When I was a kid, it seemed like I felt pain more than anyone else around me. Not just physical pain, but emotional pain. I cried easily, over many things. I had an especially hard time when people were fighting around me, and I didn’t even have to be involved. I could feel the negative energy and felt upset and overwhelmed. I didn’t have a constructive way of handling it.
Maybe other people felt just as much pain as me and were simply better at not showing it. Or maybe they learned how to not let it get under their skin the way I did. I will never know. (I don’t believe being sensitive is a bad personality trait that we need to get rid of. It’s driven me to become good at relationships and communication and it’s in large part the reason why I have a compassionate and empathetic personality.)
For years I’ve searched for ways to maintain inner peace, or ways to stop mental and emotional chaos once it’s started.
Here’s the most powerful lessons I’ve learned, broken down into five sections below:
1. The real source of our pain
Your thoughts and judgments cause emotional pain – not other people’s words or actions. I used to focus my attention on trying to get other people to change, or my environment to change, to make myself feel better. Although these things can influence how we feel, if we focus only on changing our surroundings and not ourselves, we’ll be playing a game we can never win. Eventually, I grasped the idea that trying to control another person’s behavior is impossible. I shifted my attention to the only thing I could control: myself.
Once I began researching this idea more in depth, I came to understand that not only is controlling someone else’s behavior impossible, it’s also pointless. Whatever problem we’re blaming them for really resides within our thinking.
Here’s what I mean: Two different people can witness the same interaction and perceive different levels of negativity in the exchange. This is due to our own unique set of beliefs through which we view the world.
“Negative” interactions can actually give us opportunities to change something profound in ourselves if we let them. If we perceive things as negative, we are affected negatively. If we perceive things as positive, or at least try to find a silver lining, we are affected positively.
Learning that my perceptions and judgments were the true source of my emotional pain is changed my outlook on life significantly. I learned I could influence how much or whether or not I suffered, and I no longer felt afraid of how others were going to act or how I was going to react.
It’s empowering knowing this. But, like Uncle Ben says in Spiderman, “…with great power comes great responsibility.” Once you understand that your interpretations of things matter more than whatever anyone else does, you can’t deny your responsibility – for the way you treat others, the way you treat yourself, and how happy or miserable you are.
It’s easier to blame other people than take responsibility for your inner peace. You feel better about yourself if you can blame others. You get to be the victim and receive attention from others for your suffering which makes you temporarily feel better. You can’t blame others for your suffering anymore. If you do, you’re lying to yourself.
“Accountability breeds response-ability.” – Stephen R. Covey
3. The two selves: love and fear
I believe that we are more than our bodies and our minds. I believe we have some sort of soul, spirit, or higher consciousness that is beyond our bodies and minds that we have yet to fully understand.
This part of us is said to be our true self – which is pure unconditional love, creative, limitless, cannot be harmed, and never dies. In many spiritual schools of thought, this higher part of us is made up of the same energy that makes up the entire universe and binds everything together.
Some people call this part of us God, or at least say that it’s connected with God. However, when we are young and begin to develop language and understand our place in the world, our minds create an idea about who we think we are (called the Ego in psychology), and how we think the world works based on fear, lack, and limitation. We suffer because we believe the lies our mind creates and try to live as if they were true.
4. The more someone is hurting, the more hurtful they will usually act
Remember the last time you heard someone say something to you that hurt you? The truth is more than likely they were stressed out and/or upset. They were probably functioning from fear. If you reacted by feeling attacked/defensive and wanting to attack back, that means you let their fear pull you in so that you started operating from fear as well.
Albert Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it.” You can’t solve fear with more fear. The only way to solve fear is to meet it with love. If you can recognize that when someone is attacking you they’re in a state of fear and then you respond from love instead of attacking back, you will help them as well as yourself.
Of course, you can still communicate to them how you felt about what happened and stick to your boundaries, and that doesn’t mean you’re coming from fear. It means you’re acknowledging the situation and having an honest dialogue to improve your relationship. Acting rude, cold, passive aggressive, or attacking back means you’ve let fear win.
“If you do not have control over your mouth, you will not have control over your future.” – Germany Kent
5. Accept your emotions – don’t try to change them
Sometimes when I’d get upset about other people’s negativity, I would end up being more upset about how I felt about it than about what originally happened. Because I did not want to be so easily upset all the time, I would get upset with myself for feeling upset! As you can imagine that only made things worse. If you understand that your feelings can’t hurt you unless you stay in that negative state for a long time, you can accept them and move on much easier.
You can say to yourself, yes, I feel really pissed off and really upset about what happened and that’s okay. Your feelings will pass like clouds in the sky. When you don’t like how you feel, you try to make yourself feel differently. That’s when you get stuck. You’re trying to force your feelings away because you see them as being bad, and you will only feel worse and worse. Acknowledging that it’s okay to feel upset will lead to a much faster turnaround from your state.