One of the hardest things for me to convince my clients of is their inability to control much of anything but themselves. At times, it seems impossible. I get it: I'm a control freak and I'm pretty sure that if those that I love would just do exactly as I say, all the time, they'd be far better off. But for better or worse, they typically don't listen. My clients soon realize that they can't control the behavior of others, either, but there is often something that distresses them even more—and that is their inability to control the feelings and emotions of those around them.
During a very poignant phone session with a client, we were discussing one of her family members, whom my client cares for very deeply. As would be expected, my client wanted her family member to feel the same for her—but the actions of this person suggested otherwise. After talking about how she might make this family member feel differently my client suddenly got quiet and in a soft voice said, "I can't make her care, can I?" As heartbreaking as it was, she was right. We can't make others care or love or feel sadness, jealousy or happiness, no matter how much we want them to.
Yet so many of us spend a great deal of time spinning our wheels trying to change the emotions and mindsets of other people. "I'll make him love me." "She will be sorry for what she did; I'll make sure of that." "Why won't my son care about his grades? Why isn't he motivated? What can I do to make him care?" And here is the answer to those questions; you can't make someone care if he or she doesn't want to. You can't make someone feel something that you want him or her to feel, or think thoughts that you want them to have. You just cannot do it.
So what can we control? First, we can control our own thoughts and behaviors. We can gain some insight as to why we want to change the other person. We can ask the other person for very specific behavioral changes. We can ask for an apology—though not necessarily the intent behind it. We can ask our children to perform at a certain level at school, but we can't make them like school or feel motivation for their future in the way that we do. We can ask for someone to treat us with respect or kindness, but we can't make them love us. And then we have to decide how we move forward in a relationship that may not be perfectly satisfying to us.
Do we accept that our spouse doesn't care if he gets alone time with you when you desperately do? Do we accept a child that doesn't get excited about school or sports like we do? Do we maintain the relationship with a friend who doesn't seem bothered when we don't spend much time together, yet seems perfectly happy when you do see each other? Do we stop talking to the co-worker who doesn't worry about deadlines because the job isn't that important to her? Ultimately, these are decisions that you make; not things you can force the other person to address. Remember: Uou can ask them to change their behavior but you can't manipulate them to change their feelings.
Here's the interesting thing about this concept: When you learn to let go of trying to change how others feel, you will feel so much better yourself. It seems counterintuitive, but it works like a charm. A load is lifted when you don't have to control all aspects of those around you. When you have just yourself to manage, your life becomes easier, lighter, and ultimately more fulfilled. You'll have a lot more time to enjoy your life, to take good care of yourself, and to find people to care about who return those feelings... all on their own.
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist, life coach, and recovering control freak at www. Smartwomeninspiredlives.com.
You can reach her at Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com.
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