Sometimes the world feels a scary place. And I’m not talking just about floods, famine, wars, random acts of violence. Even the day to day can feel overwhelming and anxiety making.
Do you find yourself worrying what might happen when your family gets together,and who might say what to whom? Or your colleagues want to do a project in a way that doesn’t feel right? Or even for ‘simple’ things like your partner doesn’t stack the dishwasher the way you would (or doesn’t do it at all)?
Perhaps it’s last minute changes of plan that don’t sit well with you and you find stressful. Or the friend who drops in spontaneously. The laid back partner or friend who goes with the flow and never makes any plans.
These acts of non-conformity or not going with the plan can make you feel very anxious. Some are like affronts to all of what you feel is ok and acceptable. In extreme, my guess is that they make you not only very anxious but under the surface, angry too sometimes.
So what is it about the need to keep things on the straight and narrow? Why do you feel so uncomfortable when things don’t go the way you want them to?
I imagine it’ll be no surprise to you if I say it’s all to do with the word ‘control’. It’s a word that has a lot of negative loading to it, particularly when added to ‘freak’.What is this control thing about? At the heart of it is something that makes you feel very vulnerable. It is the need to feel safe. When you control something, you have the illusion that you will know what the outcome is and that somehow you can manage it.Sometimes that is true. But when other people are involved, that isn’t always the case. Their behaviours, drivers, choices are all less predictable than your own.
These patterns usually start early in life, when you experience powerful people around you (usually parents, grandparents or siblings) offering love and affection erratically, making decisions unilaterally, behaving unpredictably or in a scary way. Your autonomy and individuality weren’t really seen and respected, at least some of the time. By the way, the roots of OCD are in this; a way of managing that anxiety of the unpredictable with repetitive behaviour. If you put those pens in your pencil case in that particular order each time, it will be ok. If you close the door and check the lock again and again, it feels safe (for a moment or two.)
When I meet counselling clients who experience a strong need to control, I wonder about that early experience in their life. Who or what made them feel unsafe? What was it that wasn’t respected or honoured about them, that they had to start feeling the power of control in this way?
Once you’re aware of where your need to feel in control stems from, you can start to change you relationship to it. Over time and with support, you can experience how the world feels like when you aren’t in control, and that you can not only survive this, but maybe enjoy it too, on occasion.With this awareness, you can make active choices about whether to hold on tight or to let go. Neither is right or wrong; the difference is that you are making a conscious choice.
If this way of being resonates with you, here’s a Lifeline you can try:
This week’s Lifeline
Find a still place where you can be with your thoughts and feelings for a while.
Imagine, if you will, that part of you that needs to keep control. Bring that part of you vividly to life in your imagination. What does it look like? How old is it? What is it wearing? How is it standing or sitting? Where is it located?
When you feel in touch with this part of you, start writing a list:
When I am in control I feel / I need ….
Repeat it as many times as you can.
When I am not in control I feel / I need….
To feel less anxious about being in control (or safer), I would need…
Once you’ve written your lists, take some time away and then come back to them. How does it feel to have a bit of perspective on this part of you that needs to be in control? What did you come with that would make you feel less anxious? Make a few more notes.
Over to you
What does feeling in control mean to you? Does it feel like you can’t breathe when you aren’t or do you go more with the flow? How do you deal with not feeling in control? I’d love to hear from you, so add a comment below if you wish.
Want to get deeper into why you feel the need to control?
If you want to explore this aspect of your life, why not get in touch to book an introductory appointment?
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