Control and the Art of the Possible

Control and the Art of the Possible

13 November 2019: A frequent issue that crops up sooner or later in therapy, is some form of control issue. It reveals itself in quite a few clients' stories and journeys. Sometimes it is that somebody is trying to control what will happen, sometimes it is trying to control other people, sometimes it is trying to control every aspect of one's environment.
Generally speaking it seems that the more uncertainty there is, the more the need to control grows. It is as if we crave control the more we feel out-of-control and at the mercy of circumstances, politics, environmental disasters, health scares and more. The less the future is certain the more we hope to control everything, in the vain hope that we know what will happen, that we will be prepared, that we will be secure and safe.

However trying to control things causes a lot of frustration, anxiety, feelings of helplessness and even depression. Also it's worth reminding ourselves that we loose out on a whole host of different possibilities, if we are fixated on one particular outcome or event. Often we make a plan and then go into tunnel-vision, refusing to consider, accept or run-with anything else. We hope and panic and fear and what we actually do is letting ourselves being controlled by this desire. So wanting to control leads to being controlled.

Often clients do not realise that the urge to control is the underlying issue of certain difficulties, but once this becomes clear, there are many ways to work on this. For examples it can be helpful to find examples from one's past when things didn't go according to plan, but as a result unexpected, surprising and amazing different things happened. Or remind oneself of incidences were one let go of any expectations and therefore opened the doors for other opportunities. Also it is worth imagining how it would be if everything would indeed be predictable. If we would know for sure that the perfect plan would work out to the T until the end of our lives…. So nothing would be left than live through every totally predictable day.... That would be the other side of the coin, and doesn't that also sound like a nightmare?

Another good approach is to explore what it is we are afraid of loosing. Sometimes this awareness helps us to let go and realise that some of our demands are irrational.

Additionally we can practice to let go, one small step at a time: small things first, e.g. when on holiday taking the freedom to leave a few things unplanned and let coincidences and randomness lead us to discover a new place. It is good to have an overall plan, but not to map out every detail, leaving room for surprises.

It is also crucial to practice letting go of expectations. A certain amount of planning and executing is advisable, but it is best to let go of expectations once we’ve done our bit and the rest is out of our hands. Then it is best to turn one’s attention to something else, rather than holding on tight and waiting and hoping with high expectations, only wanting to accept one outcome.

These are just some general strategies. If you feel that your control issues are taking over your life, it might be worth seeing a therapist to work through your individual difficulties.
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