It’s All About You, and It’s Not About You

Posted by Doc
Jan 20 2009

Okay – let me address this in the first person, so that it’s clear I’m taking ownership of my own feelings and behavior, because that’s what this series of posts will be all about.

Everything I say and do is about me. It doesn’t matter if I talk to you, at you, about you, or through you. It’s still about me.

The other side of that is that what I say and do is not about you, it’s about me.

If I say “that was ridiculous” or “you make me angry” or “you’re just stupid” (not that I would actually say any of those things, of course), what I’m really saying is “I think that was ridiculous, because it doesn’t match with my view of the world.” or “I’m feeling angry about what you just said/did, but I’d rather that you be responsible for my feelings, because I don’t like them.” or “I don’t think that was a very thoughtful/clever/reasonable thing to say, and I know that if I call you stupid you’ll feel bad. Maybe you’ll also think about what you’re going to say before you say it next time.”


The difference between the first and the second is this: in the first, I push everything onto you; in the second, I take ownership. I even take ownership for my own “bad” behavior. I even take ownership for my own feelings.

This is at the heart of what I believe about how I relate to the world I live in and the people in that world.

  • I believe that I own and am responsible for my behavior.
  • I believe that I own and am responsible for my feelings.
  • I believe that I can only know you through your behavior and your words.
  • I believe that the only interaction we have is through our behavior and words.
  • I believe that I cannot know your feelings, your motivation, or your history (except my experience of your history).
  • I believe that while hearing and understanding your motivation/feelings/history enhances my ability to have a good relationship, it is not necessary in order for me to have a healthy and happy relationship with you.

Everything else comes from these beliefs. I state them as beliefs because while they are Real and True for me, I don’t know that they are for you.

In a series of posts, I plan to explore this framework.

I give credit to Larry B, a therapist in Austin whom I saw with my wife at one time, and to the four authors of “Crucial Conversations” and “Crucial Confrontations”. Without them, these thoughts might never have penetrated my barriers to make it into my brain.

5 Responses

  1. Olav Maassen says:

    Sounds like a great topic. I am currently working on improving in this area. Where I used to judge others on their actions and myself on intentions, I’m now transforming that into judging others by their intentions. It’s a lot easier to discuss with somebody with this frame of mind.

    My end goal of course is: do not judge.

    Looking forward to the rest of your posts.

  2. Wendy says:

    Its a great way to view your emotions and really understand how to make yourself happy!

    Reminds me of something Scott Noelle would write for the Daily Groove.

    Looking forward to more posts!

  3. Bonnie A says:

    Good post with a lot of potential for the series. The thing I find most difficult to reconcile in this system is appropriate responses to justified anger. A person’s actions might be the source of my anger because of actual damage done, and vice versa. What comes after owning your emotions?

    • Another’s behaviors are never the source of your anger. They may be the trigger for your anger (or whatever), but they are not the source nor the cause. That’s how people like Gandhi and Mother Teresa were able to endure everything that came at them – because they never put the responsibility for their own feelings and actions on others.

      This is not to say that people’s behavior might not be unacceptable or hurtful. Dealing with their behavior is dealing with their behavior. You can always choose not to associate with them, treat them as someone who needs help, or retaliate. You get to choose.

      A future post with deal with getting closer and closer to the instant of the event, in dealing with my own feelings.

  4. Chris Matts says:

    Dear “Doc”

    I’m not sure if we have met before but my thoughts anyway…

    Alistair Cockburn introduced me to a similar ( identical ) approach that his wife taught him. It has proved to be very effective over the years. I forget the exact discussion we had, but it was something along the lines of….

    When someone says “I think you are stupid!”. You agree. “You are right, You do think I’m stupid.”

    When they modify to say “You are stupid!” or “You should think you are stupid” They are pushing their view onto you, so the response is “Whilst I agree you think I’m stupid, I do not have to accept that view as my own.”

    Its a lovely mental knot to tie someone in. Especially if they are being agressive and trying to force their view on you. I forces them to acknowledge whether they are expressing a view or forcing an opinion.

    “I think you should do the dishes.”……. “I agree”……. The dishes do not get done.

    As I sit surrounded by dirty dishes, I realise I must be a joy to work with. 😉


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