Why do we give others more credit?

I suppose this title could bring about quite a few thoughts…

We give others A LOT of credit. We look at others in comparison to ourselves, and often feel that we don’t measure up, that we are lacking in some way, or that we have more growing to do. Sometimes, this social comparison can add a little bit of pressure that helps us to succeed. Other times, this comparison and self-annihilation leads to feelings of low self-worth, self-doubt, and sadness or anxiety.

We also give others credit for successes we see by applying their successes to internal factors. There is a social phenomenon that occurs that accounts for this: when we apply others’ successes to their internal abilities and skills, whereas we look at our own successes as being attributable to outside forces or external factors. This fundamental attribution error often causes us to look at Bob over there, leaving a nice big tip for your server, and say to ourselves, “Wow, Bob is a really generous guy.” Whereas, you might leave a big tip and think to yourself, “Well, I’m generous sometimes but honestly wanted to impress our friends with my generosity.”

We also give others a lot of credit when it comes to our thoughts and feelings. I’m sure you’ve been in a conversation before (or, let’s face it, an argument…) where you have said something along the lines of, “You made me feel _____!” Fill in the blank with the emotion of your choosing. (Hint: It’s generally one that we don’t like or don’t want to take credit for having.) Why do we give others so much credit when it comes to how we feel? It seems like such a loss of power when we think of it this way. Almost as though we could be swayed in any emotional direction, given whatever the situation is that arises.

The truth is, we do get “triggered” (a.k.a., we have a response that is emotional, cognitive, and oftentimes behavioral) by our environment and the others we are surrounded by. But, does that mean that we should give others power over our choices and how we handle our emotions? Should we give credit to them in the first place for how we experience and manage our feelings? I think this is dependent on a number of factors, one being how we choose to experience our feelings in the moment. When we look at our emotions as scary and out-of-control things - things that feel we are unable to manage or cope with - of course it makes more sense that we would want to attribute them to someone or something else. It’s hard to take ownership of things that feel all-powerful, scary, and monstrous!

However, we DO have a choice in this matter, in terms of the perspective we take toward our emotional experiences. Are our emotions really these big, scary, awful things that we are just experiencing at the whim of everyone and everything around us? (Goodness me, this sounds like an absolute horror film - being completely powerless over all of your emotions and experiencing feelings and actions that are actually controlled by others…) Or, is it possible that - while our emotions are not always necessarily within our control 100% - we are still able to experience them as chances for learning, ways of being a student of self, and as welcome visitors?

Sometimes when I use these terms, like “emotions as welcome visitors” with my clients, they look at me like I have a third eye right in the middle of my face. Sometimes this is because they express a disbelief that emotions could ever be welcome in their eyes. A “welcome visitor” makes it sounds like something you’d want to have come and visit you, and many of my clients are actively trying to AVOID experiencing or recognizing their emotions. That makes sense. I absolutely get that it is a foreign concept. But, just bear with me.

If we were to try and see these emotions as welcome visitors, we’d be able to greet them at the door (“Oh hello, anxiety. Didn’t know you were showing up today. How are you?”), let them come in (“Well, you’re here anyway, so why don’t you come in and sit on the couch.”), and then after you’ve had a little time to visit and sit together, send them on your way (“I don’t usually enjoy your visits all that much. You usually make me feel kind of bad about myself and you rile me up. I acknowledged you were here and now it’s time you were on your way.”). By the way, no one said you had to actually enjoy these welcome visitors during their brief stays. If you practiced this enough, I’m sure that with some time, these visitors might only stay for 10 minutes, 5 minutes, a couple of minutes tops - down the road.

However, we lose the ability to let our emotions be our own and take ownership of our experiences when we give others credit for how we feel. By being a victim to our circumstances and to others around us, we’re constantly in that sea of emotions that makes us feel like we’re drowning. It’s like wave after wave of emotionality coming in our direction, and we are without a surfboard or life preserver, or even a tiny little inner tube. When we can prepare and recognize that we are responsible for our feelings (aka, what we DO with them when they arise), it becomes a lot easier to remember your inner tube or surfboard. And then, you’re not caught so off-guard next time that big wave comes. I would imagine that once you ride that wave in, and all is said and done, you’ll feel more proud of yourself than you did before you caught that sweet surge.