The Upside of Losing Control

People seem to like to say they know they have no control, but continue to act as if they do anyway.  Certainly there are some things we want to be able to control: whether we’re employed, making a sufficient income to meet our needs or even wants, whether opportunities become available to us, the outcome of our grades or projects, whether our backyard has sufficient drainage so it won’t flood.    Indeed we have profound influence on the likelihood we can achieve each of those goals, but in the end, circumstances beyond our control may have the final word.   You know that 100-year storm will hit as soon as you’ve upgraded the drainage system to handle a 50-year storm.

Then there’s the stuff that we know we should not even try to control, namely, other people.   We have no control over how others think, feel, or act.  Heck, we can’t even control our own feelings half the time, nor should we try.  The feelings just are, and we can either manage them or be a slave to them.  In addition, we often do not understand someone else’s feelings (even if we think we do) since their hot buttons and filters on the world will differ from ours.  Yet here we are, trying to control that which we poorly understand and which we have no control over.  Cool.

Ditto for how others think.  Often we do not understand, and in some cases cannot understand, why others think as they do.  Nor do we have any control over their thoughts or opinions.   If you add to the mix that some people – for instance – will not like or respect me no matter what I do, no matter how sweet, smart, friendly, pretty, or cool I am, then trying to get them to change their opinion of me is pretty much a waste of time.   That’s not to say I give up trying to be my best, or continue to try to improve to improve my communication skills, the effectiveness of how I interact with others, etc.  Not at all.  I just don’t invest too much of my time or energy into worrying about how a subset of people perceive me or trying to change their mind about something they believe strongly in.

The above does not necessarily apply to my loved ones or the people I work closely with.  I invest much time and energy into those relationships, and if something goes wrong, I will engage in a critical conversation with them about our issues and make sure I understand their perspective.  But the grouchy gal down the street that I don’t have to work with? Not so much.

The same goes for trying to control what others do.  My sister constantly gets frustrated because my parents just won’t take care of themselves.  Yeah, me too.   I get frustrated too if my child doesn’t turn in his homework.   I want my parents to be healthy and live a long life and my son to make good grades, but I can’t make them do what they don’t want to do.  If that means they die at a younger age or don’t get into college or graduate school, that’s their choice.  I’ll be encouraging and supportive for their journey of self-actualization, and I won’t encourage or reward (intentionally anyway) a self-destructive pathway.  The rest is up to them.

You may say this sounds cold and callous.  After years of trying to take control of everything in my environment, I now contend that this is dealing with reality in a healthy way.  While I spent all those years trying to control everything around me, my life and health were going down the tubes.  In my dictionary, that would make me a hypocrite in addition to being an unrealistic butt-insky.   The recovering control freak in me still has a tendency to do too much, say too much.  However, now I know that the more I attend to my own journey, the better others can attend to theirs.

Also see Healing the Perfectionist and Control Freak