Who Controls Your Life?

How to Get and Stay in Control

Before you answer the question, take a moment to stop and think. We would all like to be able to answer the question with: “I do!” And some of you may think it is a true statement. Exploring what control means in it’s most valid and empowering definition is actually pretty complicated.

When you think of being in control, what first comes to mind? Do you see being in control has having control over others? Over yourself? Or a combination of the two?

Control is a basic need for us to help navigate the unsteady terrain that is our psyche and the unpredictability of the world in which we live. When we give up control, or assume we can never have it, we become victims and at the mercy of everyone and everything we encounter. We lose our ability to function, sometimes to the extreme, and our mental and physical health suffers.

Where did we learn about control and what were those lessons? It starts very early In life, as infants, when we learn that crying will often get us attention. It may get us fed, keep our bottoms dry, or get us some cuddling and comfort. Since we are too young to make the conscious connection, the reactions we get are imprinted in our nervous system and form the basis for repeating the behavior. If we don’t get the attention response, we may cry louder, or just give up. As we develop more awareness, we notice how our parents, siblings or other important people in our lives get their needs or wishes met. We may learn that anger, or silence, or begging or pleading, or other forms of manipulation help. So many of our methods of getting control come from arbitrary cause and effect observations.

What are the ways you use to get control? Are they based on any of the above impressions? How well do your efforts work? Is any satisfaction you receive temporary or permanent? Or perhaps the results aren’t satisfying at all. Do you learn anything from those results? Does it cause you to change your habitual ways of getting your needs or wishes met?

Control Over Others

Through my research, and interviews with 200 people for my dissertation on Self-Empowerment, I learned that most people focus primarily on ways to get control over others in the hope of finding satisfaction and a sense of power. The methods include anger, berating or diminishing others, threatening others, bragging, preaching, debating, manipulating, giving ultimatums, sarcasm, pleasing, stonewalling/silence, body language such as smirking, hands on hips, folded arms, turning body or head away, looks of helplessness, and more.

Chances you’ve used one or more of these at some point—when your own sense of control is threatened. See if you can identify what method you’ve used, in what situations, and how well it worked in helping you feel better, even if temporarily. Has it ever helped you feel better in a sustained way?

Control Over Yourself
To truly feel in control, it has to come from within—an internal sense of control. When you find yourself trying to control others, that’s a good indication you are feeling a lack of comfort/control within yourself. The more you feel in control internally, the less you will try to control others.

There are positive and negative ways to feel in control. The negative ways don’t really work,
and may in fact, increase your feelings of being out of control. Some of the negative ways include:

  • Worrying (e.g. worst-case scenario thinking that you hope will prepare you to avoid feeling helpless, unprepared, or devastated if the worst happens)
  • Rationalization—using any form of logic to talk you out of acknowledging feelings
  • Projection—disowning undesirable feelings, thoughts or behaviors by attributing them to someone else
  • Denial or Minimizing—allowing yourself to avoid seeing the truth or reality of an unpleasant situation
  • Acting out—using inappropriate action instead of expressing a feeling (e.g. throwing an object against a wall–instead of saying I’m frustrated, angry, etc.)
  • Compartmentalizing—conflicting value systems reflected in contradictory behavior (e.g. claiming acceptance of another’s religion or ethnicity while participating in prejudicial behavior.

(Note: There are several other mechanisms, click here if you want additional information)

The positive way to have control is to develop an internal sense of control. This requires a willingness to recognize and acknowledge your feelings about any given situation, and to express them to yourself or to others in an honest and appropriate way. When you do this, you give yourself the best chance to figure out how to deal with any given feeling or situation.

When you have an internal sense of control, your stress, frustration, and anxiety levels will be reduced to a minimum. You recognize the most appropriate coping mechanisms. You will feel more comfortable in your own skin and feel a genuine confidence in being accountable for your life. You will feel equipped to handle almost any situation that arises and be able to recognize you can survive even the most difficult challenges.

“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.” –Anonymous

If you would like an assessment on Your Internal Sense of Control and information on how to further develop that control, let me know and I’ll be glad to send them to you.

I’d be interested in your comments, experiences, and questions about control.

Please feel free to share this with anyone who might find this useful.

You can also check out my previous blogs and my book on Parenting on my website: ShelliChosak.com