Letting Others Be Themselves

A girl I knew from college, let’s call her Susie, once approached me and asked if I could help her with a problem she was having.  I said yes.  Susie said, “My sister-in-law…” and proceeded to tell me how her sister-in-law was causing problems in the family.  She said her sister-in-law was always causing problems and that she should not be behaving this way.  I asked her what her sister-in-law’s behavior had to do with her directly.  She proceeded to tell me details about what this woman was doing and how it was affecting other people in the family.  As far as I could tell the sister-in-law’s behavior had no direct bearing on Susie.  What Susie really wanted was for me to tell her what she needed to do to get her sister-in-law to stop behaving poorly.  I told her the only way I could do this would be to talk to the sister-in-law directly.  I told Susie that it seemed she was worrying about something that she had no control over, and that it might be best if she simply let the sister-in-law act however she wanted to, and not worry about it.  Susie walked away frustrated, probably feeling as though I had not helped her one bit, which was true.  I wanted to help Susie learn how to cope with other people’s bad behavior and she wanted me to tell her what to tell her sister-in-law so that she would stop behaving poorly. 

This was not an isolated case.  I have had a lot of people ask me for help only to discover that their problems really stemmed from their wanting to control other people.  In Susie’s case her problem was that she did not know how to cope with her sister-in-law’s behavior and this frustrated her.  It almost seemed as though she wanted to be able to control her sister-in-law’s behavior.  This kind of attitude can only lead to bigger problems, especially if Susie confronts her sister-in-law and tells her how she “should” be behaving. 

Are instances such as this a matter of people not being able to control others or is it a failure on their part to simply let other people act however they choose to act?  I am sure you would agree that it is foolish to attempt to actually control other people.  There is a saying that says, “It is the prudish person who concerns themselves only about matters they have control over.”  I think this is an excellent saying.  If more people would follow this little bit of advise there would be a lot fewer problems in the world.  However, judging from the number of times I have witnessed cases such as Susie’s it is apparent that most people have never heard this saying, let alone follow it. 

So, how does one go about letting other people simply be themselves?  Actually, it is quite a simple procedure, albeit seldom easy.  It involves viewing people’s behavior without judging in any way.  You simply accept the reality of their behavior for what it is and nothing more.  Tell yourself, “I can not control what other people do, so it is not worth my time and effort to worry about what they are doing.”  Repeat this saying until you actually believe it.  Naturally, if their behavior directly affects you in some negative way, you certainly have the right to protect yourself.  And, there is nothing wrong with confronting someone about their poor behavior, so long as it is done from a stance of love and concern and not presented as some attempt to make them conform to how you think they “should” behave, or that you want to control them.

If you expect nothing from other people you will never be disappointed.  If you never expect them to behave one way or another, or as you think they “should” behave, you are freeing yourself from the drudgery of dealing with their failure to meet your expectations.  To be sure, most people will almost always fail to behave as you think they “should.”  This is especially true in the case of personal relationships, either with a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, family members or friends.  We seem to expect the most out of those people who are closest to us.  However, as explained in the chapter on expectations, we are treading on thin ice when we go expecting other people to behave any specific way. 

Generally speaking, it is all I can do to take care of myself, and my own emotional state of mind.  Taking care of me does not leave much time to worry about other people, let alone trying to control their behaviors.