If only we could control circumstances and people, life would be awesome.
- If I could get my kids to finish homework and get good grades
- If I could get my boss to give me more freedom
- If I could prove my intentions to my husband
- If I could stop my friend from judging me
Whatever it is. We think that we know a better way and if we could get the other person to behave or think that way, everything would be better.
We all do this. But, why?
The reason we try to control what other people think about us and what other people do isn’t about them.
It’s about us.
It’s so we can feel better.
We think that if the other person would act the way we want them to, then we could be happier and more at peace.
If we could control them, it would take away the stress and frustration.
But controlling people is not the way to peace and happiness.
Think about it. Tell me about the time you tried to get your kids to behave differently, or you just had to convince your spouse to think differently about you and then everyone fully complied everything was rainbows and daisies.
Maybe it happens occasionally, but usually people just don’t do what we try to get them to do. In our desperate efforts, we just add on more frustration as we try to control them.
Still we try.
We’re afraid of discomfort and pain.
We think if we don’t try to control all the stuff, all the circumstances, the people around us, then we will feel discomfort, pain, frustration, challenges, sadness, anger.
Let’s take a look at an example.
Imagine I don’t call my friend as often as she’d like, and she thinks that means I don’t care about her.
My mind freaks out!
“No, no, no! That’s not true! I do care! Something has gone very wrong!”
I don’t like it. I feel uncomfortable. I feel shame. I want to change her thoughts about me… pronto!
Here’s the real question:
If she thinks I don’t care about her, then what? What will I make that mean?
Usually, I will make it mean that I am a bad friend. Then I will have to admit I failed or I’m not good enough.
This feels dangerous, and it is very uncomfortable.
When I feel uncomfortable, I want to try to change things.
Next thing you know I am frantically trying to excuse my lack of phone calls and make sure my friend does not think I am a bad friend.
“Hey friend. You have to understand, I’m busy at work. I’m taking care of my parents. I’m volunteering. The kids keep me so busy. See??? Think about that and change your thoughts about me! Don’t make it mean I don’t care! That causes me pain!”
In this scenario, we think we feel bad because of the other person. The friend is questioning my character. This feels personal. And in my mind, her misunderstanding me becomes the cause of my pain.
The problem is, when I make my friend responsible for my pain, I am not taking responsibility for my own emotions.
I have abdicated that power and that responsibility to the other person. I’ve made how I feel dependent on her. Now that is scary.
Now the only way I can feel better is if the other person changes.
And let me tell you, like you, I have acted pretty crazy and desperate trying to get the other person to change.
But guess what? We can’t actually control what other people think, do, or say.
And, as it turns out, it’s not them that make us feel bad. Any emotion we feel is actually coming from the thoughts we have about their behavior and what we make their behavior mean about us.
This is great news, because it means we are in control of how we feel.
I recommend you let go of the list of ways you think others should behave. Instead of wishing they would change, examine why you wish they would change. Consider how you think it will make you feel if they did what you wanted. Then do the work on your own thoughts to create the emotions you are longing for.
You can still make requests of people. You can ask your spouse to take out the trash. You can ask your friend to call you when she’s going to arrive late to your dinner date. You can ask your neighbor to not park so close to your driveway.
Make the requests. Just don’t attach your emotional well-being to them!
When others don’t comply or don’t behave as you think they should, don’t make it mean they don’t care about you. Don’t make it mean they think less of you. Don’t make it about you! Don’t attach your emotional happiness to what other people think or do.
When you don’t make it about you, you will free yourself from the desperate need to control. And that, my friend, it a huge step in feeling peace and contentment regardless of your circumstances.