{} The idea of control

Excerpts from (and links to) our most popular posts about the idea of control.
We each carry around in our heads a picture of the reality we want.  And we constantly compare that picture to the reality we have. Anything we do to bring those two closer together — to change what we have into what we want — I call controlling. 
 ~ From The Talk.
Here’s why the idea of control fascinates me.
It’s an emotional iceberg, constantly carrying each of us southwards — away from where we want to go or where we think we’re headed.
Its size and invisibility make it easy to overlook.  But ignoring it is dangerous.  Because it hardly matters how hard you mush towards your goal when the iceberg keeps moving you in the opposite direction. 
~ From Questioning the iceberg.
Control can be hard to spot, even harder to talk about.
That it takes so many forms is just one reason for this. Another is the stunted language we use to describe them. We apply the verb control to wildly different behaviors, to our handling of everything from feelings to finances, foreign trade to cholesterol, termites to acne. Our language for control is so limiting that we almost need to construct a new one in order to describe this chameleon we’re looking for.
From The idea of control



To get control of something, you must surrender control of something else.
Like the original, literal monkey trap. To hold on to the banana, the monkey gives up his freedom. To regain his freedom, he must let the banana go.
It also explains all garden-variety codependent interactions. To control you (that is, get you to like or love or accept me) I must surrender control of something else (like my ability to be honest or spontaneous or emotionally expressive).
~ From The tradeoff
The Just World Hypothesis amounts to the belief that the universe is arranged so that people get what they deserve. Good things happen to good people, in other words, and bad things happen to bad.
Most people believe this, even if they’re not aware of it. Which explains why people tend to feel guilty when bad things happen to them.
Why do we cling to this bias?
Control. Or the illusion thereof.
~ From Just the world.
The most controlling people I know are obsessed with avoiding, preventing and defending.
Why? Because they expect bad things to happen. (Usually because bad things have already happened to them. Abuse and trauma victims, for example, are famously controlling.) So they fear the unpredictable, the unexpected, the unplanned. They rely on control to fend off danger and discomfort.
They live, whether or not they realize it, as frightened people.
~ From Is control your shield?
All this tree-talk is metaphorical, of course. We’re really talking about people and their view of control.
Oak-people see control as necessary to their sense of security.  Birch-people recognize control as essential in some situations and a dangerous illusion in others.
Me, I’m a 61-year-old oak, trying to become a birch.
~ From Human treeings.
When it comes to control, we’re all addicted.  And we all start off just like Tim.
We don’t know we’re addicted.  We don’t know that we don’t know how not to control.  We control automatically, unconsciously and compulsively.
And when our controlling causes problems, we don’t see it. We find other explanations.
~ From The four stages of learning anything
“I like your blog, but it’s a little scary, since before this I had no idea how controlling I am and how many problems it causes me.
“What I want now is to learn to be more aware of my controlling, to keep the idea of control at the surface of my mind and to understand how wanting to control things drives how I react and what I do and say.
“Got any tips on that?”
~ From How to spot monkeytraps


What makes controlling an addiction? Several things. But here’s the most obvious: 
Addictions are famously difficult to give up.
Try giving up control for a day, and see how you feel.
Hell, try giving up control for ten minutes.
~ From What you damned well better know about control

3 responses to “{} The idea of control

  • Richard T. Kotomori Jr. M.D.

    At the age of twelve, one week after becoming a confirmed Methodist, our family left the Church. It turned out that the leaders had let slip their disdain for the Black membership and their fear that too many Blacks were joining the Church. They said this in front of my very fair complected, though Black, mother who they did not know had Black children.

    I tested God through my own scientific experiments and was frightened to conclude that God likely did not exist, at least in the way that I had been taught. I experienced fear after the unveiling of that truth. Later age 15 or so I found a love for philosophy through my assigned reading of Plato’s Republic, later I found Buddhism the most appealing philosophy. It was when I fist became aware of control as suffering. Actually – desire was the term. But then came the paradox.

    If, as Buddhism suggests, we free ourselves from suffering by freeing ourselves from desire or the need to control, isn’t act of freeing ourselves from desire or control evidence of yet another need? By following the prescribed stoic Eight Fold Path of Buddhism, aren’t we creating another form of suffering?

    The conclusion I reached as a teenager, that is reaffirmed every day in my practice as a Psychiatrist and through my expertise in being one of seven billion human inhabitants of earth, is that the nature of things dictates that we will seek to control. It is inevitable. It is how we predict and plan and survive. But becoming too controlling is the monkey trap – your apt analogy.

    Temperance or moderation or balance is an elusive, fragile and precious ideal that we should all aspire to.

    Thank you for this excellent site.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Richard.

      You write, “If, as Buddhism suggests, we free ourselves from suffering by freeing ourselves from desire or the need to control, isn’t act of freeing ourselves from desire or control evidence of yet another need?”

      Sure it is.

      But I don’t read Buddhism as offering freedom from all needs. Everything living has needs, inevitably. What Buddhism offers is an alternative to the false need — or addiction, as I call it — of trying to force reality to satisfy our needs, desires and expectations.

      That urge to force things — that endless war with What Is — I call controlling. And I do think it’s something we can reduce in ourselves (though probably not eliminate).

      Perhaps the main way to reduce it is by recognizing what I call the First Paradox: “The more control you need, the less control you have.” Which means the more we believe we must control reality in order to feel safe, contented or happy, the more anxious, frustrated and unhappy we feel.

      Conversely, the more we can accept What Is instead of fighting against it, the better our chances of experiencing psychological healing and emotional peace.

      (More on the First Paradox here:
      https://monkeytraps.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/the-first-paradox/ )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: