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Chaplain's Corner + People Are Going to Act the Way They Want To, Not the Way I Want

by Fr. George Morelli

The reason that many of the conflicts we have with others can disturb us is that we have in our minds sets of guiding rules, or cognitive ‘sets’, about what the behaviors of others, or the consequent outcomes of events should be.  Putting it more bluntly: thinking that they should do what we think they should be doing and it is awful and terrible, catastrophic, as it were, if they don’t.  This observation about mankind has been extensively elaborated by pioneer Cognitive-Behavior Therapist Albert Ellis1 who points out that it is “It is simply amazing how many millions of people on this earth are terribly upset and miserable when things are not the way they would like them to be, or when the world is in the way the world is.” (p. 69). Put another way, they are making demands about people and events.

A similar message is known among various religious traditions. In Buddhism there is a notion of detachment that teaches that a person should aim to be so detached from one’s opinions and thoughts, as not to be emotionally and mentally injured by them. “[Discard] the present world itself. Erroneous views are of this world. Correct views transcend this world. ”This is further explained thus in Buddhist texts: "You should be engaged in your own practice. Don't see the right and wrong in others."2 Similarly, Hinduism connects demandingness to our attachments and desires. The Hindu scripture,  the Bhagavad-Gita,3  states “. . . from  attachment springs desire, and from (unfulfilled) desire ensues anger. From anger arises delusion; from delusion arises confusion of memory; from confusion of memory arises loss of discrimination (buddhi); from the loss of discrimination the individual perishes.. . . .” Another passage expresses this concept with quite poetic imagery: “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water.” (Bhagavad-Gita 5:10)4

An interesting perspective on demandingness comes from Austrian Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1975, p. 56),5 a Nazi Holocaust survivor, who views it as a form of irreligion. He writes: “The more religious a man is, the more he will respect the decision of his fellow man not to go further. After all, it is precisely the religious man who should respect the freedom of such a choice because he is the one who believes man to be created free.”

The Fathers of the Eastern Church consider renunciation of self-will to be an aid in overcoming our demandingness of others and of how we think events should turn out. St. Peter of Damaskos tells us “we should be detached from all things” (Philokalia IlI, p. 149)6. St. John of the Ladder (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1971)7 underscores such ‘treatment’ when he tell us that this should be a “voluntary detachment from every creature and complete renunciation of their [our] own will.”(p. 67). To do this, we have to recognize that demandingness is an illness. St. John expresses this well when he tells us: “he whose will and desire in conversation is to establish his own opinion, even though what he says is true, should recognize that he is sick . . . .” (p. 38).

Underlying the teachings of all the Church Fathers is that we should conform our will to God’s will. Thus we can see the synergy, the working together, of psychology and spiritual tradition for aiding in the healing of dysfunctional thoughts, emotions and behaviors.


1 Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart




5 Frankl, V.E. (1975). The unconscious God. NY Simon & Schuster.

Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I IV. London: Faber and Faber.

7 Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1971. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Boston, MA Holy Transfiguration Monastery.