Therapy in Alexandria, VA
We have sent people to the moon. We now have sent probes to Mars with the possibility of terraforming the planet and one day establishing a colony of human beings?? (Wow). We have the ability of flight and have created super jetliners, launch satellites that orbit the Earth, cure once incurable diseases and harness natural elements to generate energy. We have cell phones that can do more than the hand-held communication device dreamed up on the Sci-Fi TV series Star Trek almost fifty years ago! (I was a kid then and could hardly imagine that this “technology” would become a reality.)
But in all we have “conquered”, we have simultaneously created a mindset that all is within our control. And in doing so, I believe we have unwittingly created a collective, cultural psychological Godzilla (successfully defeats other monsters that threaten humanity but in doing so decimates cities, landscapes, etc.).
Control is an illusion. I'd like to repeat that again: Control is an illusion. It's the illusion (belief) that if we try hard enough, all things and situations can be overcome, bent to our will or channeled in a favorable direction (ours): We can have the perfect partner we want; the dream house in the best part of town; the luxury car we desire; the big promotion we deserve; the marriage or relationship we have always hoped for and the list goes on.
Now some of you (Type A personalities, overachievers and perfectionists) reading this may be scoffing at what I’m presenting here. Not surprising. I myself am a “recovering” perfectionist/overachiever and am Type A. And it has taken me many years to recognize the madness and irrationality in believing I can generate the EXACT outcome I expect. This kind of irrational thinking (belief system) leads to expectations that are unrealistic and contribute to unhealthy emotional states such as anxiety, depression, anger, resentment, and even low self-esteem, which in turn can lead to maladaptive coping behaviors such as substance abuse, disrupt sleep patterns, while some individuals can develop somatic problems such as headaches and GI imbalances.
I try and help my clients who exhibit high control traits to understand the difference between “influence” and “control”. Two similar words but each carries and conveys very different meanings. This is a subtle shift in cognition that will lead to changes in expectations and in turn will impact the way we feel about what is facing us, align what we are trying to achieve with what is more realistic and even soften how we feel about ourselves and our efforts. Influence says, “I will do my best and will accept what my best gets me.” Control says, “I must get what I want (and often at whatever cost) and if I don’t then, “I'm a failure.” “Life is unfair.” “Someone is to blame.” “I was cheated.” Etc. etc. Not rocket science. And yet, it might as well be to some (as it was for me).
Now I'm not saying we should abandon our wants, dreams and goals. In a capitalist, consumption driven society I think this is pretty unrealistic. But what we want, what we “desire” feeds the fire of our discontent. “Control people” hunger for certain outcomes (tangible and intangible). They think in absolutes. This is a nefarious and an insidious trap. It leaves no room for any other outcome save the one and only goal. “Influence people” on the other hand have an outcome in mind but are prepared to accept other possibilities. They put their best foot forward, give it their best try and then enjoy fruit of their efforts. They exhibit a flexibility in their thinking and expectations. Like a car with a great suspension system, it makes for a smooth and enjoyable ride. And after all, isn't life a journey?
We have the ability to choose our life’s ride. Hope you have a great trip!