I’ve spent my whole life trying to be in control
Not like a power-crazed despot desires control to get their own way, but as a strategy to avoid the painful stuff of life. You know, things like failure, conflict, other people’s judgements and the big bad negative emotions of anger, loneliness, rejection, despair and sadness. My need to have control – to be certain of how things would turn out – came from the desire to protect myself from the scary unknown. It was a coping mechanism I learnt growing up, much like the small child who puts her cars in perfect order because she has no control over anything else in her life.
I chose to take on the massive task of controlling everything about my life – much like a bouncer at a nightclub door I was attempting to ban pain from coming inside. The chances of this strategy succeeding were pretty slim, but I stuck to the idea of controlling everything I could doggedly, convinced that I had the intelligence and capacity to make it work. If I could create a world around me that I could control, where all outcomes would be ones that I knew I could cope with, then I would be safe. The potential rewards of being certain and in control were so alluring – but in reality it was an impossible dream.
“Control is an impossible dream.”
I don’t know when it stopped working but it’s been a pretty shitty strategy for as long as I can remember. Control is impossible, and certainty is illusive, especially when people and relationships are involved – which they are in most situations in modern life. And when children come along, certainty and control fly out of the window before the baby is even born. All this strategy ever did for me was give me a huge amount of pain and frustration, and stop me from experiencing and enjoying a happier life. Because the truth is, trying to keep things the same, all controlled and certain means that we miss out on most of what is good about life.
Over the last eight years as I’ve worked at letting go of many of my perfectionist tendencies, I’ve noticed that many are centred around my belief that I need to be in control of what’s going on in my life. But as I unpicked them and tried to let go of the control I discovered a few things that surprised me, even though they are often quite obvious.
HERE’S WHAT I LEARNT:
- The failure and mistakes we make along the way are what enable us to grow.
- Being vulnerable is the gateway to becoming braver and stronger.
- Vulnerability is how we make deeper connections to other human beings.
- Being open to chance and chaos allows us to notice and take advantage of exciting opportunities.
- Chance encounters can change your life.
- Curiosity and adventure are basic human drives and cannot be nurtured in a controlled environment.
- Gratitude, love and joy get squashed if you are so focussed on keeping control.
- Negative emotions have a purpose, and learning to experience them is necessary to true happiness. (Damn it!)
- Trusting life is a far more effective strategy for getting results. It also allows you to enjoy the journey.
So, yes, I know all about control and certainty. It’s the perfectionist’s modus operandi. But trying to control everything is hard and denies us the joy that is an up and down life. Learning to be OK with not knowing, with chaos, with the changing winds of growth has been very hard for me, but my goodness, it pays well. I’m still on the journey, of course, but if the joy and love and growth that has happened so far, continues as I develop my talent for letting go of control, then I’m very excited about my future.
And the most ironic thing is, that when you trust your abilities and resilience, when you trust life and choose to expect things to go well, instead of living from a place of fear and lack, life is so much juicier and rewarding with so much less striving and effort.
If you have a feeling that your need for control is hindering your happiness, health or success, book a free no-obligation call with me to discuss the way forward for you.