My good friend Louise Racine recently commented with surprise: It’s because most women feel so out of control in their lives that they don’t recognize or identify with the idea of how controlling their actions actually are.
I was talking to her about my observations of busy women trying to get everything done, feeling responsible for everyone in their family, overstressed with obligations at work, taking on roles that rescue, protect, serve and nurture.
Some women feel victimized by their exhaustion, the insurmountable lists of duties; beaten down by the futility of their efforts to make other people happy.
It’s sadly ironic that many women feel out of control of their lives as a direct result of spending most of their time trying to control their environment and those around them. It’s a vicious cycle and causes deep discontent and discouragement, robbing women’s spirits of joy and satisfaction.
Women are getting stuck in DOING, rather than living. Their way of demonstrating love isn’t getting the desired results.
The trap of this cycle is the often unconscious self-imposed agenda that dictates this belief:” I am the only one who can make my family happy, and/or get the job done right.”
Some women have created a specific picture that reflects that agenda and dangles like a carrot. An image of what happiness or achievement or success looks like for that family member, friend or colleague. A picture of what correct decisions look like, as if there’s only one way to paint that canvas.
The picture doesn’t usually include conflict, disappointment, struggle or failure, so when those unexpected occurrences interfere with the image you’re trying to fulfill, you may dig into your resolve and try even harder to get back on that track.
The thing is conflict, disappointment and failure are part of our emotional and spiritual growth. They are necessary detours, teachers and disciplinarians in the maturing process. Closed doors point to open ones. Our way is not the only way.
It comes down to whether your actions honour or dishonour boundaries. My clients are shocked when I suggest that it’s the height of arrogance to think we know better for others than they do for themselves.
We certainly are entitled to an opinion, we’re just not necessarily entitled to share it at will. We’re definitely not entitled to insist that we’re right, even when we believe we are and that our way will guarantee better results.
Lessons learned from mistakes are part of a healthy integrated life. People are entitled to disagree with us, to not listen to good advise. It’s called Free Will.
Sometimes our noble intention to protect someone else is a disservice to the life process that their choice is taking them through. It’s not up to me or you to deny anyone their growth process, however painful it is to watch. The philosophy to Live and let live is at least worth at a try.
The respect inherent in the choice not to interfere in someone’s life is awesome.
For example: How about taking a deep breath and give someone space to practice reaching out for help, a chance to dig in deep and dare to trust, hope, leap, rather than deny the person you love so much that life enhancing experience when you rush to take care of the situation.
How about trusting your friend to know what’s right for herself. How about showing your generosity by believing in your spouse enough to know what the best thing to do is. How about letting someone figure it out all alone, as you loyally silently stand by should help be requested.
Unless there are young children involved or it’s life threatening, it’s almost always none of our business what another person decides to do- about hair colour, boyfriend, décor, job, divorce, purchase, change.
Wanting to save someone the heartache from what you believe to be a poor decision may feel like a natural impulse, a good thing to do and the correct course of action, but it’s rarely ultimately in the best interest of the one you are intending to protect.
My father couldn’ save me from the experiences that hurt me, but he did wisely reassure me I’d never die from a broken heart. That helped me immeasurably in developing stamina through the tears, along with what I learned first hand about what I did and didn’t want in future relationships.
However his disapproval of the relationships I chose to end, or which I wasn’t interested in even considering to begin, caused some of the bitterest arguments between us and the damage lasted for years. Of course he wanted me to be happy, however it was according to the picture in his mind about how happiness could be achieved.
My mother did all she could to steer me into a career that seemed secure in her eyes. As a teenager I was considering art school and she strongly suggested I study as a medical illustrator when I refused to think about her idea that I become a Pharmacist. An ugly argument followed. When I was in my 2nd year of my Fine Arts degree she suggested I at least train as a teacher so that I could get a job when I graduated. That was good advise for the skills I learned while taking that 2nd degree, however the public school system felt like a noose on my spirit. I never got a full time teaching job much to her displeasure.
Throughout my years developing and facilitating Aziza Healing Adventures, my mother would somberly ask me about my plan ‘B’. Finally in her last reflective years as she battled cancer, my mother recognized and shared that she could never do what I do, never live without the security of a paycheck, benefits and pension plan. She recognized and finally respected that I had a fundamentally different way of living than she did. It finally occurred to her that I wasn’t wrong. She saw that I was making my happiness and admired my vision for myself.
It took most of my adult life to realize that rather than criticizing me, my mother was trying to protect me from her worst nightmare of uncertain future and financial insecurity, born from the rubble of her experiences in Germany in WWII. My mother couldn’t save me from my true self-expression which from a conventional world perspective unwisely courts insecurity. I’m OK living on the unconventional edge. It’s my choice. It’s my calling.
No matter how good your intentions, if you are too busy trying to run other peoples lives while you are not at all focused on meeting your own needs, no one wins. It is a guaranteed No-Win scenario.
Resentment breeds rampant in these martyred situations. Disappointment and misunderstanding thrive. Blame rides on the tail of guilt trips. Secret and sometimes unreasonable expectations drive wedges in relationships that pierce the flow of harmony.
When you do something you really don’t want to do, people can smell it from a hundred paces. And don’t think you’re beyond having strings all over your generous gesture. Just check in with your resentment meter for a glimpse of what’s really going on inside you when people don’t co-operate the way they should with your brand of giving.
The picture in our minds that drives this engine of madness dictates:
I want you to do this because I believe it will make you happy. I need you to be happy so that I can be happy. So do what I tell you.
Or, I want to take care of/ rescue/ nurture you because then you will need me, and I will feel important and valuable. I will feel loveable.
Or, if you see how well I get the job done, how competent I am, then I will feel important, valuable, successful. I will feel that I am good enough. I am worthy.
That’s the rub. That’s the centre for control. It’s ultimately all about you and how you want to feel. It’s about your need to feel happy, loveable, worthy.
And it doesn’t work! Are you happy yet? Are you there yet? Are you enough yet? The picture in your mind is the illusion that feeds your feelings of futility.
The GOOD NEWS is that there’s a simple way out.
One of the most repeatedly sad moments for me as a therapist is how often women look at me in wonder when I suggest that it is an option to consider taking time to discover what their own needs are. It is a viable option to ask directly to get their needs met.
Just for a change of pace, as an experiment, why not simply focus on getting your needs met directly, find out what might make you happy, content, satisfied, relieved or whatever feeling it is you are reaching for through another person’s life.
My invitation is to all of you.
Take that bath, let someone else pick up the kids, cancel that appointment, say ‘No’ to the favour asked. When you realize the price is too high for you to keep a commitment dare to disappoint someone’s expectations- do it as an act of outrageous personal loyalty.
Ask yourself everyday, “What do I want?” and listen. It could be to sleep, to leave, to quit, to eat ice cream. It could be to buy that new shed, fix that broken thing, hire a helping hand, go to the party alone. It could be to cry, to call a friend, to adopt the pet you’ve always wanted.
Imagine all that delicious time and energy you’ll have when you finally dare to mind YOUR OWN business!
Dialing your desires and needs into your daily life list of things to do is ultimately the best decision you can make.
It’s a magnificent role you can model to your children, family, and friends.
Self-care is the best and healthiest use of your masterful control skills.