Recently I told one of my clients that his feeling of being manipulated by his partner didn’t mean that his partner was being manipulative. Within the same week, my sister informed me that my irritation with her didn’t mean that she was doing or saying anything irritating.
The assumption that your emotions accurately reflect reality is a cognitive distortion referred to as emotional reasoning. Examples include assumptions like “Because I dislike her, she must be a jerk” or “Because I feel intimidated by him, he must be trying to intimidate me.” Emotional reasoning is a backwards and often unhelpful method of interpretation; in interpersonal situations, it usually involves assigning responsibility for your emotions to the other person.
One of the best tools for disengaging from emotional reasoning is something I learned from doing therapy in French: the phrase “Qu’est-ce qui t’appartient?" which translates literally to what belongs to you. The idea is to consider the roles that your mood, history, and experience could be playing in the situation.
Keeping this concept in mind, my client and explored other possible explanations for his feeling of being manipulated (e.g., he has a hard time saying no; his previous partner was manipulative) and for his partner’s behaviour (e.g., she wanted to please him; she was trying to help). We concluded that his feeling of being manipulated was generated by his own history and context, rather than by anything that his partner did. In my own case, I was able to identify that my irritation was borne of my own fatigue that day and lingering hurt over a comment someone else had made the day before. Similarly to my client's situation, my emotional reaction had nothing to do with my sister.
When due to his history and experiences, my client feels manipulated by his partner who isn’t doing anything particularly manipulative, ca l’appartient. When due to my history or context, I get irritated with my sister who isn’t doing anything inherently irritating, ca m’appartient. When, for example, due to your history and experiences, you experience recurrent jealousy in a relationship where there is no objective cause for jealousy, ca t’appartient.
Recognizing that part (or all) of your reaction belongs to you rather than being caused by someone else is a great first step in not being a jerk to others and in avoiding unhelpful automatic responses.
The next time you’re upset, ask yourself qu’est-ce qui t’appartient? What happens?