This week, we are discussing the ever sought after goal of many of our clients— peace. Peace of heart, peace of mind, a peaceful home, peaceful relationships, or a peaceful work environment. The issues we see in our office that bring couples, families and individuals to therapy may vary, but underneath the presenting problem is usually the same core struggle: Whatever is going on in their life feels chaotic, unsettling, insecure, or just simply without peace.
We all want peace in our hearts and minds, because being in a state of incongruence and uncertainty feels terrible! So, what gets in the way of peace? Trying to change or control the things (or people) we don’t have power or control to change.
When imagining this blog series, one of the first things that came to our minds as therapists was the serenity prayer. Regardless of your spiritual belief system, the serenity prayer is a very powerful message:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference."
“And the wisdom to know the difference...”.
Sometimes, when life hands us unfortunate circumstances, we struggle with recognizing what IS and IS NOT in our power to change or control. If we are unaware that we are putting all of our energy and emotion into trying to change or control a situation or person that doesn’t want to change, it can lead to a lot of frustration, resentment, powerlessness, confusion and feelings of helplessness. All of those are the opposite of peace.
Having the widsom of what we can and cannot change is a key part of feeling serenity and being at peace. When we try and change things out of our control (like other people), we definitely can't have serenity... and it usually brings us the exact opposite of what we are hoping for!
Have you ever had someone try and control or change something about you? How did you feel when that person tried to change you? How did you respond to their attempts at trying to control or change you? It usually doesn't feel very good to be on the receiving end of this behavior. Most people respond to this with resistance, if they are being asked to change something about themselves that they don’t see as being an issue. Some people get so wrapped up in the feeling of trying to be changed or controlled, that they can’t see the genuine hurt they are causing the other person from their ongoing behavior.
If you are in this position of feeling resistance, as though someone is trying to control or change you, ask yourself: Why am I continuing to do something over & over that my partner/spouse/friend/colleague is repeatedly saying “that behavior hurts me”? Healthy relationships don’t want to continue to do things that are hurtful to the other person. Healthy relationships care about the wellbeing of the other person & take care to guard that person’s heart, to the best of their ability. Regardless, it takes a mindset of receptiveness to hearing the other persons feelings and needs, and an internal desire to not be hurtful anymore, in order to produce long term (sustainable) change.
On the flip side, have you ever tried to change something or someone that didn't want to change? How did it feel when you were trying to "make" them or the situation change? Usually, this feels exhausting and frustrating-- and it rarely works. If the person or situation changes, it isn't authentic-- it's coerced. The other person ends up feeling manipulated and pushed into making changes, which hardly ever results in long term change.
Our healthiest relationships are where we don't try to control or change the other person, but instead, share with them how we are feeling and what we are needing, and decide for ourselves what WE can change about ourselves to make the situation better. Even then, it's up to the other person to decide whether or not it is something they are willing to change and it's up to us to decide what we are willing to do differently.
Sometimes, that means that we eventually decide to end a relationship or drastically change the nature of the relationship— not from an attempt to change or control the other person, but because that is what we need to change about our situation in order to take care of ourselves. If the other person or situation decides to change as a result of our self care, then great! But the core reason for the change isn’t because it was forced by us. Either way, we will be at peace because we are changing what we can, and letting go of what we can’t control.
One of the things we ask our clients in therapy is: What are YOU doing— or NOT doing— that is allowing you to be in this situation? This is a powerful example of gaining wisdom into what we can and cannot change. At the end of the day, the only thing we can truly change is ourselves. Whether that means changing our reactions to others, changing how much power we give them over us, changing our boundaries with others and what we allow from them, or changing our own situation somehow.
Having the wisdom to know the difference means feeling empowered and taking responsibility for own lives and happiness. Do you have the wisdom to know the difference between what you have the power to change and what you can't?
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen." -Reinhold Niebuhr
Note: The full version of the serenity prayer is shown above, though the most common use for the serenity prayer is the beginning portion, which we have highlighted in this weeks blog. For more information on the history and meaning of the serenity prayer in it's entirety, go to www.thevoiceforlove.com/serenity-prayer.html
Joleen Watson, MS, LMFT, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, infidelity counseling and helping couples heal from an affair, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.