Control: an introduction

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Control means the ability to dictate reality — to make people, places and things what we want them to be.

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It is easily the most important idea in our lives.

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Why?  Because controlling is a built-in function of the human mind.

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It works like this:

 

Moment to moment, we each carry around in our heads a picture of the reality we want.

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And we constantly compare that picture to the reality we have.

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Anything we do to bring those two closer together — to change the reality we have into the one we want — is what I call controlling.

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It’s controlling whether we do it in speech, in behavior, or only in the privacy of our imagination or dreams.

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Our controlling may be overt or covert, conscious or unconscious, choiceful or compulsive, creative or destructive, healthy or unhealthy.

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Studying control has led me to four conclusions:

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(1) We are all addicted to control.

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(2) This addiction causes most (maybe all) our emotional problems.

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(3) Behind all controlling is the wish to control feelings.

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(4) There are better ways to handle feelings than control.

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These are the Four Laws of control.

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Now, this view of control can be confusing, partly because so often control is clearly a good and necessary thing.

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I won’t willingly surrender control when I’m driving my car on wet pavement, or my kid gets sick and needs a doctor, or garbage piles up in my kitchen, or a mosquito tries to bite me, or in any of a million other daily situations.

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But there are two areas where controlling tends to cause more problems than it solves:  feelings and relationships.

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Overcontrolling feelings tends to make us sick —  anxious, depressed, addicted.

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Overcontrolling other people tends to anger, scare, and alienate them.

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What does all this mean?

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It means anyone who wants to be emotionally healthy and reasonably happy needs to examine the role control plays in their life — to learn to

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(a) notice when they’re controlling,

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(b) decide if their controlling is healthy or not,

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and

(c) learn healthy alternatives to unhealthy control.

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