S2 EP62 – Relationships: Becoming Aware of When You are Controlling – The Inner Bonding Podcast

Episode Summary

Do you wonder why you often have the same conflicts over and over? The wounded self is quite sneaky when it comes to controlling behavior, so it’s important to discover what you do that perpetuates conflict. Our wounded self comes up with endless ways of trying to avoid and control, so we all have many ways of trying to control that you might not be aware of. Discovering and healing these levels of control, especially in relationships, is a major aspect of the healing journey. 



Transcript

Most of us in a relationship have an easy time seeing how the other person is being controlling, but we often have a very hard time seeing our own controlling behavior. We also generally don’t recognize that any time we are trying to control, we are creating an energy loop that perpetuates the dysfunctional relationship system.

For example, my client Sadie found herself in the same interaction over and over with her husband, Benjamin. The interaction would go something like this:

Benjamin would say in a judgmental voice: “You never seem to want to cuddle or make love anymore. What’s wrong with you?”

Sadie would say in a kind voice: “Benjamin, are you aware of how often you criticize me? Don’t you see what you are doing that is causing problems in our relationship?”

Then Benjamin would say, “I’m fine. I’m not the problem. Maybe you need some hormones or something. You’re the one with the problem.”

Sadie is acting open while being controlling and isn’t aware of this. She likes to convince herself that she is open when she responds like this to Benjamin’s criticism, and then feels awful when she continues to get criticized. She doesn’t understand why Benjamin doesn’t hear her when she believes she is being so open and kind.

What Sadie doesn’t realize is that her intent in responding to Benjamin is to get him to see what he is doing wrong, so he will change. Anytime our agenda is to get someone to change, we are trying to control that person – even when our tone of voice sounds kind and open.

The moment she responds to Benjamin’s judgmental statement, she has unwittingly hooked herself into a loop that keeps the dysfunctional interaction going. When Benjamin senses that she is hooked into the controlling system that they have created together, he continues his controlling end of the dysfunctional system. 

Most of us convince ourselves that we can control, but this is an illusion.

Sadie keeps herself hooked into negative patterns with Benjamin, his parents, her parents and their children, by indulging herself in the illusion of control. The basis of the wounded self is control – in an effort to get love and avoid pain and feel safe. Sadie’s wounded self does not want her to accept the fact that she doesn’t have control over Benjamin, and that trying to control him backfires on her, causing the control system to escalate. 

A major part of the job of the wounded self is to protect against the feeling of helplessness. Helplessness over others is a very challenging feeling and one that we could not manage at all when we were little children. We created our controlling wounded self to protect us against helplessness, as well as against the deep underlying pain of loneliness, heartbreak, and grief. As long as we can convince ourselves that if we just do things right or say the right thing, we can get the other person to understand and then change, we can temporarily avoid these very painful feelings.

But what is the price we pay for this?

The price is that we unwittingly perpetuate the very system that is causing the helplessness, loneliness and heartbreak.

If Sadie were to respond to Benjamin’s criticism by taking loving care of herself instead of try to change him, she would say something like, “I’m not attracted to you when you criticize me,” and then disengage from the conversation by calmly walking away. By opening to learning about loving herself and taking loving action for herself, she would stop the perpetuation of the controlling negative system. But, in order to walk away without anger or blame, she would need to compassionately embrace and accept her helplessness, loneliness and heartbreak over his treatment of her, bringing love and compassion to herself.

This changes the system because the continuation of a system requires both people to keep doing what they’ve been doing. When one person stops, the system stops. Benjamin will likely continue to criticize her as long as he believes it will work to control her, but eventually, when he gets that she is no longer reacting to him, he may stop. But even if he doesn’t, his criticism will become ineffectual once she is disengaged from it.

But, letting go of control is easier said than done. The job of our wounded self is to control, and this part of us doesn’t want to stop doing what it thinks keeps your safe. 

My client Sylvie asked:

“I have become present to how hurt I am and have maintained that state of being without even realizing it. It shows itself through constant sabotage, stubbornness, always wanting to make my mark and often wanting to be right. A regular know-it-all. As delightful as that might be sometimes, it is not working for me. HOW do I surrender my ego and allow myself to be guided?”

Clients ask me this all the time: “How do I let go of control?”

The wounded self would love for this to be a ‘how.’ The wounded self likes rules to follow, and would love to be able to have control over letting go. But this is an oxymoron. You can’t be trying to control something and be letting go at the same time! 

It’s not about ‘how’ – it’s about intent.

