Dear Tacit mental health column
I am so fed up with never really feeling like I have much control over anything in my life. It seems I am always at the mercy of others or things that just keep happening to me. And I hate that feeling – it ticks me off. What can I do?
Signed: You’re Not The Boss Of Me!
Dear You’re Not The Boss Of Me!
The human psyche is a funny thing – it craves a feeling of control, no matter what the situation. This need starts early – our first words often include “No!” as we try to exert our own dominance over everything we do. And as we get older, the drive for this control seems to get stronger.
But here’s the thing – being in control is most often an illusion. It’s something we tell ourselves in order to feel like we are managing what is going on around us. In reality, there is very little we can control externally. We have no say over the weather, or over what most other people do to us or around us, or over COVID and all it’s impacts right now. And this lack of control tends to create a feeling of stress (which can often feel like anger or frustration or resentment) in many of us, of never-ending worry as we frantically try to predict what MIGHT happen, so we can feel prepared and in control again, even in our own imagination. As anyone who has gotten lost in the “what if’s” that take over truly knows, it is a dangerous little game to play because there is no end to the possibilities that pop to mind!
Stephen Covey taught a great concept about trying to deal with this lack of control we have in life. He shared the idea of “pausing and responding”, instead of “reacting” to what is happening in each moment. When we feel out of control, our brain’s protective response tries to take over. We get flooded and our logical brain disengages. We revert automatically to a state of reaction (often known as fight, flight or freeze).
But all this does is perhaps address some of the anger/stress we are feeling in that second. And it often creates an increase of stress/worry in the long run, because our automated reactions are not usually very helpful or appropriate. Instead, if we pause long enough to consider/remember the long-range outcomes we truly want to achieve, and then choose the response that is most likely to advance us towards these outcomes, we can regain that sense of intention or purpose (otherwise known as control) through our behaviours. We take a situation that was initially beyond our control and reframe it into something that is within our power once again.
So how can we do this successfully? Part of the answer to this sense of peace lies in the way we frame our thought process. Often we ask ourselves, “what CAN I control in this situation?”. And our focus becomes finding something that feeds the illusion that we have dominance over whatever is happening outside of our being. This is a temporary fix at best because at any moment things can shift and we might lose that fragment of control that we thought we had.
Instead, why not ask yourself “what can I bring” to this situation; or “who do I want to be” in this situation? Focus on the choices you have within the situation, instead of the control you do not. Each of us has the ability to be better today than we were previously. It is easy to imagine the amazing person we hope to be one day – and with every situation that might initially seem to be forced upon us, we can grow into that person by simply contributing in a way that allows us the choices within. We do not need to reign supreme or all powerful over the weather, or other people, or even over COVID. All we need to do is be the best version of our self that is possible – and when we do that, we feel incredibly strong and capable and proud.
The helplessness and frustration that once was is replaced with choice and control over how we want to contribute to the situation at hand. And those choices are completely and utterly within our power to control. It is the reality of every situation – to accept what is happening to us or around us, and to recognize that true control is found within the choices we make internally, about the kind of person we want to be. And not instead of getting stuck fussing about whether we wanted to be in the situation or not, in the first place.
Kim Silverthorn B.A., R.P.C., M.P.C.C., C.T. is a registered MPCC through the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association and a registered CT through the Association of Clinical Therapists of Alberta. She is the owner of/therapist with Tacit Knowledge, a local counselling agency in Beaumont. She has been providing therapeutic support and professional development training for more than 30 years.
See more from Kim at https://www.tacitknows.com/. If you have a question that you would like Dear Tacit to answer relating to any mental health issue, please feel free to email Kim at email@example.com. This column is a psycho-educational support and is not designed to be a substitute for counselling.