Can you really “make” someone do anything?
Well, it sure seems like it, especially when it comes to common, colloquial expressions:
“She made me (fill in the blank)”….turn off the TV, pick my clothes off the floor, get off the phone, go to the store, leave the party early.
Same goes for phrases like:
“He wouldn’t let me (fill in the blank)”….buy the expensive item, get a tattoo, get another drink, stay out late, take another 15 minutes to get ready.
Says Anna D., 25, of San Francisco, Calif., “I know that I use those sayings sometimes, but I don’t think much of it.”
Speaking in this way seems relatively harmless, especially when said in its most everyday contexts, but the danger comes in really seeing oneself, or anyone else, as lacking choices when it comes to making decisions. Because for the most part (perhaps cases of physical violence aside, among other things), a person cannot be made to do anything.
In most situations, there are choices, maybe not ideal ones, but choices nonetheless. For instance, “He made me get off the phone,” suggests that the person was forced to by the other person, that there was no say or act of free will in the matter. In actuality, though, it is a choice to get off the phone, albeit one that is probably the lesser of two evils, the greater “evil” being the one that is less bearable, and therefore not taken, ie. staying on the phone.
Another way to think about it, then, is that he got off the phone because it was an easier option than having to deal with what would happen if he didn’t get off the phone, for instance, the reaction of the other person, whether it be ire, rage, disapproval, threats, etc. So in actuality, there is a choice, just one that he doesn’t want to or cannot tolerate. Because he could continue to stay on the phone, for example, if he didn’t let the other person’s impatience and negative emotions bother him or if he could just tolerate what the other person would do or how the other person would feel.
The risk of using this type of language is falling into a victim mindset fixed on blaming which can in turn breed resentment, helplessness, and powerlessness, to name just a few disempowering emotions
“I mean if I thought about it more, I guess I say things like that when I don’t want to take responsibility for things,” continues Anna.
Realizing that there are options and taking responsibility for the ones chosen give a sense of agency in one’s life, so that one can accept the choice made, or if not, realize that there is personal control over circumstances and alternatives available, even if it might mean developing the capacity to be able to handle and manage the negative emotions and/or actions that might arise in the other person or whatever the case may be.
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Carolyn Kim, MA, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco, CA. She works with individuals and couples in a variety of areas, including relationship difficulties, anxiety, stress, depression, communication, and self-empowerment. She received her Masters in Counseling Psychology with a Somatic (Mind-Body) Emphasis from the California Institute of Integral Studies.
In her articles, she takes a broad look at all types of relationships, including the ones you have with yourself, others, and life in general.
You can contact Carolyn at [email protected] or learn more about her by visiting her website: www.carolynkim.org.