Here we are at the third major thing your Ego wants and needs to feel safe.
We talked about how it wants to Be Right, and how sometimes the price you pay is authenticity.
We talked about how it wants to Look Good, and the cost is creative energy.
The third piece is in many ways the most foundational need.
Yes. Yes yes. My brain knows this one. We love to be in control.
And if I can’t be in control, at the very least I will be resisting the dominion of others.
So even if I have no control over my eating, I will have control over not eating what you tell me to eat.
If you tell me I’m supposed to go to bed, you’d best believe I’ll wait an additional hour (even if I’m exhausted) just to make sure you know who runs the show.
If I can see how a business is using advertising to manipulate me, I won’t buy it just so they know they can’t manipulate me. Perhaps petty, but I won’t submit. In investing this strategy is called contrarian, and I like it.
When I talk to clients, I find that this is a major source of anxiety, this struggle for control. It doesn’t always translate into direct rebellion for them, but it does translate into trying to predict the future and then controlling it into existence.
Never underestimate your need to be in control of your life. Never underestimate your need to be right.
And, as Pema Chodron says, never ignore the impulse to bolt. Usually that’s where the important stuff is.
There’s an incredible book called Appetites: Why Women Want, which is marketed as an anorexia memoir, but for me was far more universal, about the underlying emotional connections women (in particular, although I think the theme is somewhat global) have to desire.
When describing the beginning of her anorexia, Knapp writes,
Starving, in its inimitably perverse way, gave me a way to address the anxiety I felt as a young, scared, ill-defined woman who was poised to enter the world and assume a new array of rights and privileges; it gave me a tiny, specific, manageable focus (popcorn kernels) instead of a monumental, vague, overwhelming one (work, love).
Where does that land for you? Familiar at all?
I find that to be true for myself and for many of my clients. Sometimes it surfaces through restriction and deprivation, sometimes it shows up in a compulsive, ravenous binge. Underneath it all is a pervasive need to control something, no matter how seemingly trivial. The quote above just hits on how we try to control ourselves, to say nothing of what happens when we start to involve other people. That’s a landmine.
It’s true. I’m learning this one in a hard way this year. We can’t have true, pure love when we’re trying to stay in control. You can’t. There’s no way to surrender, there’s no way to get authentic. The transformative thing about love is that you lose yourself to it, and you can’t do that and stay in control of everything.
I think we all see how control can ruin a relationship. I’m sure you have friends that are in relationships they can’t leave. Maybe you’ve been in that relationship. That’s not love. That’s control. Love means free will. Love means being able to walk away. Love means loving all of the person, not rejecting the parts you don’t like.
And I’m not just talking about romantic love. I’m talking about platonic love (for friends and family), devotional love (to spirit), and above all self-love.
I feel somewhat unqualified to talk about the cost to the soul, because the truth is I don’t often live in a way where I release control. I don’t live in a way that allows for authentic vulnerability and love. I worry about being consumed by love and desire and never finding myself again.
I’m afraid, and so I put up walls, and keep control of myself.
But it’s always worth witnessing your thoughts. You don’t have to change anything. You don’t have to manage your thoughts into being different. You can just allow them to be.
Notice this week how you try to control your relationships, your impulses, your self, your desires, your stories.
Notice when you hold back.