Sheila was stuck. Even though she was trying to hard to change some things in her behavior -- especially her anger and her clutter -- she found herself doing these things over and over. Then she would get upset with herself, telling herself she was stupid and incompetent.
How often do you tell yourself that you are wrong, bad, inadequate, unworthy, a jerk, stupid and so on? I've found, in the many years I've been counseling, that most people are frequently inwardly judgmental. Many of us believe that if we judge ourselves, we can get ourselves to do things differently -- to do them "right." And if we do them right, then others will like us. Underlying this is the false belief that doing things right is a way to control how others feel about us and treat us.
Most of us are taught, from the time we are very little, that we CAUSE other people to feel and behave the way they do. We are taught by our parents, teachers and other caregivers that we cause others to feel angry, scared, hurt and rejected, or loving and accepting. In the case of Sheila, she was taught that if she did poorly in school, she caused her parents to be angry. Their anger was her fault. In other words, she was in control of her parents' feelings and reactions because her behavior caused their feelings and reactions. Her behavior caused them to be angry and reject her.
Now, as an adult, Sheila believes that she causes others to accept or reject her, or to feel happy or unhappy with her. She believes that if she can just do things "right" enough, she can be in control of others being happy with her and accepting her. We explored this in one of our phone sessions.
"Sheila," I asked, "Do you think others are in control of how you feel about them?"
Sheila thought a moment. "No, I don't think so. Some days, when I'm in a good mood, I seem to like everyone, and other days, when I'm really tired or upset about something, people can really bug me."
"So how you feel about others and how you treat them has more to do with you than with them, is that right?"
"Yeah, I think that's right! I never thought about that before!"
"What if someone was trying really hard to get you to like them -- like giving you a lot of compliments -- would that make you like them?"
"Actually, I don't like it when people butter up to me. I just feel manipulated by it."
"So the things they do to try to control how you feel about them don't necessarily work, is that right?"
"So what makes you think that doing things right will have control over others liking you? Don't you think everyone is like you -- that they decide for themselves to be accepting or rejecting, and that it's often based on how they're feeling rather than on anything to do with you?"
"Oh my God! So why am I trying so hard to do everything right? It's a waste of time and energy, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. It's not that we can't influence people, but ultimately we have no control over them. Each of us decides, in any given moment, to be loving or unloving, accepting or rejecting, open or closed. No one decides for us who we are going to be, and we don't decide that for others. When you really accept that, you will stop trying so hard and just be yourself. And if you're not trying to do everything "right" you might be more accepting of yourself as well."
"So what does all this have to do with my anger and clutter?"
"How it relates to that is that you are trying to change yourself in order to do things right, and one way you think you can change yourself is to judge yourself. You are trying to control yourself just as you try to control others. And what happens when you judge yourself? How do you feel?"
"Awful. I feel just awful, with a big black hole inside."
"And is judging yourself working to get you to stop being angry and to clean up the clutter?"
"It's not working at all."
"Right. When you judge yourself, you create an inner resistance. The way through this resistance is to move out of judgment and into compassion for yourself. Compassion opens the door to awareness and choice. It gives you the safe inner arena to see what you are doing -- such as getting angry or creating clutter -- and to decide what you really want to do differently. Compassion for yourself is essential to moving out of a stuck place. What you judge won't budge!
For more by Margaret Paul, Ph.D., click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.
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