A few weeks ago, my family was camping with my sister-in-law, her fiancé, and his two children. We are all pretty excited about the upcoming wedding because in addition to many other awesome things about the match, my girls will have insta-cousins in their age range, and they all get along swimmingly...most of the time.
One afternoon while we were having some down time at the campsite, my oldest daughter, Aleida, came out of the tent, where I'd assumed she'd been reading or napping. I smiled at her and she gave me a very somber look, almost as if she was on the verge of tears.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"The other girls don't want to play with me," she replied, clearly miserable.
"Did they tell you that?" I asked, drawing her onto my lap (she barely fits anymore).
"Then why do you say that?"
"Because I've been sitting in the tent for 20 minutes and nobody came to get me and ask me to play," she explained with tears filling her eyes. "If they wanted to play with me, they would've come found me. Since they didn't, it means they don't care."
"Oh love," I said, smoothing her hair, thinking about the twisted logic in her conclusion. "I don't know about the other girls, but I thought you were in there napping. It doesn't mean they don't care about you."
How do you explain the danger of putting that kind of emotional control into the hands of others? How many times do we do this as adults? We wait for friends to call. We wait for spouses to apologize. We wait for coworkers to admit wrong-doing. We wait for our kids to grow up and be responsible. We make our sense of well-being contingent upon the actions of others.
Aleida is 9 years old, and starting to show the capacity to understand complex human behaviors, at least sometimes. So I attempted to talk to her about this. I told her that if she waits around for somebody to act a certain way that she has imagined in her mind but not shared with that other person, she is setting herself up for disappointment and the other person up for failure. She's also putting her emotions into the hands of somebody else, rather than taking control of the situation herself.
"If you wait around for somebody to behave a certain way, you will spend a lot of your life waiting and feeling disappointed." She listened and seemed to understand the basic concept. I continued, "If you want to play with somebody, go ask them to play."
It sounds so simple, right? And in this story, she did ask and they did play. Happy ending. As adults, relationships are not so straight-forward. However, that simple truth remains: When you allow somebody else's behavior to affect you, you are putting your emotional life in their control. And we do this ALL the time. Think about the last time you said something like: "He made me so mad!" or "If only she would..." or "Why can't he just...?" or "She ruined my day!"
Do not put your emotional well being into the hands of others. If you want to have that conversation with your spouse, pick a time to start it. If you want to see your friend, call and invite her out. However, if you allow others to hijack your emotions and don't know how to stop that, contact me for a complimentary mini session and to discuss how life coaching can help with emotional control and stability.