Take Your Hands Off the Wheel

It all started with the dishwasher.  After a good night's sleep, I walked into the kitchen one morning to make a cup of tea and found my husband loading dirty dishes into the top rack.  I stood quietly by, taking special note of how he "tossed" them in without much concern for how they were placed.  Once he was done and safely in his office, I, knowing full well that the dishwasher needed to be loaded correctly, walked over, opened the front of the machine, and proceeded to rearrange what he had done.  Just then, Michael walked back into the room.  

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Nothing," I replied, looking guilty as hell.  

"No really, Cheryl, what are you doing?" he demanded.  

I quickly explained how important it was to put the dishes in the dishwasher in a certain way to insure that they'd be cleaned properly.  Before I could finish my well-honed argument, he exclaimed:

"That's ridiculous.  They'll get clean regardless of how you put them in.  Why don't you just tell the truth?  You're a control freak and since I didn't do it your way, you need to fix it."  

I felt like a little girl caught in the act of stealing candy at the corner store.  I stood there, head bent, looking down at my slippers.

"Cheryl," he explained, "what do you think goes through my mind when I come into the kitchen and find you redoing what I just did?"

I looked up with a sheepish grin on my face.  

"It makes me say 'Why bother?  It's never right and she's just going to do it over anyway.'  So I don't help out and that's why you end complaining that you never get the support you need.  Rather than receive my help, you criticize it."

Ouch.  I hate when you're face to face with the person who knows you better than anyone else in the world and there's no where to hide.  Michael was right.  I was a control freak and when it came to asking for or receiving help, I got an automatic "F." 

If there's one thing I've struggled with the most over the years as I've worked hard to become a more conscious woman, it's asking for and receiving help.   Like so many women, my natural default is to want to be in control by doing things myself.  And, over time, this "I'll do it myself" mentality, turned into "Hi, I'm General Manager of the Universe and you need to do this my way and in my time to keep me happy."  What follows from there isn't pretty.  Eventually I proudly wear the cloak of martyr and everyone pays the price.  I get bitchy and resentful, and I end up feeling painfully alone.  

There are plenty of reasons why we don't ask for help. First of all, those of us who like to be in charge have typically done so for a very long time.  As a result, it doesn't even occur to us to ask.  Second, there are the perceived costs.  When I talk to people about why they don't ask for help, I hear things like:

  • I don't want to appear weak.
  • It takes too much energy to explain what I need, so I don't bother.
  • I hate being disappointed when people don't follow through.
  • It's too much of a hassle to fight with family members who resist helping out.
  • I don't want to hear "no."
  • I don't want to feel indebted to anyone.

If you look closely you'll see that what all of these examples have in common is, in fact, control - the attempt to manage the perceptions of others by not appearing weak, for example, or the desire to avoid conflict or disappointment.  And then there's the idea that doing everything on your own makes you less indebted to others.

So how do you know when support is long overdue?  Here are a few warning signals:

  • You hear yourself chronically complaining about how much you have to do.
  • You feel like the weight of the world is resting squarely on your back.
  • You fantasize about packing a bag and leaving for the nearest deserted island.
  • You find yourself crying at unexpected times and in unexpected places (or you feel like you need a good cry).
  • You start yelling at inanimate objects or at drivers in front of you who are driving the speed limit.
  • You feel so exhausted that the idea of brushing your teeth feels like too much work.

These are clues that you need someone to lean on - now.  Sure, I know that asking for and receiving help is challenging.  Many of us use the same arguments:  "No one can do it better than me," or "It takes too much time to explain what needs to be done," and "It's just easier to do it myself."  And while I've used these same excuses, I've also learned to remind myself that there's too much at stake.  The quality of my life is far more important than any task. 


An Excerpt from the Book "The Art of Extreme Self Care"

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LauriLumby 24th May 2012 6:47 am

Cheryl, thank you for this timely post. I too am a recovering control freak and martyr. :) I have learned that if I want support (which I do), I need to let those who are here as a source of support for me (and me for them), do the tasks without my persnickety, perfectionistic, judgmental self barging in. I have also been on the other end of that control....never able to please certain people in my life and as a result feeling resentment because I want to be a source of support, but it is never enough or never good enough. We all struggle with our control demons and the invitation is to LET GO....and allow eachother to support each other in the best way we know how without the constant threat of condemnation.

Lauri Lumby

Keeshin 29th May 2012 10:44 am

I personally agree with trying to "kind" rather than "right" all the time....BUT!!!!!!!!!! Let us face it, the one who refuses to find a proper way of doing things and then placing the blame squarely on the one trying to complete the task with efficiency is a CONTROL FREAK! Not the other way around. I am a male and I refuse to accept that the husband can not figure out how to load a washer properly! I could do at at the age of 8. However, I see your point of not criticizing everything that is not correct in the way others perform certain duties. The husband is lazing and inconsiderate. If he wanted to have the dishes cleaned he would ask if he was loading the washer correctly. The husband would rather point out your shortcomings and that took the focus off his complacency. Love, Light and Beauty to you all. Peace


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Author Information

Cheryl Richardson

Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including, Take Time for Your LifeLife MakeoversStand Up for Your LifeThe Unmistakable Touch of GraceThe Art of Extreme Self Care, You Can Create an Exceptional Life with Louise Hay, and her new book, Waking Up in Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife.

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