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How to Stop Being a Control Freak

No one grows up in a perfect world. No one has perfect parents. And no one escapes life’s inevitable legacy of insecurity. This is the human condition. Insecurity creates a feeling of vulnerability. When you feel vulnerable, wanting to be in control seems like a natural, constructive desire. It may start out as a constructive desire, but a controlled life is always one that invites problems. Insecurity is greedy: the more control you have, the more you seek. Nothing ever makes you feel secure enough. You’re doomed to chase control’s “carrot.” As you grow desperate and pursue your insecurity-carrots with increased agitation, you can’t help but notice that anxiety, stress, fatigue, even depression, are becoming permanent fixtures in your life.

The truth is that life cannot be controlled. What confuses most is the fact that control does give temporary relief. And, if you’ve managed to manipulate or cajole life into appearing tamed and controlled, you do feel relief–for the moment. When you’re desperate, this temporary relief is spelled with a capital “R.” But if you’re honest, you know control is only and always a temporary illusion. Like the eye of a hurricane, it’s a false sense of calm before the remainder of the storm. If controlling life is an impossibility–nothing more than a dangling carrot–then what’s the answer? The answer is to resurrect a feeling of self-trust and confidence so, rather than controlling life, you’re courageous enough to live it–naturally and spontaneously.

For some, letting go of a controlling way of life may require nothing more than a simple shift in attitude. While for others, this shift towards spontaneity (living more in the moment) may depend on ongoing efforts such as therapy, meditation, or other self-help methods.

Whatever your approach, you need to break the stranglehold control has on your life. My solution? Develop a: reckless attitude of trust. Granted, self-trust may seem like risky business–perhaps even reckless at first–especially if control, in the form of worry, rumination, over-thinking, rigidity or being overly cautious, has been dictating the course of your life (and distorting your perceptions). That’s why you need to start off with a bit of self-trust muscle building. You can begin by looking for manageable, low-impact choices, for example: what to order on a menu, what movie to see, or whether or not to return a phone call. Instead of becoming all contorted by over-thinking your choice, go ahead, take the risk and begin trusting a more subtle, yet very powerful side of your personality–intuition. And don’t think it’s important for you to always be right (which is code for being in control), at least not at first. So you picked the wrong dessert or went to see a flop of a movie, big deal! What you need to learn is that life doesn’t need to be perfect (this is what keeps many control freaks prisoner, i.e., the need to never make mistakes). In time, through trial and error, your intuition will become more formidable and reliable, but at first it will be a bit of trial-and-error, which is why you need to start off with innocuous challenges. Just keep in mind that a more effective “intuitive” life cannot develop if it is constantly being eclipsed by over-thinking along with an inordinate need to be in control.

Because your habit has been controlling life, trusting your intuition along with allowing life to simply unfold, may feel risky at first, What? You expect me NOT to prepare myself for what might happen at that party?  Yup! Open the door, walk into the party and simply react to what goes on—in the moment. No doubt for someone used to anticipatory, worrisome thinking, this will feel quite risky, but this is to be expected. With patience and the accumulation of small successes, you’ll begin to poke through insecurity’s facade. Just keep reminding yourself: control may feel like the answer, but it’s not. It’s the problem!

Starting today, practice being more reactive rather than proactive, i.e., stop anticipating and simply start to react to life as it unfolds, naturally and spontaneously, in the moment. Bottom line: risk being who you are, not “deciding” who to be.You won’t regret it.

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