I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find you’re not,
I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Breaking the Chains of Control
Merriam Webster defines it as, “to exercise restraining or directing influence over; to have power over; or to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels”.
Control is found in almost everything we do. We control our appearance with control tops, supplements, and diets. We control our pets and children with leashes and boundaries in hopes to reduce harm. We control our finances with savings accounts, retirement funds, and investments. We attempt to control our health with vitamins, preventative medicine, and doctor visits. We control the events in our lives with schedules, planners, and lists. Sometimes we even control our lists with more lists. An even greater example of this desire for control can be found in the field of genetic engineering, where we have created near perfect produce, plants, and cloned animals. Depending on how much money one is willing to spend, there is also the opportunity to choose which favorable traits one want to pass on to their unborn, yet to be conceived, child. Humans are creatures of habit and pattern, which are reinforced by the ability to control various elements from our environment to fit into those habits and patterns. Control also creates a sense of safety through predictability. When we can alter or restrain our surroundings, we can create an ideal environment where we are better able to predict what the outcome of each situation will be. We feel safe when we know what to expect.
Merriam Webster provides one definition of life as “the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual”.
Here is where I would need to correct or adjust Merriam Webster’s definition to include descriptions such as: chaotic, spontaneous, adventurous, and full of surprises. Life should really be an antonym for control. No matter how much we attempt to control the events of our life, there will always be something that is beyond our reach. Let’s be honest, trying to control and predict how life will unfold is similar to herding a pack of stray cats in a dark room. I wish you the best of luck, and urge you to bring some band-aids.
Despite knowing how chaotic life is, we still try to control as much of it as we can. It almost seems as if the more chaotic life gets, the more control we try to gain. We end up either completely exhausted after multiple, failed attempts to control the uncontrollable, or our attempts to control morph into a maladaptive habit that consumes the large majority of our lives. Each extreme leaves one feeling completely enslaved by the idea of control. The key to gaining back our freedom is to forget that the chains even exist. We should focus our energy on battling the need to feel in control because, as we know, most things in life do not work this way. We need to learn how to let go of what is uncertain in life and trust in our ability to navigate successfully on our own.
Freeing the chains of control that hold us down is not always an easy task. There may even be a time when we don’t even recognize the ties that pin us down. Start by breaking the situation down into more simple pieces. Find the situation that gives you the most stress. Why does it cause you stress? What do you do when the anxiety starts to set in? Then ask yourself the important question of, “What does this behavior serve? What do you gain from it?” Instead of spending an immense amount of time on attempting to predict and control results, we need to learn to feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know exactly how things are going to work out”, and learn to feel more confident that we have the strength to move forward, even in the hardest moments. Focusing less on outcomes will allow us to spend more time enjoying the process of living.
Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist
© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.