Friday, January 29, 2016

How To Take Your Power Back

In this outward control world, it may seem like your up against a giant when you try to change your own life.  I’m hoping this blog can serve the purpose of educating people that there is another way.  But as I said in the beginning, all you can give to another person is information.  What they choose to do with it is up to them.  And that’s the whole point anyway.  I’m not in this to control you and I don’t want you to try to control others.  And you don’t have to violently oppose control measures directed from others to you.  For now, just notice how things go.  Notice when you are feeling out of control in a situation and how you behave when that happens.  Notice how you speak to others and how they speak to you.

Then ask yourself this question:  Will what I am about to do or say bring me closer to the people I want to be close to or farther away?  Will my behavior get me closer to my goals or farther from them?  

These questions are important because our goals are the very things we are trying to get accomplished using external control.  We’re essentially manipulating our way through life whether we recognize we are doing it or not.  And we are doing it under the guise that it is the common sense thing to do.  And when it doesn’t work, we just try harder to continue using the same control measures that got us to this point in the first place.  And isn’t that the definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results?

This is why I feel this subject is such an important one.  It’s a running theme in my office with the clients I serve.  It’s why powerlessness is step one in all 12-step traditions.  Our attempts at gaining control over every single event of our lives leads us to pain, depression, illness and sometimes substance abuse.  I think it’s time to give it up - don’t you?

So think about your recent behaviors.  The things you’ve done or said to others.  Then answer the questions I posed:  Did what you said or did bring you closer to your goals and to the people in your life?  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How Fear Keeps You Controlled

Although control is the underlying force that shapes our lives, it is not the only force at work.  It’s second in command is a very powerful emotion.  It is one that is used frequently by those in power and is meant to prevent us from acting out of turn.  It’s name is fear.  And along with its close cousin anxiety, it fools us into believing that we have no power - no control - over our own lives.  Fear has hypnotized us and prevents us from living the lives we were always meant to live.  

Think about a situation in which you are unhappy and you feel you have little control.  It could be a job you hate or a relationship you feel stuck in.  Now think about the fear.  What fear messages come through loud and clear when you think about that situation?  Do you fear losing your job?  Do you fear never being able to support yourself again?  Do you fear being seen as a loser?  Do you fear never being loved again?  

Now turn your attention to your body.  What is all that fear doing to you?  Do you feel your heart rate has increased?  How about your breathing?  Is your stomach clenched?  

Now think through your fear.  What if you did lose your job?  What then?  Is your company the only company in the world that does what yours does?  Do other companies use employees that have your skill?  Are there other fish in the proverbial sea?  Are you really a loser if you make a different choice?  Can you choose to put your self-worth in your own hands so that losing a relationship is less devastating?  

Your choice is your power.  You can choose to give into the fear or your can choose to rise above it.  You can choose to be controlled or regain the feeling of control over your own life.  You can be a victim or a hero, if you so choose.  

Because this idea of control - and particularly the way we try to exert it - causes us pain in every area of our lives.  Our relationships, our education, or work, our self-esteem - everything!  So think about it - what do you have to gain from losing the fear?  What do you have to gain from choosing something different?  What do you get from choosing to stay the same?  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Reward and Punishment: The Good Cop/Bad Cop of the Control World

In our society today, it’s obvious that we have a deep belief in the benefits of the stick and carrot.  We have been taught from a young age that it is our duty to punish people who do things wrong and reward people for doing things right.  In most cases “wrong” is something we simply don’t want others to do while “right” aligns with our beliefs of what should be.  So how did we learn our version of right and wrong? 

The real question is from whom.  As I said, from an early age, we learned this concept from members of our society who were in positions of authority.  Parents, teachers, police officers, government agents and clergy – each taught us a set of rules that if we followed them we would be rewarded and if we disobeyed them we would be punished.  And each of them learned this method from people in authority who came before them and so on.  Problem is, we carry this belief in the power of reward and punishment into all of our relationships moving forward.  We reward and punish our children, our spouses or significant others, our co-workers and our friends.  And we never stop to think of the consequences of this behavior.  We don’t realize that these methods of control only breed resentment and conditions of worth. 

