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Releasing Unenforceable Rules

We previously discussed that grievances arise from attempting to enforce “unenforceable rules.”  We treat the breach of one of our unenforceable rules as a personal affront.  It is that “personal” aspect that we need to eradicate to release a grievance. The good news is that challenging unenforceable rules is pretty straightforward. Luskin, in Forgive for Good,  describes six simple steps to unwinding unenforceable rules. The first is to recognize that you are upset and to acknowledge that the upset is taking place in the present moment. Second, you need to remind yourself that your upset stems from an unenforceable rule.  Third, you need to be willing to challenge this unenforceable which is causing you pain. Fourth, you must identify the unenforceable rule. Fifth, having identified your unenforceable rule, you change the way you think about what you need or want by making it something that you may hope for or wish, converting it from a demand to a desire. Finally, you recognize that by challenging your unenforceable rules, converting them from demands to desires, you lighten your load, create space in your mind, think more clearly and feel much better.

Before leaving the subject of unenforceable rules, let’s take a look at some common ones.  Note which of these you previously have experienced, consider how each of these is beyond your control and therefore “unenforceable,” and contemplate how each, if perceived as a desire rather than demand, would enable you  to modify your behavior to make the outcome more likely to occur.

Your partner must be faithful. Would kindness and respect be more forthcoming with if this were your desire rather than your demand?

People must not lie to you. How would you respond differently, if rather than a demand being rejected, your expectation was not met?

Life should be fair. What is it about this demand that suggests a life of continuing disappointment?

People have to treat me with kindness.  Is your expectation of kindness “universal”? Might others have different views of what “kind” behavior might be? How might one, who never experienced kindness, know how to deliver it to you?

My life should be easy. Almost every witness confronted with challenges in life. The shift of focus to what you appreciate in your life or what it is that you are thankful for would seem to be a better course.

My past should have been different than it was. The past is over. This moment is entirely new and unrelated to the past, unless you choose to link it.

My parents should have treated me better. Like the last rule, you have the present moment in which to make a change. Hope for better, if you still have the chance. It will open you up, provide opportunity for greater insight, and relax you. Maybe there was more going on that what you saw. Perhaps, there is another interpretation of what you remember.

As you begin to challenge your unenforceable rules, you begin to take responsibility for how you feel. Things are less personal as you become aware of how unenforceable your rules were. Your rules gave rise to your anger and hurt, not necessarily the circumstance. Come to see that releasing your rules restores your clarity, allowing you to make good decisions when things do not go your way -  all without the hurt and anger that previously was yours to bear.



Tim Tosta
Life Coach


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