As long as your intent is to control your feelings, or control what others think and feel about you, or how others behave, or the outcome of things – you won’t be able to let go and let yourself be guided by your higher self. Your self-sabotage, stubbornness and having to be right are all forms of control.

We all have many, many layers of different kinds of controlling behaviors. We can’t just let them go if we don’t even know we are being closed and controlling. 

Mindfulness of your intent is vital to becoming aware of your controlling behavior. When you shift your intent to learning about loving yourself and others, that’s when you will start becoming aware of your intent to control and the resulting controlling behaviors. By being on the path of mindfulness about your own feelings, behavior, and intent, you can slowly heal the addiction to control. The less often your intent is to control, the more often you are open to learning and the more awareness you will have of your controlling behavior.

Letting go of control is about letting go to our inner and higher truth, and is the result of consistently practicing Inner Bonding. Your guidance is always here supporting you in your highest good, but you will not be able to let go to hearing and following your guidance as long as your intent is to control. Any moment that you are truly open to learning about loving yourself, you will be able to access the love and wisdom that is here for you.

But, like with the earlier example of Sadie, the wounded self is very tricky about acting loving when the intent really is to control.

The huge challenge in life is to love for the sake of love and not get attached to outcomes. The wounded self might believe that:

If I love enough then I will get love, or if I love enough then I will find the relationship of my dreams.

Here is the trickiness of this: These statements are generally true, but if you try to love enough in order to get an outcome, then whatever you are doing that you think is love isn’t love.

Our behavior is loving only when we are loving for the sake of loving, not for any expected outcome. If we are behaving in what we think is a loving way, but we have an outcome attached, then even though our behavior may look loving, it isn’t, because that which is love has no agenda. It is unconditional – meaning there are no expectations attached to it and no conditions under which it goes away. 

I hope you can see how tricky the wounded self can be, and how important it is to detach your behavior from outcomes.

Most of us in a relationship have an easy time seeing how the other person is being controlling, but we often have a very hard time seeing our own controlling behavior. We also generally don’t recognize that any time we are trying to control, we are creating an energy loop that perpetuates the dysfunctional relationship system.

For example, my client Sadie found herself in the same interaction over and over with her husband, Benjamin. The interaction would go something like this:

Benjamin would say in a judgmental voice: “You never seem to want to cuddle or make love anymore. What’s wrong with you?”

Sadie would say in a kind voice: “Benjamin, are you aware of how often you criticize me? Don’t you see what you are doing that is causing problems in our relationship?”

Then Benjamin would say, “I’m fine. I’m not the problem. Maybe you need some hormones or something. You’re the one with the problem.”

Sadie is acting open while being controlling and isn’t aware of this. She likes to convince herself that she is open when she responds like this to Benjamin’s criticism, and then feels awful when she continues to get criticized. She doesn’t understand why Benjamin doesn’t hear her when she believes she is being so open and kind.

What Sadie doesn’t realize is that her intent in responding to Benjamin is to get him to see what he is doing wrong, so he will change. Anytime our agenda is to get someone to change, we are trying to control that person – even when our tone of voice sounds kind and open.

The moment she responds to Benjamin’s judgmental statement, she has unwittingly hooked herself into a loop that keeps the dysfunctional interaction going. When Benjamin senses that she is hooked into the controlling system that they have created together, he continues his controlling end of the dysfunctional system. 

Most of us convince ourselves that we can control, but this is an illusion.

Sadie keeps herself hooked into negative patterns with Benjamin, his parents, her parents and their children, by indulging herself in the illusion of control. The basis of the wounded self is control – in an effort to get love and avoid pain and feel safe. Sadie’s wounded self does not want her to accept the fact that she doesn’t have control over Benjamin, and that trying to control him backfires on her, causing the control system to escalate. 

A major part of the job of the wounded self is to protect against the feeling of helplessness. Helplessness over others is a very challenging feeling and one that we could not manage at all when we were little children. We created our controlling wounded self to protect us against helplessness, as well as against the deep underlying pain of loneliness, heartbreak, and grief. As long as we can convince ourselves that if we just do things right or say the right thing, we can get the other person to understand and then change, we can temporarily avoid these very painful feelings.

But what is the price we pay for this?

The price is that we unwittingly perpetuate the very system that is causing the helplessness, loneliness and heartbreak.

If Sadie were to respond to Benjamin’s criticism by taking loving care of herself instead of try to change him, she would say something like, “I’m not attracted to you when you criticize me,” and then disengage from the conversation by calmly walking away. By opening to learning about loving herself and taking loving action for herself, she would stop the perpetuation of the controlling negative system. But, in order to walk away without anger or blame, she would need to compassionately embrace and accept her helplessness, loneliness and heartbreak over his treatment of her, bringing love and compassion to herself.

