Owning Your Control Issues

Continued from The Birth of Control Issues

“Surrender to what is. let go of what was. have faith in what will be.” ~ Sonia Ricotti

Yesterday’s post laid out how control issues are born and manifest. When people accused me of being a ‘controlling’ person I would get defensive because I knew in my own mind that my intent wasn’t to manipulate other people. I just wanted to control for the ‘uglies’… I wanted to manage the bad feelings – the sadness – the fear. When we speak about controlling behavior we use derogatory words such as ‘control freak’. Comments like that foster shame and embarrassment. Who wants to think of themselves as a ‘freak’ of anything?

When I notice that someone has the propensity to seek control of their circumstances and/or environment, the first thing I help them do is to understand why the need to control exists for them. And then we talk about managing it with a few simple thoughts.

OWN IT

Just OWN it! Acknowledging and understanding your ‘control issues’ is the first step in coping with them well. Accept them, love them, honor them. They are there because at one time you had a reason to believe that your emotional safety was in danger. We need to love the imperfect parts of ourselves just as much as those things that make us loveable. If one of the ways to soften your hard corners is through compassion… offer it to yourself! Seeking reassurance and comfort from the outside world is fine but if it isn’t available or frequent enough – you need to know how to give it to yourself.

REASSESS

Take a careful look around at the things that ARE within your realm of control. Many things are… you always have a choice unless you are being held captive or are in some way incapacitated… you have choices; even when you feel you don’t’. I remember many times feeling like I didn’t have a choice but that only left me with a sensation of helplessness.

Sure, sometimes we don’t ‘want’ any of the choices that are available but then we must be honest with ourselves and recognize – in that – we are still making a choice.

Can I control whether or not someone drinks? NO. I can only control whether I continue to share space with that person. If I chose to stay with someone who isn’t sharing the load with me, who doesn’t have the same vision as I do… then I have made a choice to accept the load myself and I have to redesign my vision. Understand that many choices are ‘package deals’ – they are bundled with a series of ‘consequences’… make sure you are consciously accepting the entire bundle because unbundling it – is OUTSIDE of your control.

LET GO

More often than not I find that we need to let go of fixed or rigid thoughts – the way we think things ‘should’ be or how things ‘should’ be done. Expand your thinking by eliminating words such as right/wrong or good/bad and replace them with ‘different’. There truly is more than one way to do most things.

Understand that in YOUR emotionally safe world things look a specific way. Responsibility, for example, may be represented to you in the form of a fixed blueprint that is achieved by doing x, y, & z precisely. But… we know – logically – that there is more than one effective building design. People demonstrate responsibility by using a, b, & c too. Letting go of an XYZ design and being open to trust that ABC will work is important.

Keep in mind that letting go is NOT a one and done thing. Thoughts don’t automatically disappear just because we want them to. We may need to let go of something over again every day until our mind remembers that we are simply not accepting that thought anymore. Be patient.

DISASSOCIATE

The things that happened in our past which, contributed to our current control issues are over. Just because the first man I loved died, doesn’t mean that the next man I love will, even though that is the fear. If your parents were horrible at parenting – if they were abusive – it doesn’t mean that other parents are abusive or that you will be as a parent. If someone you love died in a car accident, that doesn’t mean others will as well.

Certainly, bad things happen. But… the things that are creating your control needs are in the past and they need to stay there. Disconnect what HAS happened to what MIGHT happen going forward. Remind yourself… that was then, this is now. Stay present. Focus on THIS moment.

TRUST

“Let go and let God” is about trust. Letting go in general is about trust. We have to trust that if we let go – we will still experience emotional peace / security.

Sometimes I just repeat the word over and over in my mind as a reminder that I must surrender to trust. Generally speaking… things have always worked out in the end and I am reminding myself of that fact.

I find that most of us with control issues have simply learned to DIS-trust that people are working with us in the pursuit of emotional safety. I often remind myself that my children want to arrive where they are going and so they will make every effort within THEIR control to do so. I must trust that.

Trust is easier when we are constantly checking in to make sure that we are on the same page with those that are invested with us. Be sure that you are each moving toward the same vision and trust that you can get there via different avenues.

PLAN B

When all else fails, it helps to have a Plan B. People with control issues often have anxiety – the fear of not being able to control manifests physiologically. If we create an escape route – in case owning it, reassessing, letting go, disassociating and trust don’t completely satisfy our fears… having an alternative plan helps. It many never happen that you use Plan B but just initiating a design for another option allows your mind to experience a sense of relief.  Draw it out, make lists, save money, know where the exit is.

Having an active Plan B allows you to feel in control of something even when you have none.

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The Birth of Control Issues

“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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Before Xanax

Never let your emotions rule, but always let them testify. ~Robert Brault

I believe I’ve written about emotions in the past yet the idea of describing how necessary it is to allow one’s self the opportunity to express emotions keeps playing over in my mind. Often, the reality is that I need to hear the message and so in that – writing is helpful, healing. It’s probably no surprise to any writer that in reflection, one can identify content specifically situated to deliver a deeply personal note. Perhaps that is always the Universe’s intent.

In any regard, I am in the business of teaching people the importance of emoting. One of the first things I teach is that we are born knowing how to laugh and cry – expressing emotions are innate to the human experience. Our bodies are designed to experience emotions and yet after birth, many of us are taught NOT to express them instead of how to express them effectively.

I cringe at all of the times as a parent that I told one of my children to “hush up”, “stop crying”, “suck it up”, or the worst… “I’ll give you something to cry about”. Continue reading

In-Between Spaces

Continued from Back to School

“One thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside.” ~ John Lennon

My family was still divided over Abee’s involvement in my marriage; so many little things had surfaced over the course of a year that it made it impossible to distinguish truth from fantasy. We hadn’t celebrated the holiday’s together and it seemed as though I saw Mom less and less. She was doing great though. She had finally acclimated into her community and made friends. She was getting involved in a number of activities and that alone may have diverted her attention but in part, she continued to be torn.

