Thursday, March 1, 2007

Who Can You Control? Part 1 . . .

“We almost always have choices, and the better the choice, the more we will be in control of our lives.”
-William Glasser

The above quote is from William Glasser, the founder of Reality Therapy. Glasser taught that too often we externalize our problems and blame them on others instead of realizing that it is our choices that are at the base of our problems. This was a rather dramatic departure from blaming (among other things) your parents, your friends, your abuser, your employer, God, etc. Glasser put the blame for your emotional problems on, you guessed it, you. Life can deal you some pretty harsh blows, but you choose how you will react to them. This emphasis on personal responsibility and free will appeals to me alot and has been found to be helpful with people who are highly resistant to change.

One of Glasser's theories was called Control Theory. Basically it postulated that much of our relational problems with others came not from the ignorant things those others do, but on our attempts to control those people. "Who can you control?" he would ask his clients. Eventually they always came to the same conclusion; the only person we can really control is ourselves (and even that is difficult). So why do we spend so much time trying to control others? It can never work! I have found that challenging clients with this question works extremely well - realizing you can't control others can be quite liberating.

I think that when I was first married I tried to control my wife a lot. Not in an abusive way, but in a "I'm just helping you improve" kind of way. Shockingly my attempts bore no fruit and didn't exactly contribute to marital harmony either. And of course I felt stress because she was resisting my attempts to change (cough, OK "control") her. Instead of accepting that she was going to act the way she chose, I felt an inner pressure to change her. I find that when I accept that I can't change someone, that they have to change themselves, it takes the pressure and stress off of me and almost always improves the relationship. I think this is because I am not subtly telling them "you need to become how I want you to in order for me to accept you." People can sense this in you when you talk to them and they will almost always rebel against it.

Try this experiment; think of someone you currently have a stressed relationship with. Are you trying to control them? What sort of "expectations" do you have of them that they aren't meeting? How would it look different if you weren't trying to control them? Keep in mind that this means you don't have to accept their behavior, but it does mean that you accept their right to choose their own destiny. If you can't accept this . . . well, I'm guessing you are feeling lots of stress!

May Light increase!

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