One of the most pivotal steps in coaching is helping clients realize what they can and can not change or control. Feelings of stress, overwhelm, anger, frustration, and even hopelessness come when we fixate on what is NOT ours to fix, and ignore what is. It's the very definition of disempowering.
I believe our brains do this on purpose. It's a game designed to protect us. Our brain's say, "If only I can get her to obsess about other people, other things, she will avoid looking at her life and taking meaningful action - because meaningful action (aka change) is 'scary and dangerous.'" Our primal brains want us to play it safe even if safe means we are miserable. They simply don't care about fulfillment as much as they doing staying alive. As conscious humans - our job is to notice and override these instincts.
There are many ways our brains get us to focus on what we can't control. This week while listening to an audio book I notice how we like to indulge in the idea of "fixing" others. How great would it be (ulterior motive: how important would I feel and how much better would my life be) if I could just change this person for the better? Can you feel the rainbows, sunshine, unicorns and confetti that manifest out of nowhere with this idea? That's the tricky work of instinct/the primal brain...
Near Enemies vs. Far Enemies
I'm going to pivot for a moment and talk about near enemies and far enemies to better illustrate why helping others is not always a good thing. This is where discernment and knowing your intentions come in.
A far enemy is something that is clearly not right. If your goal is to be helpful, a far enemy is to be hurtful, mean, abusive, belittling, etc. It's easy to see the difference. But a near enemy is still an enemy except it looks like something good. If you want to be helpful, a near enemy would be manipulation. Each person has the ability decide who they are and who they want to become in their life. The path someone chooses for their life isn't up to us. We can provide advice if asked. We can offer suggestions and hear either a yes or no. But when we think we are being good because we "know what's best for someone" or "know what they need" we get into dangerous territory.
Respecting Everyone's Right to Own Their Choice
I'm in the middle of training for a marathon and I've been listening to Robin Carr's Virgin River series. The setting is great. It's happy and easy to listen to probably because it's perfectly predictable. By this I mean you can expect there is a man, a woman, some challenging past for one or both of them, the guy is probably an ex-Marine with manly skills, and somehow they end up magically transformed for the better, in love and there's plenty of sex. When I'm running for several hours, these kinds of easy to absorb stories have been great.
In the current book, "A Virgin River Christmas," I started to notice myself cringing for the first time, and here's why. The lead protagonist is a woman and she is desperate to meet the Sargent of her late husband. The Sargent has gone into hiding and she has gone looking for him. So far, so good. Except he's hiding from the past and she believes... all kinds of idealized stories she isn't being truthful about. Like she can find him, heal him, fix him, and probably manifest some romantic relationship fantasy that she isn't quite yet willing to admit she has. Of course it's all going to work out fine. In the next 5 hours and 24 minutes I'm sure they will have some kind of awakening, undergo a deep healing and find themselves in a committed life long partnership. While it's fiction, and a romance novel, there's still a rub for me.
My problem with these kind of storylines is that they feed us the notion that good things happen when we set out to fix others, that we can and should manipulate situations without the other person's conscious consent because we know what's best for them, and it will just work out beautifully in the end. And when we finally fix someone, we get to be... THE HERO. In other words, we are doing it for ourselves - for our own gain while saying it is altruistically for someone else.
Yuck. Part of my personal sandbox, having seen the destruction these fairytale ideas cause (yes adults believe in fairytales more often than any of us realize), is to throw away all disempowering, romanticized notions and fully honor everyone's right to their own choice.
When we think we know better for other people, we mettle and we avoid focusing on the areas in our life we can control. It's a personal-responsibility avoidance tactic. In other words, it's a game our brain plays and we fall for it. Then we start to foster the notion that we need someone to save us just like we are saving them - so we look for approval, permission, validation from others - rather than taking responsibility for what is ours to own, decide and control.
Don't get me wrong - I believe healthy relationships can heal us and that it's beneficial if they provide the validation and approval that might have gone missing from our pasts - as long as it is done consciously and willingly by both parties. If you've listened to Stan Takin, he talks about secure functioning relationships can be healing. But what I find issue in is unilateral fantasies, idealizing or romanticizing a situation, using hope as a strategy, manipulating a situation where we get to play the hero, or lying to ourselves about what we are doing.
So in short, I want to see stories that demonstrate the bravery of deep self-honesty and transparency when it comes to motives, not the weakness of wishful thinking. And I want to see stories that respect each person's choice - what is up to an individual to own and control. Sure we can ask for help or offer help as long as it's given freely for the other person to do whatever they want with it. And there is no expectation that they change to meet your dream-world reality.
I will admit that when we are forced to deal with unkind or difficult people, wanting them to change and using manipulation (extra niceness, walking on eggshells, pleasing, placating, arguments, insults, shame, complaining) to get them to be nicer is tempting. I've been here and I've tried those tactics. It doesn't work because again, (our brains can be stubborn here) you don't get to decide or control how they behave. If they want to be mean and abusive that's their choice. You can be transparent about how you want them to behave, and you can set boundaries (something you control) of what you will and will not tolerate along with consequences for bad behavior. From there, you can put the rest of that "fixing" energy into being honest with yourself about what you really want, then go after it.