I discovered, quite by accident, that she had enlisted Hubby’s help around her home – the one she shared with Abee – to do some maintenance items. It was an impossible task for me to be unreactive as the man who had so deeply betrayed me was now doing favors for my mother… didn’t anyone in my family have boundaries?? Of course, because I loved Mom, I wanted her to ‘be taken care of’ and it was nice of him to offer but I just couldn’t reconcile it. In my mind, he was doing it for Abee too… she lived there. Was I never going to be rid of this pain? Was there always going to be this crazy reminder of how two people whom I loved deeply made a conscious decision to delude and abandon me? Was there never to be healing in my family unless I acquiesced, gave in and offered consent for this inappropriate relationship? It continued despite my pain, despite Mom’s disapproval, despite family fracturing.

I was grappling with a few conundrums… first, and probably most importantly, I came to realize I had control ‘issues’. I can hear at least a dozen laughs in the universe as I type these words and while I know that I liked to ‘be in charge’… my intent has never been to ‘control’ people – only situations where my involvement was necessary. If there were people in the peripheral… well then, they got sucked into the control vacuum. It’s important to understand, and I preach this to my clients, that control is what we utilize – as human beings – to feel emotionally and physically safe. If I can be directing my environment, then I know what to expect – I am can be more prepared for uncertainties. Without control, I am vulnerable and vulnerability means that we run the risk of experiencing pain.

I had assessed this assertion a time or two in the past when it surfaced and had been identified as problematic but this time it was in my face – I was noticing it, or rather, the lack of it and I identified the crux of the problem each time Mom told me Hubby had helped with something or if someone said they had seen Hubby and Abee together – out in the community. I’m not sure why people felt the need to disclose their observations, but it was much more common than one would imagine – they were not inconspicuous. There wasn’t anything for me to do but to learn how to ‘accept’ their transgressions. The place of acceptance was still w.a.y. down the road on my growth journey so for now… I was focusing on letting go of the things over which I had no ‘control’.

And that was my second ‘issue’. I needed to ‘let go’. Really – there were so many things that I had to ‘let go’ of that I literally, made a list. I wrote letters to people who had slighted me (but didn’t mail them) and meditated on the things that needed to go… I imagined each of them in a bubble and watched as it drifted away… I pictured each item as a leaf that dropped onto a stream and swiftly floated downstream… I cut the list into a thousand pieces. Each of those ideas worked a little and after each technique was completed, I felt a little lighter. I warn clients of the expectation some of us develop that if we commit to ‘let go’ of something that it disappears… it may not – in fact, it often does not. We need to practice letting go. Today, one of the most effective methods I use is to open my hands. The brain is powerful and if I am thinking of something and deliberately open my hands – there is a perception of letting go. For me, driving is when I usually allow my thoughts to run away and one may frequently observe me controlling the steering wheel with flat palms.

What I really needed to ‘let go’ of – was needing control. That was my prayer. It may be a cliché to say “Let go and let God” but what is the choice?? It doesn’t matter if you believe in an old man God, or Mother Nature, or an energy field in the Universe… opening your heart to the experience of vulnerability, of not knowing, is the challenge. It became important for me to chant “trust” to myself in meditation and while perfectly conscious throughout my day. I was constantly reminding myself of my most basic spiritual beliefs… that everything happens for a reason; that I was walking a specific journey; that there was ultimate balance in the universe.

I think the most difficult part of this was that almost every day there was something else to ‘let go’ of. As long as Hubby was living at the house I was aware of his movements and I tortured myself by keeping tabs on the company’s balance sheet. I still had access to the American Express cards and the checking account. I could see that when they traveled for business they were only getting one hotel room instead of two. I could see what restaurants they dined in with dates and times. Part of me convinced myself that the investigating was due diligence for the divorce – which it turned out to be – but it was entirely unhealthy. It was agonizing to watch, week after week, the manifestation of disloyalty but I couldn’t pull myself away from it.

I existed in this space between being the person I wanted to be…. strong and growing – contrasted with a person who was trapped in the anger and dismay of a failed dream. I vacillated constantly between the light and the dark. There were days when I simply couldn’t talk to anyone because I was ashamed of how negative my thoughts had become. It took all my strength to stay up…

One morning as I was driving to school I was talking to Hubby about some of the divorce details. We were at very different points of agreeableness. It was a difficult conversation and I felt as though I was getting the short end. There were days when I felt explicit loathing – as close to hate as I had ever come – even though Love was supposed to be ruling my heart. I had a meeting with one of my psych professors to discuss research I was doing for her. I sat in the parking garage and cried – again – it was almost a daily habit as we hashed out our agreement and then took a deep breath and walked across campus to her office. I was thankful for the early winter air as it quickly hid the emotional evidence of tears.

I sat down and began the dance of small talk in preparation for moving on to more specific topics. She asked me a series of questions that somehow triggered an emotive response and tears once again, sprang to my eyes despite my strong opposition. “Damnit”… “I’m sorry,” I said, “I hate it when I am this weak” … “so sorry”.  I shared that I had a hard discussion with my soon-to-be-ex-husband on the way in this morning as I tried hard to control myself and she looked at me with genuine empathy. It’s important to describe her because she was indeed my professor, but she was all of 28 or 29 years old, tiny… very petite, and gentle. She was soft spoken and quite deliberate with her words even though her smile was seemingly spontaneous. “Silly lady,” she said as she reached over to touch my hand “don’t you realize how much strength it takes to show emotion?”