“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” – Kahlil Gibran
If you’ve been a reader for a while you know that I have a special place in my heart for those of us with ‘control issues’. I am one of those people who get anxious when I am faced with a lot of things that are outside of my control because it means that my emotional and/or physical safety is at risk – or at least that’s what my mind thinks.
Remember – we developed control needs when – at some point in our life – there was a perception of chaos or we somehow perceived that we were emotionally threatened. In an effort to calm down, relax, reduce anxiety… we searched for ways to create a sense of safety. To do that, we pulled in and engineered the circumstances in our environment to the extent that we were able. If someone was inside the sphere under influence – they were also pulled in.
I’ve been accused of needing to control. It’s true. I do occasionally attempt to over manage, govern, inflict authority, etc… in situations where not doing so may leave my emotional welfare up for grabs.
I will not apologize for this – it is my survival mechanism. It is how I manage risk and make it through difficult times.
I will acknowledge though, that in this effort to create emotional safety in my world I am sometimes overbearing and unthoughtful about the other people in my space. For that – I am apologetic. Please know that I am not interested in mastering YOU. I am only seeking resolution for the risk that I am unwilling to take.
Here are how control issues manifest:
When I was married and my husband drank a lot I would feel as if he wasn’t there for me. He would either get sloppy or emotionally distant. He was unable to take care of responsibilities and I felt as if the weight of the world fell onto my shoulders. – NOT A DESIREABLE FEELING. To get rid of that feeling, I would beg him not to drink. I would hide the alcohol. I stopped wanting to go out to dinner at any restaurant where there was a bar. I never wanted to entertain or go over to friends’ houses if there was going to be beer. In my mind – if he didn’t have access to alcohol, I had a partner and someone to share the responsibility. I was fearful of being the only one accountable… what if I failed?
When my kid’s friends started to drive, they wanted to transport my own children around town. Of course, the idea of having driving freedom is a highlight of all teens – a rite of passage. But… I didn’t have any control over my children’s safety if they were in the car with someone else. In an effort to control for MY own fears and feelings, I’d take the kids anywhere they wanted to go – I’d drive carloads of young women around town all afternoon and wait – sometimes at the expense of my other commitments so that I wouldn’t have to cope with the risk of them driving with someone else which stimulated my fears of them being unsafe – ultimately MY fear of feeling loss.
When I was married, I paid all the bills. (surprised?) I had a lot of fears that revolved around not having enough money. If we didn’t have enough money for the mortgage or the car payment they could get taken away (my parents had a car repossessed and a house foreclosed on when I was a kid). As long as I was the one paying the bills, I could ‘control’ how and when the payments were made. If my husband spent money without my knowledge it immediately triggered my fear that we may not have enough and ultimately that we would be homeless which, might be a little dramatic but that’s where my mind went.
Notice that in each case the underlying component is FEAR. In each case, I am attempting to mitigate the negative feelings that I WILL FEEL if things don’t go smoothly. I become afraid that YOUR actions may generate a problem for my emotional safety. Somewhere along the line I’ve adopted the idea that if you do … (this)… , I will feel … (that)… usually based on some historical event that either personally happened to me or that I witnessed. Consequently, I have surmised that if I can keep you from doing (this) – I won’t feel (that). The most fundamental problem with this instinctual strategy is that I CAN’T CONTROL YOU and it leaves me vulnerable.
No matter how hard I might try to control for my own fear – in the examples I’ve provided they require something from another person – who may be feeling as if I am attempting to dominate their behavior. Superficially – I AM trying to control the situation but…
… not because I am interested in having control of YOU – but because I am trying to have control OF ME.
The crux of this whole effort – and where everyone gets stuck is – that we HAVE NO CONTROL OVER OTHERS! People are not puppets – nor do any of us want to be. We are designed for self-mastery… to want to make decisions for ourselves.
We have a vision in our minds – we all do – of what a comfortable, safe life looks and feels like. We have an idea of how to accomplish that vision. When we have experienced successful collaborations, we generally learn to accept that there are many roads leading to the achievement of that ideal. However, people who have been abandoned, betrayed, and left to their own devices learned that they were solely responsible for reaching the objective and therefore, develop a premise that they must go it alone and have to have command in order to be successful.
My mom said a thousand times if she said it once… “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” That statement all by itself is probably enough for me having learned that ‘I had to have control’. Remember – if something is done ‘right’ – that’s good. We will do anything to create more ‘good’ feelings… they create a sense of emotional safety. Indirectly, and I’m am sure without any obvious intent, it was one of the ways that I was taught that to do it yourself – to have personal control – was the way to emotional safety.
However, we do not live in isolation – nor do any of us really want to exist all by ourselves. We come together in pairs or groups with the intent of achieving a joint vision and we must learn how to achieve emotional safety without the deleterious effects often produced by the ‘control issues’ that formed along the way.
Tomorrows post will address that problem.
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