When I walked out of the last psychology session from my first round in 2011/2012, I optimistically thought I was in control. I knew I wasn’t fully in control, but I thought I’d successfully worked through the core issues that caused my control to slip, and had started building the frameworks that would allow me to successfully move forward.
For a while, it worked. It certainly allowed me to regain a level of control that had lapsed. The mental stresses from working from home in an increasingly dissatisfying job, the financial pressures caused by a sheer act of bastardry by my partner’s former employer, and the first experience of real polyamory had left me cracked and raw, letting the oldest demons from my childhood surface.
That first round with the psychologist allowed me to recover the mental equilibrium that had been lost, and in a healthier way. Not by continuing to try to stuff the demons back into a childhood box, but by acknowledging they existed and finding ways to deal with them.
Fast forward a year and some of those controls were slipping. They weren’t failing, but like Pandora’s opened box, once fully acknowledged the demons weren’t going to be so easily dealt with. What’s more, acknowledging some demons from childhood meant facing others in the panoply that had until then been the strong silent types.
Challenges don’t give up easily, particularly ones you’ve dragged with you like a sea-anchor from your childhood until you’re 40.
I’d known for a while a second round of psychology sessions were on the cards. My partner had been dropping hints that it be worthwhile – it had become evident that many areas of control had plateaued. I was somewhat in denial, partly because I was hopeful I could build that next framework myself, and partly because my previous psychologist had moved interstate and I was reluctant to start the process from scratch again.
But as is so often the case I experienced a single incident that proved it was time to bite the bullet and went in for a new round of sessions. Of six available sessions, I’ve done five, and it’s been an interesting experience. I thought I’d be going in to talk about stress management, but that’s been such a surface topic that it’s barely needed any attention at all. Stress has pinpoint manifest causes but the symptoms and the exacerbating factors that allow stress to get to us aren’t always as obvious.
Like the first round of psychology I walked into the second round expecting it to be about regaining control. And initially that’s what happened.
My last session is next week, and I’ve had a good three weeks to reflect since the previous one. During that time I’ve had to focus on a simple fact: there are some things that are going to take longer to sort than I’d like. This is an era of instant gratification though – we want something, we get it. Consumerism makes for a fast society and we want fast solutions everywhere. Instant gratification is ultimately about somehow being in control, of bending the world around you to your will.
Control is a myth.
So many of us spend our lives seeking to be in control of what we do or who we are. To various degrees that’s successful. Some people are utterly driven to achieve and their lives are seeming evidence of that.
Yet in a moment that control can vanish. The successful entrepreneur can keel over of a heart attack or embolism regardless of how much he or she feels in control of life. A rich business owner can suddenly find a powerful new competitor in the market place with more liquidity and manoeuvrability and lose it all in an instant. A politician or leader or well respected family member can seemingly be on top of the world and suddenly lose their life in a car accident.
Control is a myth.
We’re not really in control of our lives. It’s attempted mastery at best. Life is random, and like the old theory of the butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world causing a cyclone on the other side, our sense of control over our own lives is often illusory, caused by lucky circumstance.
We break that control myth by understanding that there are some things we can’t control. That’s not an encouragement of apathy, but rather, an acceptance that things won’t always go our way. That’s not to say we can’t strive, but at some level we have to also understand we are all human, and part of being human is not always being in control.
If you spend your life determined to be in control, you spend your life actively working towards failure, because you can’t be in control. Not always, not under all circumstances.
Control is a myth.
Being prepared to admit you’re not in control of everything isn’t about giving up, but about cutting yourself some slack when things don’t 100% go your way, or even go completely against you. That way, when things happen which are outside your control, you can spend your time healthily dealing with the situation rather than fighting a rearguard action against yourself, your worries or your self doubt.
Real control is not exercising authority on the world around you, and nor is it about never feeling stressed, or upset, or angry. Regardless of whether it’s extrinsic or intrinsic, your control is limited.
Real control isn’t about exercised authority, or even knowing not everything is controllable, but rather from accepting that not everything is controllable.
I think I’m ready for that step.