A manual is an unwritten document we all carry in our minds…for how someone else should think, feel, or act, so that we can feel “better”. It’s taken us years to draft them. We started as children, writing in pictures & crayon, based on what was modeled by our parents and teachers. “Say please and thank you.” We continued penning as our own thoughts and opinions formed through every human interaction. “Chew with your mouth closed.”
With time, the “ink” of these thoughts darkened in print every time they were reviewed in our mind. We go back to bold & highlight as our morals & opinions grow stronger. “She should appreciate it when I do something for her.” “He should be faithful.” We a manual for everyone who plays a role in our life: friend, sibling, neighbor, boyfriend, boss, parent, husband, mother-in-law, child, teen, co-worker… Manuals for everyone! Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
Difference between manuals and expectations
There are two specific relationships which warrant having expectations (and consequences): your minor children and your employees. However, even with these two groups, your expectations of them are not for the purpose of controlling your emotions. If an employee shows up 15 minutes late daily, I can tell her the arrangement isn’t working for my business and I’ll need to let her go if she isn’t on time. Regardless of her behavior (the circumstance) I am responsible for my thoughts about it (and therefore my feelings and reactions to it as well). If she continues coming in late, I can terminate her employment without feeling guilt or anger. I create rules for my teen for her protection, not so I can avoid feeling fearful, angry, stressed, etc. It allows me to “show up” from a much cleaner place.
The Problems With Manuals
They Create Suffering
Expectations in and of themselves are not “bad”. The problem is that because we can’t control others, our expectations of them (which are thoughts) often cause us emotional suffering. Humans can do anything they want. Of course, they also get to handle whatever consequences follow their actions. It’s not our job to control what others think, feel or do. We can only control our reactions to them.
Some of the instructions we’ve written for others seem like common sense, and very little to expect of others. But these are our thoughts. Thoughts, which they may not share, and values they may not have been taught or don’t hold. One reason why Christians in particular struggle with manuals, is because of our desire for others to benefit from the ultimate manual. When we think the thought “That’s wrong” (because of what’s in scripture), we bring on negative emotions for ourselves, and we have no positive impact on the other person. We are, in fact, stepping into a role that isn’t ours. God clearly has expectations of us, but he doesn’t have a “manual,” because He doesn’t need us to make him feel anything. He’s in control of it all! I can’t begin to know why another person is thinking, feeling or acting in a particular way. God does and is working a plan in that person’s life that’s for good. Remember, “Nothing has gone wrong here; God’s perfectly in control.”
An unexpected benefit I’ve found in doing this work
is that as I learn to allow others to have their own experience,
without letting it affect me, I also learn grace.
Imagine stopping at a friend’s yard sale, excited to see what treasures you can find. (She’s known for her awesome taste.) While browsing the boxes, you’re appalled to see the manual you have painstakingly written for her -outlining your friendship. Even more offensive is the fact that the binding is completely unbroken. She never even cracked the cover open! She didn’t mean to be rude-she just found it unnecessary. After all, she has her own carefully-crafted manual. Here’s a thought from my manual: “It’s not nice to should all over people.”
(Get out your red pens!) Now that you’re aware of all these manuals cluttering your mind & spirit, here are some steps for de-cluttering those bookshelves!
- Pick one relationship that you’re struggling with.
- Grab a sheet of paper and write the table of contents so to speak. Just a bullet-point list of all the “shoulds” you hold for them.
- Pick one that brings up the most emotion and coach yourself on it.
- Edit and shred as you see fit.
It can be tough to see all the unnecessary stress we’ve carried holding all these manuals over the years. And quite freeing to get rid of them once and for all. Happy cleaning, friends. Pitch and toss freely, knowing they will never be read. (Oh-and don’t send them to Goodwill. No one wants to buy them!)
Not sure how to apply this to your own life? Why not schedule a consultation call with me to see how we’d do this work together? Schedule it now. It’s completely free.