Control? How to give advice in relationships that nurture not negate self esteem.

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Each of us has the whole world in our hands.  Everything we touch, every person we encounter with the tone of our words, a look, a stance: Each of these effects the people around us.

Have you ever walked in somewhere to get coffee and the people were not smiling.  How did you react? Were they grumpy and curt? Were you the same in return or did you smile at them and say Good morning? It is amazing how a smile can bring about a smile in others.  If you’ve never tried it, play with it and see.

What about advice? Have you ever offered up advice to someone and the conversation turned from happy to angry and you had no idea what happened or how it went south? Well, it could be they were not looking for or interested in your advice.  Could be your advice made them feel criticized or disempowered.  Most certainly not your intention but there it is just the same.

In my past, I  struggled with this in MANY of my personal relationships which is ironic when I think about my career each day helping people.  With my clients I ask questions and ask permission.  Yet personally, I behaved differently.  Take my hubby for example.  He is amazing.  He loves me and accepts me for who I am.  And yet, I have moments (less frequent today) where I clearly see things he is saying or doing that could be, in my opinion, better (better for him, or me or us and better consequences of his words or actions, happier results, etc.).  Wow.  Seeing that in black & white is even more judgy than I thought.  If I saw him caught up in a repeating pattern especially with our son or me,   I told myself out of my love for him to share what I saw and what I thought he should say or do. Sometimes he received my “suggestions” with openness, appreciation and acceptance and other times he tuned out or became angry.  Why?

We often think our words of concern, advice, support are helpful and “shove them” onto our loved ones or anyone else before giving them a chance to ask for help, or acknowledge they even want to hear our words or are in the head space to process what we are expressing.  Maybe they want to vent or want nurturing from us and maybe they just want to head to their cave and sort things out on their own.  Our intention comes from love and also from fear.  Why fear? Our need to have someone do something different in their lives, our need to have someone make different choices or think differently stems from our own need to control.  The need or desire for control comes from our own fear and keeping us safe (by keeping them safe based on our opinion and sometimes how it may affect us).  None of this is malicious or intended to hurt or malign and yet sometimes we do more damage than good to our relationship and chip away at our loved one’s self esteem.  This could be anything from parenting suggestions to how to handle putting away the groceries or how to be in our relationship so that we both get our needs met.

Going back to situations with my hubby.  The difference in his responsiveness had to do with me.  If I asked him could I share my opinion on a situation though he may not like what I have to say and he agreed,   he was usually very receptive.  If I shoved my opinion on him without asking, well, you do the math.  It did not go over well.

I cannot say I have been any different previously in the same situation with him, friends, other relatives, business, etc. In my head I’d be thinking any number of these: Are you kidding me? Do you think I’m an idiot? Who asked you? Why are you criticizing me? Momentarily forgetting this person loves me and is trying to help me.  It might feel more like this person is trying to run me.  Whoa.  Wait a minute Charlie.  That doesn’t feel okay for any of us.

It is a delicate line between authenticity and being honest with our loved ones or strangers when asked or asking permission to share AND pushing our opinions, feelings, and judgments on them disguised as recommendations or advice they didn’t ask for.

What I’ve learned is the more I overstep and shoved my opinion on someone, the more they either retreated from me or in the case of a partnership, they feel I’m doing it all, running the show and they slowly do very little to nothing and wait for me to direct and possibly become resentful.  It didn’t matter how nurturing my tone was unless the other person agreed to listen.  Basically, I was invalidating them and really not respecting their feelings in my quest to control and feel safe.  It took me a LONG time to see this as control.

Using my marriage as an example, I thought if only Marc would… then that aspect of our life, relationship, fill in the blank would be even better.  So of course I SHOULD say something.  What I learned is we each need to learn things for ourselves, we each take in information on our own timetable  and other people have their own way of doing things that works even if it isn’t OUR WAY.  My desire was a partner not a follower and so I learned (and it was not easy for me) to lean back, allow and even be a bit uncomfortable with Marc doing it his way.  He is a beautiful and intelligent man.  Plus, in not “running the show” I learned from him new ways or perspectives.

And this lesson I’ve learned to apply to all my personal relationships.  Some much easier than others.  It is hard when you care and you want to protect people you love and also if you believe their choices greatly affect you, you must “help them” (ie. control them) to keep yourself safe.

In the end, letting go of the control is FREEING, LIGHTER, HAPPIER for everyone involved.  No it is not easy when you are me, used to taking charge and running the show.  But how I love it when Marc steps forward and I don’t have to worry about it or we handle it together.  He is happier. We are happier. Give it a whirl.

Try asking permission, asking questions and really listening to the answers and then ask more questions.  Allow people to do it their way (as long as it is legal and truly safe).  If you get stuck and find your lips moving, move your hand or fingers to your lips to keep yourself from speaking or overtaking.  God gave us two ears and one mouth so we would spend twice the amount of time listening as we do speaking.  See if you can create new patterns or “dances” together in your relationships and release those bricks of control off your back.

Happy Allowing

Lovingly Lotus