Wayne C. Allen's "Works in Progress"
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Letting Go

let go

I have several letters sitting in the Into the Centre "Idea" folder, and was fishing around in it this morning. I found a series of quotes, which were written by Susan Campbell, a California therapist and trainer. Susan used to work with Ben & Jock, back in the "old days," and had a fair hand in the creation of the original Communication Model. Her "stuff" is quite elegant, and the quotes thought provoking. Ill be returning to some of the quotes over the next couple of weeks.

Also in the file was one from Dar, who occasionally forwards bits and pieces from her school board workgroups. It gets quite odd when she accesses school from home and then forwards from her computer,  2 feet away, but I digress. She sent along an item called "Let Go." I did a fast web search and cleared the "Author Unknown."

  • to "let go" does not mean to stop caring; it means I can't do it for someone else.
  • to "let go" is not to cut myself off; it's the realization I can't control another.
  • to "let go" is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.
  • to "let go" is to admit powerlessness, which mean the outcome is not in my hands.
  • to "let go" is not to try to change or blame another; it's to make the most of myself.
  • to "let go" is not to care for, but to care about.
  • to "let go" is not to fix, but to be supportive
  • .to "let go" is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
  • to "let go" is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own destinies.
  • to "let go" is not to be protective, but to permit another to face reality.
  • to "let go" is not to deny, but to accept.
  • to "let go" is not to nag, scold or argue but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.
  • to "let go" is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes and cherish myself in it.
  • to "let go" is not to criticize and regulate anybody, but to try to become what I dream I can be.
  • to "let go" is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.to "let go" is to fear less and love more.
  • ~~~ Thomas Allender, S.J. ~~~

And the Campbell quote:

"Basing our self-esteem on the ability to control people and events actually keeps us feeling out of control."

I notice a lot of familiar, "Phoenix" words in the above quotes, and by now, I'm trusting you do too. The leitmotif in all of this is the idea or concept of control. And coupled with that word are others: powerlessness, "can't control another," "not to fix," outcomes, regulate. Within the realm of therapy, helping people to learn the difference between what is possible to control and what is not is often a matter of introducing them to their own skin, and getting to think within that wrapper.

Many of the other Campbell quotes revolve around the idea of honesty, and you'll know that's also a "Phoenix word." Some time ago, I presented some stuff from Brad Blanton's book, Radical Honesty, and I use that expression to describe the "bottom line" of my relationship with Dar. To be honest is to be honest about the only thing I can be honest about - I am honest about who I am and what I know about myself - today. To be dishonest is to pretend that I, or the world is any different from what it actually is.

One of the "truths," which explains why we need a list about "letting Go," is that I (and everyone else, when they attempt to "control")  attempt to exert control on the world around me and the others who occupy that world in order to push back my fear of death, meaninglessness and irrelevance. This, of course, is the existentialist position, and most people flee from this world-view. They flee by making excuses.

  • "But… but… it's my (marriage, business, relationship, job, family) and I "should" be able to control what happens!"
  • "But… but… I'm special! Everyone knows how special I am, and if they don't, they should! If they really loved me, they'd want to make me happy!"
  • "But… but… I'm here for a higher purpose! Why is the world thwarting me? I'm only trying to make it better for everyone!"

So we lie, we deny, we cheat, we play manipulation games, we pout, we whine and boy do we complain, all because the world will not cooperate in our venture to get others to ascribe meaning to our lives. What we conveniently forget, of course, is that all of the other people in our lives also have lives, and want us to give priority and meaning to theirs.

Everyone is "Waiting for Godot" to come along and make it all better. Life will be fun and things will get done, when all the external ducks line up and stay that way. And we wait… and we wait.

And then we die.

The key to the list and to the Campbell quote is the concept of external vs. internal control. External always requires the cooperation of another thing or person. Internal is where I have a modicum of control. I can look at my methods of interpretation and my actions, notice which ones are working for me and which ones aren't, and I can "work" on the ones that aren't. Any other route is a sure path to disaster.

To assume that I am here to "make" other adults behave according to my pre-conceived notions of how they should behave is both arrogant and naïve. If I assume that other adults should put my needs ahead of theirs, either because I am more powerful or more needy than them (more special,) then I am both egotistical and foolish. Paradoxically, however, unless I retreat to my hermitage, all of my actions and life are lived both "in here" and "out there."

The question, then, is not an either/or one, but rather a question of how. For me, I see the approach that works is "a rigorous, self-responsible, self-discipline coupled with honest communication and a willingness to let others be equally self-responsibly self-disciplined."

To let go in many respects means simply to get out of the way.

We continually say that self-esteem is an "inside job." This means that I am free to express my opinions, attempt to influence, and indicate consequences for "failure to perform." If, for example, I am someone's boss, I have the right to expect a certain level of performance from an employee, and have the right to fire him or her for non-performance. I am silly if I connect my feelings of self worth, however, to another's compliance.

To go back to my internal vs. external comment: really, what we're talking about is the acknowledgement that my internal representations of the world are just that - mine. As we look at the "Let Go" list, we see that what is being proposed is another frame of reference.

The "old" frame is all about treating others, (as one of the points says,) as "things" to be fixed. This "old" frame of reference can be restated,

"I know better than that object over there how it should function in the world."

Now, if I am talking about a refrigerator, in general I do know better than the refrigerator what it ought to be doing. I once remember having a refrigerator in an apartment that got stuck on defrost. When I opened the door, everything had melted and liquids were well over 100 degrees F. Pop bottles had "popped." There was oozing stuff everywhere. Needless to say, I didn't go, "Well, I thought a refrigerator was supposed to keep things cool, but hey, obviously this one has other plans and knows what it is doing."

On the other hand, I know a lot of people who would turn to their partner and scream, "What did you do to break the refrigerator?" But I sort of digress, again.

A more viable frame of reference is to remember that people are not objects.

Dar and I continue to have a good laugh about the woman who showed up one Christmas with gift labelled "For Rev. Allen and the wife." Now, we could be charitable and assume that the woman didn't know Dar's name, but then, Rev. & Mrs. Allen would have done. No this was a clear "objectifier." Not only was Dar "the wife," she was "the Minister's wife," and believe me, that term has all kinds of "interesting characteristics attached to it. Those expectations have to do with what a congregation wants, or demands, of the Minister's wife, regardless of her personhood. Objectification.

As I noted last week, the guy who saw his wife as being there to get meals on the table, clean the house, raise the kids, and do the horizontal mambo on command falls in the "objectified, fix it" category. Indeed, in his one counselling session (reported to me by my client) he made an appointment for her and it was clear he was going to "take her to therapy to 'get her fixed.' "

What he has is a discontinuity between his internal representation of "the wife" and the woman he is married to. He's diligently worked, for years, at fixing her - all on his own - now, he wants professional help. And, damn her, she still won't cooperate!

And we ask, why should she? It's his representation that doesn't fit, not her.

Have a look, again, at the list above, about letting go of the need to fix others to fit your erroneous representations of how they should be. Let go. Work on you. People aren't refrigerators, and they aren't roles. They're autonomous human beings. Keep to your own package, your own skin. God knows there's enough to do in there for a lifetime.

Next week, more from Campbell, the list, and the power of our internal representations.

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