Control is an illusion in that you never really have control over what happens in life. We can prep, plan and anticipate things that could potentially happen, and then the best we can do is steer things in a favorable direction. Basically, set the stage for the ideal scenario. However! Contrary to how that stage might appear, it’s not foolproof as we do not control fate. The outcome is still completely unwritten and remains completely out of our control. For many of us, this unknown is completely torturous and the unpredicted outcome is soul-crushing.
So this is a post – not about trying to change your control-freakness, but about understanding when it’s blinding you and setting you up for an extreme reality check of pain. Because the trait itself is not bad – in fact, quite the opposite. Because of your type-A-ness you got a whole slew of epic perks as a human! You’re highly capable, likely extremely attentive, socially adept, resourceful, motivated… the list goes on and on! Being Type-A is a gift, but a strong and powerful one that must be kept in check so that you can stay safely in reality. (Not the reality that you perceive, which is often the one that is entirely in your control.)
If any of this sounds like you, start to become more aware of when this trait is possibly removing the joy from your life. It is the Type-Aer’s who tend to stay completely invested in how everyone else is doing and what needs to be done to make their time better, rather than being able to relax and enjoy very profound life moments. This is one you might not even notice you’re suffering til it’s been years and you finally stop attending to others and realize you have neglected yourself and missed out on the fun and profound emotional moments of life.
Being a control-freak also comes with a great many benefits. It means you’re organized, an attentive host, you know how to throw good parties that are always well planned, and you’re able to take on stressful and chaotic situations with much grace. The downside is, you’re rarely as “present” as a person without a need to control things. Your mind is still in the anticipation of things to come, and immersed in the studying of what is happening vs. the full participation in it. What this really means is, you do not allow yourself to savor things and really relax because your muscles never stop working.
The most painful effects of being a control freak really come when things do not go according to our plan. It can feel devastating, because our expectations have been set on a goal and therefore exaggerated and heightened in the process. Our expectation is for things to work out, because we have done so much work to support that outcome and in that process, we invested. Enough so that we sometimes lose sight of the reality that things might not work out as we planned.
This need for control of the uncontrollable future usually comes from a time early in childhood: a role taken on based on family dynamics. You likely became very much the empowered person in your home – a caregiver for others, a voice of reason, or one who was extremely capable in lieu of someone who wasn’t. In other words, you were a child with grownup skills! And how awesome they are. When you grow up with these qualities, they are a part of who you are – they are defining traits and from them come your greatest skills. So if you’re Type-A, that’s a good thing – not to be concealed or resented. It helps you to excel at many things in life and you have a natural advantage in all things work-related. But it’s a strength that must be kept in balance. Brains like ours have a tendency to go into overdrive. They compulsively plan and solve and drive us mad. They also remove us from fully enjoying our friends and our experiences to the fullest. They keep us “occupied” and always slightly disappointed at the parts of the plan we missed.
So how to soothe these mental circles? First awareness, and then effort and practice. We must acknowledge to ourselves as often as possible, what is out of our control. It’s an illusion that we usually cannot see through until something shocks us into a harsh reality. But as scary as a lack of control feels, uncertainty is not dangerous. It does not hurt us. What hurts us, is our fear around uncertainty and our resistance to letting go of our desire to control it. We fight acknowledging our powerlessness and in turn make ourselves feel scared and crazy.
As a starting point, try to remind yourself constantly when you see your expectations begin to build around a specific scenario. When that story begins to write itself in your head before it has happened, stop and acknowledge what is out of your control. Let go of the outcome and accept that you are human, and what will be will be. You are not God. You are not psychic. You cannot control what people do or what happens in the future. It’s not so scary to not know what will happen. That feeling is coming from inside you, and it’s not based in reality. Work on calming down and reminding yourself that the imagery you are foreseeing is false and in truth, anything can happen. Embrace that this “anything” is completely and utterly outside of your ability to predict and decide to let go of your expectations surrounding that thing. Decide – in advance – that you want to “gift” yourself with that experience, and to enjoy it as a present participant. Try to remain open to what may come and be humble about the range of possible outcomes. Know that you will be okay no matter what happens. All you can ever do is try, and past that, you have to let go.
Make it a goal in all social settings to enjoy your experience and be as fully present as possible. If you are sharing a meal with friends or family, be aware of that time and enjoy each moment as a completely invested participant. Yes, this might be tough at first – but make it your goal to enjoy social time as strictly that: it’s not a time to catch up on your to-do list or make sure the table is set properly. It’s important time that is only meant to be spent enjoying your life, minute by minute.
Remember to forgive yourself readily when life doesn’t follow a perfect plan. Let go, move on, and know that you tried your hardest in the conditions you were placed in. With a little bit of work in this area we can enjoy our lives and our experiences and ourselves a lot more.