Most of us prefer to see ourselves as open and responsive. Thus, it may be shocking to find that others - especially those closest to us - instead at times view us as controlling. And, sometimes, they may be right! Controlling behavior can take any number of forms, including the following. As you read the list below, decide whether you frequently use any of these stylized communications to get what you want when you want it. Here goes. Do you often:
- yell?- criticize or judge?
- get annoyed or irritated?
- accuse or interrogate?
- use threats or orders?
- pout, sulk or use the silent treatment?
- lecture or blame?
- throw things or slam doors?
- withdraw angrily?
- use disapproving looks or sighs?
- have temper tantrums?
- make negative judgments or use put-downs?
- become short or curt?
All these responses, actually forms of disapproval, say, "You're wrong for what you're thinking, feeling or doing." And all contain the tacit assumption that "my way is the only right way."
They also imply blame: "It's your fault that I'm hurt (scared, disappointed, annoyed)."
And they entail a punishment: "This is what you're going to get when you disappoint or upset me."
And a message that "I'll be caring with you as long as you believe the way I think you should."
Finally, they have the effect of creating fear in another.
Speaking to these points, Jordan and Margaret Paul, authors of "From Conflict To Caring," emphasize that wanting change from another person is not a problem. However, attempting to influence others by inflicting pain is a problem. Aside from the significant impact of hurting another, using controlling responses dramatically reduces opportunities for intimacy in any relationship.
To reduce control responses and increase possibilities of closeness to others, the Pauls offer these suggestions:
- Heighten your awareness of yourself in the "control mode" by considering how you look and sound at such times. Say the Pauls: "Think about your past and present relationships. Remember times when you were upset because you weren't getting what you needed or wanted and you tried to get others to change their behavior."
Picture "how you look when you're upset with another." Whom do you remind yourself of? Is the way you control others similar to the way someone used to control you? Do you treat people the way you were treated as a child? "Try to see yourself as others see you," they continue. "Our images of ourselves come mainly from the photographs we've seen of ourselves when we're smiling and open. Most of us never see how we look when we're closed, hard, defensive and angry. We are very aware of how others look, but we remain blissfully ignorant of ourselves."
- Get in touch with the softer part of your self. Using controlling responses is a way of protecting yourself, hiding that part of the self you may believe is ugly or bad, or that might be viewed as at fault. However, observe the Pauls, "Underneath your protections is . . . the part of you that would speak with the honesty of a child - the soft, frightened, vulnerable part that just wants to be heard and acknowledged and appreciated but is too afraid to ask for what it needs."
Remember back to a time you were angry and consider what you really wanted to say. Maybe something like, "I'm afraid I'll lose you," or "It scares me when you come home late and I don't know where you are," or "I get scared that you don't love me when you don't want to touch me."
Talk, then, about how you feel - using feeling words - putting the emphasis on what is happening inside, not on changing someone on the outside. Too often, emphasize the Pauls, "we focus on trying to get others to look inward so that we won't have to."
- Use "loving behavior" to deal with others, they recommend. That means utilizing behavior that promotes your own and others' emotional and spiritual growth, promotes personal responsibility, and increases the probability of inner peace and good feelings about yourself. It also means caring and understanding without giving yourself up.
- Finally (and this is the Larsen touch), instead of trying to force change, simply tell another person what would help or make you feel better in the future. Invite, rather than demand what you want, and give that person the opportunity - should he or she be so inclined - to give you a gift. Knowing that another wants to give you what you want is the only behavior that feels truly loving and satisfying.
- Dr. Larsen is a therapist practicing in Salt Lake City.