By Dr. Paula Fellingham
Marlene was furious at David, her husband. It was 7:30 at night and he still wasn’t home. She had made a lovely dinner and had prepared his favorite dessert. Marlene and both children had waited until 7:00 o’clock, but they finally gave up and ate without him. With each passing minute Marlene became more angry. She complained to the children about their father’s irresponsibility, and after dinner she impatiently paced the floor. When David finally arrived, Marlene exploded with a flood of accusations and belittling remarks.
Was Marlene’s behavior justified? Maybe David had promised to be home at 6:00 pm and this was the fourteenth time he was late. Maybe it was the first time – that doesn’t matter. The question is, should David’s behavior determine Marlene’s reaction?
If Marlene understood that we are responsible for our emotions, regardless of the words or actions of others, perhaps she would have taught her children a far different lesson that night. This is how the evening should have been:
Marlene thought, Darn…David is late again. I wonder what happened. I hope this dessert will taste as good when he gets home. “Well, kids,” she remarked cheerfully, “It looks like Dad won’t be here for dinner, but look how delicious this looks….hop up to the table and let’s eat.” Instead of focusing on David and the possible reasons for why he wasn’t there, Marlene focused on the children. She asked each one about what they learned at school that day, she shared her experiences of the day, and she genuinely enjoyed the meal. After dinner Marlene read stories to the kids.
Does understanding this principle mean that we never get upset when things go wrong? Of course not. The difference is that we don’t blame others for our reactions. We learn how to control our emotions and we wait until an appropriate time to discuss the problem. And when the time does comes to talk about it we communicate in a way that doesn’t create more problems.
As you read this example, you may have thought, “You don’t understand; I have some real challenges in my life. And there are genuine toxic personalities I have to deal with on a daily basis! It’s really NOT my fault that my life is the way it is.”
OK, let’s go there.
First let me console you by saying that it is at the very core of human nature to blame other people. It’s like survival of the fittest – self-preservation – to try to escape accountability. You don’t want to be responsible, because if you are, you’re accountable.
It’s far more difficult to accept accountability for your life. But once you “get it” and grab hold – taking control and the responsibility for the results in your life – you’ll begin to achieve as you’ve never achieved before.