I happen to be part of an ethic group that has made worrying an art form. I have watched loved ones worry about the health of another person, the marriage of their children, the lives of grandchildren that live out of state and on and on. I have also watched them use it in such a destructive way that has rippled into just about every branch of our family tree.
I have also seen a select few use this worry, or this perception of worry, as a tool to influence, control and even manipulate a situation in the hopes that their controlling nature would lead to a desired outcome. Unfortunately, it routinely does the opposite; it destroys instead of improves a situation. It upsets others, cause heartache and when it is used to consistently stress other people; it makes for very unhappy people and relationships.
Yet, here is the most important thing that people often forget about worrying – it does absolutely nothing to improve things. It only destroys the present over things that truly may never be or things that will be. Both of these things are out of our control and realm of influence so we truly have no other choice than to let it go until action in required.
Recently a loved one started cancer treatments and their spouse is worried about absolutely everything. What if there are side effects to the treatment? What if the treatment doesn’t work as expected? What if there is car trouble on the way to the treatments? What am I going to do if the doctors feel that a more aggressive type of treatment is necessary? What if the patient doesn’t want to do the more aggressive treatment?
Now, someone please tell me what control this spouse has over any of these situations, with the exception of making sure that they have a reliable vehicle to travel to treatments? I have been accused of not caring, of not loving the person who is sick and for being selfish. All of which are categorically not true.
The question that we should address at this point is why this spouse is worrying so much about something that they have no control over. They key word here is ‘control.’ Some ethnic groups, because of the nature of their construction, traditionally the men work and bring home the paycheck and the woman makes everything else work. The wife/mom buys the groceries, pays the bills, makes the doctors’ appointments, takes the kids to sports practice, chooses the kind of car they buy, where the shop, what insurance company they use and which cable company the family uses.
When this kind of control over every aspect of a family’s life falls in the lap of one person, over time this wife/mom has realized she is the family puppeteer; the family Geppetto if you will. As the decades pass and everything seamlessly works, no one questions anything because “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Then, on the rare occasion, when an adult child questions a decision or suggests a change in the family plan, suddenly Geppetto’s reign of control is in flux and it is battle stations.
There will be tears, claims of not loving anymore, reminders of all they have done for you for so many years – it short, they take it personally – and they play with your emotions to get you to back off so as to put everything back in balance with them controlling the puppet strings. Our natural instinct is to back off to avoid problems, but all it does it make things worse in the coming months, years and decades because now, it has become manipulation.
Control is an ugly things and before you know it, you are being told what job to take, what house to buy, who to choose as your partner and how to decorate your home. I am reminded of a college friend who was engaged the year after we graduated. Anxiously awaiting the invitation in the mail and the date, I called to find out how she was doing. She was happy, content and laughing as she told me that the marriage was off and their relationship was over. Why? Because he put down a purchase offer on a house and started buying furniture for it without consulting her on any of it. Thankfully, she saw what her future was going to be like and had the audacity to say no. Two years later she started dating a new man who was a true partner and communicator and they have been happily married for over 20 years.
While it is emotionally difficult, often heart-wrenching, to cut the strings that Geppetto has on you, it must be done in order to have control over your own life, make your own decisions and choices. I don’t care if it is your mother, your spouse, a sibling, the grandmother who raised you or the teacher who guided you to where you are today. If these people truly love you, truly care for you, they will let you live your life and appreciate the fact that you are welcoming them along for the ride. They will be there to offer advice when asked for it and only then. Otherwise you are not living your life, you are living the life that Gepetto wants for you and you really have to ask yourself, do you want to live the rest of your life in a way that makes someone else happy but not you?
We need to worry less, relinquish control that others have on us, and accept the only true rule for living a happy life – you are responsible for your own happiness.