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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

How does one learn to live without control?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25574 points ) August 18th, 2012

In my experience, I have very little control over much of what goes on around me. I cannot control large things like the weather or small things like the plumbing getting clogged due to something my neighbor put in the sink in her side of the duplex.

A fundamentalist Christian family member blames this year’s heat wave and drought on the sins of the nation. “God is in control,” she says often. I really believe she’s assuaging her own psyche for the lack of control she feels in her own life.

I know people who get angry at traffic. Crowded streets seem to exist to inflict pain on them personally.

Then I have friends who seem perfectly at ease with almost all situations they encounter. They often talk using first person pronouns instead of second or third person pronouns like you and they. These people don’t get angry at politicians. They say their piece and move on, and they word it using phrases such as “I believe” or “it seems to me.” It’s my opinion the way they talk demonstrates a level of detachment.

They don’t appear threatened by enormous events or small situations. They go with the flow.

A very close friend once taught me his philosophy of “skin-side/inside.” He would say that whatever happened inside him, he could control, but whatever happened on the skin-side or outside him, he could not control. If he couldn’t control it and it didn’t prove an imminent threat to his life, then why worry about it? Now, he was really getting down to his thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and actions. He wasn’t claiming to control whether or not he developed cancer from second-hand smoke.

He was happy without control.

How much control do you have in your life?

Do you feel comfortable or uncomfortable when you recognize situations or events you can’t manage?

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13 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

I spent years struggling with this until I had some therapy.

Now, it seems simple. I value this minute and try not to predict a catastrophe, like falling off my porch (I did that in 1996) or getting cancer (also did that in 1996) or going through a divorce (yup..started in 1996).

When I find myself slipping back into old destructive patterns, I give myself an imaginary clop upside the head as my maternal grandmother might have done. Then I remind myself that what happens, will happen.

JLeslie's avatar

Somethings I am fine not having control over, and some things cause me great stress not being able to control them. The things that cause me great stress, I can only agonize for a limitied time, it can be as long as months, and then finally I give in. I give in and let it win. I have no idea if that is good, I am not giving advice, just telling you what happens to me.

I think some of it has to do with expectations. When our expectation are not met we feel dissappointed, hurt, angry, and want people or a circumstance to conform to our exectations and requirements. The more realistic our expectations the less need for control I think. Although, some say my expectations are too low.

woodcutter's avatar

We do the best we can. That is all we have the power to do.

Jeruba's avatar

It doesn’t come easily; I think everybody who succeeds has had to work at it and keep on working at it. The Serenity Prayer is an excellent tool, one that works for many people I know. There are others, and they typically have something to do with recognizing what’s within our power and what isn’t.

Here is something that helped me immeasurably. It’s a koan: “At the top of a one-hundred-foot pole an iron cow gives birth to a calf.” I read Albert Low’s book The Iron Cow of Zen many years ago and thought about it for a long time, and after a while it took on a meaning for me that helped me see things in ways I can’t even explain.

I have also noticed that some people go too far: they seem to want to shrug off or deflect responsibility for everything, saying they’re powerless. Not so, I’d say. We still have plenty to do in managing ourselves, and when we observe how others can influence the course of events we see that we can make a difference too. This is not the same as controlling people, places, and things outside ourselves; they’re not ours to control, any more than we are theirs.

Mariah's avatar

I’m trying to learn to detach. The lack of control over something as fundamental as my own body has certainly had its mental toll on me.

Usually when I’m just a little bit sick, I still retain the feeling that I have some amount of control. I convince myself that there are things I can do to make things better. I can eat better, I can lower my stress levels. In actuality I don’t really know if these factors, the things I have control over, really make much of a difference. But it gives me something to do. In one way it gives me more hope than believing that my health is all up to chance. In another, it lays pressure on my shoulders. If I have control, and things don’t go well, then it’s my fault that things aren’t going well.

And my life gets a lot more difficult. I feel the pressure to behave in the most optimally healthy manner. I’m not so sick that I need bedrest, so I try to keep up in other arenas of life, like school. But doing daily tasks that used to be easy becomes very taxing when I’m not well.

