Life Intelligence: Owning your feelings

Zen koan asks, “Has anyone ever made you feel angry or caused you to feel ashamed?” If you answered “Yes,” a Zen master would say, “More suffering lies ahead.”

Surely, you can justify anger, jealousy, being offended, let down, ashamed… And clearly, if people would just stop doing stupid, hurtful, and inconsiderate things, none of these emotions will invade your peaceful mind and wholesome heart. Case closed!

Not so fast. No one “makes” you feel anything! No matter what transpires, your feelings in response to it are of your own making, or more accurately, of your conditioning. Even when someone deliberately tries to upset you. Your brain reacts to a stimulus in a habitual way you call “anger,” “hurt,” “jealousy,” “shame,” etc. That’s the bad news — you are unconscious of how you choose what to feel, therefore you blame others for your feelings. The good news — if you choose to own your feelings and engage in self-observation, you can slowly re-conditioning yourself.

When you don’t own your feelings, you demand others to comply with your version of reality to spare you from emotional discomfort. But how you see yourself may not be at all how others see you. Your emotional response to an interaction is based on what you think of yourself and projecting that onto the other person. By asking someone to admit fault in “offending,” or otherwise triggering you, is the same as asking them to validate your own rotten story of yourself.

The opposite can also be true. People do not know you as deeply and accurately as you could know yourself. To get upset at someone’s misunderstanding of you, disempowers you from finding solutions and setting their story straight. When you own your feelings, you have choices. You can talk about how you feel without blaming others. You can investigate further to find out where the feelings come from and work on updating your self-perception, upgrading your self-esteem, and practicing self-acceptance.

Furthermore, feeling something does not automatically necessitate acting it out. Trying to get a point across works better from a place of composure, honest self-assessment, and generosity in interpreting what the other person’s intentions may be. Guilt tripping and blaming others only gets you resistance, animosity, and drama. Assuming responsibility for your emotional reactivity helps you see the world as a much friendlier place. Owning your feelings helps you understand the boundaries of where you end and the other person begins. With such clarity, no one can make you angry or cause you to fill ashamed.

Finally, cut yourself some slack. Despite your best efforts, emotions can get the best of you from time to time. If you really mess things up, you can always apologize, make amends, and commit to doing better next time. It’s no use beating yourself up and thus re-enforcing your poor self-esteem. If you can forgive a friend for making a mistake, you can forgive yourself.

Valentina Petrova is passionate about helping people sort themselves out and live awesome lives. You can find her at


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