Letting go is kind of like floating on a river. Life is the river, it has direction, current, and flow. Sometimes its bumpy and sometimes it is smooth. Imagine you are a leaf and the river is pulling you along with it. You can either hold on to every rock or branch that you pass trying to hang on and control how fast you float down the river or you can let go and let it take you where it will anyway.
As a continuation of the previous blog, “Learn how to control the one person you can, you”, I have identified 3 strategies to shift your focus or control from others onto you; ways to re-invest in yourself. When focus is shifted, it becomes more natural to let go. It might feel scary at first but before you know it you will feel the difference in your life because it will feel good not to have to take responsibility over others. It will be less stressful, and improve your self-value.
Problem 1: Assuming others know how they effect you. This could mean taking responsibility for someone’s social life, doing the dishes before the other person messes them up, not letting your partner go out because they might get in trouble or do something you don’t want them to do. Sometimes people who need to control or take responsibility over everything or everyone might use other methods to communicate their thoughts or feelings like being passive aggressive. Using passive aggression as an effort to manipulate people or situations will not communicate a clear message like putting their thoughts and feelings into words. For example, Loved ones may not know that you feel rejected if they don’t return your call right away. The controlling way to deal with this is to ignore their calls and hope they realize how it feels to be ignored and come crawling back. Most likely, that won’t happen, and your efforts won’t pay off. The other way of handling it is saying something like “When you don’t call me back right away it upsets me. I feel as though I am not important to you, like I am being rejected.” That gives the other person an opportunity to understand your point of view and either make a greater effort to call back more quickly or clear up the situation by responding with something like “I am sorry it upsets you, it is not my intention. Sometimes I get really busy at work and I don’t have an opportunity to call you back right away. Please know when I do call back it is my earliest opportunity.” Actions may not have changed but the way we think about the situation might have.
Solution 1: Learn how to effectively communicate your thoughts and feelings - Therapy is a great way to learn how to communicate effectively! I realize that this might be a self-serving statement but I wouldn’t put it out there if I didn’t feel it is true. What better way practice how to express yourself than in a safe and supportive environment? Also, you could potentially gain insight regarding your communication and why it might or might not be effectively communicating your thoughts and feelings. Other great ways to work on your expression include: talking to supportive and safe friends and getting their feedback, or even journal what is happening and reading it back to yourself the next day to see how it sounds. Reading some great books on effective communication might also help, something like “Messages: the Communication Skills Book”.
The key is to try to determine if the message being received by the other person is the one you think you are delivering. For example, many times when people are feeling hurt or rejected, they lash out at others, in an attempt to make them feel hurt and rejected just like they do. This is not the most effective way to let someone know how you are feeling. There are many known communication barriers like defensive talking or being reactive. The great thing is that when you discover you are doing this you can stop, communicate differently, then be different in relationships!
Problem 2: Thinking that you can turn your loved one into the person you want them to be. This one can be a killer and a major time waster. Many people get stuck in the pattern of staying with their partners too long, trying to slowly turn them into the person they want them to be or know they could be if they just tried. They might have the potential, they might be amazing people, and you might care for them very deeply. However, even if all three of those things are true it doesn’t mean that they are right for you or capable of the type of relationship you are looking for with them, friendship or romantic. Trying for an extended period of time to teach them how the dishwasher should be filled up, or that you must see them 3 times per week to be friends, consider what they are capable of providing and if it matches with what you are hoping to get out of the relationship. After you do that, determine if you are ok with taking what they are offering or if you need to look elsewhere. For example, if a person can only be in your life one time per month, maybe that is a good friend to catch up with and go out for coffee, they might not be the best candidate for a best friend. No matter how mad you get at them and try to convince them you are being neglected, the fact remains that they are only available for a certain amount of time with their other obligations. You have the option to take it or leave it.
Solution 2: Get to know your needs and learn how to get them met - How can we figure out if our needs are being met if we don’t even know what they are? More importantly, how will others know how to treat us if we don’t know what we want? Everyone’s might be different but here are a few to explore: The need to feel safe, the need to be able to express yourself, the need to feel secure, the need to be able to explore interests, the need for support, the need for regular communication, the need for face to face time, the need to feel like a priority, the need to share interests, the need to feel loved. Once you know what you need in relationships, ask for it. Some people won’t give it to you, others might not even be capable of giving it to you. If you ask for it and they don’t deliver, you have the choice to take it or leave it. But be prepared, if you take what they are giving and you don’t like it, resentment can build to poison the relationship. A reed can only bend in the wind so many times before it will break. Nurture the friendships that make you feel safe, and re-evaluate the ones that don’t. You are in control of you, so it is your choice who you interact with and how much of your time, energy, and trust they get from you.
Problem 3: You life depends on your partner. What this means is that if your partner wants to go out with their friends, then you are sitting home alone because you have no friends independent from your partner. Sometimes caring for someone so much we tend to pull away from our friends. We get in an exciting new relationship and want to spend all of our time with that person. However if we don’t get out of that mindset, before we know it we are isolated from the rest of our support system and have little alternatives when we are on our own. We might even forget what hobbies or interests we had before the relationship because all of our free time is spent doing couple activities. Who said that if our partner isn’t interested in something neither should we? Doing everything together can cause someone to feel smothered. Everyone needs space once in a while and to nurture our individual interests. Loosing our individual identity means that we might get angry when the other person needs space, resent them for leaving us alone to go out with friends, or feel rejected that there is no one there calling us anymore to hang out. When we are in these situations it can feel desperate and out of that desperation we might try to control our partner, get them to stay home or choose something to do that will include us.
Solution 3: Get to know your own interests outside of your relationships and nourish them with or without others. Getting to know yourself is key to help others get to know you too. If you don’t have your own identity who are you in relationships? Some people fall into the habit of adopting the interests of their partners and slowly the spark of their unique identity is dulled in the shadow of their loved one. Don’t be an identity zombie! This means exploring interests whether or not someone will go with you to do it. These are YOUR interests and only you are responsible for cultivating them. By sucking the identity off of your partner you can also make them feel smothered. Would you want to be fully responsible for making another person happy or would it be less pressure knowing that they can also take care of themselves?
These are just some ways that you can let go of controlling others and start focusing on yourself. By discovering your own needs, learning how to ask for them, and investing in your own identity you will better able: to identify when your needs aren’t met so you can choose more supportive people, teach others how you want to be treated and attract people better suited for you.