Who is responsible for your emotions?

It’s a question I often ask of clients who are dealing with self-esteem issues or who are lacking in self-confidence.

When it comes to what is known as political correctness, that key question is almost never asked.

I’ve long been a fan of the hit show South Park, not (solely) because of its creators’ affection for potty humor and foul language, but due to their willingness to target current social issues and provide some insight along with the laughs.

Last week’s episode (“Stunning and Brave”) was a timely attack on the modern resurgence of political correctness (PC).

During the episode, Cartman and others on the show are attacked viciously by the school’s new “PC Principal” and his followers for failing to modify their language to avoid offending others.

The PC Principal’s crew is a clear metaphor for those who’ve become known as Social Justice Warriors – people who attempt to prevent discrimination and injustice by “checking” (scolding or correcting) those who don’t use politically correct language. One example is a student who once refers to Caitlyn Jenner as a “he” instead of a “she.”

Emotional Independence

So what does this all have to do with hypnotherapy?

Well, over the past 12 years, I’ve found myself spending a significant amount of time helping clients to gain more control over their emotions.

The logic goes something like this: if others have the power to “make you” happy, sad, angry or offended, then you aren’t truly free. Emotionally, you are a slave to the words and behavior of others around you.

The way I help my clients to eliminate this dependency is to take responsibility for their emotions. I affectionately call this Emotional Independence.

For example, if someone calls you an idiot… why should that “make you” feel anything at all? If you know you’re intelligent, and have life experience to back it up, then their words are simply false. You have learned nothing about yourself through this exchange, and everything about the person speaking to you.

The same goes for gender, sexual identity, race, social status, etc. The fact that a person, group or institution says something about someone else doesn’t automatically ensure a particular emotional reaction in those targeted. Some might be offended, while others may laugh at its absurdity.

How to Avoid Being Offended

In my former life as an improv comedy actor and stand up comedian, I quickly learned one important lesson – with a big enough audience, it’s possible that every single thing you say or do, whether benign, silly or controversial, will offend someone in the crowd.

We often joked at the show’s outset that we’d do our best to offend all audience members “equally.”

The only way to truly avoid offending anyone would be to say and do nothing at all (and heck, even that might offend somebody).

And while Social Justice Warriors may not grasp that, it (eliminating all speech) is actually the unintended goal of the PC movement.

Sound extreme? Well, if you take the concept (of censoring speech that offends others) to its logical conclusion, knowing that someone, somewhere, might be offended by anything, then it’s fair to conclude that eliminating all language might be necessary.

Even a story about fuzzy bunnies might “trigger” a traumatic response in someone who’d developed a phobia of bunnies (and I’ve seen weirder phobias).

In that case, it seems to make a lot more sense to eliminate the traumatic response (my specialty) than to eliminate words from public discourse.

Since it’s both impossible and extreme to force everyone to change their language simply to prevent others from being hurt or offended, the alternative makes a lot more sense.

Instead of trying to control the world around us (which we cannot), it’s far more practical to control ourselves, and more specifically, our emotions.

The way to accomplish this is to know yourself. If you know who you are, what you’ve accomplished and what makes life meaningful to you, there’s nothing anyone else can say or do that will change it.

If someone walked up to me tomorrow and said I was a stupid, redheaded, con man hypnotist, I wouldn’t be angry or offended. Instead, I’d wonder “what’s wrong with this person?”

And that’s how you get Emotional Independence – through recognizing and remembering that others can’t control or define you with words.

You know… “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Make no mistake, I strongly believe in treating others with respect. But in my experience as a therapist, I’ve seen no greater source of frustration and anger than placing the responsibility for one’s emotional state on others. No rules or laws will ever accomplish what we can accomplish on our own, through self-knowledge and greater control over our own thoughts and emotions.