“No One Can Make You Feel Bad Without Your Permission”
“No one can make you feel bad without your permission.”
I had a boyfriend once who told this to me repeatedly. When I had conversations that included, “Because you did this, I feel like that,” he would stop me with “I can’t make you feel anything. How you’re feeling is all up to you.” What a keeper, right?
He really believed it, and eventually I did, too. It makes a lot of sense, in our hyper-individualized culture, that no one can affect you without you letting them. It’s up to us, in the moment, to allow ourselves to feel.
It was all my fault that I felt anxious/depressed/angry/lonely/whatever. And if I were really emotionally mature, then I could just shut off these bad feelings.
Other ways I said this mistruth to myself were:
“You care too much.”
“You’re clearly not over it.”
“Just stop feeling that way, right now.”
I’ve been in and out of counseling for 8+ years (with a psychology degree and a therapist mom, to boot), and I’ve started to unravel the truth that in fact, people can make you feel bad without your permission. To believe that “no one can make you feel [ANYTHING] without your permission” there are a whole host of other things we have to believe, too. And you know what? Those things aren’t all that helpful, either.
Here are 3 lies I believed that made me give into “no one can make you feel bad without your permission.”
1. Feelings aren’t complicated
Things that go into how you feel right now:
Your past experiences
Your genetic makeup
Your trusted defense mechanisms
How much sleep you got
How emotionally connected you are to yourself and to the person who is making you feel bad
You are a radically complex person—everyone, teenage boys included (maybe most!). Our gut reactions to any situation are based on a bajillion more things than what it appears. Just because you’ve learned to react one way doesn’t mean that always has to be true—but it also means that you gotta give yourself some grace.
2. Feelings are facts
All feelings are valid, but not all feelings are facts. Again! For the people in the back! All feelings are valid, but not all feelings are facts! Gut reactions are just that: reactions. What you do with those feelings is what’s up to you. I spent lots of therapy hours trying to figure out how to control and change my reactions when I should’ve been spending time learning ways to break down and understand those reactions.
3. Emotional maturity just happens
HAHA I wish. I so wish. Like physical training, handling emotions only comes with practice. We wouldn’t expect someone who just started running yesterday to be able to slay a marathon, right? That would be ridiculous.
In the same way, someone who has no practice breaking down emotional responses (aka most people these days) can’t be expected to process all of the above factors when they’re feeling hurt or attacked by someone else.
Bonus: We can blame others for our feelings
This is the way other end of the “no one can make you feel bad without your permission.” Your feelings are still yours. Can your mom say something to hurt you accidentally? Absolutely. Can you blame your mom every single time you feel hurt when you talk to her? No, you can’t.
Growing in emotional maturity means understanding why we react the way we do, and then doing something about it. We don’t get to say “Oh, when mom questions my judgment I get angry. She can’t ever question my judgment again, or I’ll get angry.” It’s about learning to heal from invisible wounds, not avoiding them or letting them control us.
You’re stronger than that, I promise.
Note: This is NEVER true in cases of emotional and psychological abuse. You have to do nothing but leave a situation where you feel belittled, degraded, made fun of, frequently put down, gaslit, or anything that makes you regularly feel less of a person. Talk with a trusted friend or family member or a therapist/medical professional about this situation.