Think about the person who frustrates you the most. Perhaps it’s a family member, colleague, neighbor, or friend. Maybe you find yourself thinking, They just don’t seem to get it, or their behavior is completely unacceptable.
Wouldn’t it be nice if they would change? Life would be simpler, easier and more peaceful if they would just correct their behavior, right?
Any time we are frustrated by another person, it’s because they are failing to meet our expectations of them.
We have expectations for all the people in our lives, in fact. It is a rule book for how we expect a person to behave. Why do we have such rule books? It is so that we can feel how we want to feel: understood, supported, cared for, and loved, to name just a few.
If only they would realize that I’m not “over it.”
I can’t believe it. She told me that it’s time to “move on.”
He should have never asked me out so soon after my husband’s passing.
She should call me back when I call her.
She should realize that all she does is complain.
They should have invited me to the party.
She should be supporting me.
They should know what I need.
Most often, we don’t tell people what’s in our rule book for them; we just expect that they should know, and act accordingly. While it seems like having expectations of other people is normal, it is actually the source of great pain because it makes our happiness dependent on the actions of another person.
It robs us of our power. It gives other people power over us. It prompts us to try to control others so that we can feel better.
The truth is that adults have the freedom to behave however they choose. It happens all the time: people behave exactly how they behave. If you think about the people who frustrate you the most, you can probably accurately predict exactly how they will behave. Their words and actions are not a surprise to you, but they still violate your rule book, so you feel frustrated.
We think that the behavior of other people makes us feel frustrated, or angry, or any other difficult emotion. But here is the truth: our thoughts create our feelings. Which is good news because it means that we have complete control over our feelings. All feelings are dependent only on your own thoughts, not the actions of another.
When someone behaves in a way that violates your rule book for them, you have a thought about it, and that thought is what directly creates your feelings. So, if you’re tired of feeling annoyed or disappointed or irritated, “try on” other true thoughts and see how they make you feel. For example:
This is the part when the neighbors throw a loud party.
That is exactly what she often says.
Their behavior is predictable.
She can’t possibly support me because she’s never walked in my shoes.
He loves me in exactly the ways he knows how.
Thoughts like these probably generate more neutral feelings. These thoughts are a form of acceptance that indeed, adults behave exactly however they behave. This is not the same as condoning or approving of their behavior. It’s merely relinquishing the reigns of attempted control, because we are never able to control another person, anyway.
If we throw away our rule books for other people, they can no longer disappoint us with their behavior. We can let people act exactly how they act. We can stop holding them accountable for how we feel. And from that place, we can decide on next steps.
We can choose whether a boundary is necessary, or whether it’s time to complete the relationship. Or perhaps we continue the relationship as is, while simply redirecting our thoughts – on purpose.
How have you dealt with difficult relationships in your life? Do you notice that you have rule books for how people in your life should behave? Have you thrown away your rule book for someone, and if so, how did that benefit you?