From Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by Steve Hauptman (Lioncrest, 2015).
Chapter 53: Tradeoff
To get control in one place you must surrender it in another.
~ The Third Paradox
I once met a speedcuber, one of those people who could solve Rubik’s Cube in sixty seconds. Nice friendly young guy. I sort of hated him.
I was jealous. Life always felt to me just like one big insoluble Rubik’s Cube. I could never get things under control on all sides at once. The harder I tried to make one side of my cube all one color, the more infuriatingly multicolored the other sides got.
It’s still like that. I still can’t get everything right at once. I can see clients, or do chores around the house. I can spend time with my family, or work on my book. I can go to dinner with friends, or watch my weight. I can keep up with my professional reading, or read mysteries to relax. The one thing I can’t do is everything. I’m trading off all day long.
I am not alone. Every day I talk with people whose determined attempt to get control over one area of their lives triggers a loss of control in another. Like
The drinker who uses alcohol to manage his feelings, then loses control of his health.
The careerist who achieves success and status at work, but becomes estranged from his wife and kids.
The compulsive mother who makes her children the focus of her existence, then loses her husband to an affair.
The depressive who successfully hides his feelings from everyone, then one morning finds himself too exhausted to get out of bed.
And so on.
Earlier I mentioned Fritz Perls’ idea that all attempts at self-change will trigger a resistance from deep within ourselves. That seems to be how change works in the larger world too. The more we try to force reality to meet our expectations, the more reality pushes back.
It is a point made by cautionary tales as old as Midas and Scrooge, and as modern as Jurassic Park.
And it is especially relevant to those of us who struggle with addiction to control. We should remember that, in the world of feelings and relationships no less than the physical world, Newton’s Third Law of Motion pertains. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Or, if you prefer: Every yin seeks its yang, and vice versa.
But the scales always get balanced somehow.
The same point is spelled out in a letter to Carl Jung from one of his longtime patients:
By keeping quiet, repressing nothing, remaining attentive, and by accepting reality — taking things as they are, and not as I wanted them to be — by doing all this, unusual knowledge has come to me, and unusual powers as well, such as I could never have imagined before. I always thought that when we accepted things, they overpowered us in some way or other. This turns out not to be true at all, and it is only by accepting them that one can assume an attitude towards them. So now I intend to play the game of life, being receptive to whatever comes to me, good and bad, sun and shadow forever alternating, and in this way, also accepting my own nature with its positive and negative sides. Thus everything becomes more alive to me. What a fool I was! How I tried to force everything to go according to the way I thought it ought to.*