Do you have thoughts about what things your spouse, significant other and friends should or shouldn’t do? These thoughts, often unspoken but expected are the secret “rules or manual” for how we want others to behave in order for us to be happy. The first time I celebrated my birthday with my hubby, Chuck, he brought home a brown paper bag, dumped it on the kitchen table and said: “This is your birthday present. Don’t expect me to buy presents again. I don’t do birthdays, Christmas or anniversaries.” I replied: “Well you need to know that I do birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries. If you expect to stay married to me, you will learn what I like and don’t like, and you will buy me presents because this is a deal breaker for me.”
You might not be as blunt about it as I was, but I am guessing, you too have expectations of other people. We don’t tell them about our “rules or manuals” but we get upset when they don’t meet our expectations. We think thoughts like:
She should call me back when I call her. She should remember my birthday. She should invite me to her party. He should listen to me. He should come to the hospital when my father is dying. He should tell me he loves me. He should be emotionally available. He should spend more time with the kids. They should take out the garbage without being asked. They should know what I like and don’t like and buy those gifts for me.
The problem with this type of thinking is we are making others responsible for fulfilling our emotional needs. When we do this, we end up manipulating and controlling people.
Consider that other people are not responsible for how we feel. Nobody makes us feel happy, sad, angry, hurt or sad. Say what? But … “They did … They said … They didn’t do.” Yes, I understand that they said or did or didn’t do … What I am offering for you to consider is that our feelings are always caused by a thought we are thinking, not by what others do or don’t do. So, people do what they do and don’t do what they don’t do. Then we have a thought about that which causes us to feel a certain way.
When we take responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings, we become empowered. We stop being dependent on others for our emotional well-being. We can still make requests of people as long as we don’t link how we feel to whether or not the other person honors our request.
To further explore what “rules or manuals” you might have for others in your life ask yourself the following:
- Write down the name of someone you want to change.
- Write, in detail, what you would like them to do.
- For each item, write down why you want them to behave in this way.
- How do you think you would feel if they behaved this way?
- How would your thoughts about them change if they behaved this way?
- Do you want them to behave this way even if they don’t want to? Why or why not?
- What do you make it mean when they don’t behave this way?
- When someone wants you to behave in a certain way so they can feel good, what is that like for you?
Imagine that you can love someone unconditionally regardless of what they do or don’t do. Imagine what it would be like if you loved them or were friends with them just because you did, without any expectation. Imagine how it would come back to you if you threw out your “rules and manuals” and just loved people unconditionally, just because they are in your life. What a wonderful world that would be!
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