Let’s face it: We all want control over our lives. It’s encoded into our DNA and hardwired into our brains. We want it because we believe it will help us survive and thrive, although that’s not what’s foremost in our minds when we try to shape life to our liking and get other people to change so that we don’t need to.
In those moments, we’re thinking why the heck our spouse won’t lay off the booze, our neighbor won’t quit playing that awful loud music, and our parents won’t stop treating us like children even though we have grown kids of our own. We have no interest in surrendering our desires, and see nothing wrong with asking others to make major and minor alterations in themselves so that we can go along on our merry way exactly as we are. It doesn’t even occur to us that we might to be any other way.
I often say to clients, “Humans aren’t stupid. We know it’s hard to change and figure that if someone’s got to do the heavy lifting, it sure as heck isn’t going to be us.” The flaw in that illogic is that by insisting that someone else change, we’re acting just like them: the same way as our spouse who won’t give up drinking, our neighbor who continues to blare raucous music, and our parents who insist on treating us as if we can’t possibly make good decisions on our own. We complain about others wanting things their way when that is just what we want as well. Capische?
A wife asks, “Why can’t my husband be nice to me?” and I ask, “Why can’t you stop expecting him to be when he never has been?” A father asks, “Why won’t my son take a job that makes me proud?” and I ask, “Why can’t you let him find a job that makes him proud?” The situation is actually comical when you think about it. We want people to give up their way so we don’t need to give up ours. I get why we do it. I’m human too. The question is why we want to keep up this silliness when it gets us nowhere but frustrated and feeling stuck.
I’m not saying there’s no right and wrong in behavior. I’m saying that it’s just as difficult for someone to give up their behavior as it is for you to give up wanting him or her to do so. The more interesting question is why you don’t accept that someone isn’t willing to change. Why it doesn’t register that screaming and nagging won’t make a difference and cut it out. Why won’t you give up your desire to control someone when he or she makes it abundantly clear through action it’s never going to happen? The next time you’re fuming or crying because someone won’t do what you want him or her to do, stop and consider that it’s you who needs to see things differently, then starting doing so.