This changes the system because the continuation of a system requires both people to keep doing what they’ve been doing. When one person stops, the system stops. Benjamin will likely continue to criticize her as long as he believes it will work to control her, but eventually, when he gets that she is no longer reacting to him, he may stop. But even if he doesn’t, his criticism will become ineffectual once she is disengaged from it.

But, letting go of control is easier said than done. The job of our wounded self is to control, and this part of us doesn’t want to stop doing what it thinks keeps your safe. 

My client Sylvie asked:

“I have become present to how hurt I am and have maintained that state of being without even realizing it. It shows itself through constant sabotage, stubbornness, always wanting to make my mark and often wanting to be right. A regular know-it-all. As delightful as that might be sometimes, it is not working for me. HOW do I surrender my ego and allow myself to be guided?”

Clients ask me this all the time: “How do I let go of control?”

The wounded self would love for this to be a ‘how.’ The wounded self likes rules to follow, and would love to be able to have control over letting go. But this is an oxymoron. You can’t be trying to control something and be letting go at the same time! 

It’s not about ‘how’ – it’s about intent.

As long as your intent is to control your feelings, or control what others think and feel about you, or how others behave, or the outcome of things – you won’t be able to let go and let yourself be guided by your higher self. Your self-sabotage, stubbornness and having to be right are all forms of control.

We all have many, many layers of different kinds of controlling behaviors. We can’t just let them go if we don’t even know we are being closed and controlling. 

Mindfulness of your intent is vital to becoming aware of your controlling behavior. When you shift your intent to learning about loving yourself and others, that’s when you will start becoming aware of your intent to control and the resulting controlling behaviors. By being on the path of mindfulness about your own feelings, behavior, and intent, you can slowly heal the addiction to control. The less often your intent is to control, the more often you are open to learning and the more awareness you will have of your controlling behavior.

Letting go of control is about letting go to our inner and higher truth, and is the result of consistently practicing Inner Bonding. Your guidance is always here supporting you in your highest good, but you will not be able to let go to hearing and following your guidance as long as your intent is to control. Any moment that you are truly open to learning about loving yourself, you will be able to access the love and wisdom that is here for you.

But, like with the earlier example of Sadie, the wounded self is very tricky about acting loving when the intent really is to control.

The huge challenge in life is to love for the sake of love and not get attached to outcomes. The wounded self might believe that:

If I love enough then I will get love, or if I love enough then I will find the relationship of my dreams.

Here is the trickiness of this: These statements are generally true, but if you try to love enough in order to get an outcome, then whatever you are doing that you think is love isn’t love.

Our behavior is loving only when we are loving for the sake of loving, not for any expected outcome. If we are behaving in what we think is a loving way, but we have an outcome attached, then even though our behavior may look loving, it isn’t, because that which is love has no agenda. It is unconditional – meaning there are no expectations attached to it and no conditions under which it goes away. 

I hope you can see how tricky the wounded self can be, and how important it is to detach your behavior from outcomes.

Another common way of trying to control is what I call turning things around.

I was working with Sonya and Fredrick in one of my 5-Day Intensives. Sonya had previously shared how lonely she feels in their 12-year marriage. She loves Fredrick and wants to share love and intimacy with him, but something is in the way of their closeness. In working with her, it became apparent that Sonya had developed a tough exterior that would make it hard for anyone to get close to her. Her anger always seemed just below the surface. She was angry that Fredrick often seemed distant. She couldn’t feel him.

Of course, I know that it is never one person creating the problem. It is always a system between both partners.

Now I was sitting with both of them and Fredrick was going on and on with story after story about the past, about Sonya, and about how much inner work he had done on himself. Like Sonya, I could not feel him – he was stuck in his head.

Finally, I interrupted his monologue, and gently said, “Fredrick, I‘m going to stop you. I can’t follow you. I can’t connect with you. You are in your head telling stories and I just can’t connect with what you are saying.”

Wham! The attack from him came fast and furious…

“You are the one having the problem here, not me,” he yelled. “Why are you putting this on me? I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing here – sharing myself. You just think you know it all. You think you know more about me than I know about myself. I hate it when you think you know what I’m feeling. Why don’t you deal with yourself instead of criticizing me?”

Fredrick was using the classic tactic of turning things around, hoping to get himself off the hook.

“Sonya,” I asked, “does Fredrick do this with you?”

