Why Someone Can’t Make You Feel Bad without Your Participation

You may be familiar with Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Consent is not always given consciously so I prefer to say “participation”. You can always decide how to respond to something and your response can be choosing not to participate.

This truth has very deep implications in our daily life. Nobody has the power to make you feel a certain way because your emotions come from yourself, not anyone else.

Obviously, kind acts are likely to “feel good” and unkind acts to “feel bad” but ultimately, emotions and feelings are created by the person experiencing them.

To explain this idea, I am going to share with you an excerpt from my ebook "5 Secrets to Preventing Stress in Higher Education Administration."

Your Emotions Come From You

We label situations as stressful but stress is an internal reaction. That is why some people tend to stress more than others when facing the same situation. It is not the situation itself but our interpretation of the situation that causes stress.

For example, imagine someone is being told their College President wants to see them immediately. The reason for the meeting is unknown. It could be good news or bad news. This person might think any of the following thoughts.

  • “Oh no… There is a problem and I am going to be in trouble.”
  • “What is he going to ask of me, again? I am already so over-worked!”
  • “Did someone complain about me? What happened? And how in the world did this escalate all the way to the President’s level?”

You see how in those cases, a simple request for a meeting would be very stressful. However, there would be no stress, but rather excitement for someone who expects good things instead of fearing unwanted events.

  • “My boss’ boss wants to see me? That’s fantastic! I am about to be recognized for my outstanding work. I bet he wants me to serve on an important committee or advise him in some way, on matters relevant to my department.”
  • “I wonder what’s urgent. Maybe a new grant opportunity, or a donation from a community member, or… I don’t know. Whatever it is, I am ready for it!”
  • “Does he want to announce to me in person I am finally getting an Associate Dean to help me? I can’t wait to talk to him.”

You might argue the person’s interpretation (or in this case, expectation) is largely based on the President’s past behavior and leadership style. While it is true that the purpose of the meeting can be good news or bad news (not something the administrator can control), the person’s emotional response depends entirely on their perceived ability to handle what is coming.

Self-confidence, self-efficacy, and self-empowerment are stronger determinants of emotions created than the purpose of the meeting itself.

Even good news can feel like bad news to someone who isn’t ready for it. E.g., “Your boss is leaving and we would like you to serve as interim in addition to the work you’re currently doing.” Some people will be ecstatic at the thought of advancing their career, while others will immediately see themselves buried in a pile of paperwork.

Stress comes from the story we create in our minds when something happens.

We attach meaning to things and events in a habitual way. It takes intention and repetition to show our brains new ways of processing information. Once we change our thoughts, our emotions change too.

It may sound hard but it isn’t. All it takes is a genuine desire to disrupt old thinking habits and learn new ways to think and feel. What you think, feel, and do isn’t who you are. It is just a collection of habits you developed over time and can choose to break. You can decide to make changes any time you want. You have complete power over what happens within you.

Here are some tips on how to do it:

1.   Reclaim your personal power by choosing to take responsibility for everything in your life. If you blame someone or something, you become a victim and there is nothing you can do to change the situation. But once you shift your focus from what happened to what you can do about it, you take back control of your emotions.

2.   Deliberately choose where to put your attention. If you focus on things that scare you, you will feel more fear. If you focus on the aspects of your job you love most, you will feel more appreciation, gratitude and fulfillment. We tend to have the same thoughts over and over, so in order to change how you feel, you need to interrupt habitual thinking and intentionally choose thoughts that serve you better. Remember, you are the one who creates your emotions.

3.   When in doubt, attribute good intentions to people. Very few individuals hurt others intentionally. Most of the time, when people do or say things that cause you discomfort it’s because of a lack of understanding or poor communication. Perhaps they don’t know your point of view and have no awareness of the problem you see. Or maybe the way you interpreted the situation is completely different from what they intended. Seek to understand before you judge and your emotions will change. You can always choose how to respond rather than react. 

4.   When you face stressful situations, develop a habit of asking yourself empowering questions such as:

  • How will I choose to respond to this?
  • How can I influence the outcome?
  • How can I make this painless, maybe even effortless?
  • What hidden opportunity is there?
  • What can I learn?
  • What else could this mean?
  • What is the gift in this situation?
  • What are some new perspectives I can gain on this?
  • What does this mean to me and how can I find a new meaning?

… and so on. There are hundreds of questions you can use to change your thoughts and emotions. The more you practice, the easier it gets!

Want to read more? Click here to get a  free copy of the ebook .


About the author: Since 2010 Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to Success Coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.