The Lessons We Teach

One of the first concepts I teach my coaching clients is that it is our thoughts that cause our feelings.  It is not the things that happen around us or the actions of others.  We often coach through numerous issues in their lives as we refine their understanding of this relationship. Sometimes it comes easily and sometimes it takes more time.

It’s not our fault that we struggle with this.   We are taught the exact opposite growing up.  Let me give you an example.

Sally and Lucy are playing on the playground. Sally looks at Lucy and says she doesn’t really like her dress.  A supervising adult hears this and she tells Sally that she shouldn’t say things like that to other people because she hurt Lucy’s feelings.

I’m sure most of you can think back to times where you’ve been told something similar, but let’s stop for a moment and really look at the lessons that this supervising adult has just taught these two children.

1. Sally has been taught to temper her honesty.  Sally is a caring person at heart and she doesn’t want to cause other people emotional pain so from now on she will censor her opinions and desires because she doesn’t want to make other people feel bad.

2. Lucy has been taught that other people’s opinions about the pieces of fabric that she uses to cover her body matter enough to cause her emotional pain.  The fashion and beauty industry loves that we teach this to our children.

3. Both children have been taught that another person has the power to cause them emotional pain.  They now begin to modify who they are in order to fit in.  They have learned that the path to emotional happiness is only available if other people like you.  This is the beginning of a lifetime of people pleasing and emotional childhood.

4. Both children have been taught that they have the power to say or do something that can hurt another person’s feelings. Talk about handing a child a loaded gun and asking them to act responsibly.  Some children will use this power for good, but the epidemic of in-person and online bullying tells us that many will not.

5. Finally, both children have been taught that getting along is more important than exploring their differences.  It is better to just be quiet when you don’t agree or like the same things.  Rather than teaching these children that there are many valid views and opinions in life, we teach them that dissent and difference causes emotional pain in others.   

The above example seems like such an innocent moment, but, as a recovering people pleaser, I can tell you it’s not.  These were the lessons that taught me at a very young age to become a chameleon.  I would change and morph into whatever version of myself I thought would make the people around me happy.  Their happiness was my drug.  If the people around me liked me, I could feel good.

Unfortunately, the counter to this is that when, despite my best efforts, I failed to manipulate the thoughts and feelings of others into positive opinions about me, I was destroyed.  I learned to care so much about the feelings and desires of others that I lost all connection with my authentic self.  I then used food to make myself feel better when people pleasing failed.  The fact that I became obese should tell you how well that was going.

Working with my coach taught me how to begin to unpack this.  The first step was to take my power back.  The opinions and feelings of other people have no power over my emotions unless I give them that power.  This is something I must remind myself of almost daily, but it’s worth it every time. 

Next week I’ll share with you the real secret to no longer worrying about what other people think about you.  Until then please check out my free course on How To Feel Better On Your Next Shift.  Then keep an eye on your email for upcoming opportunities to work together.