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My lady friends and I have talked a lot about our “control issues.”
We can laugh at ourselves and find solace in knowing that we’re not alone in our rigid behavior, especially in partnerships. Being honest about it softens the edges of an otherwise prickly disposition. But I’ve realized that this doesn’t seem to resolve it—the simple bonding over it. I’m guessing that this is because we don’t typically challenge the narrative around it. We just poke it with a stick from a safe distance away.
My male partner and I talk about it, too, so I realize that—although it’s pretty cliché for the female—many folks relate to it as a struggle. It’s a human thing.
The more I consider it a challenge amongst many other people, the more tender I feel toward it in myself. This also leads to a desire to get to know it better rather than labeling it, dismissing it, and just hoping it’ll fix itself.
In my relationship, my urge to control can look like this:
I start getting bratty when I don’t get the attention that I want. I am avoiding my own emotions and instead try to manage how my partner is navigating his life. I create having particular ways things need to be done and get moody when they aren’t done that way (despite me not communicating about this beforehand).
The list of examples I could give is really quite long.
The urge to control a person or situation doesn’t just show up in my romantic relationships. I can recognize it in any area of my life where I feel “out of control” in any way. And, given the nature of being a human, this is most areas of my life. It’s in: school, work, friendships, empty space, my own emotions, the future, the past, and the present.
The most uncomfortable aspect of this is that it’s most definitely out of sync with a much deeper yearning to surrender in my life—to “go with the flow,” to let it all unfold—to meet life as a dance partner (and meet my actual partner as such). To be relaxed and joyful and understanding in my friendships and feel the story of my life unfold in a way that keeps getting better and better.
Really, I want to connect with life as dynamically as possible. I want to feel lit up by the connection expressed in my relationships with others and with myself.
I really do want to experience this bliss thing the spiritual folks talk about! It doesn’t have to be constant, but routine would be awesome.
Also, it’s gotten painfully clear that it’s either one or the other. I’m either connecting and feeling increasingly more open, or I’m controlling and shutting down to life, and the deliciousness that I know is an aspect of it.
So, why succumb to controlling behavior if it’s a direct contradiction to what I want to experience most in my precious human life?
Well, because I never understood it was a choice. It has always felt non-negotiable. That’s one of the things my girlfriends and I have laughed about the most when we discuss the subject—being controlling feels impulsive and unavoidable. I think we’re really laughing (uncomfortably) to try and accept something that isn’t meant to be accepted.
What I see, when I take my little microscope to this whole dynamic, is:
I want a connection, but I choose control.
When I choose to control, I don’t get a connection.
Because if I choose connection, I have to surrender control.
When I stop relating to control as something that just happens, I start taking responsibility for what I’m choosing.
When I take that responsibility, I realize I don’t like sacrificing a deeper connection with myself and life by choosing control.
When I fully realize what I’m missing out on, the desire for that connection gets stronger—I loosen my grip even more on this conviction that I have no choice around controlling when the urge comes up.
When I loosen that grip, I also have access to this potent question, in real-time, as I navigate my life: “Would I rather connect right now? Or control?”
I can’t have both.
For many years, I couldn’t ask that question because it was answered already through my intense need to control. It gave me such a sense of security and safety. Many of us have excellent reasons for wanting to feel in control. They are often rooted in enduring intensely painful experiences of being powerless in one (or many) physically, emotionally, and psychologically threatening situations.
Compassion feels extremely important in the process of turning this controlling ship around. It’s going in that direction for a reason, and it deserves our love, understanding, and patience.
At some point, as we get stronger in ourselves and hopefully heal through the things that implanted this operating system, we get to relax, trust more, and control less. Connect more, too.
As someone who believes deeply in how our little choices throughout the day eventually add up to big shifts, asking myself that question—”Connection or control at this moment, my dear?”—is a truly powerful investment. It leads to a more delightful life, one full of subtle and massive instances of connection. Connection to myself, to my loved ones, to strangers (if I choose), and to the universe, which is so mystical, I can’t even wrap my mind around it.
That’s the life I want.