When I was about 11 years old, I found out that my emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) was 156. I fell within the range of people with incredibly high emotional intelligence. Although I hadn’t even hit my teenage years, I wasn’t too shocked by the result. I’d always known that I had a strong ability to empathise with other people. As I grew up, my ability to understand others continued to strengthen. I was the person everyone would come to for advice. I always knew exactly the right things to say to make someone feel better. I found it hard to judge other people, because I could always relate to where they were coming from. Now, at the age of 25, I am still that same person. But over the years, I’ve discovered that there is a downside to being so empathetic and understanding – the tendency to shift the blame from someone else onto myself.
I recently wrote about how growing up, in essence, is about learning to take responsibility for your life and your own actions. But I believe that there is another element to growing up: letting others take responsibility for their actions.
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Being such an empathetic person, I’ve always found it incredibly easy to explain away other people’s actions whenever they hurt me. I find it easier to empathise with someone than to judge them, it’s just who I am. But I’ve realised that, at times, the line between explaining and excusing can become blurred.
Don’t excuse behaviour
Just like everyone else, I’ve endured my own share of emotional pain. At different times in my life, I’ve been insulted, treated unfairly, disrespected, told that I was loved when I didn’t feel that I was, and been consistently subjected to emotional abuse.
And in each of these situations, I still had the empathy to understand why this person treated me the way they did. Maybe they were extremely stressed or tired at the time, and their words got the better of them. Maybe their horrible upbringing lead to their inability to feel and express love. Maybe they knew what they were doing was wrong, but didn’t know how to stop. Maybe there was a perfectly valid or rational reason as to why they did what they did.
When a person treats you badly, you do have the right to rationalise it out. You’re allowed to be empathetic and to see things from their point of view. But at the same time, you have every right to see things from your perspective as well.
Understanding why someone has made a certain decision simply explains their behaviour, it doesn’t excuse it. In some instances, people can hurt us bad enough that an explanation alone is not enough.
Let people take responsibility for their actions
All too often we want to be the bigger person, the person who forgives, the person who doesn’t get angry.
But sometimes we have to let people face up to the consequences. We have to let them deal with the results of their actions. We have to stop taking responsibility for other people’s decisions.
It’s great to empathise with other people and to put yourself in their position. But never let that be at the expense of you and your feelings. Never let that override the fact that they hurt you, and the fact that they shouldn’t have. Never blame yourself for someone else’s mistakes, hurtful words or actions.
At the end of the day, you are the only one who can decide whether someone else’s actions are worth forgiving, and whether they deserve another chance.
It is up to you to let them take responsibility, but it is up to them to decide what to do with that responsibility.