(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:)
So what do we mean when we talk about control?
Like when someone says something like I want to feel more in control — what are they asking for, really?
I think it’s
Of mind, I mean.
Peace of mind. Consider that phrase, and what it suggests.
Calm. Safety. Blessed relaxation. Absence of worry. Absence of fear. The ability to do nothing and feel fine about it. Connection to our selves, to others, to the world. Serenity.
And where does peace of mind come from?
Peace of mind is rare because our minds are usually at war.
We fight reality itself, we fight ourselves, and we fight each other.
And we do it almost constantly.
“Each of us has our own silent War With Reality,” writes Stephen Cope.
This silent, unconscious war with How It Is unwittingly drives much of our behavior. We reach for the pleasant. We hate the unpleasant. We try to arrange the world so that we have only pleasant mind-states, and not unpleasant ones. We try to get rid of this pervasive sense of unsatisfactoriness in whatever way we can — by changing things ‘”out there.” By changing the world.
Think about it. Think of how often the reality you want matches the reality you have.
Think of the time you spend wishing that things (or you yourself, or your partner) were different.
Think of the energy you spend plotting or actually trying to make things the way you’d prefer.
Like all addictions, the search for control is a problem disguised as a solution. It seems to offer a way out of discomfort and discontent. In fact, it offers the opposite.
“The life of addiction is one of perpetual longing,” writes William Alexander in his Still Waters:
“I want, I want, I want” is the chant of the discontented self. This longing is reckless and insistent. It will never be fulfilled. There is not one thing, one feeling, or one idea that will satisfy it. “I want” is always followed by “more.” It gets worse.
Sure, you can fight reality. You just can’t ever win.
Is there an alternative to fighting?
We can practice surrender, responsibility and intimacy instead.
I’ve written about these alternatives before.
~ Surrender is the ability to stop controlling what can’t (or shouldn’t) be controlled. It means being able to do nothing and trust that things will work out just fine anyway. Other words for surrender are detachment, acceptance and faith. A life without surrender is a tense, white-knuckled life.
~ Responsibility means the ability to respond – to answer a situation or need appropriately. Often the key to such answers lies in our ability to listen to ourselves, especially to the body and the messages it sends us. Most of us are trained to ignore such messages. But a person who takes care of himself is being responsible. One who buries feelings or sacrifices himself for others is not.
~ Intimacy is the ability to be yourself with another person and allow them to do the same with you. It’s the most challenging alternative because it combines the first two. Intimacy requires that I stop trying to control you and also risk being myself. Not easy. But worth the work. Because intimate relationships are as good as human relationships get.*
As I said, I’ve written about these before, and expect to continue for a while.
The rest of my life, probably.
Partly because Bert — that part of me who insists on fighting the War with Reality — still has so damned much to learn about them.
But mainly because I am convinced they are the only real chance we have of achieving inner peace.