It then reaches a tipping point. Because I am stubborn, I usually have to be very, very ill to reach this point. Once I am finally convinced that I am too ill to work anymore, I “give up.” And, oddly, there is a sense of calm that comes with this. I’m not frantically trying to maintain normality anymore. It’s too hard, it’s just not possible, so why try? I lie in bed with my books or video games and thoroughly detach for a while. I’m not saying this is a good way to go about life in general, but in an acute situation sometimes that’s just what needs to happen. My body is usually grateful to get the rest.

I’ve yet to learn how to have that attitude without being in such an extreme situation. I’m not sure whether I would want to. On the one hand, it is liberating, in a way, to relinquish the control, sit back, and let things happen. On the other hand, it feels really scary! Even in situations like mine where the control is probably just an illusion, it’s an illusion I sort of need. It is just scary to admit that shit’s gonna unfold in whatever awful manner it pleases and I have no say.

Aqua's avatar

For me, it’s about making a conscious effort to live in the Now and accept my current circumstances. I try to recognize that my options are to either change the situation, leave, or accept it. Granted, I’m not perfect, but I try.

_Whitetigress's avatar

” I really believe she’s assuaging her own psyche for the lack of control she feels in her own life.”

I agree with you.

I have a certain amount of control. If I need a job, I apply for a job to the best of my ability. When I have a goal, I write the down, and chip away at the goal to the best of my ability. When something tries to get in my way, I deal with it appropriately, maybe take a break from the goal, or avoid that something at all costs.

Compartmentalism helps as well.

Nullo's avatar

I’ve always found it beneficial to look at the larger picture. To remind myself that, no, those people are not out to get you, they just want whatever product I’m selling. Or to tell myself that this is the way that things are at the moment, and being angry won’t fix that.

My primary defence, though, is my natural tendency to space out. Traffic ceases to be an issue when you’re trying to think of the coolest way to get Captain Cosmos out of the dread clutches of the Zorbinians. Not really a solution, I know, but it’s effective in the short term.

rooeytoo's avatar

I try to always remember the 3 C’s – I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it and I can’t control it. As long as I remember that and that the only thing in this world I can control is me, then life is pretty simple. And yes, making “I” statements instead of “YOU” statements is also a very good policy.

I often wonder if Fluther is not the best place for someone like me to be. Despite the good intentions, I allow myself to easily get sucked into conflict and dissension. I have to remind myself that to say something once is stating my opinion to repeat it again and again, even in response to someone else, is trying to control. So maybe Fluther is a good opportunity to practice. It’s hard to say and it depends upon the mood of the day.

Great question!

tinyfaery's avatar

Radical Acceptance. DBT is the best, most transformative behavior science I have ever come across.

Symbeline's avatar

Yeah I just grab on to a log and hope I don’t crash into any rocks. Maybe a mysterious guy in a kayak will save me. Perhaps the truth is out there, and I’ll get caught on a fishing hook and be taken away, never to be seen again.
I have control over nothing, other than my own little routine, which, ironically, only exists to adapt myself to my severe lack of control. I don’t think anything is really controlled by anyone anywhere though. The rich and the poor, the strong and the meek, all only maintain an illusion of control, and a fragile one at that. Chaos and disorder could strike at any time and totally shatter everything.
Not that is really an answer, but I mean I just go day by day. Whether it’s good or bad, so far it’s the only thing I can moderately hack.

downtide's avatar

A lot of my depression and anxiety went away when I realised that even though I don’t have control of everything in my life, I have control over how I react to it and deal with it. When I realised that, I realised that I actually had more control than I thought I did.

hearkat's avatar

Like others, my life changed for the better when I awoke to the reality that control is an illusion. I stopped blaming those who harmed me in the past, and learned to be accountable for who I am in the here and now. The only thing we can control is what we do with this very moment, and so it behooves us to choose wisely, so as to have as few regrets as possible in the future.

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