The Key to Undoing Dependency
One of the most important concepts that I share with almost every client that I work with is Byron Katie’s idea of there being only “Three kinds of business in the universe”. She says that these are ‘God’s business, Your business, and My business’. And keeping clear on the difference can be the decisive factor in keeping not only our relationships healthy, but our life more happy and peaceful.
When Katie uses the word ‘business’ here, what we are talking about are realms of control and power. And please note that if you would prefer the word, “Nature” this is interchangeable with “God” in this idea. In her own words she describes this idea:
“Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think, “You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself,” I am in your business. When I’m worried about earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die, I am in God’s business. If I am mentally in your business or in God’s business, the effect is separation and loneliness. “
If you are living your life and I am mentally living your life, who is here living mine? We’re both over there. Being mentally in your business keeps me from being present in my own. I am separate from myself, wondering why my life doesn’t work.”
When I describe this concept, I often tell clients that there are 2 major problems that arise in our lives when we “get into another person’s business”. The first is that we simply waste a tremendous amount of effort, because we are trying to change something that we ultimately cannot change. “But” the client often says, “if my boyfriend is sad shouldn’t I be trying to change his mood? That seems cold or uncaring if I am not trying to make him happy”. While that makes sense, it is important to note that we are not saying that you need to stop caring for or about someone. It is simply facing the reality that no matter what you do, at the end of the day, another person is going to think and feel what they think and feel, and you can’t do that for them. Caring for you partner is your business. But how they feel is their business. It is just a fact that you don’t have access to the inner workings of their mind.
In fact, the biggest problem in relationships arise when we think we can give that control to our partners. Then we enter the dance of dependency: “YOU made me sad. YOU hurt my feelings. YOU have to change in order for me to feel good.” The subtext to these dynamics of a toxic relationship is that “I am responsible for your feelings”. But you just never could be. And neither are they responsible for yours. To see this honestly sets you free – free to love each other in a mature and responsible manner. Free – meaning to not be chained to believing you need to control something (another person) when you never can. That’s freedom, but it is also love. When I see this totally, then I am free to care and support and love another person without ever needing to get entangled. I have clear boundaries. I can take care of myself first.
Whose business is it if I am feeling happy or sad? My business.
Whose business is it if you are feeling happy or sad? Your business.
Whose business is the weather? God’s business. (Anything that’s out of my control, your control, and everyone else’s control—I call that God’s business.)
The second major problem that happens if you are busy getting into another person’s business (and this is true for your romantic partner, your mother or father, your children, or your friends) is simply that you have left yourself – meaning that if you are busy trying to control another person’s thoughts and feelings, then you are not present in yourself to take care of you. You have given your power away, and now you are letting yourself get controlled by the conditions and people around you, instead of taking honest self-responsibility.
If you are truly anchored in your own business only, anyone, even a lover or your parents could insult, reject, or act in an otherwise unpleasant way to you and you could let yourself see the reality that their ideas – even about you – are just that, mere ideas. This is a key idea that is often left out of this teaching – even someone’s thoughts about you are still their business! You could hear what they say and know that you could never be defined by another person. It is taking your power back from the world. This is, I believe, one of the defining points of our maturity as human beings.
Toxic and co-dependant relationships are always going to have both persons “getting too much into each other’s business”. That is pretty much how we define unhealthy relationships, if you really look at it. We do this because we are conditioned as children to emotionally manipulate our parents, which models for us all our future connections. This is not a criticism, nor is it negative. It is a necessary part of our growth. But we must make the healthy disconnection of individuation at some point. We must see that dependency is a stage in our growth as relational beings, but it is not the end point. As young children, we must be proficient at manipulating our parents because that is how we communicate pre-verbally. The problem arises when we never learn another way to relate to people. We end up walking through life believing that our entire sense of self-worth, emotions or wellbeing are all dependant on others, that we must manipulate in order to get what we want. People who can’t see more than this are emotionally immature and unstable and often have very difficult lives – because this perspective keeps us nothing short of being enslaved.
Katie says, “When I mentally went into my mother’s business, for example, with a thought like “My mother should understand me,” I immediately experienced a feeling of loneliness. And I realized that every time in my life that I had felt hurt or lonely, I had been in someone else’s business.
To think that I know what’s best for anyone else is to be out of my business. Even in the name of love, it is pure arrogance, and the result is tension, anxiety, and fear. Do I know what’s right for me? That is my only business. Let me work with that before I try to solve your problems for you. If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in your own business, it could free your life in a way that you can’t even imagine.”
In psychology we have the widely accepted ‘Attachment Theory’ which describes how and why we relate to people the way we do. I’ll have to write another full article about this at some point. But many people talk about it these days, using descriptors like anxious, ambivalent, and avoidant ways of attaching to others. Part of the reason why the idea of the three types of business is so great is that it is a simple and elegant way of describing the state of secure attachment (staying in one’s own business) which also describes how not to get lost in anxious neediness or insecure avoidance. It is just such an elegant idea!
Try it on for size. The next time that you are feeling stress or suffering just ask yourself, “Whose business am I in?” I almost guarantee that you will, if you look honestly, be able to see a way that you are either in God’s business, or another person’s business.
And then you can come back to yourself, to the sanity of what you can and cannot control. Only then will you learn to be responsible for your own feelings.
And only then will you be capable of finding true peace and happiness.