Understanding Your Desire to Control
Control is the cousin of uncertainty thinking. This thought habit doesn’t serve you, my darling one, but comes from a place of self-love nonetheless. While you can’t control the world, the thing you can control is so important to be conscious of. To have and hold at top of mind. And that, my darling, is you. Your own thoughts, feelings, actions, and results. That, you get to choose and that is such a beautiful gift.
Your perfect nervous system will react first to a perceived stressor. That’s how brains and bodies work. And your nervous system will send chemical signals through your body to alert you to what it’s perceiving. And when you feel those signals, when your awareness is such that you notice them, you experience them as your watcher, not as yourself panicking, that’s when you get to step in, to pay attention, to give your body love, to pull back, take a breath, pause, center, orient, ground, write, and choose the next right thought.
I want to be clear to say just because we’re not attempting to control others doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice or we can’t have opinions.
So fight the power. If something’s not working in your world, if something’s off kilter, if something needs to change, call your representatives.
Write a protest letter for now until we can get back in the streets. I’m not saying to blindly accept oppressive systems of power. I’m saying that when you’re spinning in your own thoughts about how things should be different, that is the action you’re taking. Spinning in your own thoughts, attempting to control the uncontrollable.
When you’re worrying, when you’re complaining, when you’re ruminating, when you’re seeking to control people, places, and things, that’s not just the thought you’re having. It’s what you’re feeling, the desire to control, therefore out of control.
And thus, attempting to control is the action you’re taking. Let that sink in. In the moment of attempting to control everything outside of yourself, that work, that attempt to control, that is the action you are taking. No social or personal good, no real change to dismantle capitalism, the patriarchy, all these systems that harm us all come from spending your time trying to control what you simply can’t, which is everything other than yourself.
Once you do your thought work and get clear on the change you want to work towards in the world, starting with yourself and your own habitual thoughts and feelings, then you can take action in a way that can have real and lasting impact in your life, your family, your community, the world, from an empowered place. Not an exhausted and burned out place.
Attempting to control the uncontrollable is simply exhausting.
Why do we seek to disavow uncertainty and want things to feel certain, controllable in this life? The reason is simple enough. When things feel scary or uncomfortable or different than usual or normal, when there is change or worry, it is human and normal and understandable to want to try to control the uncontrollable.
And it doesn’t serve you in any way. In fact, it just steals your energy, your life force, and in fact, will lead to things feeling even less in control. When the locus of control, when your sense of safety is based in other people and their thoughts, feelings, and actions.
It is worth acknowledging how particularly challenging it is for those of us who have lived with a sense of relative physical safety to all of a sudden not be able to control your own safety. And for those of us who have not lived with that privilege of feeling safe in our bodies, this is more of the same, but multiplied.
Attempting to control other people, places, or things in the world is a stress response.
And this is a really vital thing for us to look at because so many of us are shooting the second arrow right into our own hearts.
Sometimes the first arrow. We’re adding suffering to our suffering. And I want to support you to find a little relief. Attempting to control other people, places, or things in the world is often a stress response and can be a trauma response for many of us.
We seek to control others when we feel out of control.
So if you don’t know how to manage your mind with thought work and connecting with your body through breath work and the other tools I teach, it makes so much sense that you would be attempting to control right now and always.
The problem with attempting to control people, places, and things in the world is simple. And yes, it’s really annoying to deal with it so we shan’t BS ourselves here, my darling one. The problem is in the facts.
You cannot control anything in this beautiful and uncertain life but your own mind.
Everything else in this world, whether your spouse washes their hands, whether your kid eats their broccoli, whether someone respects your boundaries, whether there is a pandemic, whether you get a raise or lose your job, everything in this world other than you and your own think-feel-act cycle is beyond your human control. And I do mean everything; literally everything.
And listen, I used to be wildly codependent in my thinking. And I get it. I too have often wanted to control the world; what other people did and said, how people reacted to me and my work, my words, if I got enough likes or follows, as if enough were a thing, how someone reacted and responded to my doing something for them, especially is it was something they didn’t ask me to do and I wanted them to respond in a certain and specific way and to think something certain and specific about my, mostly that I‘m amazing and therefore worthy of love.
I really could go on and on here. This thought habit was a part of my unconscious for my whole life, from childhood. Until I learned how to be my own watcher and to start to see this habit for what it is; a thought choice that doesn’t serve me anymore, but served my child self, and thus my inner child, so much.
Examples of attempting to control other people that I see all the time in my life coaching clients and the people I love are things like what a kid or partner eats or doesn’t. Such as, “I can’t believe my partner is eating chips again. I just want him to eat some vegetables.” Giving advice or opinions without emotional consent. And here, might sound like, “Have you ever considered doing X, Y, Z in this way,” where this way is the way you think it should be done, regardless of whether the other person wants it to be done that way, or even asked for your opinion.
