Reality Check: Strings Attached

The book, Choice Theory, by Dr. William Glasser is subtitled, “A New Psychology of Personal Freedom.”

Glasser points out that the world is full of folks trying to control each other. These controlling behaviours cause plenty of misery—certainly for the “controllee” but also for the controller.

One controlling behaviour is manipulative gift-giving. Have you ever been offered a gift with strings attached? Glasser calls “bribing to control” one of the deadly habits that destroy relationships.

Sami feels like a pawn between her parents. Although long divorced, the acrimony continues. Sami has given up trying to be a peacemaker; she simply tries to get along with both.

Now, as she plans for university, her father has offered to pay for an apartment. There’s only one strict condition—her mother cannot stay with her.

Is that a reasonable condition? Is it fair? Is fairness relevant? The reality is—if Sami chooses to take his offer, that’s the condition.

Sami’s housing situation will be more comfortable if she accepts daddy’s money. However, she loves her mother and resents this restriction on her freedom. What’s a daughter to do?

Manipulation to control takes many forms. For example, “I’ll buy your prom dress but I get to choose it,” “I’ll pay for your car but you can’t drive your friends around,” “If you study every evening, I’ll let you go on a trip.”

Bribery attempts to control, even when motivated by wanting what’s best. For example, “I’ll buy you lunch if you order a salad; no fries.”

If you find yourself on the receiving end of controlling offers, recognize that you have options.

You could accept the offer. If it works for you to have someone control what you eat (salad, not fries), then you may choose to accept that offer. (You may as well also choose to be happy about it!)

You could refuse the offer and maintain your freedom. If you want fries for lunch, have fries for lunch. Enjoy your freedom, but you’ll be buying lunch yourself!

A third reaction is to resent the attempt to control, yet choose to accept the bribe anyway. This may be the least satisfying option for both parties. Why?

Some folks become very creative when responding to manipulation. When your friend buys you the salad, might you sneak back later to fill up on fries?

In other words, does forbidding/controlling actually stop the unwanted behaviour? Or does one just creatively avoid being caught?

Bribery creates barriers to good, trusting relationships. It says, “I want a relationship with you, but only if you do as I wish.” 

Personal freedom involves choosing among options. Options are not always attractive, but they exist. In Sami’s case, if freedom matters, she can reject daddy’s offer, get a loan and live with her mom.

Just because someone tries to manipulate you with goodies doesn’t mean that you must play along. The choice is yours. However, if you choose to accept, do so with open eyes. After all, how satisfying is it to accept a gift while also choosing to be angry or resentful?

What do you think? 

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