Reblogs: Confronting Friend About Significant Other; About Responsibility for Others’ Emotions

Carolyn Hax just had a column about confronting a friend about her significant other.  I do wonder if the same thing applies if the S.O. is actually abusive.  Also, when the S.O. is abusive, I wonder how effective confronting him directly would really be: That could bring the abuse on you.

As soon as Richard’s wife Tracy discovered that I considered her abusive, she began abusing me as well with various overt and covert abuses, culminating in The Incident and later stalking me.  So I suppose Hax’s column is useful for the majority of issues with a friend’s annoying S.O., but not necessarily abuse.

As for Anonymous in the first link, whose friends didn’t tell her a thing about her ex until afterwards: I was in the same place.  There were little hints which my friends gave here and there about my abusive ex Phil, but I didn’t pick up on them as warnings.  No explanations were given, so I just thought they found his constant, silly jokes annoying.  And, well, I liked his jokes.

But at least they didn’t do as this group of friends did (in the Carolyn Hax letter above), and pretend the guy was great until after the breakup.  That just makes you wonder which is their real feeling, and which is a lie to make their friend feel better.

Hax’s column here addresses the concept that you’re not responsible for another person’s feelings.  A reader confronts this with the objection many of us have: But if you’re a jerk to somebody else, aren’t you responsible for their anger/sadness?  :

You have said a few times something along the lines of “We are not responsible for someone else’s feelings,” and when it comes to the extremes of narcissistic or victim-playing behavior, I get this.

But if I do or say something legitimately hurtful, prejudiced, etc., to someone else, whether through malicious forethought or benign error, it’s hard for me not to feel at least a little responsible for the likely distress that person then feels, and I do my best to make amends.

True, some of us have an especially Zen approach to life, and each of us ultimately chooses how we react to what life throws at us, but I think I’m understanding your comment much more coldly and heartlessly than you intended. Could you please help clarify?

Fortunately, Hax’s reply is that no, she does not mean it to be so heartless.  She basically means that you do what you can to fix things when you cause pain, but some things are beyond your control.

This is good to hear for those of us who have been told, “I’m not responsible for your emotions,” by someone who has just done something that hurts you, but doesn’t seem to care.  As I wrote in Narcissistic Webs,

If I told [Richard] he did something that hurt me, he put the blame on my shoulders, saying he wasn’t responsible for my feelings (which is an a**hole thing to say).

Update 12/6/14: This has also been addressed by Ferrett in The Myth Of “Nobody Can Make You Feel Bad Without Your Permission”:

You might want to start that long discussion of how to get to the point where they can shove off that tidal wave of sadness with a cold freeze of logic… but that’s not how this is used.

Instead, the “Nobody can make you feel bad…” argument is generally wielded as a club to make it the victim’s fault when someone decided to be an asshole at them.

….But when you say, “Well, nobody can make you feel bad without your permission!”, that sets up a world where you have no responsibility for your speech.

Were you digging for weak spots, mocking to make a point? Oh, hey, well, you were trying your damndest to make them feel bad, but if it worked it’s their fault for not having sufficient defenses.

It’s not 100% correlation, but when I see “Nobody can make you feel bad!” I usually find a taunting dillweed nearby, taking potshots from the brush and then claiming no responsibility.