This can often look like telling someone how they should be doing anything at all, “You should go to sleep earlier. You should take this supplement. You should call him. Oh my gosh, you shouldn’t call her.”
If you found yourself about to should on yourself or others, that’s an attempt to control, my darling one.
Slowly step away from the shoulds.
It could also look like making a suggestion or asking a question repeatedly when you’ve already gotten a clear answer. This is also known as insisting and is a hallmark characteristic of codependent thinking, and codependent thinking and control, they are siblings for sure. And this can sound like, “Are you sure you don’t want to come shelter-in-place with us,” when the other person clearly said, “No thank you,” already.
I used to do this one a lot around food. In my culture, it’s normal to ask visitors and guests if they’d like to eat something or they want something to drink. And before doing my own healing work, I always felt obliged to say yes, because I didn’t want to offend the other person because I didn’t realize that isn’t something I can control. And so, I chose being polite over my truth.
And when other people didn’t do the same, I felt so uncomfortable, like they were breaking some unspoken rule of the polite universe. Not knowing how to manage that discomfort, I would insist, like 473 times, “Are you sure you don’t want water? Tea? A steak?” And eventually, people would get worn down and would let me caretake them, but wow, how exhausting for us both. How not aligned with love.
For me, this desire to control the world came from several different survival impulses from childhood, which is where so much of our thinking comes from.
The scripts that we learned in childhood or young adulthood or elsewhere along the way and practiced thinking over and over again until those thoughts felt like facts. Until they became beliefs in our mind, bodies, and spirit.
And as always, I’ll remind you, you may see a mirror of yourself, a reflection of behavior and thoughts you’ve had or have, and in that, be gentle and loving and kind with yourself. Your brain took these thoughts and feeling habits on to try to protect you. And that is such a gift.
So, please, be gentle, my darling one. On that note, I want to bring codependency in again here, which is when we base our sense of safety, wellness, and general okay-ness on someone else’s emotional state, on their energy, on their choices. One person may get overly dependent on the other to meet their needs, while the other may show up with an exaggerated sense of or need to caretake the other.
Rules can be set or can shift, even flip-flop and reverse.
The thing is, codependency at its core is an attempt to control the situations or people in our lives to attempt to feel safe because we’ve linked safety and control in our brains.
Both roles in a codependent scenario involve control. One person may be expressing a lot of needs, which may be an attempt to control the other person who, historically, will want to meet those needs. While the person with the thought habit of caretaking others above themselves will attempt to control through the dependency this other person has on them.
This cycle just repeats and repeats and repeats. Control squared. Note, of course, that someone can try to get codependent with you and, if you’ve recognized this habit in yourself and can see it in others, you’ve learned to manage your mind around it, you can just not take the bait. Totally, totally possible. So, it isn’t always that both people are engaging in this thought habit of control and codependency, just to be clear.
So, I want to teach you a really vital lesson. And this is the difference between true control and false control. True control is the control you have over yourself; everything we’ve been talking about so far. Your think-feel- act cycle, your decisions, your outcomes or results from the thoughts you’re thinking, and all that they generate for you.
From true control, self-control, you respond. You don’t react.
You are aligned with your own integrity and act from it, regardless of what someone else wants or needs or what you think or project them to want or need.
When you’re skilled at managing your own mind, your choices are less likely to be about attempting to feel and control because you know you are in control of yourself.
False control is when you act so that you can feel in control of what others do, think, say, how they act.
Again, with this thought that if other people act differently, you will feel differently, which is just not true.
Your thoughts create your feelings always. And if someone changes their behavior, if everyone washes their hands and literally never leaves the house, if someone stops acting in a codependent way or whatever else your brain is judging, your brain will find something else to freak out about and to seek to control until you learn to intercede lovingly on your own behalf for your own good.
Feeling in control of others is so alluring and it’s a type of buffering. Getting comfortable with being wrong could be really helpful here because false control is wrong thinking.
Nerd alert, buffering gives you a wee dopamine hit, which, like anything else that gives you a dopamine hit, dopamine feels amazing.
And it makes you want to do it again and again and again. And because people who are used to being controlled may feel most comfortable when they’re being controlled, in that really strange interesting way of brains that the familiar feels comfortable, even when it’s so uncomfortable, you can get into a sort of feedback loop.
You tell someone what to do, they do it, you feel the power and false safety and false control, you get your dopamine hit, the other person feels it too, they get their dopamine hit, and so the cycle continues feeding on itself.
