What we talk about when we talk about control (part 2): Sense

sense-of-control-w-clouds-window-w-borderIn my last post I set out to explain the difference between actual control and a sense of control.

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

And I said a sense of control is an internal phenomenon, something we experience when we feel in control of our emotional state.

Today, more on the latter.

A 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

content ….. frustrated

accepted ….. rejected

protected ….. abandoned

approved ….. criticized

loved ….. hated

peace of mind ….. worried

and so on.

A sense of control refers to those moments when we feel only the feelings we want.

Those moments are when our internal universe seems to be under our command.

We hunger for those moments.

We hunger for happiness and safety and confidence and love. 

Those experiences are, arguably, 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 often that’s 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 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 — even destructive — to conclude that they are.

 

Next:

The dangers of particularization

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