Learning What’s Behind It So It Doesn’t Control You
“If only I could control what happens outside of me then everything would be ok.”
~ Said by just about everyone at one time. ~
Imagine if you could control how people respond to you and how things operate around you? Imagine if you could have things exactly the way you want them? Imagine if you didn’t have to deal with this thing called ‘uncertainty’. Ah, what a world that would be?
I know as you read that last part, a part of you was daydreaming for a brief moment about what that would be like. And although that might sound nice, there’s a reason why we need this sense of control and why it’s so emotionally disarming when we feel like we’re losing control.
So what’s behind this need for having control?
And why is it, that for some of us, there’s a stronger need to have it, than for others? If we could understand what’s behind it, perhaps then, we could find a healthier way of functioning where we only focus on what we know we have control over. And perhaps even beyond that, if we could find out what having control gives us that’s even more important, then this need for having control gently slips into the background of our lives, slowing losing its grip over us.
If we take a closer look at control and what it gives us, let’s take a look at what’s beneath the surface of it, that thing it seems to be protecting. It’s as if control was this rigid framework or scaffolding we carry around with us, on the outside, that protects our more vulnerable and fragile ‘self’ underneath. I see this ‘self’ as a kind of emotional operating system that was created by us from the time we were born until now. This emotional operating system consists of beliefs and behaviours that we developed in response to the events of our past. And these events can be positive, negative or more likely, a hodgepodge of positive and negative experiences from which we’ve designed a way to keep ourselves emotionally safe. The more we feel the need to protect our emotional operating system, the thicker that scaffolding or framework will be on the outside. For some, this framework may even be lined with a shell (thin or thick), shielding themselves from the outside.
This is where it starts to get interesting.
A question I love to ask my clients is ‘what is it that having control gives you that’s even more important?’ And then I probe a little deeper ‘And just suppose you had that, what’s important about that for you?’
So ask yourself this question in an area of your life where you need to have the most control:
What does having control give me that’s even more important?
What I find often comes up is stuff around safety – physical safety, emotional safety and avoiding vulnerability and emotional exposure. Because if we go back to this idea of control being this framework or scaffolding around the outside of us, it makes sense that it’s there to protect us, to make us feel safe.
Okay, now what?
We now may be starting to understand what’s behind control and the purpose of it. But how do we stop it from controlling us? How do we stop control from having a negative impact on our lives?
Some may say, so what, I like having control and I don’t want to change that. But here’s the honest and direct truth, that I say from a place of caring personally and pure commitment to your growth and success:
You’re either pissing people off, sabotaging your own success or both.
You’re pissing people off because you have to have control all the time. People don’t feel heard, respected or empowered around you. You avoid discomfort and stand in the way of collaboration and teamwork.
You’re sabotaging your own success because you have to have control of the outcome, and when you don’t, you stop. You stop taking risks, you stop being vulnerable or emotionally exposed and you stop stepping out of your comfort zone. You avoid your growth edges and essentially stunt your own growth.
So how is control showing up in your life and which one are you?
Whichever way it’s showing up in your life, and if you’d like to change some of the negative behaviours that come with it, the next step is figuring out what’s underneath it and what it’s giving you that’s more important, as I talked about earlier.
If you can figure out what control gives you at a deeper level, then go get more of that. Go and focus on what you do have control over, which is developing yourself.
If it’s a need to feel more emotionally safe, then work on strengthening your personal boundaries so you know you can protect yourself regardless of the situation you’re in. If it’s a need to feel more confident and build your self-belief so you can take more risks, then go and do things to build your confidence. Whatever the deeper need is, go and bring attention to getting more of that, developing yourself and bringing more of that thing into your life.
There’s a win-win situation here, a double benefit if you will.
First, by focusing on what you do have control over, it actually makes you feel like you have more control again.
Secondly, as you go and get more of that thing that underlies your need for control, control will loosen its grip on you. And that rigid framework that exists on the outside of you, needing to protect you, will lighten. If there was a shell, it may even disappear. And what you will notice is, that as this framework and scaffolding lighten and the shell disappears, you begin to let things in towards you, things that you may have been blocking all this time.
If you’re at all a believer in the universe, which I am, you’ll start to see that the universe will start to bring you the very thing you needed all along, just by lightning the framework, dissolving that shell and letting go of the need for control. The universe will bring you the very thing you’ve been blocking.
What happens now?
You’ll feel emotionally safe because now you know how to protect yourself through healthy boundaries. You’ll feel confident and competent to go and take risks because you’ve taken the time to invest in yourself and develop that confidence and competence. From this place you will act more courageously, you will dare to be vulnerable and you will risk stepping outside of your comfort zone more often, towards your growth edges.
And now, the need for control has no purpose, it’s actually irrelevant because you’re actually getting what you need. Now, control no longer controls you.