I recently read a post on Donald Miller’s blog entitled, “How to Spot A Controlling Person (Even If It’s You)”. I follow Miller and his Storyline blog on Facebook and I love how gut-wrenching most of the posts from his blog are; they give me so much to think about, pray about and consider, both good and challenging. So I clicked on that post and thought “this should be interesting”.
I’ve recently realized that I struggle with a deep desire for control. Only when I casually noticed it did I start to truly pay attention to the moments in my day when I feel angry or hurt, wounded or even happy and how often it comes from a met/unmet area I desire to have control over. (Psssssttt….which is all the areas all the times.)
Miller described this analogy his therapist gave to him during a session in which she observed him as he verbally processed a person he was unwittingly trying to control. Here’s his description of it:
“She put three large couch pillows on the floor and stood on one of the outside cushions. She then had me stand on the other outside cushion so there was an empty cushion between us.
“This is my pillow” she said, “and that is yours. This is my life and that is yours. The pillow in the middle represents our relationship. So, my responsibility is all about the pillow I’m standing on and yours is about yours. Together, we are responsible for the relationship. But at no point should I be stepping on your pillow.”
Miller went on to explain what his therapist meant and how we cannot change another persons’ choices about how they respond to something or how they think/feel about something. We can only change ourselves and how we are going to choose to respond to the relationship we have with the person we share that middle pillow with.
Whoa. That’s when I realized, I step on people’s pillows a LOT.
To add insult to injury, I attended a training session this weekend for leaders. A therapist and friend of mine gave a presentation on growth and how it happens, what stops it, etc. She touched on this topic of controlling (and referenced all those deep things like the ego/true self) and gave this amazing statement that I can’t stop from rolling around in my head.
She said, of controlling, that when we control/attempt to control someone, we are in essence saying to them, “I need you to be me, so that I can be me”. When a much more healthy statement/the opposite would be, “we need you to be you, so that we can be we”.
Is your mind blown? Go ahead. I’ll wait here while you go re-read this whole post and come back to this point.
Ready to move on?
Ok, so I was talking about this with my good friend and telling her how blown my mind was and how up-ended my heart felt as I came to all these realizations. She responded to me regarding the pillow analogy that she just wants to ignore the pillow stepping thing and call herself a pillow “fluffer”. She said, “can’t I just maybe fluff your pillow a little? I’ve noticed it’s a bit lopsided…..”
I laughed at the honesty of her joke. It’s so hard not to do this! I was raised with so many guilt trips that I have frequent flyer miles to last me my whole life. My family has jedi-master level skills at control. My story is full of times in my childhood when I felt unprotected, unseen and unheard, so big surprise that I want to control my environment and even the people who are in it. I may not be able to depend on anyone else, but by golly I can depend on me! (Cue super hero music!)
Nope. I can’t even depend on me. I’m not enough. I know better!
Miller ends his blog by reminding his readers that people get to make their own choices and we shouldn’t feel personally responsible for their choices. All we can do is stay on our own pillow and make our own choice. This is SO HARD for me. I want to be loved and seen and known, I want to be successful and I want to be happy and somehow along the way, I picked up the idea that if I can just be in control of all the things, then I can achieve those things.
As I’ve wrestled through seeing this in myself lately, all sorts of things have gone wrong in my day. As each little piece falls and I throw my grown-up sized temper tantrum about it, I am reminded that it’s my choice how I will respond. It’s not my fault or my responsibility that that thing fell (though sometimes it is and I have to wade through that as well). I have to talk myself through this piece so heavily. But ultimately what is my choice, and mine alone, is how I am going to respond – and fluffing, or all-out standing on that person’s pillow is off limits.
I have a feeling I will be asking myself a lot of questions the next time I get mad.