“Never underestimate your power to change yourself; never overestimate your power to change others.”
-H. Jackson Brown Jr.
Controlling others is an attempt to make others responsible for our own emotional states. The actions that happen in our lives lead to a response. That response is a set of beliefs and behaviors about what just happened. When I act on those beliefs by engaging in behaviors, I get consequences. If those consequences are good, nothing has to change. But if those consequences aren’t what I wanted, then the only person who has the power to change that is me. Others cannot change those consequences for me.
How many of your attempts to control others have been the result of your beliefs? Is it difficult to change your beliefs because if you did so you’d have to take responsibility for your own emotional states? It can be pretty scary to assume control of your own life. If you are in control and you fail, then you have nobody to blame but yourself. On the other hand, if you are in control and you succeed, you and you alone are responsible for that success! In that case, you get all the credit!
Emotionally Aggressive Controlling Behaviors
A common excuse for emotionally aggressive controlling behaviors towards others is, “People treat me with disrespect.” While this may be true on occasion, we really have no control over how other people treat us, as much as we might like to think otherwise. The behavior of others is an external event beyond our control. What we can control is how we react to the way we are treated. One way to rephrase the above statement could be, “I can’t help the way others treat me, but I can change the way I react to them.”
There are at least four ways to fail and at least four ways to succeed. Look over the lists below and see if anything from either list sounds familiar:
Controlling Others: Four ways to Fail
- All-or-Nothing Thinking: “You always do this…” or “You never do that…”
- ‘You’ Statements: “This is all your fault!”
- ‘Musterbating:’ “Shoulda, woulda, coulda…”
- False Comparisons: “Everybody else gets this, why can’t you?”
Four ways to Succeed
- Exceptional Thinking: Look for positive exceptions to the ‘rule’
- ‘I’ Statements: “This is how I feel about what you said/did”
- ‘Solution-Seeking:’ “What can I do to help so this doesn’t happen again?”
- True Comparisons: “You did that much better than other people would have”
The next time you feel the temptation to control the people in your life, review these lists and remind yourself that you can’t control others. You can only control yourself. If you control or change the way you respond to others, then they may be willing to change the way they respond to you.