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  • Wendy Lee Johnson

Your Secret Manuals

Updated: Feb 15

Most of us have operating manuals for the people in our lives. Manuals are a rule book of how we want other people to show up. Often we don’t even know we have one and of course the other person has never read it.


When we don't recognize we have a manual, we don’t understand the real reason we are so frustrated by our loved ones.

What is a Manual?

It’s basically an instruction book that you've written for someone else. You feel bad or good, depending on whether or not they are following the manual you have for them. Of course, they have never read your manual for them. They probably don’t even know it exists. You just assume they know how you need them to show up.


You believe that if they would behave the way you’d like them to behave, you’d feel amazing. You use your manual as a reason to be upset and frustrated at how they are showing up. You don’t even realize you are doing this. You think you simply have reasonable expectations for the people in your life.


What might your manual say for your spouse?

  • He should support my weight loss goals

  • He should check in and be interested in my day

  • He should help with the housework

How do you think and (feel) when they follow your manual?

  • He respects me (respected)

  • He loves me (loved)

  • He is amazing (delighted)

  • We have a great relationship (grateful)

How do you think and (feel) when they don’t follow your manual?

  • I wish he would support me (unsupported)

  • If he loved me, he would be interested in my day (unloved)

  • We’ve talked about this a ton (frustrated)



When They Don’t Follow Your Manual

  1. You make it mean things, like they don’t love you

  2. You decide you can only feel better if they change

  3. You feel frustrated and let down

  4. You think their behavior causes your feelings

  5. You give all our power away to the other person

  6. You don’t take responsibility for your own feelings

  7. You act in crazy ways, trying to get them to change


Emotional Adulthood

Recognizing you have a manual for someone is a big step towards Emotional Adulthood. Emotional Adulthood is taking responsibility for your own feelings. The cover page on your manual usually reads, “if you don’t behave this way, I’m going to feel bad.” But that’s just not the truth. It’s your thoughts about their behavior that causes you to feel bad.


Requests and Agency

We can make requests of other people, but often we tie our emotional happiness to whether or not they are following those requests. Then we find ourselves trying to manipulate their actions so we can feel better. Changing other people to be like we want them to doesn't work. The bottom line is that we don’t have control over other people and how they behave.


Adult Children

I have a slew of adult children. When I have manuals for them, I get all controlling and manipulative, simply so I can feel better. Ironically, controlling and manipulative feels awful to me.


What’s in the manual I have for my adulting children?

  • Check in from time to time

  • Try to come to family events

  • Don't use drugs

  • Have jobs

Seems pretty harmless...maybe even a good thing? Surely that's not asking too much? So how do I chose to feel when they don’t show up like this?


I feel uncared for, frustrated and disappointed... Do these feelings serve me or our relationship? Never. Do these feelings cause them to make different choices? Nope.

How to Find Peace and Calm

When I throw away my manual for my kids, I let go of my rules and regulations and attempts to control them. I feel so much calmer and relaxed. It's like I can finally see who they are when I'm not trying to control them or change them. We connect on a much deeper level when I am not running a hidden agenda. I can listen to their real story, from their perspective. They don't waste time telling me what they think I want to hear.


Start to uncover the manuals you have for others. Who in your life do you have a manual for? Who are you frustrated with or feeling out of sync with? Who is it that you really want to change and what you want them to do? Answering these questions will help you see your most obvious manuals that are causing you suffering. They can be very subtle and hidden. Just be aware they are there and causing you pain. Maybe you can tear out a page or two?


Manuals can be very subtle.

  • If my boss was more relaxed, I could enjoy my job.

  • If my husband was a better listener, I would feel understood.

  • If my adult child had a job, I would worry less.

  • If my sister was less judgmental, I could relax around her.


Throwing away the manual looks like

  • Letting others show up as themselves

  • Enjoying them just as they are without trying to change them

  • Making a request with no strings attached

  • No controlling or manipulating

The best part about throwing away a manual, is that it's 100% in your control. Nobody else has to do a single thing different. You essentially take back all your power. You have to begin experimenting with this to really understand it. Remember, words don't teach, only experiences teach. This is work is extremely valuable and has changed my life.




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