Control isn’t power (part 2)

 (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 an early photo of Bert at left, feeling powerful.

If you missed Part 1 of this post, you can read it here. 

Bert still speaking:)

Last time we called control a train you can chase but never catch, and power a muscle that grows stronger as you exercise it.

So how do you build that muscle? How does a person become more powerful?

My adventures in recovery have taught me seven ways:

(1) Refocus. You begin by shifting your focus from outside — people, places and things — to inside — your own needs, thoughts and feelings. Happiness is an inside job, and most of the answers you need are in there.

(2) Detach. Then you let go of what you can’t control anyway. It may be a situation, or a person, or that person’s behavior. Ask yourself, “Can I really control this?  Have I ever been able to before?”  If the answer is No,  let go of it.  If it’s a person you care about, you can detach with love, as they say in Al-Anon. Detaching doesn’t mean you stop caring about them. It just means you acknowledge your limitations. And when you do that, an enormous relief often follows.

(3) Take care of yourself. This one’s important:  You stop treating yourself like a machine. Listen to your body instead, and start respecting the messages it sends you. Hungry? Eat. Tired? Sit down. Maybe take a nap. (Naps are great.) Lonely? Seek out safe people. (More on this below.) Angry? Scream (into a pillow, maybe, so you don’t scare the neighbors). Sad? Let yourself cry. It’s how the body naturally relieves tension, and it helps.

(4) Educate yourself. You’re not crazy.  Your pain, whatever it is, means something. Your job is to figure out what it’s trying to tell you. Education takes many forms, from Googling codependency to reading self-help books (start with Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More or Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet Woititz — even if you don’t think of yourself as “codependent” or as coming from an alcoholic family), or listening to tapes (try the library), or talking to a friend, or finding a good therapist, or attending a self-help meeting. After his first Al-Anon meeting one client told me, “It was like a light coming on in a dark room, and suddenly I could see all the furniture I’ve been tripping over.” Why live in the dark any longer than you have to?

(5) Get some support. No one gets through life alone. (Even if you could, why would you want to?) Seriously consider checking out a self-help program, like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon or CODA. You’re probably scared of that first meeting. That’s okay.  Everyone is. Go anyway. It won’t kill you, and you can’t know beforehand what you’ll hear. A good meeting can save your life, not to mention your sanity.

(6) Listen to feelings. This is another big one. Most of us hide our feelings, even from ourselves. But feelings are essential. You need to reclaim them. Find people who are trying to recover their feelings, and who can support you while you’re trying to recover yours.  Who’s the person you feel most free to be yourself with?  Spend time with them.  If there’s no one like that in your life, see it as the problem it is.  Then correct it.  Hire a therapist, visit CODA or Al-Anon, or at the very least find a chat room online where you can listen to feelings and begin to express some yourself. 

(7) Have faith. Develop your spiritual life. No, you don’t need to join a church. You don’t even need to believe in God. You do need to believe in something bigger than you, some truth you trust even when you don’t understand it. Call it Nature. Call it The Force. Al-Anon calls it Higher Power, but you can call it what you like. Steve wants to add something here.

When I hit adolescence I rejected the idea of God, whom I’d always visualized as some huge version of Charlton Heston in a bathrobe riding a cloud.  But I always believed in psychology. Then I heard Scott Peck suggest on a tape that it’s not unreasonable to replace the word God with the word unconscious.That permanently reframed the idea of God for me. I realized there was some intelligence inside that I could listen for and which could guide me if I let it. I might doubt the existence of a God, but who can doubt the existence of that voice? That part that Knows Better?  And if that intelligence could exist inside me, why not in the world at large? 

Hey, we all need some invisible support.  We all need to carry around inside us some version of that experience described by the Ojibwe poet who wrote,

Sometimes I go about in  pity for myself,

 and all the while

a great wind carries me across the sky.


Okay, your turn.  Talk back to us. 

What do you think of the distinction between control and power as we’ve described it? 

Do you see yourself as mainly controlling or powerful

Where’s your power come from?

And what sorts of power would you like to develop? 

24 responses to “Control isn’t power (part 2)

  • robk6169

    Well thats easy,, the power I would like to develop is to never try and control anything that is uncontrollable for me again, unrealistic but is something to strive for? support is something that I was just thinking about recently and I have found for myself that support or lack of support is very lonley which makes me feel sad. WOW a vicious cycle the more feelings I have the more conrtrol I think I need which my “commitee” wants me to isolate and deal with the feelings of being alone which then makes me feel more sad which gives me more feelings to want to control, so the closer to my plan “B” I get, the further away it seems to be. And as usual Burt I could go on and discuss my plan “B” all day because it is something that I really enjoy talking about but its time to start my day off with one of the many tools that I have in my tool box, exercise! looking very foward to seeing you this week I have alot to tell you,

    • fritzfreud

      You hit on something important here: “The more feelings I have the more control I think I need.” You bet. I think all controlling is, ultimately, an attempt to control feelings. (Why would we want to control anything unless we assumed it would make us feel better?)
      So learning to manage our feelings — i.e., expressing them directly or venting them in some other way — is key to overcoming the urge to control. The most controlling people I know are those who don’t know how (or are simply too scared) to do that.

