Friday, February 11, 2011

What I Can, and Can Not, Control.

"My older sister drives me crazy bitching and moaning about everything, but because she has MS, I feel sorry for her, I love her, how do I tell her to stop?"

Habitual complainers can be a real challenge for those of us who are people-pleasers, especially close family members. We don't want to listen to that litany of complaint, but we also don't want to damage the relationship, or give the impression  that we don't care when our love is genuine.

In Al-Anon, I've learned two things which apply to a dilemma of this kind:

1. I can't change other people.

2. I teach people how to treat me.

Those seemed contradictory, when I was new in program; I couldn't understand how I could teach someone to treat me differently, without in some way changing their behavior.

 My sponsor explained to me that I wouldn't be trying to change the other person, I would be making it clear that I was changing the ground rules of acceptable behavior in a relationship with me.

That raised the possibility of conflict. I feared conflict. I also dreaded being subjected to hours of: lament, listing of grievances, dissatisfaction with anything and everything, and an all-round negative attitude.

What are my choices? I can use my old way of distancing, avoiding, ducking and eventual shutting out, or I can sit down with the person, and ask that they let me have my say without interruption, then we can talk about it. I can then go on to say what I need to say, using the formula of "When you _____, I feel _____. If you continue to do this, I will _____."

"When you are complaining non-stop, I feel frustrated. If you continue to do this, I will refuse invitations to spend time with you."

"I come to visit you because I love you and want to see you. When you spend our time together expressing your dissatisfaction with everything from your job to your husband, I feel used. If you keep this up, I'm going to have to limit our time together to short phone calls, and quick 15-minute visits."

"When you bitch and moan the whole time we are out together, I feel bored and angry. If you continue to do this, I won't be going shopping with you anymore."

No taking of the other person's inventory, no saying what they should or should not be doing, just a clear statement of how I feel when they do what they do, what the consequences of this will be in future, and then I leave it at that, and give them a chance to speak.

Some may try to manipulate me: "How can you be so mean to me, I've got cancer! You're healthy, you don't have anything to complain about!"

I can look down at that gauntlet, and choose not to pick it up, instead restating my position:
"I want us to enjoy each other when we are together. When you spend the only time we have together complaining, I feel frustrated and irritated. Then the next time you call, I find myself feeling unwilling to call you back, because I'm in a good mood, and don't want to listen to negativity. I'm not willing to listen to you complain for more than 5 minutes in one outing. From now on, when your 5 minutes is up, I'm going to let you know, and if you continue to complain, I'm going to go home."

For me, direct is best. I decide ahead of time what it is I need to say, so I'm not able to be distracted, or dragged into some sideroad topic, and I also pray for strength to be lovingly honest. I accept that this may not go the way I hope it will; actions have consequences, and I need to be clear as to whether or not I'm willing to accept those consequences, before I take the action.

Can I deal with it if this person gets angry and shuts me out, trying to force me to accept unacceptable behavior from them?

Can I deal with it if this person tries to use emotional manipulation?

I'm no longer willing to be treated with disrespect, in order to keep a friend. Over my time in Al-Anon, my definition of a good friendship has undergone a sea change, and I'm grateful for that.

Family members can be even harder to deal with, simply because we have so many years of history between us. But the same questions apply. Am I willing to accept that I may be subjected to intense pressure to revert to the way it was? Am I okay with the knowledge that this may create conflict where there was none? (Or at least no external conflict - from the sound of it, you're going through a fair bit of internal conflict when dealing with your sister.)

I get to choose just how direct and honest I am going to be; with those choices, come the results. Talk to your Higher Power, and your sponsor, be as loving as you are able without giving ground, and best of luck. It will work, if we work it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I do take care of myself around others. I don't like conflict either. But I have to be direct when others don't treat me well. Otherwise I am not respecting myself.