Are You Controlling Life or Is It Controlling You?
On the day of my wedding, several things went wrong. My hubby-to-be disappeared to go drinking with his estranged father while we were supposed to be decorating (it was an evening ceremony). The guy who was supposed to be running the music didn’t understand my instructions, so we got bits of the exact same song (the processional music) for each musical piece that was supposed to be happening (to be fair, I hadn’t gone over it with him in advance, I kinda threw it at him last minute, and he did it as a favour to me — shout out to awesome cousins who will do the dumbest things for you if you ask nicely!). The hotel concierge had forgotten, despite confirming twice, to book us into their gorgeous, light and plant filled atrium for the pictures like we had arranged and paid for, so they wouldn’t let us use it. Then, hubby shoved cake into my face unexpectedly, and quite hard, knocking me down, ripping my dress, and getting icing up my nose and in my eyes (yes, that gives you a painful eye infection in case you were curious) (also, who the F does that? it’s some weird-ass, really dumb Eastern Canada crap apparently! He assumed I knew all about it…)
In retrospect, maaaaaybeeee there were a couple of red flags here that he wasn’t the right guy for me (we aren’t still together lol), but the point of my story is that things were really out of control for a lot of the day, and I was so upset, stressed out and anxious about these issues, I didn’t even get a real chance to enjoy the experience. I was in crisis mode; lurching from one disaster to the next, always worried about what new calamity would descend! I definitely felt that I had zero control over any of these problems, and I beat myself up for years about most of them. I was upset and angry that I didn’t manage to create the illusion of perfection. On the outside, I laughed it off as no big deal, but inside, I seethed with rage and hurt — at myself, the universe, and what I thought of as both terrible planning skills on my part, and my dumb bad luck. In reality, most of these were things I really couldn’t have foreseen (ok, maybe the music one lol), and I really, truly, needed to ACTUALLY accept them and move on, instead of just pretending to do so.
Feeling like we need to tightly control our worlds, and as if there isn’t enough control in the world for you to feel safe and satisfied, is a common problem. I like to refer to it as my “type-A-love-pressure-eat-it for-breakfast” side. I have come to realize over the years that its just not healthy or sustainable over the long haul. It leads to heart attacks, strokes, and massive health issues. I knew I had to change in order to survive.
So, what gives? Why do we do this?
A wise man named Reinhold Niebuhr once said “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s a good quote, and holds up because it’s really true — feeling that you must control every part of your life is exhausting and doesn’t really get you anywhere, except maybe a visit to a mental health professional after a breakdown.
The way we perceive the world profoundly impacts the way we feel about controlling it. It’s actually more important than any other part of our stories.
Believe it or not, feeling like things are out of control is not a self discipline or actual control issue. It’s a perception issue. It’s actually the result of our frustration with our inability to alter the outcome of a given environment or situation. It’s just a way of noticing things, that we have trained ourselves into over the years. We have learned some of this from our family or friends, and some of it is the way we reinforced our patterns of behaviour when we first experienced roadblocks and frustrations.
Some things are just beyond our control, and here’s a news flash — THAT’S OKAY! Do you actually have the ability to control the weather, traffic, or supermarket lines? If you can, please, please, please contact me, as I have so many ideas of how to make money off of this gift! If not, then maybe it’s time to learn to relax and just accept the things we cannot change.
So, how do we shift this thinking?
Another quote I love answers this question beautifully. “When you find no solution to a problem, it’s probably not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted.” I don’t know who wrote this, but my sense is that it’s an updated and expanded version of Soren Kierkegaard’s quote “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Don’t quote me on that, though lol. I love this framing of the issue. It really resonates with me. I used to spend years struggling to find solutions to what I assumed were problems, but in every case, they turned out to be truths to be accepted. Some of those truths were quite painful, such as the death of my marriage, and some of them were actually really easy to accept, like when I realized that Firefly was gone from the airwaves and no amount of begging or pleading my my case would change that.
I like to use a version of the game “20 Questions” for this. Think of a series of questions you can ask yourself, when you are feeling frustrated and like you don’t have control over your world, to help you realize that it’s either something you DO have control over, or, when you find no solution to the perceived problem, it’s likely something you need to accept and not a problem you can solve.
It’s icky and uncomfortable to realize that some things are not fixable, but it’s vital that we acknowledge the difference between the things we are able to influence and change and the things we have zero control over. What a concept! But in it’s essence, you are asking three important questions — IS IT TRUE? IS IT REAL? IS IT IMPORTANT?
Chances, are, when you objectively look at the things that make you feel a loss of control, you will discover that it’s not actually worth worrying and stressing out about them. They generally just don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things, if they even matter at all.
When you question the things that you think matter, you may just surprise yourself. Give it a try, what do you have to lose?
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