  • Phyllis

    Good Morning Bert and Steve. This was a very helpful post. Things one ought to know. Just things I sometimes forget. Thank you. As for the power or control thing, for me, the control thing is exhausting. The power thing is strength. You guys are such a good team!

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Phyllis. I forget them too. All the time, actually. That’s probably why I’m feeling exhausted today… 🙂

  • robk

    Phyllis, I have to agree that the control thing is exhausting, how do you stay focused through out your day on NOT controlling things and focus on trying to get power? I am always looking for good advice and to add people to my network, If your interested in a chat please email me and maybe we can help each other get closer to that place, that Bert calls “PLAN B”

  • Vivien Sabel

    Another wonderful post Steve. Really clear, helpful and wonderfully creative. I love your style! I’ll be in touch soon. Busy reviewing books and expert guest blogging! Warmest from Viv~Psychotherapist (UK)

  • Linda

    I like the idea of the questions you have asked; it really does help to focus on who we truly are. I believe I am on the right path, but as I have mentioned before it is a lifetime journey and does gets easier when you are enlightened by different ways such as the ones you have suggested. Thank you again Steve.

  • Eunice Fields

    Good morning! Just read another great post. I know I am very powerful! Even before I (we) could talk, I was always communicating what I wanted, what I needed through crying and cooing(my mom’s version). I usually had my needs met. However, after I learned to talk, I learned that I should not be thinking of me, I should always be concerned about other people and their feelings, how to “control” situations, etc. I have taken 3 life courses in my life journey, they were not easy by any means, but I know I am ever so powerful, loving, honest, courageous, and perseverant. (BTW-I just turned 40). Its never too late to learn. Keep the posts coming Steve! Thanks so much, I am learning from you and others! Have a blessed day – Eunice

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Eunice. I envy you your awareness of your own power. My own awareness tends to come and go (mostly go), depending on how distracted or scared I am on a particular day. It’s on scared days Bert gets nervous and tries to grab the wheel, so to speak. But he’s learning his own limitations too. Lately he doesn’t drive too far down the road before handing it back.

  • Marie

    Great Post Steve. I consider myself very lucky because I have a great therapist and a great friend.
    I use to get angry at my therapist when he would tell me I was controlling. But, through therapy and this blog, I realize how controlling I was and at times still am. The times that I am trying to control the things I can’t change are the times I feel exhausted and depressed. I am learning to let go. It is a process. It doesn’t happen over night. I am lucky to have a close friend who is always there for me when I need to have my feelings heard.

    • fritzfreud

      (Steve replies:) Thanks, Marie. You’re right, of course, it is a process, and a neverending one for most of us. Which I find comforting.
      (Bert replies:) I still get angry at Steve when he points out my control addiction. Between you and me, he means well, and he’s right about some stuff, but he can be a real pain in the ass.

  • Marie

    Forgot to add, I do feel more powerful when I give up trying to control. I feel stronger emotionally and physically.

  • robk

    I love reading all of everyones replies, Eunice I would love to know more about the 3 life courses that you took, email me! And Marie you said that you hate when your therapist calls you controlling, well holy cow can I relate, because when my therapist calls me a NARCASIST I want to scream then jump across the room and strangle him, A long time ago a counsler of mine said something that has stuck with me for the past 10 years or so that if I here some sort of critisism from someone espetially a professional that it is probably true, that was over 10 years ago and I still remember it like yesterday, So the point I am making is I guess I am a narcasist,(i hate even when i say it) Among many other things

    • fritzfreud

      Rob, none of us has all the answers. Plus, we each have our own inner monkey. So maybe you need to detach a bit from your therapist. Take what he says with a grain of salt. Before you kill him, I mean. Just a suggestion. 🙂

  • robk6169

    I remember talking to my therapist a while back about re-reading things that I have said in the past or hearing things that I have said in the past and not liking the way I sound. Well, this was one of those times, again hearing the truth sometimes hurts, looking foward to Steve and Burts next post,,,,,,,, Amazing how well you can feel by making a good choice and letting go

  • Patrick Wilson

    Hi Steve,

    I just accepted your invitation on Linked In and went to you blog to learn more about you. I liked your post on control vs power, and want to spend more time with your blog.

    This is a snippet that I wrote for my new website blog that I am working on…

    Emotional independence is not focused on controlling our surroundings and the people in our life so that we can remain comfortable, but rather on increasing our capacity to be comfortable regardless of the circumstance.

    This ties reght in with your concept of power.

    Good stuff, and great to connect. — Patrick

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Patrick. I like your snippet. And I think you’re right about comfort. Much of our controlling comes from a wish to remain comfortable instead of learning to tolerate discomfort better. But learning to tolerate discomfort makes us more powerful. Stay in touch, and I look forward to reading your blog.

  • robk6169

    WOW this is so cool,,,,, Thanks

  • mainbean

    Thank you thank you thank you

  • Working step one | 3bean

    […] Control isn’t power (part 2) ( […]

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