Control: Who’s Got It and Who Wants It?

Remember when you were a kid and played King of the Hill? Or you were playing with dolls and one person always insisted hers was the Queen of the Castle? Well, control issues are about that. When one person insists on always being King of the Hill or Queen of the castle, others are reduced to secondary roles. That raises a whole series of questions, for example:

  • Do you prefer to be subservient?
  • Does the secondary position make you feel less valued?
  • Would you prefer to be King or Queen but don’t know how – or don’t want –to challenge the situation?
  • Are you afraid that if you do challenge the King or Queen, you may be rejected or left out of the game?

Everyone has the option to make choices every day. Some of the choices are grand: will I accept the nomination to lead an organization? Others are minor: will I have tuna for lunch? Every choice has a consequence. So we can control much of what goes on in our lives by making careful individual choices. While it’s true that some people seem to be born leaders, they have learned, over time, to make choices that engender confidence. Their choices have proven to others that they can be trusted with power, that they will use their power for the general welfare, that they will, to use another schoolyard phrase, play nice. Some people, on the other hand, seem to grab power instead of earn respect. They use that power to intimidate others, often into doing things they wouldn’t do themselves. They insist on being King or Queen, refuse to share, and don’t play nice. Then there are the people who seem to give you control, but really don’t. They let you choose what’s for dinner, and then tell you it tastes horrid. They let you buy something, then say it’s ugly. They expect you to have cash, but won’t give you the PIN for the ATM, because they tell you you’ll spend too much. These people don’t grab control. Still they get it, by constantly denigrating the choices you make.

THINK OF THE PHRASE, “JUST SAY NO.”

Every individual has the option to say no to the person who we think is trying to control our choices. However, just saying no is much easier than it sounds. Ideally, that option is engrained during childhood by parents who allow their children to make or at least participate in making decisions. Those children generally develop self- confidence, an understanding of when it is wise to defer to those with more experience, and the strength to deal with issues, either by themselves or with the help of others. They are also the people to whom we generally gravitate, understanding that they live by the concepts of fairness and honor. On the other hand, some parents never allow their children to develop their own voice or let them make choices. These children have less or no opportunity to experiment, to try think for themselves, to understand the consequences of their choices. Without the chance to solve a problem, they never develop the strength to deal with consequences. They become convinced that getting along means going along. Yet sometimes just going along is painful.  What’s often put down as mother’s wisdom is just that: wisdom. How many times have you heard the following: “If Johnny (or Janie) told you to jump off the bridge, would you?” Whoever said it was trying to teach you the difference between making a choice and just going along.

EXERCISE YOUR OPTIONS

So look at the issue of control from that perspective: if you are asked to do something you think is wrong or will harm you, exercise your options. You might find out that your new-found starch takes others by surprise. You might develop more confidence in yourself.

There is a second possibility: the person in control is not really looking out for your best interest, and in fact may be a potential danger. In that case, too, you need to exercise your options. You can seek help from a professional. You can talk with a friend. You can leave. All of these take strength; power from within you. It’s there. It just hasn’t been used in a while.

It may come as a surprise that the person seeking control usually doesn’t understand the harm they are causing. So by breaking the cycle, by insisting that you share control, by stopping a pattern of behavior that is harmful, you are helping yourself and the person who is controlling you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you hesitate to voice your opinion, for fear of causing an upset?
  • Do you find yourself going along with something, when you know it is wrong?
  • Are you often angry that others have made decisions for you?
  • Does someone you love get cranky when asked to do something important to you?
  •  Do you feel you are not worthy of being loved?

If you find yourself saying yes to most of these questions, it’s probably time to seek some professional help. That’s an option you can control, and one that will help you feel better about yourself. So do it.

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