In today’s society, we live under the illusion of control. This illusion begins from a very young age in which we are taught that we control the world around us. We learned that our actions had effects on the world around us. We realized that if we cried or screamed, we were fed or our diapers were changed. And in many ways, this feeling of control continued throughout our lives. In many ways, we can control the world around us. If we are cold, we put on a sweater or turn up the heat. If we have a headache, we can lie down or take an aspirin.
However, this line of thinking can become problematic when we over-generalize our ability to control the world around us. Most notably, when we try to control others around us. We have all had that moment in which someone was not doing something to our expectations and have become frustrated. We all have tried to change others, and many may have had varying degrees of success. Some have asked a friend to stop calling at all hours of the night and have been successful, or we may have asked our partner to tell us when the milk has run out, and have run into frustration when, once again, we have no milk for our morning cereal.
When it comes to controlling the world around us, we are able to manipulate some parts of the environment to our liking, such as temperature of the room or setting. However, there may be several elements or our environment that may also be out of our realm of control, such as outdoor temperature or climate conditions.
When it comes to controlling others, we may be able to ask for what we want or need, encourage, or make suggestions, however, we cannot control another person. They must make the choice as to whether or not they desire to act in accordance to our wishes. We feel successful when others act in accordance, however, that was their choice, even if we made the suggestion.
Should someone choose to disregard our wishes, whether because they do not have the time, the ability, or the desire, we have a few options to be able to manage that situation.
We can make sure to clearly and calmly communicate our needs to them, including why we need them to fulfill this need, as well as the outcome. For example, we might tell our forgetful partner “I need to know when the milk is gone so that I can buy more so that I can eat breakfast in the morning. If I don’t eat breakfast, I can’t take my medication.”
We can choose to change our perspective of the situation. We can change the way in which we are viewing the situation, or the assumptions we are making. For example, instead of viewing the situation as “My friend has no consideration for my feelings,” we might instead take the perspective of “My friend must have a lot on their mind right now.”
We can determine what in the situation IS within our control. While we do not have the power to control the behavior and actions of others, we do have the ability to control our own behaviors, and make changes to our actions. What can we do differently or change to make the situation more palatable to ourselves? Perhaps we can check how much milk is left regularly, or have additional breakfast options available that do not require milk. Perhaps we can silence our phones before going to bed to avoid being woken by our friend’s 2 a.m. phone calls.
Finally, we can choose to accept the situation as it is. We can accept the limits of our control and recognize that others have the freedom to make their own choices. We can let go of our efforts to change others or the situation and accept the situation for what it is, for better or worse, as well as accepting our feelings about a situation. We can accept that a situation is not ideal, while also accepting that we may not be able to do anything to change it, either.
Submitted by Karen M. Rosian, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist