In the book Take Your Life Back, there’s a concept we call relational dictatorship. Some of you need to take your life back from a relational dictator who thinks they know what is best for you. Either a wife or a husband can be a dictator. Sometimes a parent can still be the dictator; and their adult child (which is an apt description) can be married with children of their own, but they’re locked into their own childhood by the parent who won’t let go and allow them to individuate into a full-fledged adult.
What happens when we’re in a relational dictatorship? We’re stunted in our growth as a person, and we’re ruled by our emotions. There’s nothing wrong with emotions, but they’re not meant to rule our lives. Why? Because when we’re ruled by our emotions, we’re living a reactive lifestyle and we’re reacting to the dictator.
Let’s say a mom is still a dictator to her adult son. The son is married and his wife resents the dictatorship of her mother-in-law; but, her husband is more loyal to his mom than to her. That’s all done emotionally, and it’s primarily all done out of fear. We put up with relational dictatorships out of fear that if we lose that role or that relationship, we won’t survive. But the truth is we won’t survive unless we take our life back!
So how does that work? Well, we have two sides to our brain. The right side is the emotional side; the left side is the reasoning side. Some people develop their logical or reasoning side and have little emotion. Some develop their emotional side and have little reasoning ability.
We all tend to develop the emotional side of our brain first. As children, we are emotionally driven. We cry a lot, yell a lot, scream a lot, and laugh and play a lot. Emotional outbursts are part of growing up; but once we get into elementary school and beyond, we begin to develop the reasoning side of our brain.
As adults, the ideal is to have a balance between our emotional brain and our reasoning brain—to be able to manage emotions with reasoning so we respond rather than react; and when we feel an emotional impulse, we can analyze it with reasoning and respond in a way that’s appropriate. That’s called differentiation.
If we’re in a relational dictatorship, we often fight against it, react against it, rebel against it—but this is still reactive living. We need to develop the ability to manage the emotional side of our brains so we can manage our emotional responses. Through reasoning, our brain develops to the point where we can respond rather than react. The recognition that we have choices and that we’re in control of our emotions allows us to respond in healthy ways and to live responsively.
When we’re in a relational dictatorship, the solution isn’t always to get out of the dictatorship. Many times we’ll just find someone else to be our dictator. The guy who whose mother dies either finds another mother, or his wife becomes his mother and she dictates to him—but the relationship is still out of balance.
To manage our emotions, we all have a basic emotional position we go to—a favorite emotion we’re comfortable with. We may not name it as such, but we go there and we’re comfortable there. There are four basic negative emotions: anger, fear, shame/guilt, and sadness; and there are two positive emotions: joy and surprise. When we’re in a relational dictatorship, our basic emotional posture will typically be either fear or anger.
The dictator may also go to anger as their basic emotional posture. When something isn’t the way they want it, they get angry. But the person in that relationship is probably motivated by fear. Or, some may be motivated by toxic shame, or sadness, or depression—all of which are similar to fear in terms of feeling powerless. Whatever basic emotional position we go to, we need to learn to manage it.
We can manage anger by balancing reason with emotions. Neither is bad when they’re equally developed in our lives—when we’ve become responsive to life rather than reactive to life!
If you’re in a relational dictatorship with a boss, a friend, a parent, a spouse, or even an adult child, it’s important for you to develop and empower your reasoning brain so it can manage your emotional brain and you are free to respond rather than react!
Do you need help in dealing with a relational issue? Call us today at 1-800-NEW-LIFE for resources to help you take your life back!