Manuals: Letting Other People Control How We Feel

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Have you bought anything new lately? Did it come with a manual or instruction book? There’s a reason for that. Manuals work really well for the things in our lives: lego sets, new appliances, IKEA furniture. When we follow the manual, things usually work the way they’re supposed to and our brain likes that — yay! Our brain loves order and, as the efficient machine that it is, it tries to make manuals in other areas of our lives too….like our relationships. Bad idea brain.

Manuals are not at all helpful in a relationship. Why? People don’t follow instructions. Rarely do people behave the way we want them to. No matter how much we try to get them to, adults are free to make their own decisions, say what they want to say, and do what they want to do. This doesn’t stop us from trying to make manuals for them; from trying to control those things about them. Understandably, this creates drama. Think for a second of your important relationships and how you think that person should behave. Do you every think things like: “my spouse should do this…”, “my sister needs to do this…”, “my kids should do this….”? Those are manuals. These are rules and expectations that we’ve made up for how we think the people in our lives should behave.

Why Should I Care if I Have Manuals?

Why is it important to become aware of who you have manuals for? For emotional freedom. I am here to help you live a life you love and manuals create a ton of unnecessary emotional drama in our lives. Manuals give our control away in two ways:

  1. We are expecting others to behave how we would behave if we were them. News flash: We’re not them. They’re not going to do or say what we would do or say if we were them.
  2. We put them in charge of our emotions. When we have manuals, we basically say “If you do this, I’ll feel….”. If that isn’t the equation for emotional powerlessness, I don’t know what is.

Once my life coach helped me see who I had manuals for in my life, I was able to burn them and move forward with power. I took responsibility for my own emotions. When we have manuals for people, we are tying our emotional state to their behavior. Uh….I don’t know about you, but putting my emotional state in someone else’s hands is not my idea of freedom and adulthood.

Who Do You Have Manuals For?

Our culture and upbringing leads us to believe that it’s totally normal, if not justified, to have expectations of other people; for us to think: “if other people would just behave the way we’d like them to behave, we could be happy”. While it seems innocuous, those thoughts only hurt us and our relationships. It isn’t fair to them or to us. For example, choosing to think: “if my spouse would bring me flowers, I’ll feel happy” removes our ability to act as an emotional adult. We’re saying, when he does this, I feel that. NOPE. Look back at the episode on emotional intelligence but remember warriors, flowers can’t make you happy! It’s your thought about the flowers that makes you feel what you’re feeling, remember? (click here for a refresher). I promise you it’s not the flowers.

In fact, let’s dive a bit deeper as I’ve lived through this exact manual and thought process. In my first marriage, I had the manual that “a spouse should surprise his wife with flowers”. For many years, I never told him of my expectation. I assumed he could read my mind. I thought there was some imaginary manual out there for husbands that he should just know and thus, where were the damn flowers? After years and years of no flowers, I “broke down” and asked for flowers. I said, it would be nice if you surprised me with flowers every once in a while. Then do you know what happened? When he brought me flowers I’d think: “Is he bringing me these flowers because I told him to or did he really want to?” and thus spoil the moment. Further evidence it isn’t the circumstances in our life that make us feel a certain way, it’s our thoughts about the circumstances. Flowers are not able to make me happy, it’s my thoughts about the flowers!

Letting Go Of Manuals:

(1) Speak up: Our manuals are often unspoken. We expect the people in our lives to be able to read our mind. Not possible. Seriously, this is humanly impossible. Can you think of a better recipe to set someone up for failure? Yet we do it all the time. “he should know I wanted help unloading the dishwasher” or “she should’ve known I wanted her to come to that book signing with me”. Humans do not have the capacity to read minds (yet). Speak up warriors.

(2) Adults have Autonomy: When we do voice our requests or expectations in a relationship, that is no guarantee that those requests will be followed or that our expectations will be met. Do not take this personally. This is human nature and people are free to act and do what they will.

(3) Let go of the outcome. Ask and then set the person free to do what they will do. Notice what they’ll do and notice what you think about what they do. A question I love asking myself is: “what are you making this mean?” If people don’t follow through on what you ask of them you get to decide what to think about it.. This is freeing! Realizing I don’t have to be angry or frustrated about what another person does is truly empowering.

Freeing Yourself without Being Trampled

Throwing out your manuals doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us. Quite the opposite actually. When we set others free to behave how they’ll behave, we also get to behave how we’re going to behave. An example of this in my life is my relationship with my parents. I had quite a manual for them. I thought they should behave a certain way when their daughter was going through a divorce. That they should do or say certain things when their daughter was struggling. Instead of keeping my expectations silent, I spoke up and voiced my requests. They continued to behave and act in ways that I didn’t think were how parents in my life should behave and so, I chose to set them free. They can behave how they’re going to behave and I get to choose how to move forward. I’ve spoken more in depth on this in episode 9 and I will address this more in next week’s episode on boundaries. The beauty is, in letting go of my manual, my parents were able to act how they think parents of a daughter going through a divorce should act. Their ideas on what they should and shouldn’t do were different with mine and that is perfectly fine. I spent a lot of my life trying to change those around me and, guess what? It doesn’t work. Allowing people to be who they’re going to be and not make it mean anything about me is empowering and liberating.

Set Them (and You!) Free

All right warriors, who in your life do you have manuals for? What do you want them to do that’s different than what they’re doing? Why? I’ll tell you why. It’s because of how you think you’ll feel when they change their behavior. But remember dear ones, it’s our thinking that creates our feelings. If they’re following our manual we can think “wahoo, outstanding” or, we can think “huh, interesting”. I encourage you to set the people in your life free and see how you feel. Focus on trying to control yourself and your response to how others behave. If people don’t follow through on what you ask them to do, you get to decide what to think about it. I have found that when I let the people around me be who they are, I am a lot calmer. I don’t need to make their behavior mean something about me or our relationship.

Who do you have a manual for? Where can you voice your expectations today? Where can you let go of making someone else’s behavior mean something about you?

Whenever we think someone else’s behavior causes our emotions we have set ourselves up to be completely powerless. Let’s move into this day and week in power.


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