Think about your own childhood.  You no doubt loved your parents, but when they punished you for at least a short time you felt resentment toward them yes?  You felt the sting of their disappointment.  You were labeled “bad.”  Conversely, when you did well in school maybe you got some money or a new toy.  When you were a star player on a team, you got a trophy or ribbon or the game ball.  When you paid attention in class, you got a star on the board.  You were “good.”  Think about Christmas and Santa Claus who rewards the “good” kids with presents and punishes the “bad” kids with coal. 

Now I can bet some of you are thinking, what’s wrong with a little punishment when someone misbehaves?  What’s wrong with rewarding good behavior?  The problem is, it is another method in which we rob other people of control over their own lives.  And we teach each other that our worth is based on external praise and accomplishments.  It breeds the low self-esteem that people in my office ask me to help them reverse every day. 

Because in our society, when we punish, we REALLY punish.  And we don’t apply rewards consistently or evenly.  And we don’t allow others the chance to choose for themselves.  And we damage our relationships with the people that matter the most to us. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Body Language of Control

We’ve looked at how our words and our actions are designed to assert our control over others or avoid being controlled by others.  Now, let’s look at our body language.  Body language accounts for half of every attempt at communication.  Only 7% is verbal while another 38% is through tone of voice.  So, it stands to reason that paying attention to our bodies is a good way to understand how we use body language as a means of control. 

So, think about a conversation you may have had recently with a person you disagreed with.  How did your body react?  Did you frown?  Roll your eyes?  Did you give them a big sigh?  What message were you trying to convey with your body language?  Were you saying “stop talking” or “go away” or “you’re full of it?”  Your body language was most likely trying to convey to the other person that you would like it if they would stop doing what they are doing. 

How about when we’re angry with someone else?  How does your body react then?  Do you point or stab your finger at them?  Do you tap your foot?  Do you wave your arms around?

What if you want someone’s attention?  You probably wave at them or make the “come here” gesture with your finger.  Maybe you extend your hand for a handshake or raise your eyebrows? 

What if you are having an important phone conversation and someone else wants your attention?  Do you give them a dismissive gesture with your hand?  Put your finger to your lips to shush them?  Give them a disapproving look?

Right now, the point is not to judge these movements, but just to be aware.  To see just how pervasive this culture of control is in our society. 

What other body signals can you think of that are meant to control another person’s behavior? 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Role of Control In Your Life

Over thousands of years, the societies of the world have created a set of rules to be followed.  Expectations for how each of us should behave and think.  Most of us follow these rules without question.  And those of us who choose to challenge these rules often face tremendous backlash.  Society as a whole tries to force the person to conform.  You can see this playing out in our society today with the current fights over racial, gender, and income inequality to just name a few.  One side is choosing to say to the system that it can no longer control them.  The other side is behaving in a way designed to maintain the status quo order and control.  This fight exists in every layer of our society.  So think about it – how is this fight playing out in your own life? 

This struggle for control, I believe, is at the root of all of our unhappiness.  It shows up very early in our lives when well-meaning people choose to decide what is best for us.  Now, I agree, when we are children our ability to make safe decisions is limited.  But children are capable of much more choice than they are often allowed.  I’ll go into that more in future posts.  But right now, the question I am asking you to look at is how can you be free to live your life the way you want to while at the same time getting along with the people you want to have in your life?  How can you stop living your life according to society’s expectations, and start living it based on your own? 

I would say the first step is to take a step back, open your eyes and ears and just notice how this battle between control and choice plays out in your own life.  Listen to the way you’re spoken to and the way you speak to others.  Consider how you behave in one environment versus another or in front of one person or another.  Think about the situations where you feel powerful and powerless and what is the difference between the two?  Awareness is the first step to any kind of change after all.  It is also the first step to making changes and better choices for yourself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

We Choose Everything

Did you know that we choose everything we do?  We choose all of our emotions and behaviors at any given time.  Some of you may find yourselves quickly on the defensive with that question.  In our society, it is common for us to blame others for our feelings and behaviors.  How often have you heard or said this: “You make me so angry,” or “Look what you made me do!”  We expect certain people in our lives to “make us happy.”  But the truth is, only we can do these things.  Only we can make ourselves happy or angry or do anything.  Because our emotions and our actions are under no one’s control but ours. 

