Safety – the condition of being protected from danger, risk or injury
Control – the power to influence, manage or direct the course of events
The restriction of an activity
A means of limiting or regulating something
To determine the behavior of
When I read these definitions, I have understanding for why people cling to control. It is a signifier of those whose safety has been violated. And honestly, whose safety hasn’t been violated. So before any further reading, I hope there is a place of compassion that you can reach within yourself towards those controlling tendencies that drive you crazy, both in yourself and others. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to stay safe and alive.
When I put these definitions side by side, it is easy to see the correlation that the more danger, risk or injury someone has experienced, the more tempting it can become to use control as a coping mechanism. It is a natural instinct to want to limit danger. In fact, it actually means that you are a human being, fully alive. Congratulations! The struggle comes into play when this whole control thing gets out of whack. When the dangerous experiences of our past are left unprocessed, we become hypervigilant - scanning our present to protect us from our past. The cycle goes like this: The more unprocessed danger I have from my past, the more I believe danger is my present, so the more I begin to control in order to prevent the perceived danger, and the more I control, the more I validate that my present is dangerous because not everything is turning out the way I planned. Yikes! Not a fun feedback loop.
I know this loop well. I have not evacuated it, and most likely never will completely. However, I can notice it and manage it a little bit better than I used to. I have learned the ways I like to control – scheduling, having an easy exit, limiting engaging interactions, perfectionism, etc. These things within themselves are not bad. Like most coping, the issue is when they are over-functioning. For example, am I limiting engaging interactions as a way of self-care where I listen to my limits and energy levels, or has it become so over-functioning that I am completely isolated? In other words, is it based on my need or my fear? Simply being aware of your "control coping strategies" of choice allows you to have a signal of when to check back in with yourself and be curious about what the driving force is behind them.
It is also crucial to process your past trauma, aka “Safety Violations,” to live in freedom in the present. Through this processing, it creates a space where we can slow the trigger down enough to separate the past from the present and acknowledge if there really is danger in the present. Without the heightened fear of the past hijacking our emotional system, we have a little bit more space to access our rational brains to assess if the situation is real danger or perceived danger. And finally, there is trust, surrender, and self-control. Surrendering what I cannot control, and focusing on the things I can control - myself. And most importantly, knowing that when the danger is real, you can trust yourself to take of care of you. You would not be reading this if you had not already kept yourself safe many times before when necessary.