“Yes, all the time!,” she said. “No matter what I say to him, he seems to find a way to turn it around on me. And lots of times he might even be right about what I’m doing, but it always ends up being about what I’m doing rather than what he’s doing.”

“Fredrick,” I said, “I would be happy to look at anything you feel that I’m doing that is not working for you, but we can only do one thing at a time. Right now, I’d like to focus on the good reasons you have for storytelling, staying in your head and turning things around. Then, if you want me to explore your belief that I think I know everything, we can do that. But would you be willing to let that go for now and focus on what you are doing?”

Fredrick looked panicked.

“Fredrick,” I said gently, “What are you afraid of right now?”

Fredrick started to cry. “I’m so afraid that everything is my fault. I’m so afraid of being wrong, of being rejected, and of not being good enough.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. Fredrick was opening up, coming to grips with the fears behind his controlling behavior. Sonya also breathed a sigh of relief and gently put her arms around him.

“Honey, I’m so sorry that I’ve been so angry. I’m sorry I’m always making you wrong. When you let me in, I can see how hard that is for you.”

The door was open for Sonya and Fredrick to explore their ways of controlling and learn how to take more loving care of themselves, so they could share their love with each other.

What if there is one choice you can make that will heal many of your relationship problems? There actually is, and this is the choice of kindness and acceptance – to both yourself and others.

But, for many people, there is one choice that’s far more important to them than kindness and acceptance. This, of course, is the choice to attempt to control.

Kindness to yourself and to others and acceptance for yourself and others comes from a desire to support your own highest good and the highest good of others. When your highest priority is to support the highest good of all, you are naturally kind and accepting. You don’t even have to think about it. It flows easily when your deepest desire is to be a loving, caring person.

But when your deepest desire is to protect yourself from getting hurt, then your automatic choice, particularly in conflict, is likely to attempt to control – with anger, withdrawal, blame, judgment, compliance, resistance, sarcasm, turning things around, critical looks, and many other ways we’ve all learned to control.

Jack claimed to love his wife Jenny. Yet as soon as Jenny didn’t do what he wanted or expected, he would immediately become angry, blaming and judgmental. Jenny, frightened of his anger and of losing his love, would immediately defend and then comply with Jack’s wishes, hoping to have control over his feelings and behavior toward her.

Jenny was afraid to do what she wanted to do. She constantly monitored her behavior, telling herself, “Jack will get mad if I do that.”

With all this anger, defensiveness and compliance, the fun, joy and passion that had been so wonderful at the beginning of their relationship was mostly snon-existent.

Jack and Jenny sought my help because their marriage was in trouble and they wanted to save it. They both loved their two small children and didn’t want to break up the family.

As Jack and Jenny worked through the control issues that each had learned in their families, they started to have fewer conflicts. Yet when a conflict did arise, each would automatically revert to their old behavior.

“I am going to give both of you an assignment,” I told them in our session. “It is a simple assignment, although not at all easy. This week, I want both of you to focus on being kind to yourselves and to each other, and to fully accept yourselves and each other. You will not be able to be kind and accepting with each other if you are not being kind and accepting with yourselves. Jack, if you do not take loving care of yourself, you will end up feeling angry with Jenny. Jenny, if you are not taking loving care of yourself, you will end up trying to control Jack with your defensiveness and compliance. I know both of you try very hard to be kind and accepting with your children. I want both of you to practice treating yourselves and each other with the same kindness and acceptance with which you treat your children.”

Both Jack and Jenny agreed to practice this assignment.

The next week in their session, both of them claimed that the first four days of the last week had been the best days in years.

“But then we slipped back into our old patterns,” said Jack. I forgot about kindness and acceptance. Why is it so hard to remember?”

“Jack, both you and Jenny have been practicing your controlling behaviors your whole lives. These patterns are not easy to change. Your automatic unconscious response to fear is to control in some way. It takes a lot of practice for these patterns to change. You need to consistently practice Inner Bonding, making a conscious choice to be kind and deeply accepting of yourselves and each, other rather than slipping into the unconscious choice to control.”

Today, Jack and Jenny’s relationship is much improved. While they still occasionally revert to their controlling behavior, they are able to be kind and accepting much more of the time – a result of their dedicated Inner Bonding practice. They are having more fun with each other, and their sexual relationship has greatly improved.

If you are in a relationship, please think about this for a moment – what do you see when you look at your partner, friend, child or parent?

When Carmella looks at Rudy, she sees his insecurity and withdrawal, which she does not find attractive. She sees his neediness when he pouts over not having sex. She sees his lack of motivation – he is not a go-getter. She sees his growing potbelly, which is the result of a lack of exercise. As a result of seeing all these “defects,” Carmella is thinking of leaving Rudy. Instead of feeling loving toward Rudy, she finds herself being more and more critical of him – trying to control him.

