If only my children were more helpful and cooperative…
If only my husband was more talkative…
If only I had a smaller behind and a prettier face…
If only they understood me better…
If only everyone in this house was more considerate…
If only my parents wouldn’t do that…
If only everyone else changed, my life would be so much easier and happier! So why don’t they?!
The Only Person I Can Change Is Myself
We humans just don’t like changing. We want everything else to change instead. Sometimes this has led to some wonderful inventions to make life easier and more comfortable like fans, washing machines, and iPhones J. But we don’t stop there. We not only want our environment to change, we also want the people in it to change – our family, our boss, our next door neighbor. If these people would just be different our lives would be easier and more comfortable. If only we could just turn on ‘consideration’, ‘helpfulness’, and ‘kindness’ like the air conditioner!
The reality is, we cannot make anybody else change. We can threaten, bribe, manipulate, cajole and reason, but we cannot make them change. We may succeed in modifying behavior for a little while by these methods, but unless the underlying belief that caused the behavior has also changed, we’ll see the same thing happening again – probably sooner rather than later.
It has taken many years, but I’ve finally learnt that when I am dissatisfied with anything, the first person I should try to change is me. Often, if I change the way I am thinking about something, that will be enough. My happiness and peace should not depend on other people or my circumstances.
When we let our peace be determined by everyone and everything else we are setting ourselves up for perpetual discontent and disappointment. We postpone happiness until this or that happens, this thing is acquired, that 5kg is lost, this holiday is taken, or this person changes.
When we give other people the job of making us happy, we miss out on the joy that is available RIGHT NOW, and the power to change things. If it was someone else’s fault, sure, I could feel innocent and hard done by for a little while, but then I was giving them the power to make me miserable and there was nothing I could do about it. It was hard to come to grips with the fact that if I was not happy, it was MY fault, and it was MY responsibility to do something about it, because that would mean (gasp!) I had failed and was not perfect! Ultimately however, taking back that power has been invigorating and has led to me having greater compassion towards the mistakes of others.
What that meant in practice was taking responsibility for my feelings, thoughts and actions that contributed to the situation. For example, I wanted more help around the house keeping things clean. When I was in my depressed phase I would whine to myself about it and wish the kids would offer to help, would see things that needed doing and do them, would not make so much mess in the first place etc. Then I would get angry at them and would whine at them (or worse). I was convinced that it was THEIR FAULT that I was miserable and THEY weren’t listening to me and THEY didn’t care and if only they would change…
Then I started to think, “What can I do differently?” because actually, I had trained them to be messy and unhelpful, because I always picked up after them and did all the cleaning myself. And yelling at them wasn’t really giving them much detail about what I truly wanted and it just gave them a really good excuse to be angry at me instead of themselves.
The kids DID NOT CHANGE. The mess DID NOT CHANGE. But how I saw the mess and the kids changed, and how I asked for what I needed changed. I was also able to come up with a strategy so that what they were doing didn’t affect me so badly. I didn’t need to get angry anymore because I knew exactly what I would do when they inevitably dropped the ball. I had a response and consequences pre-planned and ready to go. So instead of being angry, I could be SAD for them.
And pretty soon they did actually change in response to my change – and the best bit was that it was more lasting. I have learnt that kids (and husbands too I might add) respond a lot better to words of correction when you are giving them a hug and stroking their hair at the same time. And you just can’t do that when you’re angry at them! But it comes naturally when you are sad for them.
One thing that really helped me in this process of taking responsibility was journaling. My counselor gave me a method of journaling which asks five questions. I added a sixth (5a and b) because I found it helpful. Every time I had a strong reaction to something I tried to journal about it and the results were illuminating.
Here are the questions:
- The feeling I wish to explore is…
(anger, frustration, powerlessness, not being listened to etc)
- The self-talk leading into it is…
(Why does it always… She should… They’re trying to…etc)
- The assumptions which underlie it might be…
(I am being attacked and I must defend myself… I am a victim… My survival is all up to me… I must not fail…etc)
- God’s perspective as the perfect parent, or the reality of the situation might be…
5a. The needs I am trying to meet with this survival kit are:
(significance, security, progress, innocence, peace)
5b. The needs I am sacrificing are:
(surprisingly – or maybe not so surprisingly – the answer was almost always peace!!)
- My challenge now is to…
(Tell myself… Request this… Spend some time thinking about… Make a time to discuss… Ask forgiveness for… Forgive them for… Write out a list of… etc)
More Helpful Truth Coaches
The only person I can change is myself.
Suffering is inevitable, misery is optional.
I will not allow anyone’s bad mood or actions to steal my peace.
Stress is not in the situation, it’s in the mind. Peace is the reassurance of adequate resources.
I can never truly meet my needs at the expense of other peoples’ needs, and I can never truly meet other peoples’ needs at the expense of my own needs.
People treat me how I allow them to.
People care for me but sometimes they don’t know what I need & sometimes they are overwhelmed by their own stuff.