It’s Time To Let Go And Try Something Different
We’ve all heard it: “Control is an illusion.” What I know is that a lot of people really struggle to come to terms with this. We try to manage and manipulate things to make ourselves more comfortable all the time.
Whether you’re a self-admitted control freak or not, at some point in your life (just like everyone else on the planet) you will find yourself struggling to control something and in turn, losing the battle. I thought it might be valuable to talk about this situation a little further and hopefully get you to a more powerful place in regards to the lack of control you actually have in your life.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to clarify a common misconception or misunderstanding for a lot of people. The whole reason people try to control things is so they feel “in control” or safe. Therefore they often confuse the following two ideas:
- “If I have control, then I have power/ am powerful/ am empowered in _____ situation.” VS.
- “If I don’t have control then I don’t have power/ am not powerful/ am not empowered in _____ situation.”
I think those two perspectives or beliefs get confused as the truth and that’s the part that really trips people up… that feeling out of control means you don’t have power or influence in that situation.
That’s simply not true and believing it causes a lot of unnecessary grief.
Radical thought, right? Just trust me.
In this article, we’ll clarify that being in control doesn’t always equate being powerful and that being out of control certainly doesn’t mean you have no power. It probably sounds confusing and like total BS at this point but stick with me and we’ll get through this together.
Ok. Where should we start? How about with why people try to control things… Actually no. Just in case there’s any confusion about what ‘being controlling’ is, let’s start with what ‘controlling’ actually looks like:
Have you ever found yourself in any of the following situations:
- Mad at/ upset with/ hurt by someone so you calculate and strategize a plan to try and get them to respond the way you want them to. That might look like you yelling, you withholding communication completely, you being manipulative, you using passive-aggressive statements, or you undermining someone’s work or confidence all with the intent of getting a particular reaction from them. Sound familiar?
- Worrying about the outcome of a situation and strategizing over how you might be able to make it go the way you want. And again, shifting/ changing/ altering your behaviour to try and steer the outcome in your favour.
- Resisting the way things are and trying to figure out how you can change what’s happening so you’re more comfortable with the results. Once again using saying/ doing things to try and alter the current state of things so they are more comfortable or agreeable to yourself.
- Avoiding dealing with something completely so you don’t have to deal with the responsibility of the fallout – yup, believe it or not, that’s you trying to control things too.
As you can see, controlling behavior shows up in a bunch of different ways… ways that you may not readily identify as controlling behaviors.
- Being late
- Hanging up on someone
- Walking out
- Ignoring/ not talking to someone
- Saying “I’m fine” when you’re clearly not
These are only a few examples of how us human beings resort to controlling behavior. So the question then becomes: Why?
Why Do We Try To Control Things?
Well… being in control of a situation allows us to feel safe, comfortable, and like we can relax and know that everything’s gonna be alright. Therefore it would stand to reason that when we feel out of control we feel uncomfortable AND even more importantly UN-safe in the situation.
Since you were designed to survive in the world, your ‘reptilian-brain’ will freak out when it feels UN-safe, and try to do everything in its power to make you feel safe again. That’s an over-simplified version of why people try to control things, and it’s the basic ins and outs. Essentially, your need for control is ingrained in you.
This is the point where it would be valuable to talk about what you can actually control by first ruling out what you can’t control.
You can’t control:
- Other people
- A situation
- Your feelings
Even your thoughts to a degree are beyond your control… So where does that leave you? What can you control if all those things are off the table?
The only thing you really have control over is how you react to your thoughts and your feelings.
Your thoughts and feelings are an automatic response generated from your years of experience in the world and what you’ve come to believe. The only thing you can control is how you react, respond, or behave to your thoughts and feelings about a situation.
Yup. That’s the truth. The only thing you really have control over in this life is how you respond to your thoughts and feelings about a situation or experience. Maybe we should break that down a bit…
Someone says something that hurts your feelings… well that’s not exactly true… someone says something and the way you interpret what they said creates an automatic thought process and subsequent ‘feeling experience’ that leaves you feeling hurt. Without awareness you believe you’re feelings are hurt – so you react by lashing out or withdrawing.
