Tim’s girlfriend, Nancy, is discouraged. These two people cooperate in perpetuating each other’s pessimism. Tim complains that Nancy doesn’t contribute anything positive to the relationship. She is always placing demands on Tim, which sets him up to be criticized and insulted, just like when he was growing up. As a result, Tim stopped doing anything in order to avoid being criticized. He was criticized for that, too. He couldn’t win. It was “lose, lose.”
Tim would become tired of Nancy’s scolding when he called her. He would say, “I can’t stand it, I’m going to hang up.” She would then threaten the relationship and he would give in. He would submit to her controlling demands for another forty minutes of useless complaining.
One evening, after some weeks of counseling, Tim chose to do something to break out of his trap. He used his adult judgment to make a choice in his own behalf, instead of merely reacting to Nancy’s manipulation. He chose to say, “I have to get up early tomorrow. I’m going to sleep now, Good Night,” and he hung up.
He was willing to take the risk of displeasing Nancy, of being “punished”, of being abandoned for doing the “wrong” thing. He saw that his choice wasn’t “right or wrong,” it was appropriate under the circumstances.
He wasn’t “stupid,” he was smart enough, he had assumed appropriate responsibility for his own well being. He did not feel selfish or guilty, he felt liberated, not so much from Nancy, but from himself.
There were many things that Tim couldn’t do in that situation. He couldn’t yell at Nancy because she could yell louder than he could. He couldn’t slam the phone down because there would be consequences in the morning too painful to bear. He had lacked the courage to tell her she was being controlling.
This tangle of fears and guilt was tying him in knots. He did what he could do, he set limits on her inappropriate behavior. He wasn’t cruel or vindictive, he was appropriately firm.
In trusting his judgment, he liberated himself from living on her terms. He gave himself permission to do what he could do:
– He could tell the truth, he could set appropriate limits on the conversation.
– He could make something happen in the present instead of living in the future.
– He could treat her with respect in spite of her sometimes unpleasant behavior.
– He could express himself firmly.
These were choices that he could make in his own behalf, not against Nancy, but for him. He wasn’t selfish and he wasn’t guilty. It wasn’t done to please or displease her, it was done to please himself which he had never “deserved” to do before.
He took the risk of “offending” and ended the conversation. He was living in the middle ground between the extremes of too much and too little. There were no repercussions the next morning. It was like nothing happened. Life went on, and it went on better than it had gone on before.
Man on the phone image available from Shutterstock.