How to control yourself without hurting people

Dubmom asks: How do you control yourself without hurting people?

Hi Dubmom –

I’m not sure I’m understanding your question exactly – are you asking how one can control themselves in order not to hurt people, or are you asking how to control yourself, but not hurt anyone in so doing?

If it’s the first, this was a huge issue for the first few years of my life.  I was a big, very strong, and very excitable pup.  I loved Handsome with all my heart, but something would grab my attention and I’d forget all about him, for example the time he parked his car on a steep hill, and as we were working our way down it, with me on a leash, I saw a dog and lunged to play with it, and pulled Handsome off his balance so he slipped, fell over a high curb, scraped up his face and damaged one arm so badly he couldn’t straighten it out for days.  Now I didn’t choose to do that to him; I never would.  But I lost control for a second, and did it – I hurt him.

The only solution I know for that is to mature, to pay more attention, and to prioritize.  So that, if that situation happened again, instead of pulling to get to that other dog, I’d whine to let Handsome know I wanted to be let off the leash.  If he agreed to it, great, I’d get to run to that other dog.  If not, I’d know he’d let me off once it was safe.  But I had to make our safety the priority, which means I needed to Think First.

Again, that mostly comes through maturity, through living and learning tough lessons.  You’ll note – even adult humans who pride themselves on being rebellious and uncontrolled don’t run into busy streets without looking!  They’ve learned that lesson over time!

But I’m more intrigued by this other way of reading your question.  How often we see people doing things to control themselves, which actually hurt others!

Most often I think it’s just ego-based.  People who don’t exercise might not like it if their best friend starts getting into good shape.  People who drink too much are often very offended when their friends start cutting down or become sober.

With those kinds of “hurt,” my advice is to do what you think is best for yourself, and just try extra-hard to be kind to those who might be bothered by it.  You can word it in a way that protects their feelings, like “Hey you might be able to get away with watching TV for three hours every night, but I’m falling behind in my classes and just have to put more time into studying!”  In the long run, you’ll serve as a role model to help them control themselves more, and possibly you might even help save their lives!

But what about when your self-control literally hurts someone else?  Like when a parent has to stop playing with their young child as much as they like, in order to get more hours at their job?  Or when, to live their life truthfully, someone breaks up with a friend, or someone closer-than-a-friend?  How can a nice, kind person do this?

One way, my friend.  Just as with my earlier reading of your question, it’s about Prioritizing.  And this might mean making some very tough decisions, when there’s no way to avoid pain.  So that parent has to choose to go to work more.  And that will hurt their child’s feelings – especially as that kid has no way of understanding why this has to happen.  So the parent can lessen the blow by talking with them, listening to their hurt, showing that they understand… but still following through on their decision.  And that girl has to tell that boy that she’s very sorry, but she just has to break up.  And be kind, and express gratitude for what they’ve had, and offer to be there for him, or to give him space… but still, do it.

I live through this nearly every day.  I know Handsome adores me, and would spend every second of his life with me if he could.  But he goes to work, and leaves me home for long periods, all alone.  I hate it.  And he does too.  So how does he do it?  He always gives me a hug and a kiss and a treat when he goes.  He always tells me how much he loves me.  He always promises to come back.

Oh and there’s one other thing he says, which really ties all this together.  You see, I’m still big and strong and pretty smart, so he knows that, if I chose to, I could probably find a way to get out of our fenced-in yard.  And he knows that, if I did, there’s a strong possibility I’d get hit by a car, or picked up by a dog-catcher, or some other awful thing, that would ruin my life – and his.  So every day, when he kisses me on the nose, he makes one request to me:  “Don’t break my heart.”

And that is what really keeps me under control.  You see, he’s reminding me that anything I did out of knuckleheaded silliness that ended up hurting me, would also hurt him, devastatingly.  So when he leaves, he’s just planting into my head, one more time, how important I am, and how much I mean to his heart.

And that works.  It keeps me under control.  It keeps me remembering to stay safe.

And again, as I pointed out above, to Think First.

I hope this helps, Dubmom!


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