Why do we keep giving away our power to people who continue to hurt or disappoint us? A possible reason may be our trying to enforce what the writer Fred Luskin calls 'an unenforceable rule.' A rule is an expectation we have as to how family and others are to relate to us.
There are family and relationship rules. An example would be a person who has the family rule that family members, including in-laws, are to call on birthdays, anniversaries and other special times. His frustration is that one in-law does none of those things. He complains that if that in-law really cared about his family she would do those things, but she doesn't. The unenforceable rule is that he cannot make her care or operate by his family rules.
Unfortunately, many women go through what a woman we'll call 'Nancy' experienced while going through a divorce. Nancy's relationship rules included that her ex-spouse should be fair and should show remorse for his unethical actions; that her ex-spouse should not lie, and that, if her ex-spouse does wrong, he should suffer. Nancy believed she was the only one suffering because he seemed happy and better off financially. It seemed so unfair for Nancy to be left with the discipline of their angry children and most of the bills.
When Nancy's ex-spouse did not adhere to the expectations, she tried to enforce her unenforceable rules by analyzing, beating herself up, and giving the ex-spouse zingers. None of Nancy's actions changed how her ex-spouse related to her. In truth, Nancy was the only one suffering because her ex-spouse didn't care and has moved on.
We may try to enforce relationship rules by our thinking that if we say or do just one more thing, it will cause the other person to care about us or do what we would like him or her to do.
We may try to enforce relationship rules by our thinking that if we say or do just one more thing, it will cause the other person to care about us or do what we would like him or her to do. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work. There has to come a time when we come to grips with the idea that, no matter what we say or do, the other person is not going to give us what we want.
The reasons may be that they do not know how to give it to us, that it not naturally something they consider or that they not want to do it. Another reason it doesn't work is because we are under the misconception that the other person expresses their love the way we do, thinks like we do and will respond the way we do.
How can we take care of ourselves and take away the power we give those who hurt or disappoint us? The first step is to ask ourselves what need do we want this person to fulfill. Then we have to separate what expectation is enforceable and what expectation is unenforceable. We will explore this issue more next month.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700
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