Control isn’t power (part 1)

 (If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey. That’s Bert at the left, looking powerful.

What follows is an expansion of the article “Seven Kinds of Power,” which appeared previously in several places. 

Bert speaking:)

Maybe because Steve’s been working hard and feeling a bit crispy — almost burnt out, but not quite — he’s been thinking a lot lately about the difference between control and power. 

So he asked me (his control-addicted-but-working-his-butt-off-in-recovery inner monkey), to share what I’ve learned about that difference. 

No, they’re not the same thing. 

In some ways, they’re opposites.

One difference is: power is possible, but control is usually an illusion.

Another is: power can set you free, while controlling can make you crazy.

Let me explain.

Control means the ability to dictate reality. To get life itself — people, places and things — to meet our expectations.

But power (as we here at Monkeytraps define it)  means being able to get your needs met.

To take care of yourself.

To not just survive, but to heal, and grow, and be happy.

I think it’s power we all want and need.  But because we never really think about how power and control differ, we end up confusing the two. And then we chase the wrong one.   Which can be disastrous.

Steve, give an example of the difference.

Well, notice how we hear the words differently.

Imagine you have a daughter of marrying age.  She comes home and reports she’s engaged to a man you don’t know.  “What’s he like?” you ask.

Scenario A: “Oh, he’s very powerful,” she replies. 

How do you feel? 

Scenario B: “Oh, he’s very controlling.”

How do you feel now?

If you’re anything like me, Scenario A leaves you intrigued (powerful has several connotations), while  Scenario B leaves you pretty damned nervous.  Who wants a controlling son-in-law?

Steve, another example.

Imagine your rich uncle dies suddenly and leaves you control of his multinational corporation.  You wake up one morning the CEO of Big Bux, Inc.

You go to your new job. You sit behind a huge desk. Four secretaries line up to do your bidding. You have tons of control. You can hire and fire, buy and sell, build plants or close them, approve product lines, mount advertising campaigns, manage investments, bribe congressmen, you name it.

How do you feel?

If you’re like me, you feel crippled by anxiety. Bewildered and overwhelmed by your new responsibilities. Disoriented. Panicked.

Anything but in control.

Interesting, no?

As a recovering control addict, I’ve learned two essential differences between control and power.

~ Control focuses outward, at other people, places and things. So control-seeking pulls me away from myself, away from self-awareness and self-care.   The more controlling I am, the more I lose touch with me.  But power focuses inward, on my own needs, thoughts and feelings.  So developing power is all about developing the ability to know, understand and accept myself. 

~ Control works paradoxically. (See Bert meets the First Paradox  and Control is a boomerang.)  People who depend on having control to feel safe and happy don’t feel safe or happy most of the time.  Chasing control is like chasing a train you can never catch. Power, though — rooted in healthy, intelligent self-care — is something you really can learn and practice. 

Like a muscle which, if you exercise it, can’t help but grow stronger over time.

(To be continued.)

Want more?

Watch the short, wordless film “Bodhisattva in Metro.”  Oh, go ahead.   You can spare the time.  It’s just over six and a half minutes, it should make you smile, and it offers one example of what we here at Monkeytraps think of as a powerful person.   

(Bert says, “I so want to be this guy when I grow up.”)

15 responses to “Control isn’t power (part 1)

  • jane

    Dear Bert & Steve,
    Your dialogue and insights are always (or at least so far) very intriguing. Clarifying. Provocative (provoking reflection and awareness). And I must say, at least for me,. . .”right on”! Thank you so much. So happy to pass you along!

  • Linda

    Thank you for giving examples of Control and Power; as always I get something out of everything you write about; but I have to say I can’t stop laughing after seeing that short video you suggested. That was the Best! I Loved it! Thank you for that.

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Linda. Glad you liked the video. Watching it always gives me the feeling that maybe, despite everything, there’s hope for the human race.

