Justifying the Experience
Do you need a reason why things happen?
If there isn’t one or reality doesn’t make sense, then what happens? Do you make something up?
The mind loves to make up reasons why things happen. Four of the most common reasons to make up are blame, shame, guilt, and victimization.
They are stories the mind creates for all kinds of different reasons. Often I talk about them in terms of the mind trying to protect us from more pain. But one of the big reasons why the mind makes up these stories is the justification of the experience.
If I make the other person out to be the problem, then I can justify the experience. Sometimes we just need to villainize the other person in order to make the experience make sense.
We have this thing where we need somebody to blame for what’s happening. That need to blame comes partially from wanting to justify the experience. When we have a reason for the experience we feel better and if we can blame the experience on somebody else, bonus points, because then we can protect ourselves from more pain at the same time. Blame is one of the most convenient stories that we can tell because it offers us the most protection from pain and responsibility, while justifying the experience by making the experience somebody else’s fault.
When we talk about things that happen around us, as a society we are taught to and even encouraged to find something to blame. We need to create fault. It comes along with the systems of punishment that we’ve created. Without blame there is no fault and the system of punishment fails.
In a world where we’re taught to place blame, how do we justify the experience without that story?
That person did insult me. That person did steal the chocolate bar.
Those things may be true. That may be exactly what happened. That person is responsible for what they said or did. However, they are not responsible for how you feel about what they did or said.
When the person throws insults, the blame story offers protection because it says that the person shouldn’t say those things. But when we go down that path it ends up making the person responsible for how we feel. That’s the part that’s not true. No matter what they say, they are not responsible for how you feel about it. When you see it from that angle, the blame story falls apart. It no longer holds true.
Okay, but what about the stolen chocolate bar?
In reality it’s the same thing. The emotion you feel is anger. You wanted the chocolate bar and they took it from you. You immediately go to blame them for how you feel. It actually isn’t about the theft. It’s about the fact that you’re pissed off because you wanted that chocolate bar later. You’re still making them responsible for how you feel. The story still falls apart.
What’s actually happening?
You’re trying to justify how you feel about the experience because somewhere you decided you needed a reason for your feelings. It’s really easy to pin our feelings on our experiences because we’ve come to a logical conclusion that our feelings are created by our experiences. What we end up doing is trying to control our experience as a way of managing our feelings. It doesn’t work that way and the logical conclusion is not really true.
Your feelings are actually separate from your experience. What’s happening is your logical mind is interpreting experience and from that interpretation emotion is generated by the mind. It’s an automatic response that you haven’t learned to take responsibility for.
Why didn’t you learn that?
Because you weren’t taught, just like I wasn’t taught. Nobody was taught to do this. We take on the interpretation of experience that our mind offers. We don’t think about it. We don’t question it. We don’t interfere with it. We don’t control it in any way. We just accept that whatever the mind interprets is true.
What I’m suggesting is that we need to stop doing that. We need to take control over how the mind interprets our experience.
Because then we can understand the emotion that is generated by the mind. If we can manage the emotion that gets generated by the mind, we can drop the stories of blame, shame, guilt, and victimization.
The emotion validates the interpretation of the experience and the interpretation of the experience validates the emotion.
Your only job is to throw a wrench in that wheel to stop that from happening. Disconnect the emotion from the interpretation of experience. Separate the two so that you can figure out what upset you in your interpretation of the experience.
Let’s go back to the chocolate bar. The thing that upset you was that the other person took the chocolate bar. Why? Because you wanted the chocolate bar. You were looking forward to that chocolate bar. That was going to be the best part of your day.
What are you actually upset about? Not being able to have the chocolate bar you were looking forward to. Take the other person out of it and deal with the little bit grief that comes from not being able to eat the chocolate bar later on. The emotion is yours and the other person is not responsible for that.
Your interpretation of the experience was that the other person stole the chocolate bar. Let’s be clear – that interpretation by itself is correct. The action of the other person is being interpreted correctly. But it gets mucked up by emotion. The emotion makes you tell the story of blame. That story of blame puts the other person in charge of how you feel.
If you leave your interpretation alone because it is correct, and you separate the emotion from it, now you can manage it within yourself. The experience just is – the person stole the chocolate bar. Drop the experience. How do you feel about it? I’m mad because I was looking forward to the chocolate bar. The anger is valid. There is nothing wrong with it. The anger is your responsibility and has nothing to do with the experience. It’s a separate thing. You are only responsible for one thing – managing your own emotion.
Instead of blaming the other person because you can’t eat the chocolate bar, you just accept that you’re mad because you no longer have a chocolate bar to eat. That’s it. You drop the part where the chocolate bar was stolen because you don’t have control over that. By re-telling that part of the story you upset yourself, so just drop it.
When I tell you to drop the experience because you can’t change it, this is what it looks like. The chocolate bar was stolen. That’s the part you can’t change so drop it. What you can change is how you feel. I’m mad because I no longer have a chocolate bar to eat. Now you have control. What can you do? You can go to the store and by a new chocolate bar. You can get okay with not eating the chocolate bar. You can decide to be mad for the rest of the day. You can let the whole thing go and move on with your life.
You take control where you have control. What you have control over is what you do with the experience within yourself. That’s what it would like in this scenario. You can do this with every scenario that happens in your life.
It requires conscious attention all the time. You have to pay attention every time something happens. What am I doing with that experience right now? Is that experience generating emotion? If so, what is the emotion and where did it come from? It’s got nothing to do with the external experience. You drop the external experience because you can’t change it and you just manage the emotion within yourself.
Do you see the difference between the two stories?
“I’m mad at the other person for stealing my chocolate bar.” That’s blame.
“I’m mad because I no longer have a chocolate bar to eat.” That’s taking responsible for how you feel. This is what you want to be doing in every experience.
