Archive for the ‘control’ Tag

Please, Please, Meet My Needs!   3 comments


It seems to me that if we do not find in God the ultimate answer to our needs, we become dangerously dependent on others.  If I think my wife is the sole channel of God’s grace for any substantial need and she fails me, then my only recourse is to force her compliance.  I might cajole, argue, bargain, threaten… there are a hundred ways to get her to “fall in line,” but this manipulation undermines her sincere love.

Genuine love must grow in an atmosphere of freedom, not control.  That is frightening because freedom allows my friend to choose to be unloving and uncaring, refusing to help with my needs.  If I make no demands, but offer unconditional love, he may take advantage of me, take all I have to offer and give little in return.  And if my needs go unmet, I cannot survive. So when I sense a disparity between how much I give and how much I get, I react to protect myself.  If I protect myself by giving less, I feel bad for my selfishness, for my lack of generosity, and I feel a distance growing in my heart towards him.  So instead I subtly (or plainly) push him to give more.

This approach did not go over well with Kimberly.  She felt the pressure of my expectations and recognized the conditionality of my love.  When she chose not to do as I wished, I felt unloved and became resentful, critical, and demanding.  This in turn made her feel unloved.  I tried to pressure her to comply, to prove her care by meeting my expectations.  She insisted on a more honest path to resolving our conflict, one that made room for both of our needs and for genuine rather than forced expressions of love.

I thought love was proved by what it gave—if folks didn’t give, they didn’t care—and this was intolerable to me because it inflated my fears of unworthiness.  I gave to others with the expectation that they would reciprocate and so prove my lovability.  My mind tightly bound together loving motivation and helping behavior, and I desperately needed Kimberly to prove my worth by setting aside her feelings to meet my needs.  Through long conversations and consistent responses, Berly expressed her care for my needs without yielding to my pressure to change her behavior (and so abandon her own needs in favor of mine).  It took years for me to believe she loved me in spite of not coming to my rescue.  I slowly realized that someone can love without helping and help without loving, that sometimes the truest and hardest love is one that does not give when giving would beguile the loved one into a false security.

I wanted to stop feeling my insecurity and Kimberly wanted me to embrace it, understand it, work through it.  If she helped me to avoid those feelings, it would undermine our relationship.  For her part, she was afraid of my resentment, and wanted to act in a way that would hold it at bay, but she knew living out of that fear would keep her from sharing herself honestly and vulnerably with me.  Things might go smoothly between us, but we would be sacrificing substance for façade.  Slowly we both stepped into our fears and broke through to a deeper understanding of ourselves and one another, a deeper trust, and a deeper freedom to accept who we are.  We encourage and help each other to find a way to meet our needs, but do not take the responsibility for this on ourselves.  Of course, sometimes our needs conflict, but that is another story altogether.


Posted September 7, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Fixing Emotions   4 comments

Like most men, I want a fix.  When I am agitated or discouraged, I want help to escape, and I expect this to come not from empathy but from fixing the problem that is causing those feelings.  If I am afraid of losing money, help me protect my money, and my fear disappears.  If someone is irritating me, get them to stop, and my irritation will fall away.  I didn’t wait to ask myself with compassion, “Why am I afraid, what is going on in my heart?”  That was obvious… the situation was causing my bad feelings.

When my wife shared her feelings with me, I offered solutions instead of empathy, just like I wanted for myself.  But in trying to offer solutions, I was making her feel worse.  When I said, “There is no reason to be afraid because_______” I was trying to relieve her fear, but she heard me say that her feelings were illegitimate. It took me forever to change my approach, and I still struggle with it.  It seems to me that if I empathize with her feelings, I am giving her more reasons to feel sad or fearful or bad, and I want to rescue her from those feelings.  But as I tried to understand her perspective more, I gradually realized that I too needed empathy for my feelings rather than solutions to “fix” them.  I needed it as much as she did, because empathy invites me to be compassionate to myself, and with this active self-support, I discover the wound that underlies my feelings.  But I didn’t want discovery, I wanted relief.