The problem is that Carmella is seeing only Rudy’s outer self and his ego wounded self – the part of him that comes from his fear and false beliefs. But this is NOT who Rudy really is.

Carmella fell in love with Rudy because of his sweetness, warmth, sensitivity, creativity and sense of humor. Rudy still has all of these wonderful qualities – they are who he really is. Yet this is not what Carmella sees now when she looks at Rudy.

Rather than just leave the relationship, Carmella and Rudy sought my help. It soon became apparent that Carmella’s intention in the relationship was far more focused on controlling Rudy than on loving herself and him. Having an innately sensitive nature, Rudy felt crushed by the criticism and had learned to retreat to protect himself from the rejection he so often experienced with Carmella. He loved her very much, but he didn’t feel loved by her. When he tried to talk with her about it, she just defended herself and attacked him even more. Over time, he had learned to just withdraw.

Both Carmella and Rudy were intent on controlling each other rather than being kind and caring to themselves and each other. Carmella was trying to get Rudy to be more assertive and motivated with her criticism, while Rudy was trying to have control over how Carmella felt about him by being quiet and was trying to control his pain with his withdrawal. Both of their forms of control were causing problems in the relationship.

“Carmella,” I said to her. “In any given moment, you have the choice to look at Rudy and see his wounded self with all his fears and insecurities, or you have the choice to see his true self, his essence. Rudy has a beautiful, sensitive, caring, sweet essence. And he loves you very much. But in order to fully express himself with you, he needs to be seen and valued by you for all his wonderful intrinsic soul qualities. 

Then I spoke with Rudy. “Rudy, I really understand that Carmella’s criticism of you feels crushing to you. But withdrawing is not a loving way of taking care of yourself. Your inner child needs you to speak up for him. When Carmella is critical of you, instead of withdrawing, you need to say something like, ‘This feels terrible. I hate it when you treat me this way. I hate being criticized by you. I don’t like it when you try to control me and get me to be the way you think I should be.’ Carmella is not aware of being so critical, and she is not aware of the effect her criticism is having on you. You need to be willing to risk speaking up for yourself rather than withdraw – which is your form of control.”

Both Carmella and Rudy agreed to learn and practice Inner Bonding so they could learn to be kind to themselves and to each other. Carmella worked hard to see the Rudy she fell in love with. Rudy started to speak up for himself when Carmella was critical and started to feel better about himself as a result. Through their Inner Bonding practice and the resulting kindness to themselves and each other, their relationship is healing.

One of our greatest spiritual challenges is to become aware of our intent in the moment. While having only two intents to choose from – to learn about loving ourselves and others, or to protect against pain with control behavior – may seem to simplify this awareness, this is not necessarily true. Our automatic, unconscious intent, when we are faced with any kind of fear, is usually to control. We choose the intent to learn about loving ourselves and others in the face of fear, only when we are able to remain conscious enough to choose this intent.

The spiritual journey toward oneness with all of life is one of becoming aware of and letting go of our many, many levels of control. It’s like peeling an infinite onion. Just as we learn to let go in one area, another comes to the fore. If we were to reach the point where we never attempted to control, no matter what the situation, we would be in complete surrender to our higher guidance, and we would be enlightened beings!

The journey toward enlightenment is a conscious journey of discovering our various wounded selves – the parts of us who want to be in control. In order to discover these parts, we need to be curious rather than judgmental about our various ways of controlling. If we judge ourselves for controlling, then we are trying to control a controlling part of ourselves, and we get stuck in our wounded self. It is only when we move into a compassionate intent to learn about our wounded, controlling parts that we can progress on the spiritual path.

In life, each of us is presented with the very challenges we need to progress spiritually, i.e., we will get our control buttons pushed in different situations so that we can embrace and explore a particular controlling part of ourselves. Our deepest control issues come up in relationships because this is when our deepest fears of rejection and engulfment – loss of other and loss of self – are activated.

These fears can be activated in all important relationships – with our partner, friends, co-workers, children, parents, as well as professionals such as therapists and doctors. Each time we feel fear, anxiety, hurt, anger, guilt, shame, or other wounded feelings, we have an opportunity to explore what we are trying to control regarding ourselves, others or the outcome of things.

My client Anna had previously been married for a few years to a needy and controlling man, who constantly put her down in covert ways and related to her as if she were less than him because she is a woman. He would demand that she do menial tasks that he didn’t want to do. At first, Anna complied in the hopes that her husband would eventually lighten up and care about her, but it only got worse. She ended up feeling used and, after he refused to join her in therapy, she left the marriage.

