Unless you have a couple of crossed wires or a genetic glitch in your brain cells, most of the emotional turmoil you experience is directly traceable to the fact that you've learned to try to control those around you through these seven deadly habits, says psychiatrist William Glasser, MD, president of the William Glasser Institute in Chatsworth, CA, and author of Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom (HarperCollins, 1999).
And what are the seven deadlies? They are punishing, complaining, blaming, threatening, nagging, criticizing, and bribing.
Unfortunately, a lot of us use the seven deadlies, as Dr. Glasser calls them, without even realizing it.
* Your younger sister spends an hour making the salad for dinner, and you criticize her choice of ingredients as unhealthy. You say that you just want her to live long and prosper, but is that really your objective? Or are you trying to control her?
* Your husband rarely mops up the bathroom sink after he shaves. So just about every morning you complain, "This sink is a mess!" and blame, "I'm never on time for work, because I have to clean it up!" Oh really? Or are you trying to force him to clean up the sink?
* Your offspring rarely straighten their rooms. So you nag ("Did you make your bed?") and nag ("Did you pick up your clothes?") and nag ("Did you put the towels in the hamper?").
The way you tell everybody what to do and how it should be done all the time, it's a miracle that you have any relationships at all. And where on earth did you pick up these deadly habits anyway?
Unfortunately, explains Dr. Glasser, "We learn these habits from teachers, parents, grandparents, and others as a child." Your mom finds newspapers and books all over the living room floor, blames you for the mess, complains that you're turning the house into a pigpen, and tells you to clean it up. She may punish you ("No television tonight, my girl") or bribe or nag you until the job gets done.
After years of hearing this manipulative patter, you eventually begin to use it yourself, says Dr. Glasser. And it may seem to work, at least in the short term. Your daughter may indeed pick up the living room. But after being blamed, punished, bribed, and nagged, she's not going to be the type of girl who will give her mother an affectionate hug as she waltzes in the door. The result? A neat living room and a messy relationship that makes both of them miserable.
How to Make People Nuts
Aside from the moral issue about whether or not trying to control someone else's behavior is right or wrong, the practical problem with trying to control others is that whenever you blame, bribe, complain, criticize, punish, or threaten anyone, they'll resist, says Dr. Glasser. They'll argue. They'll fight. In fact, they'll cajole, ignore, cheat, sneak around behind your back, or do any one of a zillion things they can think of to get you to back off.
It's simply human nature. You're genetically wired to resist being coerced into doing something you don't want to do, Dr. Glasser points out. It may be more pronounced in one person than another, but unless you recognize what you're doing and learn how to get what you need in a relationship without trying to control other people, every relationship you have will disintegrate into a power struggle that will make everyone just plain miserable.
Turning It All Around
Using the seven deadlies was in part responsible for the failure of 39-year-old Sam Brown's (not his real name) first marriage.
"It was a rough time," Sam recalls. "It wasn't until the relationship was over and both I and my partner were heartbroken that I came to realize that I might well have been able to make other and better choices."
With this awareness, Sam understood that he needed to put some effort into changing his way of "doing business." So he started to work with Barnes Boffey, a therapist trained in Dr. Glasser's approach.
"With my therapist's help, I began to understand that I had to do three things," Sam says. "One, recognize that my current behavior wasn't working. Two, have a vision of what I wanted to be like. And three, begin practicing behaviors of how I wanted to be.
"It was already clear that my current behavior wasn't working," he admits. "So I took a look at who I was, then chose to be the best part of who I really am," Sam says. "And that best part is someone who is loving and supportive. I spent a lot of time in my previous relationship trying to change my partner," he adds with a wry grin. "Now, I'm changing me."