puppet on a string

How often have you heard or even said, “You make me mad,” “You make me happy,” “You make me so upset,” “She makes me ______,” He makes me ______,” “They make me _____.” “I’ll show them they can’t do that to me” etc. etc.? You might be saying, “Oh, I know where you are going. You are going to use that old statement, Nobody can make you anything’.” You are right because that old statement really is a true statement and we fought a battle in the pre-existence to have it be true. We wanted to have our own control.

However, you might want to take a fresh look at the idea of your own control and what has happen in your own life. The more you use the above type statements the more control you are giving away. For instance, a client age 23 said to his therapist, “I hate people who seem to think they have authority over me. If anyone like that gets in my face, acts like they have some authority, and tells me what to do, I’ll show him and do exactly the opposite.”

The therapist clapped his hands and said, “Wow, I am glad to know this about you because I can play you like a piano.” The client responded, “Oh no you can’t!” To which the therapist said, “All I have to do is get in your face and act like I have some authority, tell you the exact opposite of what I want you to do, and you will show me’ and do what I really want you to do.” We have related this story many times as we have spoken to the youth and their parents about control and most of the audience will laugh. They laugh because it is easy to spot the loss of control in someone else.

Lil Abner characterThis type of scenario is played out time after time in various forms in our own lives and yet we don’t spot it. When our thoughts and/or behaviors are governed by what someone else is doing or has done, then we have given our control to that person and that person goes with us wherever we go. Often when a person has been offended or injured in some way, that person’s countenance and speech is unpleasant and hard to be around. They walk around like the character Joe Btsplk from the old comic strip L’il Abner, with a dark cloud over their head. The sad part is that this is a choice. When we hold on to these offences, we choose to drag that person with us or that person drags us around in our mind because our actions are reactions governed by the offense.

To illustrate this point, contemplate the word “respect.” Take a moment and ask yourself what determines to whom I give respect. Sometimes when that question is asked in a therapy session the immediate answer is, “I give respect to everyone.” That is the book answer, and now we need to get down to the real happening as they have already stated there is a lack of respect between them. So really think, what are your criteria in determining who gets your respect? Some of the answers that have been given are as follows: a person’s job position, training or intellectual attainment, what they do in the community; their financial status; and are they well thought of by others. After further questioning most finally come to the statement, “It’s determined by how they treat me and if they are respectful of me.” The next question is, “Then who really determines who gets your respect?” They often remark that they have never looked at it that way. Many of us think when we give back the treatment given us we are controlling our behavior whereas, in reality, the other person is controlling us.

Another side thought, when we have criteria for respect we must remember who gets respect and who doesn’t. We must maintain a file in our mind and where each person we meet goes in that file. UGH! What a waste of time and brain space.

One of the best examples of taking back control of self is Elizabeth Smart. She basically said she had a whole life ahead of her and didn’t want to waste it on self-pity, anger, revenge, secluding herself from life, and wallowing in victimhood. We have witnessed how she choose to return to doing what she used to do, went to school, practiced her music, and went to church. In addition to having to testify in court, she has testified before legislatures to help pass laws protecting children. Eventually she went on a church mission and has now married. She took control of her life.

There are many others who have risen above less than ideal circumstances and excelled. Yet, how many others have complained about their poor upbringing and believe the world owes them and must make up for what they didn’t have. They stand around just waiting and thinking they are controlling their life yet have truly given away what they could have.

Marriage and Control

Marriage is the merging of two lives together to build a new family unit. After the honeymoon is over, some forget the object was to build together and much time is spent in proving who is right. Some marriages turn into a sibling type rivalry. Anger is expressed because the other one is trying to control the marriage. It often turns out that each spouse is giving away his or her own control.

There are metaphors in life that are interesting and tell a fascinating tale. The couple’s bedroom often reflects the condition of their marriage. Most do not realize the master bedroom is the only room in the house that is uniquely the couple’s. It is the place they sleep together, dress together, and make love. All of the rest of the house is shared with others.

When a couple is asked in therapy to describe their master bedroom they will tell what furniture is in the room. The next question really tells the story, “What would I see if I walked into your bedroom?” The couple will glance at each other and describe anything from clutter to a disaster zone. One couple stated that any horizontal surface, including the floor, was stacked with stuff and there was only enough room beside the bed to shuffle along and fall into the bed. Usually the metaphor holds true because their marriages are on the spectrum of cluttered to disaster, usually out of control.

Gaining personal control is a journey of choices. Consider the next series of questions and how the answers will direct personal control. Do you enjoy and deserve a neat environment? Do you want and deserve clothes that are taken care of? Do you enjoy a bedroom that is neat with the bed made? Do you deserve a clean, neat and sanitary bathroom? Do you like to be around people who are neatly dressed and have good personal hygiene? Do you want and deserve respectful language around you?

This is a good time to remember the second great commandment as told by the Savior. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt 22:39). The truth of this is that the respect you show to yourself is the respect you will show to others.

  So, to carry this logic on, if you want and deserve all the above, you will: (1) keep your environment neat, (2) take care of your clothes by picking them up, hanging them up, and seeing that they are kept clean, (3) keep the bathroom clean, neat, and sanitary, (3) take care of your own grooming and personal hygiene, and (4) since you must hear what you say 24 hours a day, you will make sure everything that comes out of your mouth is respectful.

All of this shows respect for yourself and the byproduct is you will show respect to your closest neighbor and others. But, what if my mate doesn’t do all this? You take control of yourself because you are a respectful person and let the other person work on his or her journey. It is amazing how doing this can change the marriage. As each spouse works at their part it spreads to other ways they treat each other. They return to the original journey of building their life together.

How to Take Your Strings Back

1. Show respect to self. This is done one small step at a time by doing the things mentioned above. The keyword is doing. What you do defines who and what you are. When you show respect to yourself you automatically are respectful to those around you because that is the environment you choose to live in.

2. Before you respond to someone else, ask yourself, “Does what I am going to say reflect who I am or am I just reacting?” This is one of the main strings we need to keep. The philosopher William James (1842-1910) said, “The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.” Learn wisdom.

3. Work at being comfortable with yourself. This is a life long journey and the sooner you begin the better your life will be. Have you noticed the people most enjoyable to be around are those who don’t have to prove anything and are equally able to be interested in and listen to others and able to share a part of themselves. This type of person comfortably maintains their own boundaries and beliefs.

4. Choose your principles and values and remain true to them. President Gordon B. Hinckley, in his book Standing for Something (2000, Three Rivers Press, NY, p. xxvii) stated, “There is something reassuring about standing for something, and knowing what we stand for. For men or women who are true to themselves and to the virtues and standards they have personally adopted, it is not difficult to be true to others.”

Your strings are yours if you choose to keep them.


[For information on books and other articles by Gary and Joy Lundberg visit their website ]