And this, trying to control other humans can strengthen the mental muscle, the thought habit of codependency, the thought habit of tying your emotional wellness to other people’s wellness, your feelings to theirs.
And your emotional reactions are thus ruled and externally controlled by someone else’s expression of their thoughts and feelings. And so, you seek to control others to attempt to control your own reality, often to prevent yourself from feeling a feeling that you may be scared of or are worried may be overwhelming.
The thought habit goes, if other people just do what you want the way you want, then you can feel safe.
See how out of control that thought is? The irony is sort of fascinating here.
Getting revved up inside about attempting to control someone else sends your body into sympathetic activation; fight or flight.
You get a jolt of adrenaline from your dear perfect little adrenal glands, these little walnut-sized glands that sit ad-renally, on top of your renals or your kidneys, so they’re in your back, kind of in the middle of your back. You can pet them and give them a little love.
So, as you seek to manage someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or actions, you get that adrenaline hit and that dopamine hit. And those kind of acute reaction chemicals spike fast and drop fast, like sugar in your bloodstream.
And so, once again, you want another hit, and another hit. And if the other person doesn’t comply with your attempts to control, you may feel shame or anger or a host of other exhausting feelings. And you may find yourself either like a dog with a bone, wearing someone down while your bloodstream fills with cortisol, or you turn all of that shame, that guilt. That anger inward, making yourself feel bad for trying to make someone else feel something, or feeling worse and worse if they won’t comply.
Eventually, you may reach that level of nervous system exhaustion where you go down the polyvagal ladder, which means you go from being all activated and revved up in sympathetic fight or flight, right past the second place. So, picture a ladder, at the top of it is sympathetic, the middle is ventral vagal, that’s where we dream of spending most of our time, that’s the safe and social part, into dorsal vagal collapse.
So, dorsal vagal collapse is the bottom of the ladder. And you may find yourself there, withdrawing, sulking, feeling rejected and dejected because you’re in that shutdown energy. That shutdown is racing through your body. And because that energy can feel awful, you might then rev yourself back up by calling someone to complain about how Mike won’t take your reasonable advice or how Sarah just won’t stop going outside and how angry you are about it, even though she lives clear across the country and you literally couldn’t control her if you tried.
And so, as you go into this revved up sympathetic place and then crash right through ventral vagal, safe and secure, feeling okay, digesting, making thyroid hormone, having the kind of brain chemistry we want, your body shunts right through that into that dorsal vagal collapse and you feel even further out of touch with yourself and your own feelings.
Again, if they’re happy, you’re happy. If they’re angry, you’re angry. Or if they’re angry, you may blame or shame yourself.
You may make it all your fault and beat yourself up about their choices. Because, if you believe you can control everything, then there’s a belief that your worry, your words of concern and control can keep everyone happy, healthy, and safe, and that nothing bad will happen if folks just listen to you. And if you believe this, then the inverse must be true.
See what a ticking time bomb of pain and suffering this habit of attempting to control others is? So, my love, check in with your body. Are your shoulders somewhere up north towards your ears? That is a normal, natural, mammalian defense posture.
Check your jaw for tightness; your neck too. Maybe it’s in your belly or your back. Look at your fists. Are your hands balled up? When something touches close to home, it is normal to go into a defensive posture because your body thinks you need to defend yourself against a truth that may hurt a bit.
My love, take a breath in. It’s okay to relax your body. It’s okay. You’re safe to do so. It’s all just more information, more lessons, more learnings. And it’s not bad or wrong that if you’ve been doing this, if having these kind of controlling thoughts has been your habit. I want to remind you to be gentle and kind and loving with yourself.
You might learn this habit from someone, from situations, from your childhood. Maybe you were raised by folks with codependency, substance use or abuse, narcissists, or by someone really demanding or by some other kind of wounded child in an adult and parent-shaped body.
Your brilliant child self learned the habit of controlling in an attempt to soothe you when the world felt unsafe.
My darling, that was brilliant of you. Take a moment. I want you to applaud your child self, your younger self. What a little genius to develop this habit. Praise little you. Give yourself a hug and I really mean, if you can, put your right hand on your left shoulder or your left arm, left hand on your right, and squeeze and hug yourself. Give yourself that somatic mind-body connection, and thank you. Maybe do it right now. Why not?
Please, spend this week paying keen and loving attention to when this habit surfaces. And make sure that you write it down.
And remember, ingrained habits take time, love, gentleness, and care to shift; time at task, practice. And, there are few things as important right now as coaching, as learning to manage your mind while fear and worry, uncertainty, and insecurity swirl in the collective all around us. You really can feel calmer, more grounded, and more secure.
Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!
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