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Taking Back the Matches
By Aislinn O'Connor
Recently there was a fire which burned down a house. It turned out that, unknown to their parents, one of the children had found a box of matches. Fascinated by the sparks and the exciting sound they made when they scratched them along the side of the box, the children had struck match after match... till one fell on the carpet, still alight.
The children didn't have a notion of the danger they were in, or the damage they might do. They lit the matches for one reason only - because the temptation to make use of the power that had inappropriately come into their hands was irresistible.
Well, it isn't only children who do that. In fact, if someone in your life is making it a misery, it's a pretty fair bet that he, or she, just can't resist the temptation to use the power over your feelings, and therefore your behavior, that you yourself have given them.
We do it for the best of reasons. If you love someone, for example, of course you want to please them - but if you can only like yourself if they approve of everything you say or do, that's an awful lot of power to give anyone, and more than most can safely handle.
There may be certain things you have to do to please a boss, or teacher, colleagues, companions or family members - but, again, you can't let their approval be the ONLY thing that makes you feel you're a good human being. If you do, no matter how grown-up they are, you'll turn them into spoilt, demanding children - and the box of matches that they're playing with is YOU.
If there's anyone in YOUR life who seems to be impossible to please, here's what to do about it.
- Remember that it's YOUR life. No-one owns you. It's right to do the best you can for other people, but NOT to feel and act as if you're helpless. YOU have needs and choices, too - and you're the ONLY person responsible for how much happiness (or otherwise!) you get from life.
- Ask yourself exactly who has got you on the run, and and what they do that's making you feel bad.
- Make a list, just for yourself, of any VALID criticisms they may have about you, and what you plan to do to put those right. Be absolutely honest here - even the most awkward person in the world might have a valid point occasionally, and in undertaking to improve yourself where necessary you begin to take control.
- Now picture each person who's been making you uncomfortable. Accept that although you haven't previously realized it, you yourself have granted them the power to wound your feelings deeply. Their approval has become so essential to you that you've put your self-esteem into their hands... and like the children with the box of matches, the temptation to use that power has proved irresistible.
Now all you have to is just - take back the matches! In your mind, see each of those people with a box of matches in their hands - a big, bright-colored box, with "Self-Esteem" written on the front and back of it. Hear yourself speaking to each person in your personal choice of words, and pleasantly, but firnly, ask them for the matches back.
You might say something like, "I love you" (or "like you", or "respect you", depending on the relationship involved) "very much, but I need my self-esteem back so that I can love" (or "like" or "respect") "myself as well, and make this whole relationship work better."
Now, in your mind, reach out and take the box of matches from them, with a smile - if it's someone you love, you might want to add a kiss, for good measure! Now see yourself being in that person's company quite calmly, and that person looking at you with respect and admiration.
Use this technique as many times as you like until you find that you can deal with people easily and comfortably, and you no longer react so strongly and so painfully to what they say or do.
As long as you are really working on removing any REASONABLE causes for annoyance they might have with you, you should find that their behavior will start to change. There are very few people who will ever take you at any higher valuation than they see you placing on yourself - but most will also recognize when that valuation rises, and see the need to treat you more respectfully.
Go on - take back the matches, and restore your self-esteem!