Therefore, if we feel happy it’s our own fault.  If we feel miserable, that’s our own fault too.  It’s time we start taking responsibility for our feelings and actions and stop giving away our power to someone else.  All we can give or get from another person is information.  If someone says to you “you’re making me angry” the information they are conveying is that you are doing something they wish you wouldn’t or perhaps you’re not doing something they wish you would.  They are telling you that they have chosen anger to deal with how they feel about your actions.  At this point, you have a set of choices.  You can agree with them and choose to believe that you did, in fact, make them angry.  You can decide not to agree with them, but still change your behavior to maintain peace.  You can stand up for yourself, argue back, point out that they have chosen to be angry and could choose something else.  Your reaction is completely in your control and completely out of theirs. 

It’s unfortunate that we often choose to react to statements such as “you’re making me angry” with other statements designed to gain control of the conversation or situation.  For example, when a child misbehaves, you may choose to be upset about that.  Then you may choose to yell at that child and threaten them if they don’t change their behavior in the future and the result is a damaging of your relationship.  It may be a subtle scratch, but there is damage done.  As a result, that child may feel afraid to try new things or come to that parent with problems for fear of being threatened and yelled at.  Again, the parent wants the child to stop doing something the child wants to do.  The parent wants to control the child’s behavior and ignore the child’s ability to choose for his or herself.  Now, sometimes this is necessary such as when a child is doing something dangerous.  But most times, the parent is trying to stop a behavior they have chosen to be wrong or chosen to feel annoyed by. 

So going forward, I challenge you to listen to yourself.  When do you use words that assign blame for your feelings and behaviors to others?  When have you tried to assert control over someone else's choices?  When have others done the same to you?  

Monday, January 11, 2016

We're All Addicted to Control!

Welcome to my blog!  I decided to start this blog because I think our society has an addiction problem.  We are addicted to control.  And it is this concept of control that causes us a lot of problems both in our individual lives and in the world at large.  You see, we really only have control over ourselves.  Basically, just our thoughts, feelings and actions – and that’s it!  Nothing else.  For some people, this thought brings comfort and allows us to reclaim lost power.  For others, this is a scary thought because if I can only control myself, how can I ensure my own safety? 

As a therapist, the discussion of control often comes up within the first few sessions.  Oftentimes problems arise in our relationships as a result of either us trying to control others or others trying to control us.  If you think about it, control is at the root of almost every conflict.  I often tell people that there are really only four reasons a person becomes angry. 

1.     Someone is doing something I don’t want them to do and they won’t stop.
2.     Someone won’t do something I do want them to do and they won’t do it.
3.     Someone wants me to do something I don’t want to do.
4.     Someone wants me to stop doing something I do want to do.

This is control versus choice at its most basic.  And we only make it more complicated from here.  Our society is based on the illusion of control.  It’s even permeated our language.  “Make it happen.” “Just do it.”  And it controls our attitudes towards others.  “It’s their own fault.”  “If I can do it, so can they.”  “They got themselves in that situation and they can get themselves out.”  These statements ignore that fact that some things are just plain out of our control.  Some days traffic is heavier than others.  Some days you have a cold or the flu.  Some days, you run out of ink or someone else eats your lunch.  Some days there are long lines in the stores because some days too many people have called in sick and this is the best the company can do right now. 

So, how do we combat this out of control sense of control?  Through recognizing our power of choice.  At any given time, we have choices that are presented to us.  Sometimes the choices available to us are limited.  Sometimes we may not like the choices that are presented to us, but choices are still present.  For instance, maybe you hate your job.  But it’s your choice to be there!  True, if you just up and quit you may struggle with money for a bit, but it’s likely you will eventually find another job.  So showing up each day is a choice and so is quitting.  That is how you are powerful over your awful boss or your gossipy co-workers.  You realize it’s your choice to stay or go because you are choosing to work toward you own goals. 

So, that’s what this blog is going to be about.  This constant struggle of ours between control and choice.  Feel free to join the conversation!  How do you struggle with control?