For some strange reason our brains think that if we punish others or ourselves enough we will motivate change. We see it everywhere. Here are a few examples. I will berate myself for eating these cookies and then I won’t do it ever again. I will yell at my kids for making a mess and then they won’t ever do it again. I will refuse to talk to my spouse when he comes home late from work so he won’t do that ever again. If you are experiencing a faith transition the thought may be, I will stop supporting my spouse so they know how disappointed I am in their behavior. If you are anything like me, you engage in this behavior really believing that it will cause the change you want to see. Let’s think about this.
First consider how effective has this approach been? Has it worked? Do you stop eating cookies? Do the kids stop making messes? Does the husband come home on time? Does the behavior change?
Next, consider what results you are really most likely to get from this behavior? Look at the spouse coming home late situation. Remember one partner uses the silent treatment in hopes their spouse will come home earlier tomorrow night. What partner in his or her right mind is going to want to spend more time with a silent and morose spouse? What about the spouse who is craving support from their partner. Will withholding support really generate a more supportive relationship?
NOTE: Please do not start judging yourself as a terrible person, that will not help either. Remember beating yourself up is lousy motivation for positive change!!
Next consider that you are really trying to control others behavior (minus the cookie example). This is called manipulation. You are trying to get your kids or your spouse to act differently than they currently are. I know it would be sooooo nice if others would just behave themselves. However, remember others get to act how they act.
Take a minute to consider how it feels when you think someone does’t approve of you and is trying to get you to act differently. Pretty rotten feeling. Kind of a mix of rejection and shame.
I think we can agree that withdrawing love is a pretty ineffective way to handle a relationship. It leads to more frustration and disconnection. The bottom line is we feel terrible when we withhold love to others. Usually when we are withholding love we are thinking some thought similar to “they should act differently”. This creates a feeling of frustration or anger. On the flip side we feel great when we think loving thoughts about others.
If you choose to think loving thoughts you feel good. if you choose to think annoyed thoughts you feel annoyed. If you choose to think angry thoughts you feel anger. Trust me when I say love feels better than annoyance and anger. Way better. Way, way better. Others cannot feel your emotions. When you withhold love from another to punish them for behavior you do not approve of guess who really suffers. That’s right you.
Unconditional love is the answer. Unconditional love means you will be able to feel love no matter what anyone does. Think about it, no matter what any one says or does you get to feel love, because love is generated from your thoughts, not the situations in your life and not from other’s behavior.
I can hear you:
If I just love them, they will take advantage of me –
If I just love them I will be a doormat
If I just love them I will not stand up for myself
Let me remind you that withholding love helps nothing and no one.
How do you want to feel? Do you really want to feel annoyed and angry all the time? Loving unconditionally does not mean you pick up after everyone, but it does mean you do not withhold love to manipulate another to act in a certain way. That is a big difference. You can think loving, feel loving and act loving while at the same time being clear on what you will or will not do.
Start to pay attention to how you react when someone does not conform to your manual or how you think they should behave. Notice your reaction. Does it come from love, anger, frustration or annoyance. You can change your reactions, all you need to do it change your thoughts. You always have the power to change your thoughts. You ultimately get to decide if you offer or withhold love. It takes awareness and practice, but if really feels amazing to be in a space of love no matter what life is presenting. That is true freedom and true power.
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