Why trying to control others stresses us out, and how to be at peace by doing it less
"Control is an illusion. The only person you can control is yourself, and even that requires self-discipline, not force." - Dan Millman
I’ve suffered a lot trying to bend others to do things I wished they would do.
It just brought me stress and a throbbing vein in my neck.
This is a common frustration for many.
Maybe your partner is great for the most part but just doesn’t stop picking their nose or swearing like a sailor. You wish they’d have some manners with you around.
Or maybe you have this family member who continues to eat terrible, processed food. You want them to eat better, but you can’t tell them because then you’d be seen as the antagonist, so you have to bottle it in.
Or maybe that politician continues to ruin the country with their terrible decisions. You wish they’d change or get replaced.
It could be that your average Joe in the street gets on your nerves.
I know what that’s like too.
But I also know this: wishing other people were different and trying to control their behaviour will age you quicker than most things. It’s stressful because these things are simply out of your grasp. You can’t change another human unless they are receptive and willing to learn.
Yes, write books, teach, encourage. These are all superb things to be spending your time with. Many people need help and love to learn.
But wishing any one specific person would change is time spent unnecessarily.
Most people do not want your advice if it’s targeted directly at them, especially if your suggestions come wrapped with a gift card that reads: ‘You’re doing it wrong.’
People don’t like to be told what to do if they didn’t ask for such support. This increases when you know them more intimately. When you try, they often resist harder.
So, spending time trying to control other people is like pulling teeth. You will only stress yourself out and distance those people from you.
If they are receptive to being helped, great - help them.
Some might even be willing to learn but won’t take the necessary actions to improve their lives.
If you can distance yourself from people who are a continual source of stress or who drain your energy, this can help.
You can also view the strain in your relationship with this person as an opportunity for growth and healing. You do this by accepting them for their flaws, just as you accept yours for your own.
Ask yourself, ‘How can I learn from this person?’ instead of always being frustrated by them.
Can you find things for which to be grateful that this person brings?
I know this might seem crazy at first.
Find a way to be compassionate for others, even if it feels cringe to start.
You will find renewed love, compassion, and respect for yourself when you do.
Instead of berating others, let go and return to doing your own thing, do the best you can, and inspire from the periphery. Do great work. Tend to your own good health.
Show, don’t tell.
Show others what’s possible without telling them what to do.
Some may see what you’re doing, be inspired, and come around.
They may emulate you in secret.
They may even ask for help. In which case you can make your suggestions.
But you will begin to disrespect yourself, often without even realising it, when you try to exert your control over other people. This happens because, deep down, you know it wastes your precious time.
Self-respecters don’t allow their time to be wasted even if they wish they could help.
They know that to truly contribute, they must lead by example. That’s the best you can do.
The Stoics often spoke about the vital life philosophy of focusing only on things within your control. And letting go of the things that are not within your control.
This is a philosophy for a stress-free, happy life.
If you want respect and you want to nourish your own self-respect, stop even thinking that a minute is well spent worrying and trying to control what is out of your grasp.
You can’t control the weather. So it’s not worth complaining about it. But you can take action to prepare for an incoming storm.
The same applies to other people.
You can’t change others, but you can change yourself.
It applies also to life in general.
I know it can be painful to watch those you care for hurting themselves.
And I know how you’re trying to help. But if they reject that help or don’t act on it, your best move is to take a breath, accept the situation and move on with your life.
The world needs a relaxed, energised and creative you.
This is impossible if you’re busy trying to control other people and biting your lip in fury because it isn’t working.
This incapacitates you.
Return to doing your best work.
This will renew your self-respect and attract the admiration of those who matter most.
* * *
Assess where there is stress or frustration around wanting other people to change.
Journaling is a great way to capture these concerns.
List out all the things you like about the person in question. You will find a handful, at least. This is you flexing your compassion muscle, and it’s one few of us use.
Meditate on how simple life would be if you allowed yourself to let go.
This needn’t necessarily mean cutting off contact. But it may mean ending the advice-giving, nagging and complaining.
You may find those people opening up to you more when you leave them be.
Note that this is a chapter from my upcoming book, ‘The Art of Self Respect.’ Stay posted for its release and special reader bonuses here.
Thanks for reading.
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