emotional theftFor years therapists (and others) have been telling me that I too easily appropriate the emotions of others for my own.

For years, I have had no idea what they were talking about.

I cannot begin to express how much time and money and effort I have spent attempting to heal from “my” emotional wounds over the years, only to encounter yet another treatment professional who would solemnly pronounce, “but don’t you see how you are taking on your parents’/brother’s/ex-boyfriend’s/friend’s/colleague’s jealousy/anger/guilt/shame/fear as your own?

In my politeness-person moments I might nod sagely (I hoped) and agree that yes, I most certainly did.

Most of the time, however, I would just gaze at the person I had just paid whatever amount of money to, hoping that my expression would convey whatever it needed to in order to get me off the hook.

Rarely, I would admit that no, I really didn’t, but I soon learned that only earned me a repeat performance of the initial explanation – you know, the one I hadn’t understood.

But then, the other day, all of a sudden it made sense to me. I was lying in bed (here, I could substitute “showering”, “jogging”, “cleaning” or other similar activity – really, anywhere but in the aforementioned treatment professional’s office) and it was like – “aha! I GET it.”

All those years where someone else would come to me with a criticism, and then I would go to my therapist/life coach/energy healer/acupuncturist/hypnotist and share how ugly or ashamed or stupid or unwelcome I was suddenly feeling. S/he would ask me, “What happened last week/month/yesterday?” I would explain, and there it would be – the other person’s emotion.

I have often read that people who suffer or have suffered from issues like eating disorders tend to have thin emotional boundaries. Mine, apparently, had rubbed away entirely. So whatever the other person might have been feeling that would prompt them to send an unkind remark in my direction, I would automatically assume I must have deserved it and take it on.

This despite many, many, many years of listening to my mentor tell me that if someone throws their boomerang at you and you don’t catch it, guess where it goes……right back to its rightful owner.

But as anyone who has ever struggled with anything knows, there is a big difference between hearing something and understanding it, and an even bigger gulf between understanding and feeling it in your own gut.

Today, I feel it. I get that my childhood best friend was afraid that when I got fat, other people would reject her. I get that when I developed anorexia and my mom nagged at me to eat, part was worry for me but part was worry that she would be regarded as a bad parent. I get that when my 5th grade math teacher made me stand up in front of the whole class and announced that they would all have to retake the math quiz because “Shannon failed AGAIN” she was scared that she would get a bad report from her boss for failing to successfully teach her student the required curriculum.

And so on, and so on, and so on. I GET it.

Today’s Takeaway: If you find yourself resonating with my experience, where have you been (past or present tense) perhaps appropriating emotions to yourself that rightfully belong to others? What can you do about it to let boomerangs that belong to others stay with them in the future?

Happy/sad woman photo available from Shutterstock