Tools in Your Pocket: Manuals

Jul 21, 2023

Sometimes the most powerful tools in our personal development are the ones we must unlearn.  In my training at The Life Coach School I was introduced to the concept of Manuals, and this was so transforming to me and my relationships, I want to share it with you here.

As we’ve talked about before, it is our human nature to attempt to control all that we can in our environment…often and especially, other humans.  Often and especially, other humans with whom we have close relationships.  We create intricate rules for these particular humans — about how they should feel, act and behave – in order for us to feel certain emotions.  In effect, we create manuals for them.  Then, we decide what it means when they do or don’t follow these manuals, and worse: we create rules about how we should feel based on their actions.

When we create manuals, we outsource our emotions to others. It’s crazy, right?  In our attempt to control someone else we inadvertently give away all our power.  These thoughts about how someone should or shouldn’t behave and what we should therefore feel or not feel – these thoughts pretend to protect us, but instead actually create a lot of struggle and negative emotions.

Here’s the thing:  our emotions are an inside job: created by us, through our own thoughts.  No one else “makes us happy” ….or sad, or mad, or anything else – our emotions come from the thoughts we think. Period.

I get it – this is hard to take.  I’ve written many, many manuals in my time…and suffered accordingly.

When Himself and I got married, I developed a multi-volume manual with appendices and footnotes, detailing how he should act, what he should say and not say, and pretty much all the things that were his responsibility in order for me to feel “loved,” “complete,” “happy.”  This manual existed only in my mind, of course.  I never shared this manual with him – but somehow, he was supposed to have memorized it.

Actually, he was just supposed to know what I needed or wanted (p.7 of my manual).  He was supposed to do things without my telling him (p.9).  If he did things because I requested them, that somehow “ruined it because it wasn’t romantic.” (Chapter 4.)

Letting your feelings be regulated by someone else’s actions is emotional childhood, and it leads to resentment, frustration, even contempt.  We give all our power away trying to control others and waste energy in a tug-of-war with reality.  Liberating yourself (and those you love) from your manuals can be one of the most empowering things you ever do.  Developing awareness about and letting go of my manuals has transformed the connection and the quality of many of my closest relationships.

This doesn’t mean you abandon your standards about how you wish to be treated.  When you take responsibility of your own emotions, you can make requests of others from a place of strength and ease.  You set boundaries with more confidence, knowing you’ve got your own back, no matter what.

The catch of course is that taking responsibility for your own emotions means looking within and developing a relationship with yourself.  So many of us, particularly women, neglect ourselves profoundly and then blame others for our feeling neglected.   Doing the work to improve your relationship with yourself, and meeting your own needs, frees you to simply love and enjoy the people you love and enjoy: minus the scorecards, the expectations, and yes, the manuals.

Uncovering your own manuals is deep work, the gist of which can only be touched upon in a blog post.  But if this awareness strikes a chord, I encourage you to explore more deeply.  Ask yourself:  do you have unwritten rules for your loved ones?  How much are your emotions predicated on the actions of others?  Questions like these can reveal the optional struggles we often unconsciously create – and work in this area can create profound improvement in the quality of your life and your relationships.


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