Do we ever really have it? I know we like to think we do.
We crave it. We seek it out. We demand it. But in the end, what do we really have?
What drives us is the belief that we can create order and control out of chaos.
When my daughter was 3 she would hold her breath to get what she wanted. She didn’t understand that it wasn’t going to work. That physiologically survival kicks in and she’d pass out before she’d die as she’d threatened, but it made her feel in control. Watching her was often so painful she even won occasionally, which only fostered her mistaken belief she had achieved her goal.
What we are really saying is that we want to feel some sense of control and impact on the chaos swirling all around us. Like slamming on the horn in traffic as though that’d have any true impact on getting things moving. We’ve all done it, and we all know how fruitless it is. I’ve always been impressed when visiting New York with the volume of dissatisfaction and constant cacophony that exists in the city. Only tourists seem to notice the persistent noise residents appear to take for granted. Is it just the city blowing off steam in unison?
But it makes us feel better, the idea we’re doing something, anything, is preferable to doing nothing.
The operative word here is – feel.
We all desperately need to feel in control. Without that we are lost, set adrift.
We’ll do anything to that end. Think about it. How often do people butt heads over control issues? In marriages, family pecking order, with children? It all starts so young.
You cannot always controlWayne Dyer
What goes on outside.
But you can always control
What goes on inside
I remember after divorcing her Dad my 3 year-old daughter demanded to sleep with me. I justified why my poor baby needed that extra loving support and gave in for days. Finally, desperate to get my own room back and be able to actually talk on the phone with friends or watch TV beyond the Disney channel, I said enough was enough. It was back to bed for her in a lovingly way. Sure- in both our dreams! By then she had no intention of giving up the ground she’d worked so hard to gain. The battle for control was on.
Every time she climbed out of bed, I lovingly put her back. But sadly too often, after repeated attempts to stand my ground, I folded. It was just easier and I was too tired. That only made matters worse and taught her that if she stuck to her demands long enough I’d finally cave. What a lesson! Eventually we were so exhausted and in such need of our own space I finally put my foot down when I realized I had lost control to a toddler. It was up to me to get it back. Without it we were both in an unhealthy spiral. As her Mom it was my job to set the boundaries and teach her they were there for a reason.
That’s a difficult ambition for any parent but for those of you who’ve had children in the middle of a divorce, you’ll understand how hard that is for single parents. I had allowed my child to become a tyrant! I’ll never forget the night she screamed non-stop for 3 hours demanding to sleep with me in a voice that grew more hoarse by the second; sure she could outlast my resolve as she’d done every night before. It took going into the garage, cranking the music up as loud as possible, while getting support from a friend, that I was doing what was best for her. In the end, spent, she finally fell asleep- In. Her. Own. Bed!
Year later I watched a series called “Super Nanny” and saw the exact same scenario play out each week as desperate parents lost control over their kids and had to learn to get it back. A painful, heart wrenching process. Anyone will tell you- it’s far harder to get back ground you’ve given up, than keep ground you’ve never let go.
Control is a part of every aspect of our lives, even how the medical field interacts with patients. I recently had several appointments with specialists but only one where I was told to undress before I saw or spoke to the physician. When you’re stripped and kept waiting, what could be a quicker, more definitive way of signaling who’s in control? Even hospitals do this in order to encourage an attitude of compliance. That’s why I never meet a patient already disrobed and in a gown. To me that’s a sign of disrespect. How comfortable can anyone be when sitting half naked in a flimsy covering while being asked personal questions? It only takes a few extra minutes from a providers previous time to step out and let someone undress when the exam is due.
Sometimes I think we all need to be treated like patients to understand how vulnerable and frightening it can be. I attended medical school in a day and age where students were taught how to be more thoughtful and sensitive to patient’s concerns. The white coat disappeared as did the desk sitting between acting as a barrier. Clearly setting us apart, and above, those we wanted to feel comfortable enough to share intimate details. One unique class required us to stay overnight in the hospital and experience it from the patients’ perspective. Unfortunately, like many of us, I now know that feeling of vulnerability far too well, having had dozens of spinal surgeries. But back then, as healthy, young, arrogant new doctors, we had no clue what it meant to be kept undressed, barely covered, in a room where you’re left to depend entirely on someone else. Especially when we are most vulnerable – sick, scared and hurting. It was a shocking and painful eye opener to twenty-something kids of what it means to be in that position. For most of us, that horrifying night translated to a more sensitive, caring professional. For others, they probably need to repeat the experience every few years!
Have you ever thought that it’s the belief we have control within our grasp that keeps us in control. There’s a great story about a group of people waiting patiently at a street corner to cross. The sign said to press the button and wait for the signal to flash- walk. They all watched as someone pushed the button then patiently waited as recommended. Minutes went by and nothing happened. Looking at each other they silently agreed to have someone press it again, expecting different results.
This went on for a ten full minutes. By that time the illusion of control over their crossing began to fade and they were faced with a choice. Quietly continue to wait and hope for the signal to appear or cross on their own. It was a dilemma for those taught to follow appropriate guidelines. The belief that if we do as asked we’ll see the results as promised.
When someone finally checked it turned out the guts of the signal were gone and the button was useless!
Follow the laws, pay your taxes, don’t cheat, lie or misrepresent and life will be straightforward and rewarding, otherwise consequences are paid. That’s the control we ultimately have over ourselves and each other. Social norms we agree should apply to everyone.
But what happens when that doesn’t occur? When people don’t follow the rules, and consequences don’t result as promised? Where is the order and control then?
We desperately yearn for control and spend most of our lives pretending we have it.
We know deep inside it doesn’t exist but that illusion keeps us going.
Until it falls apart and we see the truth. There is no control. Not over anything or anyone. The only true control we possess is over ourselves. Just like with my daughter, I always had the choice to do what I knew was right, or give in to what seemed easier at the time, and pay for it later.
The only control I ever truly have is over my own actions, thoughts, words and follow -through.