I am a very good fixer, and when I fix situations so that my unhappy feelings are lifted, I feel better, but I learn nothing about myself through those negative emotions.  As a result they came back just as strongly when the situation returns.  Instead of emotional renovation, I was constantly working on repairs… the same fixes over and over.

Here was the sticking point for me in receiving Kimberly’s compassion.  I could not imagine genuine care that did not result in her help or accommodation.  If she truly empathized with my situation, she would surely act–help with the dishes, refill the gas tank, spend more time with me.  If she didn’t give tangible assistance as able, she was simply uncaring no matter what her words said.  If she did not help meet my needs, it proved she didn’t really care.  And her lack of care stoked my fear that I was not worthy of care.  My only option was to pressure her into acting to resolve my feelings and renew my sense of worth, and I usually did this by shaming her for not doing more.  Kimberly reacted to this, as you might expect.

Over a great deal of time sharing and thinking I slowly realized that what I really wanted and needed was her love and genuine concern, and I was closing her down to that by blaming her and demanding that she change.  When folks pushed in front of me or cut me off in traffic or ignored me, I thought I needed them to change, but my real underlying need was simply to have someone care about my feelings.  That made all the difference.  If my wife bangs the cupboards because she slips or thinks I’m downstairs or finds the door sticking, I feel no agitation.  Knowing the whole context makes me realize that her behavior does not result from a lack of consideration for me.  I may be irritated at the situation, but not at the person.

But what if the person knowingly kept doing those things that troubled me?  I simply refused to believe they cared if they didn’t change.  My need + your love = your accommodation (and vice versa).  How could you possibly say you care if you make no effort to “improve”?  I felt bad and it was their fault, they were responsible for my feelings.  But if others control my feelings, I’m in trouble because I am then their emotional slave (or we are mutual slaves, which is the essence of co-dependence).  Kimberly finally broke through this block in my thinking, but the process was very painful for both of us.

Posted August 11, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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How Do I Love You; Let Me Count the… Demands   2 comments

These reflections are just my thoughts, things that have helped me.  Please forgive me if I sound dogmatic.  I don’t mean to be.  If these thoughts don’t help you, then by all means dismiss them; or if you disagree, argue with me in a comment (though remember my tale is not done).

It seems we all try to control others in various ways, and we are usually blind to what we are doing.  We think, and even say, that we only want the best for them, not realizing that if they are pressured or forced to make better choices, those new behaviors will not nourish their heart, but shrivel it, because they are not freely choosing out of a loving relationship with God and others.

Sometimes, especially with children, control is necessary for their own safety and health, so that they can live long enough without significant damage to grow into understanding.  But if this is the default teaching method, the greatest life lessons the child will learn are that her feelings don’t matter, that she must live from obligation (another word for bondage or lack of freedom), that what she does is more important than who she is.

Let me give a simple and common illustration from my own upbringing.  My mom and dad naturally wanted to keep in close touch with their children when they “left the nest.”  I was the youngest and last to leave, so their feelings were especially acute towards me.  I was on my own for the first time and enjoying my freedom, and I didn’t keep in touch as much as they would like with letters and phone calls.  Not only did they miss me, but I expect it made each wonder subconsciously, “Does he really love me?”

I Need You to Change!

Under the force of these emotions, they believed I was remiss in connecting with them.  I was to blame for their bad feelings, feelings which I could so easily allay. It would cost me very little (so they thought) to keep in touch, and they pressured me in this direction.  When I phoned them, their first statement was usually, “Well, we haven’t heard from you in a long time,” by which they intended to push me to show my love by calling more often.  To the extent I bowed to this expectation, I was reacting from a “should” and not from compassion.  In fact, the more pressure I felt, the less I was able to respond from genuine love. To my parents it felt like love when I deferred to their wishes and called more often, but somewhere deep inside they must have known that “loving” acts resulting from pressure do not mainly spring from love.

If they had shared their genuine feelings without making me responsible to fix them, it would have drawn out a natural love… I would have wanted to phone them instead of “having” to phone them.  If they said, “We really miss you and miss hearing from you,” and genuinely did not hold me responsible for their feelings, but were only sharing their feelings, it would have made a world of difference.  Of course, then they could not trust that the outcome would be to their liking since they granted full and genuine freedom.