Now Anna finds herself in a very similar situation, only this time it’s with her boss, Calvin. Calvin treats Anna like she is a clerk, rather than as the highly skilled attorney that she is. He expects her to do the menial tasks that he doesn’t want to do, and in many ways implies that she is less than him because she is a woman. When Anna started Inner Bonding work with me, she was ready to leave her job.

However, I encouraged her to accept the spiritual challenge of learning from her relationship with Calvin rather than running away again. While it was obvious to Anna how Calvin was trying to control her, it was not obvious to her how she was trying to control him. Over the months of exploration, Anna discovered that she tried to control through her looks, her sarcasm, her intelligence, her logic, her compliance, her withdrawal, her resistance, her judgments, and her anger – lots of way! She was pretty much astounded to discover all these ways of controlling and was able to see that this had also been her part in the relationship problems with her husband.

While she was not able to change Calvin, their relationship did change for the better as Anna changed her intent from controlling him to loving herself. She worked hard on being aware of her controlling behavior without judging herself for it. She started to speak her truth to Calvin, without judgment or sarcasm. As his respect for her grew due to her respecting herself by taking loving care of herself – instead of trying to control him – his behavior toward her gradually changed.

Anna was able to shift the relationship with Calvin because of her willingness to learn, with curiosity and compassion, about her own controlling behavior, her own wounded self. 

We all have this choice.

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I was working with Sonya and Fredrick in one of my 5-Day Intensives. Sonya had previously shared how lonely she feels in their 12-year marriage. She loves Fredrick and wants to share love and intimacy with him, but something is in the way of their closeness. In working with her, it became apparent that Sonya had developed a tough exterior that would make it hard for anyone to get close to her. Her anger always seemed just below the surface. She was angry that Fredrick often seemed distant. She couldn’t feel him.

Of course, I know that it is never one person creating the problem. It is always a system between both partners.

Now I was sitting with both of them and Fredrick was going on and on with story after story about the past, about Sonya, and about how much inner work he had done on himself. Like Sonya, I could not feel him – he was stuck in his head.

Finally, I interrupted his monologue, and gently said, “Fredrick, I‘m going to stop you. I can’t follow you. I can’t connect with you. You are in your head telling stories and I just can’t connect with what you are saying.”

Wham! The attack from him came fast and furious…

“You are the one having the problem here, not me,” he yelled. “Why are you putting this on me? I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing here – sharing myself. You just think you know it all. You think you know more about me than I know about myself. I hate it when you think you know what I’m feeling. Why don’t you deal with yourself instead of criticizing me?”

Fredrick was using the classic tactic of turning things around, hoping to get himself off the hook.

“Sonya,” I asked, “does Fredrick do this with you?”

“Yes, all the time!,” she said. “No matter what I say to him, he seems to find a way to turn it around on me. And lots of times he might even be right about what I’m doing, but it always ends up being about what I’m doing rather than what he’s doing.”

“Fredrick,” I said, “I would be happy to look at anything you feel that I’m doing that is not working for you, but we can only do one thing at a time. Right now, I’d like to focus on the good reasons you have for storytelling, staying in your head and turning things around. Then, if you want me to explore your belief that I think I know everything, we can do that. But would you be willing to let that go for now and focus on what you are doing?”

Fredrick looked panicked.

“Fredrick,” I said gently, “What are you afraid of right now?”

Fredrick started to cry. “I’m so afraid that everything is my fault. I’m so afraid of being wrong, of being rejected, and of not being good enough.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. Fredrick was opening up, coming to grips with the fears behind his controlling behavior. Sonya also breathed a sigh of relief and gently put her arms around him.

“Honey, I’m so sorry that I’ve been so angry. I’m sorry I’m always making you wrong. When you let me in, I can see how hard that is for you.”

The door was open for Sonya and Fredrick to explore their ways of controlling and learn how to take more loving care of themselves, so they could share their love with each other.

What if there is one choice you can make that will heal many of your relationship problems? There actually is, and this is the choice of kindness and acceptance – to both yourself and others.

But, for many people, there is one choice that’s far more important to them than kindness and acceptance. This, of course, is the choice to attempt to control.

Kindness to yourself and to others and acceptance for yourself and others comes from a desire to support your own highest good and the highest good of others. When your highest priority is to support the highest good of all, you are naturally kind and accepting. You don’t even have to think about it. It flows easily when your deepest desire is to be a loving, caring person.

