Reality Check: Choosing Our Perceptions

Would your life be different if you could control your emotions? You could decide, “I’m choosing to be happy, confident, optimistic!” Or, “I’m choosing to be angry, anxious, resentful.”
Either way, with this power, you’d have control over how you respond to any situation. Instead of letting an automatic response take over, you choose! Consider, “How do I want to respond?” and then do it. That would be powerful, don’t you think?
Yet popular culture seems to promote the opposite. There’s an implied acceptance of the idea that other people can control how we feel. We simply can’t help it; what they do or say “makes” us respond as we do.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think about some phrases that we commonly use. For example, “She made me mad; he embarrassed me; she offended me.” Those statements imply that somebody else is in charge of what we’re feeling and how we respond. So, can we get control over this? Is that possible?
Rebecca has been told that she has an “anger problem.” She’s under an impression, reinforced over time and by other people, that she can’t help it; angry is who she is.
Rebecca and Sam are talking about how to solve a problem. Rebecca suggests a possibility; Sam says, “That won’t work.” What does Rebecca do?
Well, Rebecca has options, doesn’t she?
If she views Sam in a positive light as a friend, she’ll appreciate the advice. Sam could be quite correct, and this comment may save Rebecca time, money and frustration by preventing her from going down an ineffective road to solving the problem.
Alternatively, let’s say Rebecca sees Sam as arrogant and condescending. Here, when Sam says, “That won’t work” Rebecca is not so appreciative. She decides that she’s been insulted, resents Sam’s superior attitude, and may lash out in anger. Could Rebecca choose differently if she wanted to?
“If she wanted to” is an important part of that question, and her answer may appear by asking another question: “Is the misery you’re choosing helping you to get what you want?” That sort of Choice Theory question can often help us clarify whether we are at a stage where we are prepared to make a change.
If Rebecca believes that using her anger to control people works well for her, she may not want to change. However, other people have freedom too. As her reputation spreads, she may find that fewer and fewer people want to work with her, or even interact with her, if she continues to use anger in an attempt to control the people around her.
I’m not suggesting that Rebecca shouldn’t be angry, or even that she will be happier if she chooses not to be angry. If she wants to be angry, then that is indeed her choice.
However, if she has had enough of the emotional twists and turns that come from letting emotions rule, then she may want to take charge. How could she do that?
The example contains a clue for one possibility. Rebecca allowed her reaction to be controlled by her perception of Sam. She reacted differently to Sam the positive friend versus Sam the arrogant know-it-all. If Rebecca chooses to look at people from a more positive perspective, she may find that she no longer needs to display anger as a defense.
How do you form your perceptions of people? What do you consider?

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