What we mean when we talk about control, part 2: Sense of control

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Steve speaking:)

Last time I set out to explain the difference between actual control and a sense of control.

Actual control, I said, is an external phenomenon,  something we achieve out in the world.  It happens when we find ourselves able  to intentionally influence other people, places and things. 

Sense of control is an internal phenomenon, something that happens in our heads when we feel in control of our emotional state.

Today, more on the latter.

2. Sense of control

We each want to feel certain feelings and avoid others. 

For example, we each want to feel the items on the left below, and avoid those on the right:

happy ….. sad,

comfortable ….. uncomfortable,

safe ….. scared,

strong ….. weak,

confident ….. inadequate,

certain ….. confused,

contented ….. frustrated,

accepted ….. rejected,

protected ….. abandoned,

approved ….. criticized,

loved ….. hated,

peace of mind ….. worried,

and so on. 

Sense of control refers to those moments when we feel only the items in column A — only the feelings we want. 

It’s in those moments, when our internal universe seems to be under our command, that we experience what I call a sense of control.

And we hunger for those moments.

We hunger for happiness and safety and confidence and love.  Those experiences are what we live for. 

In fact, our whole lives are arranged in an attempt to repeat these experiences as often as possible.

Think about it.  Doesn’t every choice you make boil down to your answer to the question, Which option here is more likely to make me feel happy, not sad?  Comfortable, not uncomfortable

Our preference for comfort over discomfort is rooted in survival instinct, and so hardwired into us.  That makes it the inevitable basis for all our conscious choices, and all our unconscious choices too.    

And often we conclude that what will enable us to choose comfort over discomfort — i.e., a sense of control — is to get actual control, control of the (external) world around us.

And that’s often a valid conclusion. 

Of course I’ll feel better if 

~ My car stays on the road (instead of hitting that tree),

~ The boss gives me a raise (instead of firing me),

~ My kid aces Math (instead of failing),

~ This attractive woman agrees to have dinner with me (instead of slapping my face). 

All these experiences, and a million others like them, lead to a natural conclusion: the way to get a sense of control is to get actual control.

But here’s where it gets tricky. 

Because one is a goal.  And the other is just a means to that goal.

They’re not the same. 

And it can be dangerous and destructive to conclude that they are.

(To be continued.)

* * *

Want more?

We are an anxious nation…in fact, we are an anxious world. There is no question that uncertainty seems to have increased dramatically in the last few years. We worry about terrorism. We worry about war. We worry about losing our jobs. We worry about the dangers confronting our children. And on and on and on.

This worry is understandable, given the state of the world at the present time, but there is no question in my mind that, with the right tools…

All of us can rise above any situation that life hands us.  

~ From Nine ways to find peace of mind by Susan Jeffers.  Read the rest here. 

7 responses to “What we mean when we talk about control, part 2: Sense of control

  • Bryan

    Great series of posts, but you’re leaving me hanging! My monkey needs answers, and now, dammit!

    Yes, I have concluded that sense of control and external control are the same thing. Most definitly destructive and dangerous. And therefore . . . wait for the next post. Anyways, there’s something that excites me about where you’re headed with this.

  • releasing_lunacy (@ReleasingLunacy)

    It always gets complicated when T’s insist on adding something about feelings. Without feelings we could live in a world of actual control -only. Everything would be black or white. No gray. There would be no need for a “sense” of control. Hmmm…

    psssst, Bert

    Want control? All we need to do is convince the T’s there is no need for feelings. Abolish, banish, annihilate, explode, overthrow, extinguish, terminate all emotions/feelings. Then, you can enjoy pure actual control.

    Um, well, technically, you won’t be able to enjoy it, per se. We’ve done away with feelings, remember. But, you’ll be able to have it!

    My T seems reluctant to go along with my ‘feelings are not necessary’ plan for life. However, I’ve never enlisted the assistance of a control-addicted inner monkey before! Turn Steve against feelings. Then Steve can turn my T and then….and then… you can control the world! …and I won’t have to feel anymore.

    No, Bert. There are no flaws in my plan. Promise. And, yes, you can use hypnosis, trickery, bribery or any other means necessary to convince Steve emotions are not needed.

    ~ rl

  • Why worry too much? « HOW TO MAN UP

    […] What we mean when we talk about control, part 2 (monkeytraps.wordpress.com) […]

  • Why worry too much?

    […] What we mean when we talk about control, part 2 (monkeytraps.wordpress.com) […]

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