Control and Responsibility
In an earlier letter we touched on the concepts of control and responsibility. Let’s go a little deeper with these important ideas.
If you ever find that someone’s behavior is “driving you nuts,” please slow down and consider the possibility of control issues on your part. Did you know that it is possible for you to try to control another person and not even be aware of what you are doing? It’s very possible. In fact, this is a common dynamic in relationships that involve drug and alcohol abuse. However, this dynamic is often found in other relationships as well. It is something you need to know and understand in order to avoid bad relationships and increase your ability to develop good relationships.
Does it upset you when you hear someone gossip. Does it upset you when someone acts as if they are better than everyone else, or if someone is rude? These things can be aggravating, but if you stay irritated longer than most other people, stop and consider the possibility of control issues.
When you are upset by another person’s behavior, it’s usually because they are not behaving the way you think they should behave. You may know what the person is doing wrong and what they should or should not do. It may be clear to you that the person’s behavior is harmful. If they would only do as you say they would be much better off. You want to help this person and it drives you nuts that they will not listen.
Remember that you cannot control another person. You can make suggestions, but you can’t control the person and make them behave as you think they should. In fact, the only thing you can control is your own behavior.
Some of your discomfort may be because you feel responsible for the other person’s behavior. You may feel embarrassed, almost as if it was your behavior. Think about this: If you can’t control another person’s behavior, how can you be responsible for that behavior? You are not responsible. You are only responsible for your own behavior. You can only control your own behavior. If another person chooses to gossip, be rude, or abuse drugs / alcohol, remember that they are responsible for that behavior, not you. You cannot force them to stop because you cannot control them.
What can you control and what are you responsible for? You can only control one thing and you are only responsible for one thing, which is your own behavior. So, what can you do in these situations?
First, it is helpful to stop and think through the situation as it relates to control and responsibility. Are you upset? If you are upset, is it related to another person’s behavior? Were you in control of that behavior? Were you responsible for that behavior? If not, then put that burden down. Take the weight off of your shoulders and feel the relief! It is always helpful to clarify what you are and what you are not in control of, and what you can and cannot do.
Now that the mind is clear, think about what you can control and what you are responsible for. This would be your own behavior. Now you can stop filling your mind with what the other person is doing and focus on what you can do. This removes a burden for you and it’s much more productive. You may choose to have a conversation with the person and let them know that what you heard sounded rude or arrogant. They may listen and adjust their behavior, or you may be ignored. Either way, you have thought it through and chosen to act rather than react. You are responsible for your actions and you acted responsibly. Everyone is responsible for their own actions.
What about the person who feels guilty because they “made” someone angry? Does it upset you if someone becomes angry? I suppose that many people would feel some emotion. However, each person decides how he or she will respond to a situation. Sometimes they give it some thought and act, and sometimes they react with little thought.
Did you know that you can’t make me mad? Don’t get me wrong, I may become angry, but it will be my choice. I am responsible for my own anger. Before you smile too big, know that you are not off the hook. You are not responsible for my anger, but you are responsible for your behavior that I am reacting to. You see, I have a choice. I can become angry and ground you, or I can remain calm and ground you. That’s not a very good example, is it?
The point is that not only are we responsible for our own actions, but we are also responsible for our own reactions and emotions [an exception would be the individual who suffers from a mental illness and a chemical imbalance that affects the emotions].
Have you ever known someone who is easily angered? Often, the people around this person bend over backwards and walk on eggshells to keep this person from becoming angry. There are several things happening here. First of all, the people around this person are trying to control another person. Do you see it? They believe that it is best if this person does not become angry. They are attempting to control this person’s emotions by doing whatever it takes to keep the person from becoming angry. The problem is that all of this effort takes a toll on these people and they are miserable. It is frustrating because they are trying to do the impossible, that is, control another person.
Secondly, these people are feeling responsible for another person’s feelings. The more the person misbehaves with his or her anger, the more embarrassed the other people become.
Finally, these people are reinforcing this person’s inappropriate anger. All the person has to do is become angry and everyone scrambles to please him or her.
I am not suggesting that you should intervene in these situations and intentionally make the person angry, although that might be fun. I just want you to be aware of the dynamic and not get caught up in the role of trying to control another person.
I hope that this is not confusing. I am telling you this to, hopefully, avoid confusion. I also want you to be aware of this dynamic and avoid trying to control another person or feel responsible for another person’s behavior. Understanding the principles of responsibility and control will be valuable throughout your lifetime.