How easy is it to personalize someone else’s bad mood? Today, a woman told me, “I woke up to my husband in a cranky mood. He wasn’t talking much, seemed he had something on his mind. He looked angry and was snapping at everything.”
“Is it me?” she thought.“ “I immediately began reviewing in my mind all the possible things he could be angry about, what I could have done wrong, and why he might be mad at me.”
“How did you end up feeling?”
“Distant, guarded and anxious,” she said. “I didn’t want to go near him. He looked like a walking time bomb.
“What was he going to spew about? What did he need?” I asked. “I don’t know, but I wasn’t going to find out.”
Personalizing other people’s moods tears us away from our best selves, from who we want to be. We turn inward, when we could be turning outward. We begin judging rather than loving. We begin condemning rather than mending. We begin worrying about others’ burdens instead of helping to carry one another’s burdens.
Why do we do that? I’m not entirely sure. But, I often find that those of us most likely to do this are approval seeking, pleasers if you will. People who look to others’ to know if they are okay. In some cases, pleasers were raised by a parent who might have displaced their own strong emotions on them when they were young. As a child having had strong feelings themselves, being wired for sensitivity, a parent’s unhappiness easily morphs into a feeling of strong discomfort for them. In an attempt to rid themselves of this uncomfortable feeling, some children develop a highly sensitive radar for making sure everyone around them is okay. Now, as adults, when their radar registers a sour mood, they begin working hard to find a way to undo it. The unconscious reasoning is that, when people are angry, if we can blame ourselves, we in some strange way have a sense of artificial control over being able to make it better somehow.
Truth is, other people’s moods are not within our control. Even if someone is upset about something we have done, that’s okay! All this means is that we are all different. We have different expectations, different needs and different wants. The anger of others tells us more about them than it does about us. Just like we can’t judge their needs as right or wrong, we also can’t judge ourselves as bad or good when people are unhappy.
Make it a point to guard your thoughts when you perceive anger. Stay loving and connected, don’t shut down. Remain at your best knowing that everyone is different and you too are a good and valuable person even when people are angry. Be open to supporting their experience without condemning yourself for it. We are here to co-exist with others, to show and give love and to keep a perspective that allows Christ’s light to shine within us and throughout the world.