Confession: I am a control freak.
Most who know me can readily attest that I like to have a handle on my life and, more often than not, try to micromanage the lives of those around me. Why? The answer is uncomplicated and arrogant: I think I know what’s best for people more often than they know what’s best for themselves. I am the annoying friend who gives unsolicited advice and sighs in exasperation when they don’t listen and then regret their own decisions.
My mother likens me to Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy in Greek mythology. Cassandra is bestowed with the gift of prophecy by Apollo because he was enraptured with her beauty (that’s not the similarity my mom is referring to). When Cassandra rejects Apollo’s advances, he punishes her by placing a curse on her gift: She will continue to make predictions, but none will be believed by those around her. This curse becomes an unyielding plague on her life and eventually drives her mad.
Sounds like fun, right?
It may seem bossy of me, but the reality is that it’s a defense mechanism. I try to control the lives of my loved ones, because if things go wrong, I have to see them suffer and it hurts.
Right now, some people who are very close to me are going through extremely tough times. One hates their job – a job I advised them not to take, while everybody else around them was enthusiastically telling them to accept.
The other is fighting some deep emotional and physical battles with themselves which makes even getting out of bed a daily challenge.
Listening to them talk about how unhappy they are everyday and how much they dread each morning upsets me and it is physically painful to hear about their desperation. Hearing about their misery makes me feel miserable.
For many things in life, empathy is a valuable skill – it helps motivate us to make the world a better place for those who have less, it helps communities come together after tragedies. The downfall to empathy is that it makes us vulnerable to things outside of our control. I live my life in such a way that if there is something I’m not happy or satisfied with, I change it. I control my environment as much as possible, because that protects me from feelings of hurt, anger, fear, and sadness. The problem with being in relationships with people is that they affect your environment without giving you control.
So what is a control freak to do? Let go, of course. It’s easier said than done, though. One of my favorite quotes is part of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr and it goes like this:
“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”
The prayer was adopt by Alcoholics Anonymous and has since been used as part of the 12-step programs many use during recovery of various addictions. I guess you could even call my need to control my environment an addiction.
So in this new year, my challenge for myself is to let go of control of others. My life is mine and their lives are theirs. They are meant to go down a certain path, to learn certain lessons, and I cannot dictate that path for them, even if I think it’s for their own good. I do believe that there is a reason for everything that happens in life and what is meant to be, will be.
For now, I am learning to sit with my feelings of discomfort. I am learning to take a deep breath and acknowledge that it is painful to hear the struggles of those I care about, learning to bite back all of the times I want to say “If you’d only listened to me, you wouldn’t be struggling right now!” The only thing I can do is offer comfort, support, and love and hope that, for whatever purpose, these lessons are meant to strengthen them.