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Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

Below is Dr Matt's Answer
to a Burning Question


Worry doesn't Work: Take Action!

Hello Dr Matt

I come from a large family, two of my sisters are at each others throat, making it difficult at every family function. My sisters, who live in the house we all grew up in, can't seem to get along. My mother moved to a small apartment to make it easier on herself, and gave the double house to two of my sisters. One sister is really laid back with parenting and just about everything else-housework-financially etc. The other sister, is responsible and her kids are her life.

Sister A, the laid back sister, has two boys, that need help, I am worried, especially about the younger boy, who gets lost in the shuffle, because of all the negative attention his brother gets.  The older boy is 16, and has no respect for any adult figure. I think that he pretty much runs the show.  I'll give you an example---The 16 year old had friends over, they started punching walls and making a mess of his room, my sister told them to leave, and my nephew and his friends IGNORED HER!!!  She has no control over the kids.

I completely blame my sister, who is a single mother, for not holding her own... She is the adult. I want to help her, but it is frustrating because she never follows through with counseling or anything else she has tried in the past. She started taking anti-depressants, which is ridiculous!!! She is not depressed, she is just covering up her feelings of frustration.

The other sister, the responsible one, wants to buy the other half of the house, because she can't stand living next to them.  She wants to make much needed repairs to the house, but is waiting for sister A to decide if she is going to move.

This is a heartbreak for my mother, and all others involved.  We all feel that they should work it out themselves, but their personalities are on two different sides of the spectrum... One being too laid back, and the other being too strict. I have suggested a mediator, but the laid back sister says she is not interested...My biggest concern is the younger boy, whose personality has changed so much. He is 14 and at a very crucial age. WHAT CAN I DO!!!

I feel like I am standing by watching her let the boys mold themselves into adulthood. I know she loves them very much, but she would rather buy them something to keep them quiet than to argue with them. Kids get into enough trouble, when they are brought up in a stable home, can I do anything, or should I mind my own business???

Holly--single 29
Hancock, New York

Dear Holly:

There are many issues that can be captured within the realm of your concern, . . . that are also NOT within the realm of your control. There is a term for these kind of irritating issues: they are called "non-control" problems. And there are some productive things you can do about "non-control" problems.

Please take a look at what I've posted at the following webpage—it summarizes of 3 Problems and 2 fundamental ways we might approach these problems.

When you dwell upon issues that you have NO direct control, you end up just spinning your wheels. As you can figure out . . . "worry" accomplishes nothing except to diminish your personal peace. You will NOTE in the "Healthy Life Patterns" column a term I call "constructive concern." This is concern for an issue that focuses upon the things that are within your sphere of control and/or influence.

You see . . . you can "control" your own "habits," the particular "approaches" toward others, and the "attitudes" you have about event you can DO nothing about--ALL these responses are within your control.

The problem you speak of falls in the second category: Indirect-Control Problem. You will notice at the previous webpage—in the far right column—the "Healthy" set of actions that can be constructively taken for "indirect-control" problems.

"Constructive Concern" means that you mentally contemplate what can be done at a practical level; you "think" upon things that are within the control of your habits, influence, and attitudes . . . THEN, when you've constructively contemplated ALL YOU CAN DO . . . then you DO IT.

And after you've done it, you must resist the temptation to worry about matters, once you've taken practical action. I intentionally use the word "temptation," because that is EXACTLY what is happening when you worry (see Ephesians 6:12).

This mean you really don't DO your "worrying" alone: Worry is always done with an unseen dance partner. Worry is always a "duet" with darkness—something I explain in detail in my book, "Changing Your Stripes."

When I speak of your "habits" being WITHIN YOUR CONTROL, this statement actually over simplifies the truth. You see HABITS emerge today . . . based upon decisions you've made yesterday. And so, you really CAN'T control your "habits" today. You are a prisoner to the decisions you've made yesterday.

But what you can do today . . . is set NEW Energy-In-Motion, to create a NEW set of behavioral tendencies tomorrow—NEW Habits!

It takes a lot to explain this phenomenon fully (and the best explanation is found in my book). The more complete explanation has to do with . . . Emotion as Energy-In-Motion—which basically means that you CAN'T control today's Emotions either—because they are already IN-MOTION. Just as you cannot control the course of running water, once it's IN-MOTION.

Every choice you've ever made yesterday is like an arrow you have shot into the air . . . it must land at some time in the future, and that "landing" is inevitable. To get an INTRODUCTION to this train of thought, read this Ask Dr Matt Answer entitled Self-Defeating Trap.

I share these ideas with you because I can SEE that your primary problem is WORRY—and ironically NOT what you are worrying about.

So to tackle your Direct-Control Problem, I am sharing this specific information about your personal "Habits"—as opposed to information that concerns what your sisters ought to do, for what they do is out of your sphere of direct control.

If you are a "Worry Wart," you will NOT be able to immediately quit "worrying" about your sisters, or the out-of-control son. . . . YOU will be STUCK in the RUT of this "worry" . . . until you put NEW Energy-In-Motion for New Emotions and New Habits in a bright NEW day!

Concerning another related issue, you say that your sister loves her boys "very much." If you define "love" as a feeling or attitude, then this may be the case. However, the richest expression of "Love" is conceived as ACTION. Thus, we do not love our children by "failing to teach" them the principles of happy living; and we do not love our children by being "permissive" and letting them do "anything they want."

At the level of ACTION, your "laid back" sister is not loving her rebellious 16-year-old son at all, when she is permissive about his bad behavior. Read more about the Highest Expression of Love.

The previous page approaches "love" in terms of male-female relationships, but there are clear applications to all other relationships, as well.

Further, to read more about a positive parenting approach (as well as a productive approach for influencing both your sisters) . . . read this about 3 Approaches of Influence.

In the end, you must FOCUS upon the things that are within the sphere of your control, and push ALL other WORRIES away! As you do this, . . . inner peace will be yours EVEN IF your sisters continue to be at each other's throats, and EVEN IF your "lay back" sister continues to be permissive with her 16-year-old—for you will have done . . . all you can do, . . . and you can't do MORE than that!


Matt Moody, Ph.D.
Social Psychologist

* * * * * * *

The Greatest Prize
for Life's labors isn't
in material possessions
or impressive accomplishments,
but in the progress of personal character.
You labor for your own becoming, this is your richest reward.
Who You Become is your greatest possession,
make it your Masterpiece!

(Changing Your Stripes, 2nd Edition, page 274).

The book, "Changing Your Stripes" presents principles for getting out of
the ditch in which you've been dumped (the difficulties of which you are a victim), and
the ditch in which you've jumped (the difficulties for which you volunteer).

"Mastering a challenging situation
is ultimately a matter of
mastering yourself!"

- Matt Moody 

"Changing Your Stripes," teaches you the principles that lead to lasting change,
making you a new kind of creature capable of communicating
with calm, even as storms of contention swirl.

If these principles resonate and ring true,
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Changing Your Stripes

Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

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