I apologize for the length of this entry. I was going through some old back-up CDs and found a series of essays I wrote. This particular one seems so relevant even 5 years later. When I wrote them, I was in a particularly reflective mood.
Thoughts on “control”
What is up with the word control? Why do we want it? What is so special about it? Is the urge for control limited only to those with severe mental illness, a marker of sorts? Or is a more general phenomenon occurring in the everyday “normal” population?
There are so many things in the world that defy control. For example, the weather. It’s too big and powerful to be controlled, even for today’s technology. Using our ever-expanding knowledge of meteorology we can predict it, at least a few days at a time. But you can do nothing to control that tornado bearing down on you house.
Then there is traffic. It’s a whole system in which each individual makes up only a small part. We can’t control how others drive. We can never be sure that the other drivers around us are tired, distracted, or even drunk! The only thing that we can control is our own driving. By being alert and paying attention, we can minimize our risk for accidents. But there’s always that great unknown… The other person.
Maybe by defining the word control, we can gain some insight on what this thing is. Control can be loosely defined as to refine, regulate, to repress, to check, or to master. Let’s examine each of these synonyms carefully to see if we can understand what controlling or control is.
To refine doesn’t really seem to fit the bill. It’s just not a strong enough word for what I think control is. I don’t really want to refine my situation. That means to me that I’m almost where I want to be. And I’m far from that point. It is true that I’m better off than I was just a year ago. But I have a very long way to go before I can say I’m totally in control.
To repress. That’s not it either. I do admit that repression is a form of control. I used it for a very long time. That’s why I had to suffer from my mind revealing what it knew about my terrible childhood. That was horrible. I felt as if I had no control at all. Things were hitting me right and left. But that’s not what I really think of when I say I want to be in control.
To check or keep in check. That seems to definitely define what I’d like to do. I’d love to keep my emotions in check, instead of wearing my heart on my sleeve all the time. It’s like keeping my finger on top of everything in my life so it can’t blow away.
Finally there’s to master. When I think of mastery, I think of school. You have to master so many skills before you can go onto the next lesson. If you apply this to the fuzzy world of clinical psychology and the mind, this seems to be a positive definition of control. So, what is it that I want to master? Is it my mind? Like if I get all my “ducks” in one organized line, then I can master the universe. Could it be simpler than that? Maybe what I really want is to master my feelings, emotions and self-destructive urges.
I personally long for control, but what is it that I really want. Or rather, what do I want to control? Does it just boil down to just my emotions, or is it more complex than that. Sometimes it feels like my soul is open to the world and anything and everything hits me like a ton of bricks. It’s then the old destructive behaviors come out. Maybe self-injury is just one of my control issues.
Then, if that is control, what is “out of control”? So if I’m out of control, then I lose my feeling of mastery. For a while, I had few self-injury urges. But lately, I’ve felt the urges as strong as ever. I try to use the skills I learned while I was in the hospital. But when my mind is reeling and all I want is to feel pain. When all I want to do is slash mindlessly at skin. It’s hard to remember what those things are.
Controlling my emotions. Now, that’s a totally different topic. When I think that I’ve finally got everything under control. Meaning I feel not so much happy, but content. And I can interact with the world around me with a normal amount of trepidation, not looking over my shoulder all the time. That’s when things start to topple. And I feel out of control once again.
One place that I don’t feel in control is at home with my parents. Living with my grandmother has helped with that because I can limit the time that I see them. But those butterflies still invade my stomach. Like something bad is going to happen when I walk into that house.
From a cognitive-behavioral point of view, that fear should decrease every time I see my parents and nothing bad happens. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way. Variable schedules of reinforcement and/or punishment create behaviors that are more resistant to extinction than do continuous schedules. I remember that from my rat running days in college. When I was growing up, there were no predictable schedules for bad things to happen. And even today it’s magnified because I never know when my mother will blow up. So I guess my fear is still being reinforced.
And then there is my health. Sometimes I think I got the worst of my family gene pool. Asthma, allergies, jaw, ankle and back problems. Thank God that’s it for now. Asthma attacks leave me feeling the most out of control. But I guess when you can’t get enough oxygen, there’s a good reason to feel out of control. I try to take charge with taking my meds and monitoring myself daily. But when the coughing and gasping starts it’s hard to stay calm and follow my action plan. It was even worse before I had an action plan to follow because I always relied on the doctor or the ER to treat me. At least now I can start treating myself and then call the doctor or rescue squad if need be.
Is control an absolute? If you take the experimental meaning of control then no, you can’t control for every single variable. Some things are just outside your power. Okay, so that should probably carry over to other types of control. Somehow I feel like I’m cognitively underdeveloped. Even working six years as a researcher or assistant, and knowing all about control, it’s still hard for me to see “control” as something that varies by degrees rather than an absolute. The question becomes how do I come to see control as it really is, not just an academic issue.
There are so many different issues that touch on the concept of control for me. Fear, self-injury, overall well being and even my health. The feelings are urges stirred up in me… well I’m not certain how to describe it. This definitely deserves some serious reflection. I guess that’s just part of the healing process.