Reality Check: Ease off External Control

The Reality Therapy approach emphasizes that when we use external control, unhappy relationships are the likely result.

What is external control, exactly? In “Take Charge of Your Life,” Dr. Glasser says, “In a relationship, it is a belief that what we choose to do is right and what the other person does is wrong.”

For example, Sandy believes that her daughter Chloe should study for her big exam. She should study for an hour every night, alone in her room. She should make notes. There should be no phone calls, conversation, or music. Sandy believes she knows what’s right for Chloe.

What if Chloe doesn’t respond with, “Yes mom, I will study for as long and in exactly the way you think I should”?  Is there any chance of that happening, do you think?

Then, what will Sandy do? She could tell Chloe again. And again. Many, many times. This is also known as nagging!

Or, she may try to bribe Chloe. “Study and I won’t ask you to clean your room.” She may even threaten, “Study or I will take away your computer, cell phone, friends…”

How can you identify external control? A good question is, “Am I providing information that this person doesn’t have?” Once Sandy offered Chloe her recommendations, then did Chloe really need more information to know what her mom believes she should do?

So, if Chloe already has the information, then what is Sandy trying to do? Control her?

“But if I don’t nag, she’ll fail!” Yes, consequences can reveal really hard truths.

Chloe may have her own method of preparation, which could be quite different from Sandy’s. Chloe’s method may be effective (or not!) If she uses it, she will receive feedback on how effective that method was. That is, she’ll experience a consequence: pass or failure.

However, if Chloe studies because Sandy promised to buy her a laptop, then Chloe learns a different lesson. She learns that she can manipulate mom into giving her things. All she need do is first make a fuss, and then comply. Is this what Sandy wants to teach her?

Further, if Chloe complies with mom’s recommendations and fails, she may choose to take the opportunity to shift blame. “I would have passed, but you made me study your way. I knew that wouldn’t work!”

Which is more effective? For Chloe to prepare her way and experience that her actions have consequences? Or to try to “protect” Chloe from failure by insisting that she do things Sandy’s way?

Obviously, I am not suggesting that one never protect children from consequences. We don’t want toddlers learning about stairs by tumbling down them! And potential life-changers, such as posting regrettable photos or remarks on social media, call for clear, direct information about long-term consequences.

Ultimately, all we can offer is information. Will your relationships improve if you make that information persuasive and helpful, rather that packaging it in bribery or coercion? Let me know at

What if the shoe is on the other foot? That is, what if others are trying to use external control on you? Can you escape it? Stay tuned!

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