Letting Go Of Control

10 Jan

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.


You will regret your decision to not buy this tea. Finally replenished my stock for work.

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.

My love for smoked salmon is on its way to becoming an addiction, too.

My love for smoked salmon is on its way to becoming an addiction, too.

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.


3 Responses to “Letting Go Of Control”

  1. wickedhealthywashingtonian33 January 10, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    I absolutely love this post. Like you, I am a huge control freak and also try to micromanage the crap out of everything (and everyone). This is a much needed reminder for me to let go a little bit. It’s also a much needed reminder for me to replenish my stock of smoked salmon this weekend 😉 You gotta try the salad of the month at sweetgreen, girl- our lil favorite is the featured protein!

  2. Aunt Rebecca January 11, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Since we’re experiential learners, failure is a very important part of being human. I used to call myself the Cassandra of the family! Then I realized that the root of my addiction to controlling behavior was wanting to protect myself from pain. It’s a boundary thing — I allowed my own boundaries to be too permeable, and I felt others’ pain in my own body. It was not on behalf of others that I was so controlling, it was for me. And it alienated people, which is deeply awful for this extrovert.

    I’ve come to beIieve that this is one of those inherited family-of-origin things for us first-borns. It’s a role thrust upon us by FOO patterns, and in time, most control freaks like me realize how damaging it is. Because controlling others is fundamentally very disrespectful. It says that no one else has the smarts except us controllers. It says that mistakes and failures are bad, which is completely incorrect. (Read the book Little Bets by Peter Sims. Important, innovative Fortune 100 companies sing the praises of failures as a fast track to their successes.)

    I had vibrational resonance with this post! And, being the recovering controller that I am, I’m gritting my teeth to not say STOP IT RIGHT NOW!! Ah, shit, I said that out loud? Oops. So, those you love fail & are miserable? Welcome to being human. Failure (and misery) are the tempering fires of change and maturity. Babies don’t feel bad when they “fail” to stay upright immediately, they fall down, and they get up again. Failure is a cultural thing, and highly subjective. The misery part is a choice.

    I’m finally learning to trust myself & those I love enough to offer hugs and support, and that is all, when someone feels like a failure. Exactly where you are… only I am nearly 58, and you’re just 23! I could view that as a failure, or simply be grateful for being able to see the evolutionary change in conciousness in our very own family, right here & now. I love you, my dear! Thanks for sharing this significant insight, and for ‘listening’ to mine.


  1. Follow Friday #3: Lessons « Magia e Pasta - February 8, 2013

    […] me, this all goes back to my controlling tendencies. I’ve talked about my need to let go of control and expressed how difficult it is for me because it’s a defense mechanism. I know that this […]

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