Control Issues?

When working with people I often hear references to issues of control. In fact, it seems to me that just about every behavioral issue can be boiled down to a control issue. It makes sense. If a person felt out of control at some point in their life, they may have picked up habits to compensate for that. But, let's break it down further in hopes of shedding light on understanding the true nature of a control issue. As in any issue, with more understanding, control issues will likely die on the vine.

I was leading a group of adults on an acute psychiatric unit a while back, and we were discussing the nature of the human experience — about how we feel our state of mind moment to moment and it looks real to us whether we like it or not. The point was made that controlling your thinking is not only impossible but also unnecessary given how our minds work. In fact, trying to control your mind tends to lead to an out of control mind. One patient stated, "that sounds great, but you don't understand. I have control issues." As I reflected on her comment, I got curious and the question popped in my head, "So, why would it make sense to try to control something?" Another group participant chimed in, "Well, I guess you would only try to control something if you think it could control you." That statement sums it all up.

A control issue is simply the result of misunderstanding the nature of our minds. If I think somebody or some situation can affect me (control me) in some way, albeit positive or negative, then it only makes sense to try to control in reaction. If I deeply understand that nothing outside of me can ultimately affect me on the inside, then the temptation to control is off the table. As I continued to reflect in this, it occurred to me that the only areas where I get lost in trying to control are those where I have fallen asleep to the fact of how my feelings are being felt through thought or my state of mind.

  • If a parent thinks her child's acting out behavior creates frustration in her, then she will work hard to control his behavior.  
  • A controlling or abusive partner in a relationship works very hard to control the other person because they assume the other person has the power to make them feel a certain way.
  • A person who obsesses over order and cleanliness assumes that disorder creates negative feelings, and thus they put a lot of time and energy into controlling the environment.

To the uninformed observer, it might look like the examples cited above are a function of the person's personality or prior life experiences or maybe even some sort of psychiatric diagnosis. But, when you step back you will notice it's all a basic misunderstanding. The misunderstanding is that we can feel something other than our thinking in the moment. It's the heart of all mental suffering in the world today.

To take this discussion a step further, any "issue" is, at its core, a by-product of misunderstanding. So, if you think you have issues with trust, commitment, abandonment, or even control, the antidote is a simple dose of truth, and the insights that follow cure them.