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I don’t want to hurt their feelings!

One of the more common reasons clients’ give for not behaving assertively, for not saying something or confronting someone, is that “I don’t want to hurt their feelings”. I think this is very much a cultural thing in New Zealand. Children are often reminded by parents not to do something because it will upset someone else. “So-in-so will be sad (upset, worried, angry)”etc. This trains us to modify our behaviour on the basis of how other people might feel. This has two main drawbacks.

Firstly, and primarily, we should not be responsible for others’ emotional states – just as others should not be responsible for ours. We cannot “make” someone feel bad, others cannot “make” us feel bad. Our emotional reactions, how we feel inside, are the result of how we interpret what happens to us – how we make sense of things, explain or understand them. Our feelings are the result of our “cognitive processing” of the things that happen in our life. That is really important, because it means that we are able to be in control of our emotional states. That is the second drawback – if we believe that our behaviour causes others’ emotional states, we give up control of our own emotional lives.

All of this presumes that our behaviour is appropriate – assertive, reasonable – not aggressive, abusive or unreasonable. So be assured that if you behave appropriately, other people can be responsible for how they feel in response – not you!

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