"My wife is so upset that I have to travel more on my new job," Chuck told me in our phone counseling session. "She feels so alone and lost when I'm gone. When I talk with her she is either crying or angry. I feel so badly and guilty but I don't know what to do."
"Do you feel responsibility for her feelings?" I asked him. "Do you feel that you are the cause of her feelings?"
* * * * *
"I'm just starting to date again after my divorce and I'm having a hard time with it," Jeanette told me. "I just don't know how to let a man know that I'm not interested in dating him any more, or in pursuing a sexual relationship with him. It feels like such a sticky situation."
"Is it sticky because you are worried about his feelings?"
"Yes. The last man I dated hung his head and looked so distressed when I asked him to leave. I know that he was really attracted to me and I wasn't at all attracted to him. I felt so awful that he was so hurt."
"Did you feel responsible for his feelings?"
* * * * *
"My 14 year old daughter is so angry at me for the divorce, even though she knows that we are divorcing because of all my husband's affairs," Alissa told me. "I feel so guilty, even though I am not the one who had the affairs."
"Do you feel responsible for her feelings?"
"Yes, of course!"
* * * * *
Do you believe that you CAUSE others' feelings, and are therefore responsible for them?
This is a major false belief. Some of our feelings, such as heartbreak and grief from losing a loved one, or helplessness over others, or loneliness when we want to share love with another and no one is available, are caused by life events. But many of our feelings, such as anger, anxiety, depression, hurt, guilt, or shame, are caused by our own thoughts and actions. If Chuck's wife is abandoning herself by not attending to her own feelings, or by judging herself, or by making Chuck responsible for her, then she will feel alone and angry at Chuck. It is not Chuck who is abandoning her - it is her. Since there is nothing Chuck can do about the fact that his wife is abandoning herself, he cannot possibly take responsibility for her feelings. But he CAN take responsibility for his own feelings. As long as Chuck is telling himself the lie that he is responsible for his wife's feelings, he will feel badly and guilty. His guilt is his inner guidance's way of letting him know that he is telling himself a lie.