Why Control Is Not The Answer

I know this doesn’t apply to everyone but I think a lot of you will identify yourselves as controllers or control freaks. Wherever you fall on the scale from “go with the flow” to “perfectionist”, I am sure you can recognize some moments in life when you feel anxious or scared or you feel out of control. But what do people mean when they say they feel ‘out of control’ and what is the solution or antithesis to this?

In my experience, people like to think that the only way to manage anxiety or other overwhelming feelings is via ‘control’, which the dictionary defines as a verb, meaning:

  • To exercise restraint or direction over, to dominate, to command
  • To hold in check, to curb
  • To test or verify
  • To eliminate or prevent the flourishing or spread of
  • To check or regulate, to restrain

I’m sure you all know someone in your life (yourself included perhaps) who likes to have control of every situation, increasing controlling behaviours during times of stress or when feeling insecure.

We all feel insecure and we all have fears and anxieties. Very often it is the unknown that we fear the most. We feel most out of control and insecure when we are not sure what will happen, when something or someone else has an impact on us and we cannot predict what they will do, or when we ourselves feel like we are losing our grip and becoming “out of control”. This may be due to bad habits that we cannot kick, or when things are just not going ‘according to plan’.

The thing is though that control is an illusion. We like to think that if we control those around us or the circumstances we find ourselves in that we are going to be safer and happier. But very often, our controlling behaviour leads to further stress and anxiety.

I haven’t always been aware of this but the opposite of “out of control” is not actually control, it’s freedom! Freedom, autonomy, self-directedness, consciousness, etc. are all aspects of our brains’ higher-order processing capabilities. But to exercise freedom we need to practice something much harder and less automatic than control, we need to learn how to practice trust. Having faith and giving over to a sense of trust is actually not something that comes naturally for most people. Although I have written before about attachment styles and about how we get pre-programmed in our early years to either trust and be open in relationships or closed and untrusting, I think that most adults have had enough difficult experiences to be slightly guarded and distrusting in their interactions with others and the world. And what’s more, is our own insecurities play a huge role.

You may have immense trust in those around you but you may doubt yourself, your capabilities, your worthiness. And this doubt makes it hard to believe that the world around you will fit in with your wishes and desires. And most importantly it will cause you to use control rather than trust as a mechanism of allaying anxiety. When we use control, however, we are always left feeling uneasy because

A) we know deep down that we have manipulated events or people in order to achieve our ends and

B) there will always be more bumps in the road and it is pretty tiring to know that each and every time you have to get out there and try and predict and control all the factors in order to feel safe.

I hope you can see that if you use control as a mechanism for alleviating anxiety, then you are also giving up your freedom. By dominating and controlling everything around you, you also limit your experiences and narrow your perspective. And when you act out controlling behaviours, these tend to become habitual too. So in the long run, you’re just a slave to your anxiety and your need for control.

What’s the opposite of being a slave? FREEDOM. Freedom says you have a choice. Freedom gives you options, widens your perspective and opens up possibilities. But freedom is also easier said then done. To be truly free requires two things from us:

1) a trusting relationship with the self and

2) the courage to take responsibility for your choices

I’m pretty sure that those two things are also the foundation for adulthood, maturity and living a conscious life. But hey we’re getting real here.

Next time you feel anxious or out of control ask yourself if you love yourself, if you want to trust yourself, and if you want to be there for yourself no matter what. Ask yourself what choices you have at this moment. If you feel you don’t have any then ask a friend. Sometimes it’s really hard to see out of our fixed ways of seeing the world. Don’t limit yourself. Open, open up. Once you can count at least three options that are available, then you know you are endowed with that special thing called freedom. You can choose to control, you can choose to freak out, you can choose to do nothing. But if you can develop a trusting relationship with yourself over time then you will come to realise that freedom feels better than control, trust feels better than insecurity and loving yourself feels better than relying on others’ love in order to feel good enough.

Just a thought for your Tuesday.

Have a beautiful week xoxo


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