But when your deepest desire is to protect yourself from getting hurt, then your automatic choice, particularly in conflict, is likely to attempt to control – with anger, withdrawal, blame, judgment, compliance, resistance, sarcasm, turning things around, critical looks, and many other ways we’ve all learned to control.

Jack claimed to love his wife Jenny. Yet as soon as Jenny didn’t do what he wanted or expected, he would immediately become angry, blaming and judgmental. Jenny, frightened of his anger and of losing his love, would immediately defend and then comply with Jack’s wishes, hoping to have control over his feelings and behavior toward her.

Jenny was afraid to do what she wanted to do. She constantly monitored her behavior, telling herself, “Jack will get mad if I do that.”

With all this anger, defensiveness and compliance, the fun, joy and passion that had been so wonderful at the beginning of their relationship was mostly snon-existent.

Jack and Jenny sought my help because their marriage was in trouble and they wanted to save it. They both loved their two small children and didn’t want to break up the family.

As Jack and Jenny worked through the control issues that each had learned in their families, they started to have fewer conflicts. Yet when a conflict did arise, each would automatically revert to their old behavior.

“I am going to give both of you an assignment,” I told them in our session. “It is a simple assignment, although not at all easy. This week, I want both of you to focus on being kind to yourselves and to each other, and to fully accept yourselves and each other. You will not be able to be kind and accepting with each other if you are not being kind and accepting with yourselves. Jack, if you do not take loving care of yourself, you will end up feeling angry with Jenny. Jenny, if you are not taking loving care of yourself, you will end up trying to control Jack with your defensiveness and compliance. I know both of you try very hard to be kind and accepting with your children. I want both of you to practice treating yourselves and each other with the same kindness and acceptance with which you treat your children.”

Both Jack and Jenny agreed to practice this assignment.

The next week in their session, both of them claimed that the first four days of the last week had been the best days in years.

“But then we slipped back into our old patterns,” said Jack. I forgot about kindness and acceptance. Why is it so hard to remember?”

“Jack, both you and Jenny have been practicing your controlling behaviors your whole lives. These patterns are not easy to change. Your automatic unconscious response to fear is to control in some way. It takes a lot of practice for these patterns to change. You need to consistently practice Inner Bonding, making a conscious choice to be kind and deeply accepting of yourselves and each, other rather than slipping into the unconscious choice to control.”

Today, Jack and Jenny’s relationship is much improved. While they still occasionally revert to their controlling behavior, they are able to be kind and accepting much more of the time – a result of their dedicated Inner Bonding practice. They are having more fun with each other, and their sexual relationship has greatly improved.

If you are in a relationship, please think about this for a moment – what do you see when you look at your partner, friend, child or parent?

When Carmella looks at Rudy, she sees his insecurity and withdrawal, which she does not find attractive. She sees his neediness when he pouts over not having sex. She sees his lack of motivation – he is not a go-getter. She sees his growing potbelly, which is the result of a lack of exercise. As a result of seeing all these “defects,” Carmella is thinking of leaving Rudy. Instead of feeling loving toward Rudy, she finds herself being more and more critical of him – trying to control him.

The problem is that Carmella is seeing only Rudy’s outer self and his ego wounded self – the part of him that comes from his fear and false beliefs. But this is NOT who Rudy really is.

Carmella fell in love with Rudy because of his sweetness, warmth, sensitivity, creativity and sense of humor. Rudy still has all of these wonderful qualities – they are who he really is. Yet this is not what Carmella sees now when she looks at Rudy.

Rather than just leave the relationship, Carmella and Rudy sought my help. It soon became apparent that Carmella’s intention in the relationship was far more focused on controlling Rudy than on loving herself and him. Having an innately sensitive nature, Rudy felt crushed by the criticism and had learned to retreat to protect himself from the rejection he so often experienced with Carmella. He loved her very much, but he didn’t feel loved by her. When he tried to talk with her about it, she just defended herself and attacked him even more. Over time, he had learned to just withdraw.

Both Carmella and Rudy were intent on controlling each other rather than being kind and caring to themselves and each other. Carmella was trying to get Rudy to be more assertive and motivated with her criticism, while Rudy was trying to have control over how Carmella felt about him by being quiet and was trying to control his pain with his withdrawal. Both of their forms of control were causing problems in the relationship.

“Carmella,” I said to her. “In any given moment, you have the choice to look at Rudy and see his wounded self with all his fears and insecurities, or you have the choice to see his true self, his essence. Rudy has a beautiful, sensitive, caring, sweet essence. And he loves you very much. But in order to fully express himself with you, he needs to be seen and valued by you for all his wonderful intrinsic soul qualities. 

