Control: The Self-Defeating Myth

Many of us wish we could have more control over our lives.  I know I do.  I do all sorts of things that help me maintain the illusion that I am in control.

And then something happens that shatters that illusion.  A hurricane hits.  We get laid off.  We get into a car accident through no fault of our own.  Or we simply have one of those crappy days where nothing seems to “go the way it was supposed to.”

And if you are like me, when those moments come, whether big or small, that make it clear that we can’t really control what’s going on in our lives, then we feel scared, alone, and deeply uncomfortable.  To really face how much of our lives is determined by chance, chaos, and unpredictability is unsettling.  And the real test comes in how we respond to that awareness.

Many of us, myself included, have the initial response of trying to clamp down with more control.  If my first two clients of the day both spontaneously cancel their appointments, my first reaction is a desire to text all my other clients that day to make sure they are coming.  Or when I’m trying to get something done and there’s a constant barrage of interruptions, I might try to just clamp down inside of myself, clenching all my muscles, and try to just barrel through and ignore everything going on around me.  Or when I try to roll out a new program that isn’t being received the way I expected it to, I might try to ignore the feedback I’m getting and just focus on what’s positive about this new program.

These are all ways we respond to our lack of control by trying to impose more control.  And while some of this, in moderation, can be helpful, ultimately it just makes us more infatuated with the myth of control.  I think some of us, again myself included, truly believe that if we could just get better control over our lives then all the problems would go away.

The seductive myth of control, put simply, is: that if we could just have more control over situations then things would go better.      

However, the dark side of that myth is that then when things don’t go well it’s our fault.  If only we had done better, this wouldn’t have happened.  We are to blame for things going wrong in our lives.  And that brings a lot of shame.

But the other way we can respond to those moments where the illusion of control is dashed is to surrender.  When tragedy strikes, or when things are simply not going the way we had planned, instead of trying to impose more control, we can choose to surrender to what is.

Surrender is not the same thing as giving up.  Surrender is simply accepting the truth that I am not in control of other people, the world I find myself in, or in the events that happen in my life.    

Now of course we can make choices that increase the probability of “success.”  Having a weekly habit of exercise, good diet, and good sleep greatly increases the probability of good health.  But it only increases the probability; it does not make a guarantee.  There’s not only genetic diseases that may not be avoidable, but we also live in environments that have become so polluted that toxins and carcinogens can be found in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.

And what surrendering offers you, is it frees you up to make the best choices you can and then to enjoy life no matter what happens.  So when the hurricane hits, or the job gets terminated, or you simply can’t get your to-do list done, you aren’t stuck beating yourself up over it.  You are blaming yourself and shaming yourself.  You aren’t squandering your own joy to feed this myth that if you simply had more control things would be better.  Surrender is not apathy.  Surrender is freedom to enjoy life in the midst of chaos, unpredictability, and chance.

September 11, 2017Permalink
Free Practice Group

Twice a month I lead a free Compassionate Communication Practice Group. Open to those new and advanced students. We meet on the First and Third Monday of the month at 6 pm. We gather at 640 Hawthorn Lane in classroom 8. Classrooms are behind the church and to the left, next to the parking lot. Practice Group sessions usually run for 2 hours.

The next one will be on July 6th at 6 pm.