Unless you have a couple of crossed wires or a genetic glitch in your brain
cells, most of the emotional turmoil you experience is directly traceable to
the fact that you've learned to try to control those around you through
these seven deadly habits, says psychiatrist William Glasser, MD, president
of the William Glasser Institute in Chatsworth, CA, and author of Choice
Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom (HarperCollins, 1999).
And what are the seven deadlies? They are punishing, complaining, blaming,
threatening, nagging, criticizing, and bribing.
Unfortunately, a lot of us use the seven deadlies, as Dr. Glasser calls
them, without even realizing it.
a.. Your younger sister spends an hour making the salad for dinner, and
you criticize her choice of ingredients as unhealthy. You say that you just
want her to live long and prosper, but is that really your objective? Or are
you trying to control her?
b.. Your husband rarely mops up the bathroom sink after he shaves. So just
about every morning you complain, "This sink is a mess!" and blame, "I'm
never on time for work, because I have to clean it up!" Oh really? Or are
you trying to force him to clean up the sink?
c.. Your offspring rarely straighten their rooms. So you nag ("Did you
make your bed?") and nag ("Did you pick up your clothes?") and nag ("Did you
put the towels in the hamper?").
Nasty, nasty, nasty
The way you tell everybody what to do and how it should be done all the
time, it's a miracle that you have any relationships at all. And where on
earth did you pick up these deadly habits anyway?
Unfortunately, explains Dr. Glasser, "We learn these habits from teachers,
parents, grandparents, and others as a child." Your mom finds newspapers and
books all over the living room floor, blames you for the mess, complains
that you're turning the house into a pigpen, and tells you to clean it up.
She may punish you ("No television tonight, my girl") or bribe or nag you
until the job gets done.
After years of hearing this manipulative patter, you eventually begin to use
it yourself, says Dr. Glasser. And it may seem to work, at least in the
short term. Your daughter may indeed pick up the living room. But after
being blamed, punished, bribed, and nagged, she's not going to be the type
of girl who will give her mother an affectionate hug as she waltzes in the
The result? A neat living room and a messy relationship that makes both of
How to Make People Nuts
Aside from the moral issue about whether or not trying to control someone
else's behavior is right or wrong, the practical problem with trying to
control others is that whenever you blame, bribe, complain, criticize,
punish, or threaten anyone, they'll resist, says Dr. Glasser. They'll argue.
They'll fight. In fact, they'll cajole, ignore, cheat, sneak around behind
your back, or do any one of a zillion things they can think of to get you to
It's simply human nature. You're genetically wired to resist being coerced
into doing something you don't want to do, Dr. Glasser points out. It may be
more pronounced in one person than another, but unless you recognize what
you're doing and learn how to get what you need in a relationship without
trying to control other people, every relationship you have will
disintegrate into a power struggle that will make everyone just plain
Turning It All Around
Using the seven deadlies was in part responsible for the failure of
39-year-old Sam Brown's (not his real name) first marriage.
"It was a rough time," Sam recalls. "It wasn't until the relationship was
over and both I and my partner were heartbroken that I came to realize that
I might well have been able to make other and better choices."
With this awareness, Sam understood that he needed to put some effort into
changing his way of "doing business." So he started to work with Barnes
Boffey, a therapist trained in Dr. Glasser's approach.
"With my therapist's help, I began to understand that I had to do three
things," Sam says. "One, recognize that my current behavior wasn't working.
Two, have a vision of what I wanted to be like. And three, begin practicing
behaviors of how I wanted to be.
"It was already clear that my current behavior wasn't working," he admits.
"So I took a look at who I was, then chose to be the best part of who I
really am," Sam says. "And that best part is someone who is loving and
supportive. I spent a lot of time in my previous relationship trying to
change my partner," he adds with a wry grin. "Now, I'm changing me."
The Seven Caring Habits of Truly Happy People
The best way to ditch the seven deadlies is to replace them with what Dr.
Glasser calls the seven caring habits: supporting, encouraging, listening,
accepting, trusting, respecting, and negotiating differences.
They sound simple, right? All you have to do is accept people for who they
are, listen to them, respect them, trust them, encourage and support them,
and negotiate any differences you may have. But, like most of what's
worthwhile in life, the caring habits are a little harder to put into place
than you might think, especially if they represent an about-face for you.
The Tricks of Truly Happy People
Run a reality check. Do you use the seven deadlies? How did you talk with
the people you live with this morning? Did you listen to what they were
saying? Or did you let their words run in one ear and out the other? Did you
encourage them to move ahead with what they've planned for the day? Did you
support them in their choices? Or did you put them down or just nod your
head as you drank your coffee?
