Control is a topic that frequently comes up in therapy. It seems that just about everyone wants it. Some people are convinced they have it. You may already know the therapist response you are likely to get from me – control is an illusion. Yes, I will typically tell my clients that they don’t really have control, that they have created the illusion of control.
We like to think we can control everything around us. We can make our kids get good grades. We can make our spouse desire us. We can make our employer value us more. We can prevent bad things from happening to us. We go through life and when those things happen, despite our efforts, we can’t understand why. We feel like we failed. Life has unfairly conspired against us. We suddenly feel like control has been ripped from us.
But in truth, it hasn’t been. We really do have control. What has been ripped away is our illusion of what we can control. Too often we want to control everything but the one thing we do have control over – ourselves.
Accepting that the one thing we can control is ourselves is extremely powerful and liberating. I’m sure some of you are scoffing at this point, but it is true. Think about it. It really is control. You get to make your own choices about your behaviors. You get to be the person You want to be. And the one thing that is so often overlooked is this – You get to decide how you are going to react to events in your life. Reactions aren’t done to us…we get to choose them.
While we can’t control others directly, we can change our actions so that others in our life and even the events of life itself, are likely to coincide with our desires. What does that mean? I said we can’t make someone desire us. But we can act in a way that increases the chances they will desire us. Instead of saying “desire me” think about “what can I choose to do to/about/for myself that will make the person more likely to desire me?”
It all comes down to systems. We are all part of a system. We operate in a certain pattern. But when you change one part of the system, the part you can control (you!), the rest of the system reacts. It can’t just do the same thing because your part has changed. Granted, you can’t guarantee what change they’ll make but you can create the conditions that make your desired outcome more likely.
You probably know I love to talk about vulnerability. And this is where it comes in. When we make changes to ourselves in an attempt to get a desired outcome, sometimes it doesn’t happen. And that can feel bad. We make ourselves very vulnerable when we put ourselves out there and make changes but don’t get the outcome we want. But don’t forget, we have the ability to decide our own reactions. And we have the ability to deal with difficult emotions.
Just like the image above says, you do have the ability to change the the way the story ends. That ability may not be what you thought it was. Control is a reality…just don’t have illusions about what you control.