Relationships and the desire to control others

Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.
– Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever met a person who doesn’t know how to do things properly, doesn’t care or simply lacks common sense? Someone who is completely inconsiderate? Or perhaps you are constantly getting told off for not doing things right? Or not doing enough or well? If you answered yes to any of these questions, read on, you may see your situation in a new light.

Have you ever felt that you needed to control a situation and all people involved? It’s like when someone does something that does not fit into your frames of how things should be, you go a bit mad. You want to tell that person off, you get angry, annoyed, frustrated, you want to make them do things your way – the right way! That is to say, your way isn’t necessary the right way!

Those people are, more often than not, close to you – your family, spouses, lovers, friends, colleagues, flatmates. But you forget who they are, they become your ‘enemies’ and you always expect them to say or do something that is ‘bad’, something that annoys and irritates you. Unconsciously you try to find and interpret things they do or say in light of your darkest expectations – even if they don’t say, mean or do anything ‘wrong’, you are sure they do. You forget that those people are your loved ones. You forget who you are.

I’ve been there more times than I’d like to admit. In my teens it was my parents and grandparents. Then it was my brother, my boyfriends, flatmates, colleagues… They were always too noisy, didn’t clean after themselves properly (all those crumbles!), took too long in the bathroom, left their hair all over the bath, didn’t clean the toilet, didn’t wash the dishes, cooked smelly food, always said silly things, wanted to talk to me when I was super busy…always so inconsiderate! They didn’t obey the unspoken rules that I called common sense.

There was always some kind of problem, I always had an issue with someone. And that someone would become an object of my irritation. Literally, I’d get annoyed every time I saw a person, without them even saying or doing anything! You can imagine, this ruined and heavily damaged some of my relationships. 

Looking back now, I understand that the issue was me and not all those other people. In each person I unconsciously saw part of myself that I struggled to accept, didn’t like or perhaps I saw something that I judged to be missing in myself. However, to blame others was so easy and so I did. It is easier to complain about others than to say “Wait a minute, why do I really feel this way?” and to make an effort to understand yourself a little better.

Our thoughts have a tremendous power to create or destroy our reality. The more we think that this or that person is annoying and that he or she always does unacceptable things that make us feel unhappy, the stronger our belief that this is truly so gets. Basically, every time you think that someone or something is bad, wrong, inconsiderate, etc you make it more real for yourself, even if it’s not true. This is to do with neural connections in our brain. We form those connections by thinking. if we think the same thing long and often enough the neural connection associated with it gets stronger and stronger – until something becomes a fact for us, even if it has no real basis whatsoever. Are you with me? So you can make yourself believe that your loved one is a monster simply by concentrating and thinking on what he or she does ‘wrong’ in your opinion. That’s how relationships end.

On the other hand, another person, who has become an object of irritation, ends up feeling confused and at some point may get deeply offended. I know this because I’ve also been on the other side of the table. Saying that, at those times I was not fully aware that I was indeed on the other side of the table, that those people were doing to me the exact same thing as I’d do to others. I thought I was just a victim of crazy unreasonable people! There was a flatmate who would clean the whole flat every three days and would complain that it was not clean enough and that I wasn’t doing my part. There was a landlady who told me off for boiling the full kettle because it took too long and cost too much; who thought I stayed at home only to annoy her when I was too ill to go to work.

It took me what seems to be ages to become fully aware of what is really going on when such situations arise. Imagine, there is a person you deeply love, love unconditionally, simply for the fact that that person is, accepting them fully as they are, being eternally grateful to them for enriching your life. You have an amazing relationship. And then one day you move in together. And suddenly you see teabags in your sink and you go a little mad! Or worse, the person you love so dearly stops smiling, gives you long looks you don’t understand and suddenly stops sharing their thoughts and feelings with you. You feel confused, neglected, upset.

Only when this happened to me was I able to realise what was happening in my life all along – all those dramas that I experienced, all the anger, irritation and pain that I felt… Simply because of the desire to control others and being unable to control my own thoughts, unconsciously allowing my thoughts to cast a shadow on my heart and love. It’d damage my relationships and I’d spend ages feeling guilty and making efforts to recover things and glue them back together. I am deeply grateful for this seemingly unpleasant experience for it has changed my perception of myself and how I relate to others. I am grateful to my lover for being once again a force that transforms me and allows me to grow.

So what kind of control can we have over others if we cannot control our own mind? The truth is it is impossible to control others. Anger, annoyance and irritation arise when we want to control but cannot. We might get an illusion that we do but in reality this is not so. A person may do things we demand but it’s often only to please us… To prove they are worthy. In fact, everyone is worthy and everyone is good enough but unfortunately we often fail to recognise this. We get caught up in tiny little details while forgetting to see the greatness of our true being. We see dirty dishes but we forget love and kindness. We forget what really matters.

The good thing is you don’t have to wait till you are at the point when you’ve gone through the whole cycle of the desire to control and your relationship – be it at home, work or with friends – is in danger. You can consciously choose your thoughts to reprogram your neural connections. The only prerequisite for this is to understand what really matters and to be aware that you are caught up in your own mind.

So how to do this? I’d recommend a meditation-like exercise:

  1. Sit with your eyes closed and your spine straight. Take a few deep breaths, feel your body relaxing as you inhale and exhale. Feel your facial muscles becoming soft and relaxed, feel your whole body relaxing in this way.
  2. Concentrate on your heart, feel your heart being filled up with love. Think of anything that ever made you happy, think of anytime you felt love in your heart. Stay with that feeling of happiness and love.
  3. Visualise a person you have difficulties with. Just look at them, without judging, silently, and smile. Continue to feel love and happiness in your heart. See that person smiling back at you. Send loving thoughts to them.
  4. Recall and visualise all situations and times when you enjoyed being with that person, when you really valued them and their presence in your life. Feel love, gratitude, respect for that person. Stay with that feeling.
  5. Practise daily for at least 30 minutes.

This simple exercise will allow you to be more aware of yourself, another person and you will be able to see your situation more clearly. You will be able to remember what really matters more easily next time. Eventually you will be able to let go of your desire to control them and of the feelings of anger, frustration and irritation. You will feel happier, more loving and more satisfied with life generally.

Happiness comes from within and everyone has the ability to master it! Happiness does not depend on people around us, things we do or have. It is how we perceive all these things, what we think and how we relate to them that matters and determines how happy we are.

So I’d like this to be a reminder of who you truly are – loving, kind and compassionate beings. People around you are there to enrich your life, to transform you and to bring you joy. Please remember what really matters in life – remember to love, accept and let go of anything that doesn’t serve your inner happiness.

Namaste!

Image: painting by Lori Portka (Bring love with you wherever you go)

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