We’re not denying the experience! We know what happened, but if we tell that story of blame, we get tied up in it and then we lose control over it within ourselves.
What we end up doing is getting mad at the experience. Being mad at something you can’t change or take control over gets you no where. What do you end up doing with that? Telling a bigger story. Putting a GPS tracker on your chocolate bars. Why? Because the story turns into “everybody steals my stuff.” Now it’s a story of victimization. It’s not just blaming the other person for stealing the chocolate bar, now we’re onto victimization because this “always happens to me”.
Do you see how it grows and becomes a problem? I call it scope creep in terms of telling the story of what happened. It gets bigger the more you re-tell it.
Where did we start from?
Trying to justify the experience and more specifically, trying to justify how we feel about the experience through stories of blame, shame, guilt, and victimization.
In a practical reality this is how you manage experience. There is what happened and there is how I feel about what happened. Those two things are different. When you’re honest with yourself about how you feel, it makes it easier to manage because you’re taking responsibility for your own emotions.
When you say “I’m mad because the other person stole my chocolate bar.” That’s not completely true. You’re mad because you wanted the chocolate bar later and you don’t have it anymore. The justification of the emotion is the other person stealing it, which is why you want to tell the story of the other person stealing your chocolate bar. That’s the story of blame. We can’t go there because it puts control outside of us. It doesn’t allow us to take responsibility for how we feel.
When we take responsibility for how we feel by removing the other person and the experience and simply saying, “I’m mad because I don’t have a chocolate bar for later.” it gives us full control over ourselves. That’s what we want all the time, no matter what the experience is.
The illusion of reality is that our emotion is contingent on experience; the two somehow go together. The emotion is actually a response to your interpretation of your experience, not to the experience itself. What I’m encouraging you to do is begin separating the two so that you can see them both clearly.
The arguments come when the experience seems more profound, bigger, or more important. Then you want to argue that you’re mad at the other person for what they did or said. You want to hold onto the story. You no longer want to separate it because you take it more personally.
Because the ego got in there. The ego took it on as part of itself. The ego naturally defends you and so it will also defend that story when it’s taken on. The ego isn’t doing anything wrong here, it just means you have to understand what the ego is doing and then be willing to override the story of the ego. That brings up a whole new set of emotions.
Now there is fear that we’re opening ourselves up to more pain. Then the argument becomes that you might as well just leave the chocolate bar on the table for anybody to take. What’s the point of trying to protect the chocolate bar in the first place?
Fear makes you interpret the story in a way that’s more black and white; it’s all or nothing. I either put the GPS tracker on there or I just leave the chocolate bar out for anybody to grab. Suddenly there is no middle ground. That’s the story of fear. It makes you want to justify the GPS tracker. It makes you further justify the story of blame that you’re telling. It makes you want to defend yourself. The more profound this story is in your life, the harder it is to let go of this story.
Do you see how quickly the story gets bigger? Do you see how easy it is for the ego to get in there and start defending you?
When you manage the experience within yourself from the moment it happens, you prevent all of this. It all stops. You essentially break the wheel that I talked about earlier. The emotion no longer justifies the interpretation of experience and the interpretation of the experience no longer justifies the emotion. We’ve contained the experience and we can manage the emotion.
We no longer need to argue to hold onto the story because we understand that we’re not opening ourselves up to more pain. What we’re learning to do is understand experience in such a way that it doesn’t have to hurt so much. All these stories we tell cause us a lot of pain that really isn’t in the experience, it’s only in the interpretation of it.
Where can you start to do this for yourself? Where can you start unwind your emotions from your experience? Where are the places in your life where the basis of the interpretation is correct, but your emotions messed with it and got in the way? Can you begin to sort some of those out?
This is some of what I did with my own experience. The original interpretation was correct. People were suggesting that I do certain things in my life. My emotional reaction to that interpretation caused a lot of scope creep. Where I ended up was in the idea that people were making me do what they were suggesting. That part wasn’t true. I blamed people for what they were suggesting and I victimized myself with it by re-interpreting what they were saying to mean that I had to do what they wanted.
As I was working through this, I had to separate how I felt about what they said from what was actually said. What I quickly realized was that my emotion had gotten tied up in there and caused me to re-interpret what people were saying in a way that created a story of victimization. I built my entire life around a story of victimization that wasn’t true.
I accepted the experience for what it was. People were offering their suggestions. I separated the emotion from the experience and then questioned where it came from. I was a people-pleaser. My emotions were reflecting my need to make other people happy. Oh. My emotion was a clue. It was hinting at the story of people-pleasing I was telling. That’s where my emotion came from. It had nothing to do with the experience. The experience just triggered the people-pleasing story. The trigger was mine. It had nothing to do with what other people were saying at all.
I’ve isolated it here, but the people-pleasing story runs all through my life and was being triggered all over the place. There was a lot to do to unwind that story to stop it from being triggered. But slowly over time, I was able to do just that by separating my emotion from my experience in a way that allowed me to understand what the trigger was so that I didn’t have to control my experience anymore.
I learned to manage myself within the experience by seeing the experience in this way. I take full responsibility for how I feel all the time. I leave the experience as it is. I can’t change it. I just make sure my interpretation of it isn’t wonky and then I deal with emotion separately because the emotion is my own. What I’ve learned is that, more often than not, the emotion actually has very little to do with the experience itself. Any need that I have to defend that is just a fear of what happens if I drop the guard. What I’ve learned after doing this a million times over is that nothing happens when you stop defending the fear.
Change how you see the experience so that you can better manage the experience within yourself without needing to manage the external experience at all. It’s life-changing when you learn how to do it and get over the fear of it.
I’ve done it and you can too.
Love to all.
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