Then I spoke with Rudy. “Rudy, I really understand that Carmella’s criticism of you feels crushing to you. But withdrawing is not a loving way of taking care of yourself. Your inner child needs you to speak up for him. When Carmella is critical of you, instead of withdrawing, you need to say something like, ‘This feels terrible. I hate it when you treat me this way. I hate being criticized by you. I don’t like it when you try to control me and get me to be the way you think I should be.’ Carmella is not aware of being so critical, and she is not aware of the effect her criticism is having on you. You need to be willing to risk speaking up for yourself rather than withdraw – which is your form of control.”

Both Carmella and Rudy agreed to learn and practice Inner Bonding so they could learn to be kind to themselves and to each other. Carmella worked hard to see the Rudy she fell in love with. Rudy started to speak up for himself when Carmella was critical and started to feel better about himself as a result. Through their Inner Bonding practice and the resulting kindness to themselves and each other, their relationship is healing.

One of our greatest spiritual challenges is to become aware of our intent in the moment. While having only two intents to choose from – to learn about loving ourselves and others, or to protect against pain with control behavior – may seem to simplify this awareness, this is not necessarily true. Our automatic, unconscious intent, when we are faced with any kind of fear, is usually to control. We choose the intent to learn about loving ourselves and others in the face of fear, only when we are able to remain conscious enough to choose this intent.

The spiritual journey toward oneness with all of life is one of becoming aware of and letting go of our many, many levels of control. It’s like peeling an infinite onion. Just as we learn to let go in one area, another comes to the fore. If we were to reach the point where we never attempted to control, no matter what the situation, we would be in complete surrender to our higher guidance, and we would be enlightened beings!

The journey toward enlightenment is a conscious journey of discovering our various wounded selves – the parts of us who want to be in control. In order to discover these parts, we need to be curious rather than judgmental about our various ways of controlling. If we judge ourselves for controlling, then we are trying to control a controlling part of ourselves, and we get stuck in our wounded self. It is only when we move into a compassionate intent to learn about our wounded, controlling parts that we can progress on the spiritual path.

In life, each of us is presented with the very challenges we need to progress spiritually, i.e., we will get our control buttons pushed in different situations so that we can embrace and explore a particular controlling part of ourselves. Our deepest control issues come up in relationships because this is when our deepest fears of rejection and engulfment – loss of other and loss of self – are activated.

These fears can be activated in all important relationships – with our partner, friends, co-workers, children, parents, as well as professionals such as therapists and doctors. Each time we feel fear, anxiety, hurt, anger, guilt, shame, or other wounded feelings, we have an opportunity to explore what we are trying to control regarding ourselves, others or the outcome of things.

My client Anna had previously been married for a few years to a needy and controlling man, who constantly put her down in covert ways and related to her as if she were less than him because she is a woman. He would demand that she do menial tasks that he didn’t want to do. At first, Anna complied in the hopes that her husband would eventually lighten up and care about her, but it only got worse. She ended up feeling used and, after he refused to join her in therapy, she left the marriage.

Now Anna finds herself in a very similar situation, only this time it’s with her boss, Calvin. Calvin treats Anna like she is a clerk, rather than as the highly skilled attorney that she is. He expects her to do the menial tasks that he doesn’t want to do, and in many ways implies that she is less than him because she is a woman. When Anna started Inner Bonding work with me, she was ready to leave her job.

However, I encouraged her to accept the spiritual challenge of learning from her relationship with Calvin rather than running away again. While it was obvious to Anna how Calvin was trying to control her, it was not obvious to her how she was trying to control him. Over the months of exploration, Anna discovered that she tried to control through her looks, her sarcasm, her intelligence, her logic, her compliance, her withdrawal, her resistance, her judgments, and her anger – lots of way! She was pretty much astounded to discover all these ways of controlling and was able to see that this had also been her part in the relationship problems with her husband.

While she was not able to change Calvin, their relationship did change for the better as Anna changed her intent from controlling him to loving herself. She worked hard on being aware of her controlling behavior without judging herself for it. She started to speak her truth to Calvin, without judgment or sarcasm. As his respect for her grew due to her respecting herself by taking loving care of herself – instead of trying to control him – his behavior toward her gradually changed.

Anna was able to shift the relationship with Calvin because of her willingness to learn, with curiosity and compassion, about her own controlling behavior, her own wounded self. 

We all have this choice.

Heal your relationship with Dr. Margaret’s 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.” Which starts this Wed, June 30.

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