Reality Check: The Joy of Ownership

The other day, while I was picking up trash by the roadside, I pondered the things that one tends to ponder while picking up trash by the roadside. For example, I pondered, “Why would anyone throw their trash on the side of the road?”
While it’s easy to believe, “People just don’t care,” a more in-depth inquiry might ask, “Why don’t they care?”
One possible answer that I thought of is perhaps some folks don’t have a sense of ownership. They don’t believe that the roadside belongs to them, and therefore take no pride in whether it’s tidy, trashy, or otherwise. “It’s not mine, so I don’t care,” may be the thought process.
When you don’t have any sense of ownership, you may also have no sense of accountability. What do you think of that as an explanation for some behaviours?
Now, how about applying the same rationale to feelings?
That is, if I don’t believe that I own my feelings, then I might also believe that I have no accountability for them. Whether I am happy or unhappy, enthusiastic or discouraged, grateful or resentful all depend on circumstances outside of me if I don’t own my feelings. They would be outside of my control.
However, if I do believe that I own my feelings, then I have some control and accountability for what I’m feeling. If my feelings belong to me, then I might be more inclined to clean up my cluttered roadside of feelings, so to speak.
Does it matter? I think so, because although reality may not care about our feelings, our feelings can have important practical influences on our reality.
For example, Mollie is struggling in school. She’s diligent; tries hard, but never “gets it” as quickly as her classmates. At least, that’s been her perception.
Mollie missed a class when a new topic was introduced. Now she feels that she has fallen behind and will never catch up.
Do Mollie’s feelings have an impact on what she does? Indeed they may. If Mollie acts according to the belief that her feelings are in charge, she may allow her discouragement to own her rather than taking charge and owning her discouragement.
What would that look like? When discouragement is in charge, perhaps it’s a tearful evening on the couch eating chocolates and telling herself that she doesn’t have what it takes to succeed. That corresponds to her discouragement owning her actions.
On the other hand, if Mollie acts according to the belief that she owns her feelings, she’ll act and think differently. That could be, “When I missed a class, I missed a lot of important material. I need to find a way to understand so I can get back in control.”
Notice the “I” statements there; essentially, they are statements of ownership.
In a recent article by Maureen Craig McIntosh of Moncton Reality Therapy Consultants, she points out the difference between saying, “You made me so mad,” and “I feel mad when you….” Taking ownership of feelings recognizes that you don’t “make” me do or feel anything.
However, Maureen took that ownership a step further with this addition: “I feel mad when I hear this and I interpret it this way.”
That extra phrase, “…and I interpret it this way,” puts the choice firmly into our hands. Although someone has done something, and I’ve heard it, how I interpret that is still my choice.
Feelings make a difference, and owning our feelings can make a difference too. It can make the difference between floundering in discouragement or standing up and facing our challenges directly.
Think about a time when you’ve felt discouraged or demoralized. Did you take the same actions that you would if you believed that you’re the owner of your feelings?

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