impact on us than the comments themselves. Remember when you were a kid, and came crying home because someone said something mean about you? If you were lucky, your Mom said, “Well, consider the source”. Not every mean or hurtful comment is true, you know, but how we react to those comments reveals a truth – about ourselves.

Here’s how I see it. I have spent a number of years in my career doing public presentations, to both large and small groups. This may come as a surprise, but not everyone likes either what I have said or how I have said it. Now when I am made aware of that, I have two choices. I can either immediately sink into a depression about how I am not good enough will never be good enough, and will probably never get another speaking gig in my life, or, I say what I have learned to say: “Oh that poor mentally ill person. If only he were better balanced he would understand how terrific I am”.

Is one approach better than the other? More accurate? More honest? More likely to produce future improvement? Actually, yes. If you feel depressed about a performance there isn’t enough energy to evaluate and improve. If, on the other hand, you consider that there could be a variety of reasons why some people didn’t like the presentation, you then have the energy and confidence to evaluate what you have done and make improvements where necessary. How many people did not like the presentation? Is there anything specific that if you made a change you could move some people from thinking this was a waste of time to something more valuable?

I followed a group out to the parking lot after one of my presentations. The women were chatting about how much they enjoyed it. When they asked the man with them how he had liked it, he replied, “Oh, I’m not much for that rah-rah kind of stuff”.

There may have been all sorts of reasons why he didn’t like it – he wasn’t feeling well, I reminded him of a teacher he particularly disliked, he was hung over, he resented having to be away from the office when there was work piled up on his desk, I was too young, he had heard it before, or maybe the content was too fluffy.

I had a choice. I could either be devastated that one man did not like the presentation, or, I could consider that many more seemed to like it and find it of value. I chose the latter, AND, I took a careful look at what I had presented. Was there room for a little less rah-rah and perhaps more substance? Funnily enough, I found room for improvement. But of all the possible reasons for his lack of enthusiasm, I only had control over one of them – the content and delivery style.

Many evaluation forms present a 5 point scale, and I have found over years of teaching and giving evaluated presentations that there are two types of people: those who never give anything less than a 5, and those who wouldn’t give Jesus himself a 5 if for no other reason than he wasn’t God the Father! While the giver of 5’s give one a warm glow, they seldom offer much that would be helpful in improving. And those who give a 1 or 2? Either they misread the scale direction, and they thought 1 was excellent, or they were in a poor personal space. Unless their critical feelings are shared by a number of other people, I treat it like an outlier and move on. Long ago I promised myself that I wasn’t going to let somebody else’s bad day ruin mine.

But cheer up, if you become despondent if someone criticizes you, then you are among the greatest thinkers. Charles Darwin wrote in 1861: “But I am very poorly today & very stupid & I hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.”

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