It was through reading up on NLP, if I remember correctly, that I first learned of the concept of the locus of control. One’s locus is where one attributes the creator of oneself and one’s circumstances. To label it as internal or external seems too simplistic, however, at least in my case — instead, it could be far more accurately characterized as an inversion.
In fact, the mentality in question here is as backasswards as can be: I become responsible for how others feel; they become responsible for how I feel.
Feeling responsible for the thoughts and emotions of others manifests in the “disease to please” everyone around you. It is what Nietzsche meant when he spoke of holding the herd over the individual. More value is placed in the masses than in the individual.
If you feel that others are responsible for how you feel, you constantly depend on them to feel good about yourself and tend to blame them when you feel anything negative, which leads to feelings of resentment. If you feel that you are responsible for how others feel you are assuming ownership over their emotions, constantly running around trying to make people feel as you think they should. In any case, living with inverted loci is ludicrous for a few reasons.
First, the battle is ultimately a futile one, a total waste of time and energy, as you cannot exert any long-term, wide-ranging control over the reactions of others.
Second, even if it were possible it would be blatantly unethical. Despite the fact that this appears to be a problem of indiscriminate empathy, it is also very shallow, unenlightened empathy: you are manipulating others into reacting to you in a targeted fashion rather than in their own, unique, authentic manner.
Third, there is what I call the persona problem. You must sacrifice honesty and authenticity — in short, bury your true self beneath a persona, or social masque — in order to procure the desired reactions or avoid undesirable reactions from your social environment. Maybe this is why sometimes I don’t want to be around other people. I fear I’m going to feel trapped and drained by the emotional tug-o-war puppeteer game I feel I’m forced to engage in. Over all, inverted loci wastes time and energy and shows a significant lack of value in individuality and personal freedom and responsibility.
The answer is to adopt the attitude of self-governance, free will and personal responsibility towards our emotional states. I am free to feel how I feel, but ultimately responsible for those feelings. They are free to feel how they feel, think what they wish, believe what they please, and are ultimately responsible for their own feelings.
It is about “expression, not impression,” as I have heard it so elegantly phrased. If I have issues with anxiety, depression and anger, they stem from a lack of self-discipline or undeveloped coping mechanisms. They aren’t “making” me feel jealous, angry or depressed; I just feel jealous, angry or depressed, be it by choice or programming.
I think emotions become more honest and stable once you claim your own as your own and recognize those of others as belong to them and not to yourself. You’re more apt to make commitments, and when you do make them, to keep them, and make only as many commitments at once as you can handle. Your insides aren’t being tugged this way and that by others, and you don’t feel the need to tug others. It also saves energy because you’re not investing so much time in trying to manipulate what other people feel — be your intentions good or ill.
This isn’t a philosophy dead-set against empathy, either, but a philosophy that places ultimate value in the individual and in diversity. However important it may be to be receptive to the feelings of others, it is equally important to recognize those feelings as their feelings and not your own, and your feelings as your own and not theirs. Empathy requires sensitivity, then, but just as important is the act of maintaining boundaries.