As I sit in my imaginary office chair I can almost hear my clients calling out. “I’m out of control”, “the world is out of control”, I can’t get control over my life”, “ I feel I am being controlled”, “who is in control”.
By definition, according to Webster's Dictionary, “ control is the power to make decisions about how something is managed or done”. “Control is the power to run something in an orderly way.” “ Control is how a person regulates themselves or wishes to regulate their environment.”
Why is a sense of control so important? Humans are innately frightened of the unknown. We tend to feel most at ease when there is predictability or control. We look to find beliefs that help us direct our lives. Our beliefs can be based on science but at times we place faith in and accept unsubstantiated opinion. Long ago we believed the earth was flat. We felt safe to sail within sight of land. Go beyond the horizon and you would fall off the face of the earth. With science we learned that the earth is round and that if you go beyond the horizon you won’t perish. Changing our belief allowed us to safely predict and control the further expanding of our range of travel and exploration.
Having a sense that one can control the unknown fosters feelings of safety and security. A person with a strong internal sense of control believes in their own ability to maintain safety and security. Others tend to base security on an external force that will look out for us and have our back. In life both of these states of control are important. We need to have self confidence as well as a trust that those in charge will act according to our best interests in order to keep us protected from the unknown.
When our sense of control is wavering we feel a lack of power to be masters of our own destinies and souls. Our emotions will lean more towards anxiety, anger and for some depression. We become desperate to find a belief that will help us predict and guide our behavioral responses. If I know what to do then I can feel in control and be safe.
Today our world has become top heavy with the unexpected. Every day it seems that there is a new danger and those we look to for support are not promoting a sense of confident and soothing leadership. The pandemic coronavirus, severe climate changes as seen through fires and more intense storms, social structures that are crumbling and our current President's confusing comments are only fueling our sense of a loss of control. The result has been an increase in violent acting out, fear, anxiety and a sense of despair. We start each day very tense. The unexpected has now become the norm and we have become very unsettled. Many people feel lost and adrift.
In a well functioning family we look to our parents to be in control and to be promoting calmness and security. Children will allow their parents to assume control and accept their guidance. A healthy family functions with far less stress and acting out. When a family is dysfunctional, parents are not seen as safe and supportive. Children will struggle to know what model to follow and are confused as to what are their guiding beliefs. In this state of confusion negative emotions and acting out will greatly increase. It is in this out of control state, that in desperation to find predictability or control, some children can adopt bizarre and dangerous beliefs. They might join destructive cults and gangs to lead them or fall into drug and alcohol abuse to control their out of control feelings.
When we lose our sense of control people can be easily manipulated. Feeling such a loss can lead some of us to allow or accept being controlled by hate, fear and despair. Although destructive, focusing on blame and acting out is a dysfunctional form of promoting predictability and a false sense of security. If we blame them and hurt them, then all will become better. Fear can become a direction and outlet for our insecurities.
As I had previously discussed in an earlier blog our country is modelled like a family. Our President is similar to a parent figure. As citizens we are like the children in this family. We look up to our leaders to guide us safely and to promote social stability. The values based on kindness, unconditional positive regard and helping each other can promote a good feeling of union. Meanness, cruelty and divisiveness increases our sense of being out of control and can lead to social instability and violent acting out.
As individuals we can take steps to feel in control. It is important to regard what we can control. We can pledge that acting meanly or violently is not the characteristics that defines me. Trying to offer help and promote positive problem solving is a choice we can can control. We can try to see any issue and focus on what we can do to help without hurting others.
I often have asked my clients to take a page and divide it in half. On one side list what you can control and on the other side what may be out of your immediate control. For example take the coronavirus. We can more easily control wearing masks, social distance, hygiene, staying educated, and following scientific information. On the other hand finding a cure will be in the hands of scientists. We can commend the efforts of leaders that support research and promote honest clear direction. We can not wishfully or magically make it go away.
At home take a problem and list what you can and can’t control. It could be tackling financial issues, employment, safe social activities etc. Define the problem, break it down into smaller steps and brainstorm solutions. As you work at this you will come to realize that you are not out of control. Remember we need to focus on taking positive steps as opposed to mean dispirited actions when problem solving. It may seem easy to give into our insecurities but with effort we can find our sense of control through positive problem solving.
Strength can be found by noticing that all is not hopelessly out of control.
PS. Please visit my webpage at drmichaeljsimonpsychologist.com