Addicts (and many others) seem to be convinced that we know The Way Things Ought To Be, and we become annoyed when others don’t see things our way. “If he’d just done it the way I said, it would have worked out better!” “Why in hell is she so stubborn?” “If I were running that company….”
If we expect others to follow our suggestions all the time, it’s a good bet that we’re going to end up frustrated and usually angry. The belief that we have the right answers may be accurate often enough to allow us to feel superior, but the fact is that regardless of how right they may be for us, they aren’t necessarily right for other people. When we begin to feel that overpowering need to control what someone else is doing, or the way they’re doing it, we need to step back and take a look at ourselves. Why is it so important that someone do things our way, when what they’re doing is probably none of our business to begin with?
When we begin to examine what’s happening with us, we are likely to find that underneath our expectations is the fear that we cannot control our surroundings. If that’s the case we need to come to terms with it, because in reality we can’t! Many of us addicts, and especially the codependents among us, have a need to control. This is especially likely if we come from a family of addicts, or have been in a relationship with one. That need to control is likely to cause a lot of grief in our lives, and the lives of those near to us.
When we try to exert control by showing anger, by providing or withholding things (including affection), by lying, trying to make the person feel sorry for us, or by means of the old “silent treatment,” these things may seem to work, after a fashion, but what we don’t realize is that we are not changing the basic situation. Yes, we got our way this time. However, it wasn’t because of our superior knowledge, it was because the other person found it more comfortable to do things our way rather than put up with our bullshit. In that light, our “victory” tends to look a bit tarnished, and it’s extremely likely that the relationship itself isn’t as shiny as it used to be, either.
The bare fact of the matter is that we can’t control anything but ourselves. Just as no one can “make” us willingly take a drink or use another drug, we can’t “make” anyone do anything that they don’t want to do. We can use force, overt or covert, but each time we do so we pay a price. It takes a lot of energy to run the world, and control freaks tend to have a higher rate of stress-related diseases and live shorter lives. They report that they are less happy, on a scale of life satisfaction, then people who are willing and able to let other people live their own lives. Quite a price to pay for the privilege of not minding our own business!
As the Serenity Prayer reminds us, we need to learn to “accept the things we cannot change.” When we coerce someone to do something our way, we have changed nothing substantial except their regard for us. The next time a conflict arises, they are just as likely to do things their own way, and more likely to keep us out of the loop. They are less likely to come to us for advice and in fact, if we continue to be asshats, they’ll soon be less likely to come to us for any reason.
“Change the things I can” refers to us, and the things that we can influence in a positive way. Controlling the people around us is not only a lost cause, it is likely to have negative results. So we need to give some careful thought to those impulses to make sure everything is done the right way, every time. We need to learn to relax, and begin paying attention to correcting our own faults rather than perfecting the behavior of others – which ain’t gonna happen, anyway.
In short, we need “the wisdom to know the difference.”