Dear Amy: I took a course called Personal and Social Responsibility, then taught it to teens and parents about 15 years ago. The entire idea is to learn to take responsibility for your own feelings.
You must never state something like “You made me so angry when you called me stupid yesterday. You hurt and embarrassed me.” That lets the other person know your feelings, but it assigns blame and implies that the other person was capable of making you feel something. The simple truth is that you chose anger as a response.
If the intent was to anger you, that's another story, but if that was not the intention, then you became angry over the situation all by yourself without help from anyone else. We would call these “invitations” to feel a certain way that you can accept or reject and then act on by choosing another feeling to express.
Telling someone how you feel can be tricky. It is perfectly OK to say, “When we were together yesterday, I sensed that I was being made fun of and I didn't care for that. I felt embarrassed and hurt.”
There is no “you did this to me.” You invite them to discuss this with you by your calm, nonblaming manner. If the discussion turns ugly, you have the right to say, “I do not choose to be talked to like this,” and leave the scene without making any grandstand play (drama).
Good Lesson for Life
Dear Lesson: I appreciate the effort to teach people how to “own” their own feelings, even as I reject the specific methodology.
You are right that we are all responsible for our own feelings and reactions, but sometimes we are also responsible for hurting or angering someone else, and the people on the receiving end have the right to educate us about how our actions affect them.
Sometimes people are to blame for hurting others, and they should be given the opportunity to acknowledge that and apologize.
Saying, “I sensed that I was being made fun of …” is passive, and the more direct response of, “I think you really went after me yesterday, and I want you to know that I don't like it,” puts the person on notice that he was out of line.
You are right that telling someone how you feel can be tricky, but respect and clarity are the glue that holds relationships together.
Dear Amy: You have got to be kidding on your criticism about the teacher in the men's changing room being nude and changing in front of an 8-year-old student. My grandson is 8 and, due to many years of swim lessons, being in a men's locker room is nothing special to him. Nor should it be to any 8-year-old.
Perhaps those parents need to get their heads out of the sand and realize that education on the differences in the sexes needs to start much sooner.
I feel sorry for the kid if he was embarrassed, but don't try to lay the blame on the teacher. Did you expect him to wait until the kid and dad left before completing the task he went in to perform?
Dear Teacher: In my answer to this question, I noted that teachers should be circumspect when they are around students – even if they are off-duty (although I agree that the teacher is not at all to blame for whatever choice he made).
I agree that an 8-year-old shouldn't be made to feel uncomfortable seeing the naked body of a same-sex person, and I suggested to the parents in question that they had some work to do to make sure their son had a healthy attitude about this. I also suggested that if they didn't want their son exposed to male nudity, then they shouldn't take him into a public changing room, where nudity is an inevitability.