Control – Do You Really Have Any?

Control

I hate being out of control. I might go so far as to say I don’t know what to do when I am out of control The feeling is there must be something I can control. Oh, maybe I can control Nan. That should help. (Stop laughing)

At least that is one aspect of control. The other is a desperate fear of being controlled.

“Nobody is going to tell me what to do. No way, no how. I got enough of that growing up.”

I don’t know which side of the equation you might fall on – maybe both depending on the situation. I know at times I have flip-flopped between the two. I do know for sure that neither responses work very well. Both will isolate me from people, often when I need them the most.

What fuels both is clear to me: fear. And it’s fear which leads to sin. It separates me from God as well as others. I really don’t like admitting how vulnerable I feel sometimes. Whenever I operate in this way I am really trying to protect the self that I cling to so frantically. The result can not only be withdrawing to protect, but also pushing away others with anger, manipulating, playing the victim, etc. All of those are control mechanisms.

There are reasons why we might operate out of fear. Prior experiences where we have been controlled, particularly traumatic events, may trigger intense fear. Or living in very chaotic circumstances may also generate feelings of needing to maintain control and order over our current environment. Whenever sexual, emotional or physical abuse has occurred, control becomes a survival strategy.

But what do we DO?

Growing up I lived in an environment that had both a controlling parent and a chaotic parent. Of course they were always at odds with each other and I felt controlled by their conflicts. Maybe you have experienced this kind of confusion as well. I learned to hide from my feelings by practicing piano for hours a day. It was something I could control and was seen as a positive pursuit. I could redirect the anger I felt and turn it into a joyful and productive skill.

My conclusion here is that when we are feeling out of control it is possible to focus on something that we can control: ourselves. Sometimes I can’t control a particular situation, and I shouldn’t try to control another person. But I can find a positive way to express my frustration and relieve the anxiety to a certain extent. I did it with music. Others take up a sport or woodworking or reading or another hobby or anything to take the mind away from the restless place it wants to go.

On the other hand if I am feeling controlled I can set reasonable boundaries with the controller. I detach and distance from them as kindly as I can if necessary. I do not let myself be the prey of a bully. That will only lead me to resentment and anger and more fear.

In either case we turn to God and cry out for mercy. We study his word and his promises. We turn away from that constant pull towards sinful thoughts and actions. We pray, we grieve, we surrender and we trust. And we do it over and over again until it becomes a habit.

The Blame Game – No Winners

Blame

This is one of those tough subjects to deal with in counseling. It is so common to want to point out other people’s faults, especially when we feel hurt and upset. But it rarely leads to any kind of positive outcome, even if we are right. Maybe especially when we are right. When we blame others it will undoubtedly create a defensive posture in the other person(s).

Often I hear someone who is in full blame mode say:

“But I am just expressing my feelings.”

No, not really. You may be feeling wronged, hurt, sad, scared, frustrated or a lot of other feelings, but when you blame someone your intention is to make the other person feel bad or admit that they are wrong and responsible for your feelings. That is not the same thing at all. Blaming is the acting out of your interpreted and processed feelings. It is a response, not a feeling.

When I make a statement like “She made me angry.” I am saying that someone else has power and control over me. Blaming feels like a way of taking back control of myself, but really it’s a verification that I am out of control.

I must admit that I can fail at this pretty easily when I am overwhelmed. It’s so much easier to blame someone than it is to do the work of trying to understand, empathize or forgive. Blaming will shut down a dialog and damage a relationship. If you are like me, the process takes place rapidly in my head. I take offense and I want the other person to know it. Even if I don’t let the words come out of my mouth, my attitude and demeanor transmitted by my body language can say everything that I am itching to announce verbally.

Two anchoring Bible verses for me have been:

James 1:19 “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

Matthew 12:36-37 (Jesus speaking)  “And I tell you this, you must give an account on       judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”

I read that last verse and I think “I am sunk! I can’t even defend the words I let loose today, let alone every word ever.”  But then I remember other verses:

Romans 5:9 “And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.”

Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

I am restored. Redeemed.

But the takeaway from those first two verses is two things: 1) The speed at which you do things matters and 2) You must take control over yourself. You are responsible for you and accountable to God.

There was an old commercial tag line that said “The pause that refreshes”. I think that can be applied very nicely in these situations. Taking a break will always give the rush of chemicals that assault our brain during a conflict time to settle down. The crazy leaves and the rational returns.

Make no mistake about it. There are no winners in the blame game – only losers. 

When Your House Is On Fire

 

crisis

There can be events in our lives that are so intense that we might compare them to a house fire. They are so immediate that they cannot be ignored. They are so all-encompassing that everything else takes a back seat.

What are some of them?

  • A medical emergency.
  • A financial crisis or eviction
  • A death
  • A credible threat of divorce
  • A criminal arrest
  • A home invasion or assault
  • And a house fire, flood or other natural disaster that results in serious destruction of your property

All of these situations have the potential to change the course of your life, perhaps forever. And the inevitable result will be grief when the crisis has abated or passed.

But what can we do when a crisis hits?

Action. Regardless of your personality and response style (fight, flight or freeze) action is required. To ignore, over or under react is simply not an option. In these situations, time is not your friend, but your nemesis. My typical way of dealing with a crisis is to freeze. I want to pretend like it might just go away. It never does. Usually it just gets worse, sometimes much worse. Nan, on the other hand, is the opposite. She tends to take immediate action, but not always measured. That can also compound a problem.

Focus on the essentials. When the house is on fire it’s serious – really serious. There may be a tendency to focus on less important details. If your finances are collapsing, trying to reduce your credit card interest rate a few percent is not going to fix the problem. If you are in shock this might be a way of trying to cope with the overwhelming feelings. You will need an outside voice to guide you.

Accept what you cannot change. Look forward towards what you can do rather than backwards at what might have been done to prevent it. That needs to be saved for the grief process later on. Trying to save a home from certain foreclosure is not helpful. Looking for a place to move your family is.

Get support. There is a great need to have others around us during times of crisis. There are things we cannot change. We just have to go through them. But we do not have to go those earthquake events alone. It has frequently been said that there are no atheists in fox holes. At these times almost everyone prays regardless of their faith position. It is comforting to know that there is a greater power that can be called upon in times of trouble. We Christians know that power to be Jesus who is constantly bringing our name before the Father and interceding for us.

Romans 8:34 (NIV)  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.