It is nice to be in control of our lives. If others are too controlling for us, we tend to fight or back away in order to regain control in our lives (fight or flight response). There is also the freeze response – staying where we are, hoping the danger will go away on its own. Sometimes this works, sometimes we get chewed up waiting for things to change.
We both exert and give up control in many areas of our lives. With family, work and friends, there is that push and tug we are involved in that we hope leads to something valuable – good relationships, money, sense of accomplishment, fun. Finding that tenuous balance where we are comfortable with the amount of control we keep and how much we give away is difficult. Those we live, work and play with face the same dilemma.
How we go after control in our lives – the strategies we use – affects our relationships with others. Some prefer domineering roles, needing to control everything around them. Others are more passive, accepting what comes their way. Most of us are in the middle, seeking some control over those things that are important to us, while not worrying as much about the things holding less value.
Holding on too tight can cause people to run from us or fight back. I do not often find myself using this strategy, being fairly laid back. Yet, there are times when I want something badly enough, or worry that a thing will turn out poorly, if I do not try to control the outcome. Oftentimes, I do so out of anxiety about a situation. The anxiety can be valid (If I don’t do well on this project, I won’t get the promotion), or it can be irrational (If I don’t do well I am a failure).
Being too passive can lead us to lose interest in ourselves since we are always following the whims of others. There was a time in my life when I would spend large portions of the weekend lying around watching television, not interacting with others. I lowered my stress levels by limiting social interactions. In a sense, I was gaining some control over the fact that I was not comfortable around most others. Unfortunately, this method did little towards gaining that comfort or with being more interested in life.
Stress and anxiety can lead us to be more controlling than we typically are; and we may find ourselves trying to reach our goals (being in control) by forceful or passive means. Doing so, however, can end in negative reactions from others; who themselves are managing their own needs for control. Battles, outright or underground, can easily develop and they may be fierce. Not finding and maintaining that balance of control with others in our lives (holding on to some, giving up some) will limit the value of those relationships we cherish. Working to maintain the balance will help keep us interested and growing.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields, including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.