Control – Do You Really Have Any?


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.

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