Your past experiences have taught you that when situations happen – ‘someone hurts your feelings’ – you need to protect yourself and the best way to do that is to react by lashing out or withdrawing.
How are you being controlling by reacting with lashing out or withdrawing?
You’re trying to control the situation with your behavior.
- Maybe you’ve learned over time that lashing out causes people to stop whatever it is they’re doing that’s hurting you.
- Maybe you’ve learned that withdrawing makes people stop being mad at you and come after you to apologize or make sure you’re ok…
Either way, you’re trying to control the situation and the other person’s behaviour through your behaviour – essentially your reaction.
Think of the kid who screams or pouts when they’re not getting what they want… they’re doing that because they’re trying to get their way in a situation – make the parent give in by overwhelming them with screaming or make them feel guilty through pouting. Your behaviour as an adult is essentially no different, it just looks a little more sophisticated from the outside.
Something is happening that you don’t like – someone is doing something you don’t agree with and you want them to stop. This could be anything from the way they’re running a business meeting to them filing for divorce… You think they’re wrong for what they’re doing or how they’re doing it and you want it to stop.
- You might get passive-aggressive
- You might get judgmental and condescending
- You might get angry
- You might interrupt and talk over them
- You might even try crying… some people have learned that tears make other people feel uncomfortable so they will use them as a tactic to control a situation and another person’s behaviour.
Most of the time this tendency towards control is so subversive we aren’t even conscious of the fact it’s happening. That can make it hard to manage and also lend support to the idea that we don’t actually have control over how we are.
That’s simply not the truth though. You learned the reactions you have through your life experience thus far, and through conscious and committed effort you can learn to have new reactions. You can learn to identify the thoughts and feelings that cause your ineffective and controlling reactions and in turn make different choices.
Before we go there though, let’s look at the impact.
What’s the impact on you, your life, and your important relationships when you are reacting from old thought patterns and attempting to control the situation?
Maybe it would be easier to answer that question by thinking about the impact other people have on you when they’re trying to control situations:
- When someone gets angry and yells at you, what’s the impact on you? How do you feel? How do react?
- When someone withdraws and stops talking to you in the middle of a situation, what’s the impact on you?
- When someone stops listening to you and gets defensive, what’s the impact?
- When someone uses guilt trips on you, what’s the impact?
- When someone is passive-aggressive with you, what’s the impact?
The list of examples of the way people (and you) try to control things could feel endless… The point is: how do those things make you feel? How do you feel when other people are trying to control things through their behavior? I imagine it’s a safe bet you don’t feel lit up and alive in your life??
Consider that in reverse, your behavior has the same impact on the people you’re trying to control with your behavior. Not awesome. However, recognizing and understanding what’s happening is the first step to making a change.
So that brings us to what to do… How can you do things differently to get different results? Well as the great Einstein has said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” That means in order to start getting different results in your life, you’re going to have to change your thinking about how and why you react the way you do.
That’s not an easy prospect for anyone for sure, however, it is totally possible.
Quite frankly, I’m living proof. I know from personal experience how hard it is to change the way you react! I used to be the most reactive person, quick to defend myself and make other people wrong. I learned that if I was quick with the ‘out-smart’ and clever language I could overwhelm people and gain control of situations, then manipulate them into seeing things my way – control things to make me feel safe… not a pretty thing to admit – and – I know I’m not alone.
As I said, the first step to turning the negative and stressful impact that trying to control things has on your life, is to admit you need to do some work. From there you can start to take steps towards finding true peace and freedom. When the need for control no longer runs you, you are free to speak your mind and get your needs met. It’s a beautiful thing!!
I’d love to hear from you about your experience with control and what you’ve tried to change the pattern!! Send me an email with your personal insight!
Until next time,
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