Though I was blind to it for many years, I think it was pretty obvious to most people that I am/was a control freak. I was in denial, hating and criticizing others’ control freak tendencies but unaware of my own.
One clue should’ve been my StrengthsFinders list with Adaptability dead last.
The belief that I could control my world allowed me to avoid acknowledging my flaws, and therefore, the possibility of not being OK, lovable, or acceptable. Thus I had to first really accept that I’m never going to be perfect, and that imperfection is not only OK, but it’s what defines us as humans (see How Good Do We Have to Be? by Harold Kushner).
I still struggle with my control freak tendencies, but they don’t have the hold on me that they once did. I can still feel that twinge when something doesn’t go as I hoped or wanted. However, now I’m more aware of that feeling and instead of reacting to it immediately, I usually can observe it and then decide what to do.
Adaptability and acceptance are the opposites of control, and are tools that I consciously practice as antidotes to my control fantasies. First, I reflect on what is really mine to control and what isn’t. As we know from the Serenity Prayer, this is where we practice our wisdom.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Next, if something is not in my control, then I have a choice as to whether or not to try to influence it. In other words, there’s a difference between what I can do versus what I should do. What do I need to fight or advocate for? What is OK to let it go? Here’s where I can be adaptable and wise together, by seeking to influence selectively, and accepting everything else that I can neither control nor influence.
I’ve learned over the years that most things fall into the latter category. Most of the time, my opinions are not really relevant to someone else’s reality even if I feel they should heed my opinion. If they want my help or advice, they’ll ask for it. When it does affect me, my work or others, then I should/could speak up. Otherwise I should just mind my own business.
I’ll always be a recovering control freak, though with practice it’s gotten much easier to find that wisdom. There’s also a certain peace associated with accepting reality and sense of compassion and camaraderie when observing others struggling with the same lesson.