Preventing Mistakes: Criticism and Control

Jack: “Should I kiss my kids on the cheek for being sloppy?”

Therapist: “Is there no middle ground between kissing and abusing? Do you see how scornful you are of people who do not live up to your impossible standard of perfection?”

Jack: “They can try, can’t they?”

Therapist: “They have been trying all along; they just can’t succeed. You have set them up for failure. They have become angry, discouraged and depressed.”

Jack: “What’s wrong with wanting people to be right and not wrong?”

Therapist: “Quite a bit. You learned about right and wrong as a child. That recollection might hint at some much worse violence that you’d rather not remember right now. You learned a lot about right and wrong from your father. You want to avoid his mistakes. Your perception was accurate, but your comprehension and interpretation were limited. Your understanding is still immature and incomplete.”

Jack: “How can I change?”

Therapist: “That’s a good question. We do not change by making New Year’s Resolutions. We change by taking an appropriate action in the real world.”

Jack: “What can I do when the kids do something wrong?”

Therapist: “It’s no a matter or right or wrong. It’s about accepting them and all people as imperfect. If their imperfections make you angry, you can choose to say, ‘It makes me angry when you do that’.”

Jack did his homework that weekend. He had taken the family out sailing on the lake. It was Jack’s job to pilot the boat while his wife Jane was in charge of the docking. As they were pulling into the slip that evening, Jack was yelling demands and criticizing as usual. Jane hopped onto the pier and began to tie up the boat. Jack yelled, “You are doing it wrong,” She untied the rope and tried it over. “That’s still no good,” yelled Jack again. Jane, who was used to this by now, sighed and untied the rope again.

Jack was about to yell at her again when he caught himself. “It’s not wrong,” he said to himself, “it is only imperfect. Have I been doing this to her all my life? My God, no one deserves to be treated like this.”

Jack apologized to Jane, but this time he meant it. He wasn’t merely “doing the right thing” as he had been taught as a child, he was telling the truth as an adult. He was sorry about a lot of things. He knew what he had to do. He had to start letting go of things that didn’t make any difference. He was able to remind himself that he is not required to prevent bad things from happening in an imperfect world. He can take life as it comes and do the best he can with it.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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