Sharing your feelings with me without the assumption that I should fix them is a huge invitation into your heart and opens me up to welcome you and share my heart.  But telling me about your feelings in order to get me to conform will make me resistant and closed.  I will hear the message that I am bad unless I change and I will react to protect myself.  If I do yield because of the pressure, because I believe I am responsible for your feelings, it will damage us both, and hurt the relationship.  It may feel good, but it will encourage a legalistic view that love is conditional, dependent on my behavior.

I learned from an attractive friend of mine that insecurity does not only come to the daughter who is shamed for her looks, but also to the daughter who is praised for her looks in a way that makes her think her worth depends on it—she may seem proud, but is really filled with fear.  The issue is not whether someone is valued, but why they are valued, and if they are primarily valued for conforming to our expectations (being a “good” child), they will always fear “misbehaving” lest they lose their parent’s love which appears to them very conditional and therefore precarious. The same is true in friendships and marriages.

If I am loving towards my wife when she does as I wish, and withhold love (act cool, snipe, act the martyr) when she does not, she will respond out of fear of losing my love.  As long as she conforms, she will feel good about our relationship, but it instills a deeper insecurity.  That isn’t to say I should never get frustrated or irritated or discouraged.  That isn’t to say I should never express those feelings to her.  Feeling all my feelings and expressing my feelings are key to good relationships.

But when I share my feelings as a means of getting her to do what I want or need, she feels unsafe with me, and she closes up her heart to protect herself.  From my family’s perspective, why would I share an aggravation or disappointment unless it was to get her to change?  If I didn’t need her to change, I would say nothing and just deal with it in my own heart and mind, I would silently accommodate.  It is when I felt I needed her to change that I would share my displeasure, in order to get her to change and so free me from my unhappy feelings.  It was her turn to accommodate.  Let us just say it was a very bumpy ride for several years.

Posted August 9, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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My False Assumption #1: It’s Your Fault!   4 comments

My wife speaks Chinese to me… at least that’s how it seems when I know the vocabulary she uses but cannot make sense of the message.  I love her and so I repeatedly, intently try to follow what she is saying.  When someone’s presuppositions are entirely different from mine, they make statements and assert conclusions that are meaningless to me, like: “A subjective cucumber chairs England with pneumonia.”   Where do you even begin to ask the questions?  And if it is completely coherent to Kimberly, she doesn’t know what needs explaining.

Me: “Do you mean a green cucumber that you eat?”

Kimberly: “Of course, what other kind is there?  Now do you understand?”

It has often taken me months and even years through scores or even hundreds of conversations to slowly grasp her meaning about relational things far more complex than cucumbers.  Over my head is not a light bulb popping on, but a fluorescent “tube light,” shadowed on both ends from overuse: blink… dark… blink blink-blink… dark… dark.  Presuppositions are stubborn things and lie hidden behind blind spots.

The issue I raised at the end of Response #4 actually has several entangled, powerful, and unnoticed assumptions.  I mentioned the first—that I felt responsible for others’ feelings.  If someone does not like what I am doing, then I should stop doing it unless I have an overriding reason to continue.  I am responsible for their feelings.  Your irritation is because of my behavior—direct cause and effect—and I am responsible to change my behavior so you can stop being irritated.  Your irritation is very reasonable; anyone would be irritated over this; only a saint would not be affected.  Your irritation is controlled by my behavior.

This is a society-wide assumption, so that if anyone says, “Stop doing that!  You are irritating me!” the only proper response is to say, “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was bothering you,” and to stop.  We have no sense of distinction between the statements “I am irritated,” and “you are irritating me” or “you are making me irritated.”  When we say the first, we really mean the last two; we are not taking responsibility for our own feelings of irritation, but are putting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the “misbehaving” person.  Of course, we distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable irritation, usually based on our own perception of social norms, but that must wait for another discussion.

