Control and Responsibility:
The Boundaries in Our Minds
CONTROL: Many clients
are stressed out
from obsessively trying to control what they can't control while ignoring
what they can control. They are
exhausted from living their lives like a person
who obsesses on wishing for sunshine
while neglecting to bring an umbrella. You
might not think this sounds like you - focusing on what you can't change
while ignoring what you can
- but this behavior pattern is more common than you might think.
Have you ever become stressed out trying to help a troubled loved one
- a mother, father, husband, wife,
child, or good friend -
who did not want to be helped? Have you ever felt
overwhelmed from obsessively trying to rescue a good friend with an addiction? Have you ever felt defeated and deflated
from trying to persuade someone with a physical or mental illness to see
Have you ever felt distraught from trying to help a loved one in denial
about being the victim of an abusive relationship? If so, then you
been trying to control what you can't control while ignoring what you
Al-Anon is a support group for people who have been
affected by someone else's alcoholism. Typically, a newcomer arrives at
Al-Anon and says, "Tell me how to get my alcoholic to stop drinking."
Al-Anon members reply, "We are sorry, but we can't
do that. We can, however, reassure you that didn't cause the drinking, you can't control it, and you can't
cure it. And if you keep coming to Al-Anon, you can learn how to take
care of yourself in the face of your loved one's
Thus, the great benefit of Al-Anon is that it
helps stressed-out family members and friends learn how to stop
obsessing on what they can't control, the alcoholic, and begin focusing
on what they can control, themselves. This may seem selfish, but it is
not. It is just reality - we can not control another person, but we can
take care of ourselves.
Serenity Prayer is an important
recitation at most 12-Step
meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon.
This simple and profound prayer asks God or a Higher Power to give us
the serenity to accept what we can't change, the courage to change what
we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. By viewing
situation through the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer, we can
find more effective solutions to problems by focusing our efforts on
what we can control.
We cannot control many things, such
as the weather, the stock market, and, most importantly, other
people. We have a much greater ability, however, of controlling our own choices and behaviors, which is why Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, and mental
health professionals generally encourage individuals to focus on their
own choices and
behaviors rather than on those of others. So, when facing any
difficult situation, remember to ask yourself, "What can I control and what
control?" Then focus your energies on what you can control. This is how
we transform powerlessness into empowerment.
RESPONSIBILITY: Many clients
are stressed out by feeling responsible for things they
are not responsible for or could not possibly control. They are
guilt-ridden from trying to fix everyone's problems and depleted from
ignoring their own needs. Their lives are spent giving
everyone else water while they are slowly dying of thirst. They are
motivated by an addiction-like syndrome called
codependency, whereby one focuses on the
problems of others as a subconscious strategy to avoid dealing with
one's own problems.
Do you have codependent tendencies? Is it difficult
for you to say "no"? Do you feel like you must always be the peacemaker?
Have you ever blamed yourself because you couldn't get a friend to stop
being self-destructive? Have you ever felt guilty because of a
stranger's misfortune even though you did not cause it? Are you more
comfortable giving than receiving? Have you ever felt shame because of
an adult child's irresponsible behavior? Are you unable to
ask for what you want? Have you ever felt bad about yourself because of
your spouse's abusive or inappropriate behaviors toward you? Have you
ever felt it was your responsibility to fix your boyfriend's or
girlfriend's problems? Do you think other people's needs and
feelings are more important than your own? Have you ever felt guilty
because you couldn't attend a funeral through no fault of your own? Do
you easily become upset if someone is upset around you? Have you blamed
yourself for your estranged spouse's neglectful behavior toward your
children? If you said "yes" to any of these questions, then you
probably feel over-responsible for others and most likely are neglecting your own needs.
Codependents Anonymous and Al-Anon help their members learn to take
responsibility for their own problems while allowing others to do the same.
So, what are we actually responsible for?
We are responsible for our own
behaviors, moods, choices, problems, attitudes, happiness, character defects,
thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, mistakes, the way we treat others,
and whether or not we allow others to abuse, manipulate, or mistreat us.
We are not responsible for other people's choices, behaviors, bad
decisions, addictions, the consequences of their choices, their hopes,
dreams, character defects, thoughts, feelings, problems, attitudes, and moods. We
are responsible for ourselves; we are not responsible for others. Does
this mean we do not care about others? Of course not. It simply means
we give others the respect of being responsible for their own lives, and
we give ourselves the same respect of being responsible for our lives.
CONTROL AND RESPONSIBLITY:
Good mental health requires that we focus our energies on changing what
we can change and accepting what we can't change. We also must have
clear boundaries in our minds as to what is our responsibility and what
isn't our responsibility. The more clearly we understand control and
responsibility, the more effectively we will manage our lives.
If you would like help in understanding what you can
and can't control and what is and isn't your responsibility, then click
on the photo below to see if online therapy might be right for you.