Control And Responsibility For TeensControl and Responsibility
In an earlier letter we touched on the concepts of control and
responsibility. Let’s go a little deeper with these important
If you ever find that someone’s behavior is “driving you
nuts,” please slow down and consider the possibility of control
issues on your part. Did you know that it is possible for you
to try to control another person and not even be aware of what
you are doing? It’s very possible. In fact, this is a common
dynamic in relationships that involve drug and alcohol abuse.
However, this dynamic is often found in other relationships as
well. It is something you need to know and understand in order
to avoid bad relationships and increase your ability to develop
Does it upset you when you hear someone gossip. Does it upset
you when someone acts as if they are better than everyone else,
or if someone is rude? These things can be aggravating, but if
you stay irritated longer than most other people, stop and
consider the possibility of control issues.
When you are upset by another person’s behavior, it’s usually
because they are not behaving the way you think they should
behave. You may know what the person is doing wrong and what
they should or should not do. It may be clear to you that the
person’s behavior is harmful. If they would only do as you say
they would be much better off. You want to help this person and
it drives you nuts that they will not listen.
Remember that you cannot control another person. You can make
suggestions, but you can’t control the person and make them
behave as you think they should. In fact, the only thing you
can control is your own behavior.
Some of your discomfort may be because you feel responsible
for the other person’s behavior. You may feel embarrassed,
almost as if it was your behavior. Think about this: If you
can’t control another person’s behavior, how can you be
responsible for that behavior? You are not responsible. You are
only responsible for your own behavior. You can only control
your own behavior. If another person chooses to gossip, be
rude, or abuse drugs / alcohol, remember that they are
responsible for that behavior, not you. You cannot force them
to stop because you cannot control them.
What can you control and what are you responsible for? You can
only control one thing and you are only responsible for one
thing, which is your own behavior. So, what can you do in these
First, it is helpful to stop and think through the situation
as it relates to control and responsibility. Are you upset? If
you are upset, is it related to another person’s behavior? Were
you in control of that behavior? Were you responsible for that
behavior? If not, then put that burden down. Take the weight
off of your shoulders and feel the relief! It is always helpful
to clarify what you are and what you are not in control of, and
what you can and cannot do.
Now that the mind is clear, think about what you can control
and what you are responsible for. This would be your own
behavior. Now you can stop filling your mind with what the
other person is doing and focus on what you can do. This
removes a burden for you and it’s much more productive. You may
choose to have a conversation with the person and let them know
that what you heard sounded rude or arrogant. They may listen
and adjust their behavior, or you may be ignored. Either way,
you have thought it through and chosen to act rather than
react. You are responsible for your actions and you acted
responsibly. Everyone is responsible for their own actions.
What about the person who feels guilty because they “made”
someone angry? Does it upset you if someone becomes angry? I
suppose that many people would feel some emotion. However, each
person decides how he or she will respond to a situation.
Sometimes they give it some thought and act, and sometimes they
react with little thought.
Did you know that you can’t make me mad? Don’t get me wrong, I
may become angry, but it will be my choice. I am responsible
for my own anger. Before you smile too big, know that you are
not off the hook. You are not responsible for my anger, but you
are responsible for your behavior that I am reacting to. You
see, I have a choice. I can become angry and ground you, or I
can remain calm and ground you. That’s not a very good example,
The point is that not only are we responsible for our own
actions, but we are also responsible for our own reactions and
emotions [an exception would be the individual who suffers from
a mental illness and a chemical imbalance that affects the
Have you ever known someone who is easily angered? Often, the
people around this person bend over backwards and walk on
eggshells to keep this person from becoming angry. There are
several things happening here. First of all, the people around
this person are trying to control another person. Do you see
it? They believe that it is best if this person does not become
angry. They are attempting to control this person’s emotions by
doing whatever it takes to keep the person from becoming angry.
The problem is that all of this effort takes a toll on these
people and they are miserable. It is frustrating because they
are trying to do the impossible, that is, control another
Secondly, these people are feeling responsible for another
person’s feelings. The more the person misbehaves with his or
her anger, the more embarrassed the other people become.
Finally, these people are reinforcing this person’s
inappropriate anger. All the person has to do is become angry
and everyone scrambles to please him or her.
I am not suggesting that you should intervene in these
situations and intentionally make the person angry, although
that might be fun. I just want you to be aware of the dynamic
and not get caught up in the role of trying to control another
I hope that this is not confusing. I am telling you this to,
hopefully, avoid confusion. I also want you to be aware of this
dynamic and avoid trying to control another person or feel
responsible for another person’s behavior. Understanding the
principles of responsibility and control will be valuable
throughout your lifetime.
About the author:
Alan Yarbrough is a retired psychologist. Letters to my
Daughter is a heart-touching series of letters written by a
Christian psychologist to his 16-year-old daughter. Recognizing
and avoiding unhealthy relationships and developing healthy
relationships are emphasized. Available at http://www.pricelessebooks.comor
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