Why Control is Overrated

Control key isolated on white

Control doesn’t work.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to be in control.   Not like a power-crazed despot desires control to get their own way, but as a strategy to avoid the painful stuff of life.   You know, things like failure, conflict, other people’s judgements and the big bad negative emotions of anger, loneliness, rejection, despair and sadness.

My need to have control – to be certain of how things would turn out – came from the desire to protect myself from the scary unknown.  It was a coping mechanism I learnt growing up, much like the small child who puts her cars in perfect order because she have no control over anything else in her life.   Like a bouncer at a nightclub door I chose to take on the massive task of controlling (i.e. banning) the pain from my life.  Not an easy strategy to take on at such a young age.  The chances of it succeeding were pretty damn slim, but I stuck to the idea of control doggedly, convinced that I had the intelligence and capacity to make it work.  Or maybe I really knew it would never work, but the potential rewards of being certain and in control are so alluring – still – that I long for it just as I long for the wisdom one day to live a perfectly healthy life (i.e. give up sugar and alcohol and exercise every day), or just as I long for my children to be happy and confident (i.e. never get upset or angry about anything).  It’s an impossible and unreal dream.

I don’t know when it stopped working but it’s been a pretty shitty strategy for as long as I can remember. Control is impossible, and certainty is illusive, especially when people and relationships are involved – which they are in most situations in modern life.  And when children come along, certainty and control fly out of the window before the babies are even born.  All this strategy ever did for me was give me a huge amount of pain, and stop me from experiencing and a happier life.

Because if you think about it, trying to keep things the same, all controlled and certain means that we miss out on most of what is good about life.  Here’s some of what I’ve learnt since I let go of needing to be in control:

  • The failure and mistakes are what make us grow.
  • Being vulnerable is the gateway to becoming braver and stronger.
  • Vulnerability is how we make deeper connections to other human beings.
  • Being open to chance and chaos allows us to notice and take advantage of exciting opportunities.
  • Chance encounters can change your life.
  • Curiosity and adventure are basic human drives and cannot be nurtured in a controlled environment.
  • Gratitude, love and joy get squashed if you are so focussed on keeping control.
  • Negative emotions have a purpose, and learning to experience them is necessary to true happiness. (Damn it!)

So, yes, I know all about control and certainty.  It’s the perfectionist’s modus operandi. But trying to control everything is hard and denies us the joy that is an up and down life.  Learning to be OK with not knowing, with chaos, with the changing winds of growth has been very hard for me, but my goodness, it pays well.  I’ve a long way to go, but if the joy and love and growth that has happened so far continues as I develop my talent for letting go of control, then I’m very excited about my future.


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