Who’s in control here anyway?
Yesterday around lunchtime I received a message asking me if I felt like going for a drink after work. An impromptu, casual, Happy Hour date seemed perfect for the middle of a busy, work-heavy, soggy week. After finishing up work, completing a sweaty, fast-paced Bootcamp and a quick shower, I was on my way to my local watering hole. We ordered an adult beverage and some chicken wings and settled into our table for a quick work debrief before moving on to potential weekend plans. As we ordered our second helping of chicken wings (don’t judge), a quick look around the pub revealed a number of tables full of, mostly, male, young, happy hour participants. Happy Hour appies and drinks used to be a fairly regular occurrence for me when I was younger, when I was a twenty-something and even into my early-thirty somethings. It often went well beyond a drink and some chicken wings. As I have gotten older, I no longer enjoy the loss of control experienced by “too many” happy hour indulgences. Control is a topic and a theme that I have been pondering in many aspects lately. What is control? What do I truly have control over? And why do I fear loss of control?
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Control is defined as:
- : to direct the behavior of (a person or animal) : to cause (a person or animal) to do what you want
- : to have power over (something)
- : to direct the actions or function of (something) : to cause (something) to act or function in a certain way
- : the power to make decisions about how something is managed or done
- : the ability to direct the actions of someone or something
- : an action, method, or law that limits the amount or growth of something
Control, by simply looking at the definition, implies power and especially power over something or someone. Therefore, a lack of control would imply a loss of power.
As a teenager, I was often called a “control freak” or a “perfectionist” and I experienced panic and anxiety with changes experienced in my life, especially when there were changes to my routine or my normal everyday way of being. I was very particular in the way I did things. For example, my studying and homework techniques were specific, and consistent, with every subject, for every assignment and for every examination. I enjoyed, and still appreciate, a systematic way of approaching tasks, assignments or projects. Enjoying routine or approaching tasks in a systematic way is generally not an issue, we all have an approach that we use to make decisions or get things done. However, a quick Google search revealed that it is how we respond to changing conditions or elements that are out of our control that can uncover “control issues”.
Many of the psychology sites speak to the “Illusion of Control” where we believe we have control over situations, events, people, that we truly have no control over. Three central issues or themes around control emerged from my quick Google research: a desire for more control over others, a dislike of feeling out of control and a fear of being controlled. I thought about control in the context of my life, I attempt to control my diet and my exercise and how clean and organized my house is, but where I have stumbled, and find myself continuing to stumble, is in the context of control within my relationships. I don’t actually have any.
Brene Brown is one of my favourite social science researchers. I have listened to, and read, many of her books and of course, her TED Talks. Her research centers around vulnerability. Fear is the reason we attempt to control. According to her research, fear of being vulnerable, which leaves us open to experience painful emotions, drives the need and desire for control within personal and intimate relationships. In fact, I have felt that if I have no control, then I have no power, and I will be “found out” by my partner as “not good enough” or “not worthy”. Or even worse, if I’m not able to control my partner’s thoughts and feelings, then he will eventually leave me or cheat on me or, *gasp* attempt to control me instead. The irony of that comment is not lost on me.
I have spent time and effort on learning to “let go”. And understanding what I can truly control and what, despite my attempts, desires and efforts, is outside of that sphere of influence. I actually and truly have control over what I think, what I say and what I do. The rest is out of my control. I have control over the decisions that I make, but I do not have control over the outcome or impact of those decisions. Yes, I can anticipate, but I can not truly know and therefore, do not have control. I can control how I say something to my friend or my partner, but I have no control over how they interpret that message or what their perception is. As I like to quote, we all look at the world through our own lenses based on our own beliefs and experiences. I don’t see the world the way it is, I see the world the way I am. My white-knuckled attempts to hang on tightly to my illusion of control have only resulted in worry, anxiety and fear. All of which are highly energy draining. Interestingly, the more I attempt to control, the less control I have. I equate this with attempting to hold onto sand. If I try to hold onto sand in a tight fist, it slips through the gaps in my fingers, I have to hold onto sand in an open palm, with flexibility.
It’s not easy and I’m in no way perfect, but in focusing on what I think, what I say and what I do and letting go of the rest, I have more energy and less anxiety. There is no sense in worrying, stressing or fretting over that which I can not control. I can however control what I think, what I say and what I do, therefore, if I start by thinking positive, self-appreciating thoughts, my words and actions will be laced with kindness.
It’s only taken me 40 years, but then again, what the fuck do I know?