  • robk6169

    I have been the one who has confused the two, power and control. I have been realy trying to stop the fight, but with 40 plus years of fighting I didn’t know any other way until events in my life started to unfold rather quickly and I had to learn a new way to cope with life, some call it “life on lifes terms”. So for the past 22 months I have been trying to learn as Steve says my plan B, or stop the fight. A couple of things I have learned is that the more I try to control the people around me the less they do what I want. The more I try to manipulate the situations around me the worse things get. Therfore my life becomes unmanagable and my monkey mind starts and could carry on for sometimes days. I am starting for the last 3 or 4 weeks to learn to take all that energy which I have been focused on outward things (control) and try to redirect it to focus on inward things (power). If I took half of my energy and redirected to focus inward I would be the most powerful person in the world. Also if I can just stop for 1 second and ask myself is there anything that I can do about this particular situation usualy I come up with the same answer, NO!. So why spend any time or energy on it. Now the hard part, to remember through out my day to constantly ask myself that question (or strengthen the muscle that steve talks about). I am lucky, some people go through there whole life not even knowing ther is a plan B or they dont have to keep fighting anymore, so if you have sat through this whole story I guess you can consider yourself lucky also, And I owe a big thanks to Steve! oh ya Bert too!!!!!

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Rob. You’re right: many people never suspect there’s a Plan B, and so spend their lives chasing the train that no one can catch. And the questions you’re learning to ask yourself (“Can I control this? Was I ever able to before?”) are exactly the right ones. What I’ve found is that, with practice, the right answers to those questions (usually “Nope” and “Nope”) start to come easier and faster, and I’m able to hear them not with disappointment but relief. “Hey,” Bert whispers to me, “That’s good news. If you can’t control it, you can stop trying. Go take a nap or something.” So hang in there.

  • chandrani

    Hi Steve

    I loved reading “Control Isn’t Power”, and not because i must say this. It’s convincing and yet we so often confuse the two. Only when we stop chasing to control that we can be truly powerful, makes a lot of sense, though this would need a lot of mind work. The majority of us, me included, are control-freaks! I’d love to know how best we can cure ourselves of this ‘addiction’?
    Look forward to reading more in your blogs.

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Chandrani. Actually I dislike the term “control freak” because I think we’re all addicted to control — and that means being controlling isn’t freakish at all, it’s normal. (Normal, not healthy.) As for “curing” ourselves, I don’t think we can, strictly speaking, any more than alcoholics or drug addicts ever get “cured.” But we can enter recovery, which is an ongoing process of learning and healing that lasts (if we do it right) as long as we live. And recovery is the whole point and purpose of Monkeytraps. So please keep reading, and please keep commenting.

  • robk6169

    Hey Steve I have had a rough day, no particular reason for it, other than spending to much time working my plan “A” WOW it is extremley painfull. Until I remember oh ya duhhhhh, your in recovery and havent been working your plan “B” so I made a concious decision to change the way I thought of things going on in my head, Ive heard people call it “a commitee in there head” “monkey mind” my personal favorite is “I have a jackass talking to a moron about an idiot” and round and round I went. I started to ask myself can I control it? is there anything I can do about it? like you said, nope! And with some help from people and some reading and writing. I heard tonight not to worry your supposed to be right where you are in life, so I started to concentrate and put my head where my feet are. And also instead of black and white look @ things in a shade of grey, then all of a sudden my brain stopped,,,,,,,,,,,,, And the emotional and mental pain that I was purposely putting myself through had stopped. Exactly one week ago the same thing went on the same days of the weekend. I want to talk about that this week? So if the rest of the weekend goes like last weekend tomorrow is going to be a great day, or I can conciously make a dicision to have a good day tomorrow. I cant wait til that muscle becomes strong and healthy, the quiker the better. I need to plan the night ahead on what tools to bring with me the following day in order to help that muscle.

    • fritzfreud

      Good work, Rob. Congratulations on being able to take what you’ve learned and turn it into some healing for yourself. That’s as Plan B-ish as recovery gets. More power 🙂 to you.

  • John Eric Pollabauer

    Dear steve and Bert
    I really enjoy your blog articles – resonates at a very high frequency with me.
    Your part 2 of this topic “Control isn’t power” is spot on.
    I could easily spend the entire year in the “practice” of the lessons contained in parts 1 + 2, and most likely on a regular basis thereafter.
    Thank you very much for sharing your light and wisdom.
    Kindest regards,

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, John. Glad to hear we’re vibrating similarly. 🙂 Me, I expect to spend the rest of my life practicing this stuff.

  • Kelly

    Your definition of power resonates deeply for me:

    “means being able to get your needs met. To take care of yourself. To not just survive, but to heal, and grow, and be happy.”

    That is a good life indeed. 🙂

  • fritzfreud

    Thanks, Kelly. Yes, a mountain worth climbing.

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