“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you.” - Wayne Dyer
Sometimes people call or come to see me about someone in their life who has a serious habit or addiction. It might be their child or spouse, another family member, a friend or co-worker. Hearing them talk, I can tell how much they want to help this person change. Yet what they’re doing just doesn’t seem to be working.
As I listen more closely, or watch them interact with the person they’re concerned about, it becomes obvious what’s happening. Underneath their desire to help, they’re actually trying to fix or control the person they care about. As a result, the other person isn’t feeling loved or accepted as they are. They’re feeling pressured to change. Their resistance is growing. Both parties are feeling frustrated. And nothing much is being accomplished.
If any of this rings true for you, I’d like to share some insights into how you can be more effective in helping someone who’s important to you.
It’s Not YOUR Choice
Let me use an example of parents and kids to show what happens. When an adult comes to me with their child, often the parent believes that they are the one ‘in charge.’ Their language and attitude sound something like this: “I know what’s best. This is what my child should be doing. And I’m upset or frustrated that they’re not doing it.”
Here’s what I need to gently keep telling them until they get it. “You actually have no control over your child. You think you do. You may even use your authority or power to get them to do what you want. But whatever they do is their choice. They might lie about it to get you off their back. They might conform to please you (though underneath they resent it). But the truth is, you have no power over them. They are going to do whatever they are going to do.”
When we try to control someone else – especially a person who's hurting inside and exhibiting addictive behaviors – we are actually contributing to their feeling worse about themselves. Our judgment or criticism adds to their negative thoughts and feelings, and makes them want to escape those even more. And the way they do that is through their destructive habit.
So here’s the paradox. Out of love or concern for your child (or someone else in your life), you want to stop them from doing their behavior because it’s having negative consequences. Yet your worrying, criticism and control are adding to their pain and bad feelings. So your fear about what will happen to them is actually provoking them to do their habit more! Strange, isn’t it?
Now please don’t misinterpret this. I am NOT saying that it is wrong to care about or be concerned for someone else. What I am saying is that there are better ways to help.