Here’s something I hear on a daily basis when people show up to do the work of therapy.
Me: What have you noticed since we last met?
Client: Things are feeling super out of control!
Especially when it seems like tragedy, death, and social injustice have us surrounded, this makes sense! And as someone who also likes to maintain a certain amount of control on things, I get it; out of control does not fall in the “comfortable feelings” category.
So today, it feels important to share a few insights to we can carry with us when we’re feeling a little out of control
“Out of Control” (as much of pain in the butt as it is) is a feeling you get to have. In most cases you do not experience it because you have done something wrong and even more often, this feeling does not mean you are in danger. You feel out of control because it’s a very human response to chaos. Be aware of your mind’s tendency to pile shame, despair, or self-loathing on top of this already uncomfortable experience.
The reality is you have a realm of things in this life and a whole other realm of things you cannot. In between, there are things you can influence and effect. Learn and identify these realms and then…
Try to remember that when the unexpected happens or things don’t go as planned, it doesn’t mean we’ve lost our ability to choose or that we are powerless. Most of the time* these situations just turn the spot light way up on the things that lie outside of out realm of control. For example, if you ask your boss to work certain hours one week but you somehow still get scheduled during those times, you still get to choose a. how you respond b. how you work your schedule around this c. what you do with your time on the clock and off and d. ultimately, whether you work at this job or not. As George Eliot wrote, “The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.”
Look at the realm of things within your control and figure out where you can act within that. It can also be worthwhile to notice if there are things you are avoiding taking action on that are within your control. For instance, a few years ago I spent a lot of time worrying over whether a favorite local radio station of mine was going to be forced to shut down for financial reasons. Every time I got in the car and tuned in, I would just fret and fixate on future commutes without my favorite music. I spent a lot of time talking about this situation with others and reading news updates on the status of the station. What I neglected to do was actually contribute what I could to support the organization. Eventually, my avoidance of the action I could take dawned on me and I began contributing to the station. Another way to think about putting our energy towards what we can control rather than what we can’t is the weather: we can freak out about a bad winter coming our way, constantly checking our weather app, following local meteorologists, working ourselves up about the roads and the closings and the travel delays, and completely forget to get a good shovel, pair of winter boots, or travel insurance for our February flight.
If identifying these realms feels complicated, check out this worksheet on circles of control.
And to strengthen your practice of staying present when feeling out of control and/or uncomfortable, this article (with meditation included) is a great resource!
*Critical note of differentiation: There certainly are personal, interpersonal, and political situations outside of what I’m naming here where a person or system is working to disempower others. As much as I believe in the power of the choices we make, I won’t live out of the delusion that everyone on this planet is afforded or assured the basic rights of freedom and autonomy. This post is absolutely not a response to or an application for these very real circumstances of marginalization and abuse.