Have you ever been in situation where someone else is telling you not just what to do, but exactly how to do it? How did you find the experience? Most people find that having no control over a situation, will eventually make them feel a sense of frustration. We therefore suggest that having a sense of control is an innate need of all human beings. We define an innate need as a kind of nutrition that we need in order to feel good about ourselves. If we are continually denied any one if our innate needs, then by definition, we become stressed. It is easier to see how this works with the more basic needs such as water, food and sleep. But it is equally true of more complex emotional needs such as our innate needs for Attention, Security, Respect, Achievement, Intimacy, Meaning and Privacy. Different people need different amounts, in a different balance, and usually have different ways of getting their needs met. And we all experience stress if we have to go without these things for an extended period of time.
But let us consider just one of these needs: The Need for Control.
This week, I have been reflecting on how we get this need met at different stages of our lives and offer the following observations.
1) The first thing we learn to control as soon as we are born is our lungs. Once the umbilical cord is cut, controlling our breathing is essential for life.
2) The next thing we generally learn to control is our Parents. We cry to get fed, we cry to get attention. We cry to get comfortable when we want to sleep.
3) We spend a lot of time learning to control our physical body – eventually learning to walk and also controlling our bowel movements.
4) As we start to make sense of the world around us, we begin to take control over where we place our attention. We focus on other faces, on screens, on anything that takes our interest.
5) The next phase is often achieved during our teenage years, but some people live a lifetime without mastering it. This is the step of learning to control our Emotions. Since strong emotions can override our ability to think rationally, it is important that we have some ability to observe, and when necessary, override our (usually immediate) emotional response to situations in which we find ourselves immersed.
6) As we mature, we discover the importance of being clear about our intentions. We learn to control what we intend in our lives – because all too often, what we focus on is what we get. Hopefully, we also discover the limitations of trying to control everything in our lives.
7) As we grow old, we realise that the secret to staying alive is to keep breathing. And so we return our focus to controlling our breathing.
8) Eventually, we learn to let go completely and give up all control. This can happen either before, or at the moment where we leave this physical life.
This is why throughout the ages there has been the saying “Die before you die“. Perhaps we all need less control than we think we do!