(Un) Helpful Advice


You know how it is: A good friend, or a co-worker, maybe even your boss says to you, “You need to watch out for this behavior of yours…” (control issues, inappropriate communication, an inability to notice your own stress levels), and you nod and think – How kind of them to think of me. And yet, a small voice inside of you might also say, Is that really true?

 And this is why professionally trained therapists deserve to get paid top bucks. Because we are trained to differentiate between my stuff and yours. There are a few terms for that, such as – your boss might be projecting their issues onto you. I’ll give you an example. Recently, I had talk with my colleague, who told me that I might want to work on my ‘control issues.’ He then proceeded to tell me a story about himself and how he conquered this other issue. At the time, and because I recognize him as a self-reflective person, I took his suggestion quite seriously and decided I would become more ‘loose’ and ‘relaxed’ and less controlling.

Getting some feedback:

At the same time, I thought I’d just check this out with a few of my close friends and family. I asked a girlfriend if I was controlling. Her carefully thought out answer showed me, firstly, that she was really looking into herself to see if it was her issue or mine. She related to me how she sometimes does things that I suggest because she feels she doesn’t want to disappoint me. “Oh, so I’m a specialist in Jewish guilt,” I said, laughingly. She smiled along with me, but the more she spoke, the more I realized that what she was describing was more of a leadership quality than a ‘control’ issue. Though, truth be told, she did also explain that those who live with me, constantly, might feel it hard to stand up to me deciding what and how things should be done. But that it was also up to them, to learn to be more assertive in my presence.

This morning, Mother’s Day, I asked my adult children if they felt me as a controlling parent. They looked confused. “If anyone is controlling,” said my daughter, I think that would be me…” My son said, “Naw, you’re pretty flexible mom, and easy going. And regarding work, well you have to be in control, don’t you?”

I thought about it some more. I am at heart, a Perceiver, according to the MBTI tests. I am a procrastinator, someone who hates forms and schedules and a person who can easily adapt and go with the flow. But due to my job and high work ethic, I have learned to be more controlled, more scheduled, time oriented and organized. I’m far from perfect, but I like to do things right, when I can.

How to check if it’s your issue or theirs:

In short, next time someone, with good intentions, tells you that you should be more…. Or less… like this or like that, take the time to do a real self check.

  1. Is it your issue or theirs? (If they have a great example from their own life to share, then good chance it’s more their issue more than yours.)
  2. Take the time to get some feedback from a few different sources, people who you trust to be authentic with you, and be ready to really listen, as it’s fully possible that you do have to work on a thing or two. Also, be ready to hear good things about yourself. And just say, “Thank you,” when that happens.
  3. Do a real check with yourself – think of examples of when you are like this, and when you are not. If you want to, practice behaving differently, and see what the results are. Do you feel better when you behave differently? Does it yield better results? (For you! Trust the people around you to also worry about getting their own needs met! (Unless they are under the age of 5)).

Projection is a big thing. We like to imagine that the world is similar to us, that we are just being empathic when we think that our best friends or family members should think and feel like we do. But guess what? ‘It ain’t necessarily so!’ Each of us has a whole inner world, swirling with what we learned as small children, with our own inborn personalities and how we react to life, and with our own wishes and expectations.

What makes the world go round?

So, be true to yourself, and be kind and respectful to others. Don’t expect them to be exactly like you. And if they expect you to be like them, then perhaps they’ll just have to learn to accept you as you are. Talk about it.

Have a real conversation. That’s what makes the world go round.

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