At the heart of all the adult child’s problems lies control addiction.
What’s control addiction?
Let’s start with two definitions:
Control means the ability to edit reality — to make people, places and things the way we want them to be.
Addiction means the compulsion to repeat a certain behavior in order to achieve a particular gratifying — but ultimately unhealthy — experience.
Thus control addicts are people who
(a) feel compelled, over and over and over again, to edit reality according to their preferences, and
(b) experience intolerable discomfort or anxiety when they cannot.
We are all control addicts.
Think of it this way:
Moment to moment, control addicts carry around in their heads a picture of the reality they want.
And they constantly compare that picture to the reality they have.
Anything they do to bring those two realities closer together — to change the one they have into the one they want — is what I call controlling.
It’s controlling whether they do it in speech, behavior, or in the privacy of their imagination and dreams.
Their controlling may be obvious or hidden, conscious or unconscious, choiceful or compulsive, creative or destructive, healthy or unhealthy.
Note that this description covers a vast range of human behaviors.
I’m controlling when I mow my lawn, balance my checkbook, steer my car, swat a mosquito or help my kid do homework.
I’m controlling when I brush my teeth, salt my eggs, change channels, vote in elections or post selfies on Facebook.
I’m controlling when I pursue a goal, a degree, a job, a raise, a sale item, a cure for cancer or a sexual partner.
I’m controlling when I rage at bad weather, slow traffic, dumb commercials, rude waiters or lying politicians.
I’m controlling when I lie, hide my feelings, pretend to agree with you, worry that I’m fat or guess what you think of me.
I’m controlling when I try to get you to agree with me, hire me, understand me, respect me, kiss me, forgive me or do me a favor.
Also whenever I judge, criticize, manipulate, persuade, coerce or abuse you.
Not to mention whenever I anticipate, plan, ruminate, fantasize, worry, project or obsess.
That’s right. All those behaviors stem from the urge to swap my current reality for one I think I’d prefer.
All those and infinitely more.
Our craving for control is inevitable and unavoidable, the mother of all motives, the psychological sea in which we all swim.
Perhaps the best way to describe its enormity in human psychology is to describe its opposite:
The opposite of controlling is the ability to say nothing, and do nothing, and trust that things will be just fine anyway.
How often can anyone do that?
How often can you?
We are all control addicts.
Part 10 of a series on monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.