The Struggle is the Achievement

In my journey of providing children with positive behavior supports, a critical piece of any success I helped to achieve is the following insight…shared with me by my first true mentor in behavior management.

  1. You cannot make anybody do anything
  2. Nobody can make you feel anything.

These insights required years, nearly decades now to sink in to the point where I mostly understand them.  This is not to say that others need the time I needed.  No, I’m saying that I needed a REALLY long time to get a point where I’m calm and comfortable within my own skin.  So, it’s me.  Not you.

That first insight seems incompatible with the actual endeavor of behavior change…but in fact it’s the key.  Let me get specific.  In your mind, visualize a person with whom you have a particular challenge.  Got it?  Let’s call that person X.  You cannot make X do anything.   Now let me expand, you cannot make X do anything X doesn’t choose to do.  Let me flip the script, X cannot make YOU do anything you don’t choose to do.  I mean, amiright?!  (I’m right.)  So what can/should you do?  Well, you need to figure that out, but here’s a valid goal: set up your relationship, decisions, and behaviors to maximize the likelihood that X will make choices that fit within the social and community boundaries you’ve set in whatever milieu you need to interact with/around X.  (I know, it’s very wordy and specific, but it kind of needs to be.  Specific and measurable at least.)

Now, comes the second insight.  And it’s a tough one.  Nobody can make you feel anything.  Your feelings…are yours.  Mine…are mine.  Surely there are things that I can say and do that you don’t like or prefer, and perhaps I say or do things that push your emotional buttons.  But your feelings are yours.  We so often blame others for our feelings.  “You made me feel X.”  It’s simply not true.  Contemplate that for just a few minutes and I think you’ll see the stark truth embedded.

So, in approaching X…it’s really important to understand that you can’t make X do anything…AND…X doesn’t control your emotions.

The problem almost always is…X absolutely believes X can control your emotions, and to some extent (…perhaps as much as totally…) you’re giving X reactions that prove X right.  Think of it like a video game…except X’s controller isn’t connected to a Wii…it’s connected to you!  X knows X can manipulate your feelings, and so X does.

Here’s another problem…once you endeavor to force X to do things by threat, punishment, reward, or any other seemingly logical means, all bets are off.  Because X absolutely doesn’t want to be controlled. (Do you want to be controlled?)  X wants to control.  (Who doesn’t want control?)  X wants a state of homeostasis in which X can relax and exist without unwanted restrictions. (Sounds great, right?)

The challenge of behavior support, particularly when we meet a particularly bright, particularly manipulative, particularly troublesome, particularly confounding individual is that we have to take some time to think about our own biases, our own theories on development and human behavior, our own emotions and baggage.  Again, I’m not judging or pointing fingers…I’m simply sharing how I came to find peace and success building relationship with and providing service to the Xs in my life.

So what’s the moral here?

Always take a good, long, gentle but honest look in the mirror before you endeavor to influence another person.  That’s one.

Look before you leap.  That’s another.  A classic.

And, as is inherent in the actual insights listed above, accept that each human, including you, has moral, emotional, and behavioral agency.

I still struggle, daily, with all of this.

The struggle is the achievement.



9 thoughts on “The Struggle is the Achievement”

  1. May I engage here (if there’s somewhere better, let me know!)?

    This post resonated with me a lot (so thanks for the continued good stuff you keep puttin’ out there!). Can you imagine that I tried to cram this into a situation in my own life? 😉

    So, regarding “X doesn’t control your emotions”…what if it crosses into abuse territory? Not necessarily physical (that quickly becomes a personal safety issue, hopefully escalated to the legal realm) but verbal/emotional, AND where the “milieu” in question is such that simple disassociation — which in many circumstances is an easy solution — is not only impractical (a significant part of which would be the emotional toll on me to disassociate, a significant part of which would be due to the other relationships independent of me that I’d still be the cause of breaking) but nearly impossible especially without the end result further enabling/satisfying/confirming to (blissfully ignorant) X that X was “right” all along, kind of the counter to your first tenet: if only I had behaved the way X would have had me behave, all would have been well (but *I* chose to “give up”).

    Yeah, I’m talking about family, let’s play the Feud.

    But seriously, you know I seek the peace you speak of, and I like to think I’m as self-reflective/critical as I can be, but it sure feels like my own emotions are indeed held hostage to factors out of my control (did I break the game?).

    1. Hell, good enough venue as any.

      I still hold firm, you can make X do anything…and X can’t make you feel anything.

      Now…there are particularly abusive relationships and I would NEVER place blame on the victim of such relationships, particularly if the victim is in a relatively powerless situation, or even if the victim has more agency/power now but the abusiveness can be threaded back to childhood.

      So…this situation doesn’t fit perfectly into my contention. I am a professional, and in particular a human behavioral professional, and I’m talking about my professional relationships.

      Re: family/personal relationships…that’s another post, another beer (or 5), another podcast (no, actually, likely not that), another ‘nother. You know?

      1. Oh…and I did fix your typo. I can do that. And I did. This is like my own personal wikipedia. I can make anyone say anything.

    2. And no, you didn’t break the game.

      I’m actually not all that convinced that we DO have agency, that we ARE in control of anything.

      I’m really interested in the conversation. I present a side of a piece of a sliver of the 20-sided die that is likely imbalanced. I don’t know. Right? That’s the answer. I don’t fucking know.

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