I, for one, completely operated by this principle—my behavior caused your irritation.  It was so obvious and clear and universal a concept, and I never heard it refuted.  When Kimberly said, “I am not causing your irritation,” it made no sense to me at all.  “What do you mean you are not causing my irritation?!  When you bang the kitchen cupboards, it irritates me.  My irritation comes from the banging cupboards… where else would it come from?”  Can you understand my confusion?

Posted August 3, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Does “Selfless” Mean Having No Self?   7 comments

After writing about my “Aha” moment, I found it was not such a new discovery after all, because I journaled about it months ago.  It was something I had started to learn and then forgot.  In the past I would have judged myself for this “neglect of the truth,” but I’ve discovered that this is how I learn… with fits and starts, do-overs and false leads.  Here is my entry, a more insightful “Aha” about forced compliance (slightly edited to make sense to others):

I realize why I have been feeling increasingly depressed, and it is a long term, pervasive problem.  Although it involves performance, it is not tied to “should” or “well done” (big issues for me).  It is rather anchored by a sheer “must,” tasks about which I feel I have no choice.  Although obligation may also be part of the driving force, it is not uppermost—failure to do what should be done results in guilt and shame, but failure to do what must be done results in anxiety.  It is a direct appeal to the will rather than the conscience.

In childhood when my parents told me to do something “Now!” in sharp anger, I reacted out of sheer compulsion.  I responded quickly in fear—well, not in conscious fear, since the idea of disobedience was too remote to have the consequences of that even occur to me.  It was a stronger and quicker motivator to compliance than an appeal to obligation or shame.  It completely bypassed my ability to think regarding the matter and was reflexive, like jerking the steering wheel to avoid a collision.  There is no consciousness of fear in such a situation—it is first react, and then feel—and if the danger and escape are both over in a flash, there may not even be an aftershock of fear, perhaps not even of relief.

Whenever authority figures take charge with an obvious and absolute expectation of compliance, I feel I have no choice.  The thing must be done without a single additional consideration.  Only in the case where the demand was to break a clear moral standard did I stop to consider and refuse, but this was simply because there was a higher authority still, namely God, the one of whom I was most afraid.  “Because I said so” was a common enough reason offered by mom to insist on obedience regardless of how we felt, what we wanted, or what opposing reasons we offered.

When an absolute is imposed on the will, the damage to self worth does not come through a sense of shame, but through a sense that someone else’s will and wish has priority over mine, that I am more or less a cog in the wheel of the accomplishment of their objectives.  It is the worth-denying position of a slave.  It is very depersonalizing to know that one’s feelings do not matter, and that is the real crux of the situation.  If something really must be done and I must do it out of personal necessity (in other words, I don’t want to suffer the consequences of it not being done) and I am acting out of that motivation, it does not feel as though my feelings are being scorned.

But naturally the same action can spring from different motivations, so I can perform the act out of a sense of powerlessness and disrespect leveraged against me, or out of my sense of what is best for my own needs.  Even if the pressure is there from an authority figure, or from someone whose opinion or valuation of me I feel a need, I can still learn to respond out of a different motivation, a motivation that validates my own feelings and chooses based on what is best for myself.  Of course, keeping that person’s good will or affection may seem paramount to me, but then the two different motivations appear to coalesce, and I am not free.  In such a situation I need to ponder the next lower level in my psyche—the co-dependence I am feeling—and work through that issue until I am free enough to respond without undermining my self worth.

The key for me is to bring these dynamics to consciousness and then try to support and affirm my desires and fears.  I think there are many ways I can do this.  I can adjust the time frame, the means to the goal, the goal itself, and in other ways try to accommodate my distresses and desires, but I especially need to work on understanding and redirecting the motivation out of which I choose and act.  I must always stop to understand what I am feeling and why, to validate and affirm those feelings, to allow myself the human right of choice, and to choose and act from this affirmation of myself.  It does not mean I will refuse to act in the best interest of others.  My soul needs its true feelings affirmed, not necessarily fulfilled in that moment.  I believe affirming my own longings is a cornerstone of self-care, not selfishness.

Posted July 9, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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