Really listen. "Treat people like they're your best friends," says Suzy
Hallock Bannigan, a trainer with the Glasser Institute who is based in South
Pomfret, VT. Hang on their every word. Find time to sit down with them and
really pay attention, without being distracted by cell phones, passing
traffic, or the demands of other people. Then give them time to get out what
they have to say. "I also try to check in with people all the time to make
sure I've correctly heard what they're saying," she says.
Envision the new you. Draw a mental picture of yourself as a person who
practices the seven caring habits. Keep it in the back of your mind, then
pull it forward when you're talking with those close to you to see if you're
acting like a caring person. Sam does this all the time. When he and his
fiancee, Maggie, were considering a move, for example, Sam was not happy.
The two had had an understanding that they would live in the Northeast for
the rest of their days. Then Maggie got a great job offer in Florida, and
she wanted to go.
"My immediate reaction was, 'How could she do this to me?'" says Sam. "It
seemed so unfair. I felt resentful, I felt frightened. I felt angry. I felt
betrayed. And, at that moment, I realized that I could choose to react from
those feelings or not.
"I took a deep breath, then thought, 'How do I want to be in the world?' The
answer is, I want to be gentle and loving and strong. Okay, so if I were a
gentle and loving and strong person, how would I act? What would I be saying
to myself right now? And to Maggie?"
By framing the issue in terms of who he wanted to be rather than what he
wanted the outcome of their discussion to be, Sam was able to maintain a
loving and supportive relationship with Maggie and work out a compromise.
Since Maggie's a teacher, they decided to rent a home in Florida for the
school year and return to Vermont every summer. (To show that she understood
his passion for the Vermont mountains, Maggie even encouraged Sam to buy 10
acres and a cabin for them.)
Ask the right question. In that split second after which the urge to blame,
complain, criticize, nag, threaten, punish, or bribe arises, but before the
words actually leave your mouth, stop, and ask yourself, "Is this really
important?" Hallock-Bannigan doesn't like unmade beds. When her husband, who
knows this, left the bed unmade one morning, Hallock-Bannigan felt the heat
of generations of righteous bed makers rise up within her. "If he really
loved me," she caught herself thinking, "he would have made the bed." When
her husband came into the room, she was about to complain but instead asked
herself, "Just how important is an unmade bed?" The answer was obvious even
to a bed maker such as Hallock-Bannigan.
Accept reality. "You have to understand that the only person you can change
is yourself," says Hallock-Bannigan. If your husband is a tightwad who hates
it when you spend a dime, you can't do a thing about his attitude. But you
can control yours. Instead of slugging it out with him over whether or not a
$15 pair of Liz Claiborne socks is "necessary," hold your irritation in
check and apply as many of the seven caring habits as you can. Look for a
compromise, such as holding the line at one pair of socks, or promising to
check store knockoffs that are as pretty but cheaper.
"When you have a difference with someone who's important to you, you
negotiate," says Dr. Glasser. But what happens if your partner digs in his
heels? To deal with that, Dr. Glasser developed something called the
"solving circle"--a piece of string that forms a circle outline on the
floor. You and your partner face each other and, as each of you feels ready,
you step into the circle and say, "The most important thing in my life is
our relationship. We have a problem with ______ (name the problem). We know
that arguing and blaming will do no good. And in order to avoid wounding our
relationship, I am willing to _______ (say what you're willing to do that
will help)." It may take a few days to get this accomplished, and some
people may find that a third party--a therapist or marriage counselor--may
be a necessary ingredient.
Pick a model. When Hallock-Bannigan was training Sisters in Ireland to use
the caring habits, one good Sister was having trouble figuring out how to
respond to someone who was criticizing her. So Hallock-Bannigan asked her,
"Who's the woman you most look up to?" The answer was Mary Robinson,
president of Ireland and a champion of human rights. "Well, what do you
think she would be thinking and feeling in this situation?" asked
Hallock-Bannigan. "What would you see her doing?" Ten seconds later, the
Sister was off to do what Mary would've done.
Write about it. Keep a daily journal to help think your way through the
transition and keep track of your progress, says Hallock-Bannigan. Sam does,
and looking back over nearly a decade, he can honestly say, "I'm a very
different person than I was 10 years ago. It doesn't mean I'm perfect," he
adds with an endearing grin. "But I try."
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