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Control Freak

“Hi. I’m Stevie and I’m a control freak.”

I’m Type A. I’m a planner. I like having a schedule and routine. I’m someone who likes to know what to expect. Who knows what’s ahead. I can be spontaneous if I’m part of the decision-making process but in general, I don’t do spontaneity well.

I like information and data. I like details. If I’m trying to make a big decision, I like to research and get as much information as possible. This is again about control. I’m trying to control the situation by ensuring I have all of the information needed to make the best decision.

I really started noticing my desire for control after my divorce. I know it was there prior, but this time in my life is when I started to notice it becoming amplified.

My ex-husband and I share 50/50 custody of our kids which means they transition between our homes every week. In our arrangement, even on his parenting weekends, the kids come back to my house every Sunday evening at 5:00. When we created this arrangement in 2015 our kids were 12, 10, and 7 and I was already terrified of all of the changes they were about to experience. I saw Sunday nights as an opportunity to get organized for the week ahead, have a family dinner, and ensure all of us were starting the week off on the right foot with a good night’s sleep.. (This is all a need for control showing up again. I tried to control the situation to avoid any additional complications or hardships for my kids.)

But there were times when their Dad would push our 5:00 transition to 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. And it drove me bonkers! I often felt disrespected and angry at him for not following our agreed-upon guidelines. I was so rigid in wanting things to follow the plan and having consistency for my kids that I would sit and stew until they walked in the door. And while those feelings are valid, it ultimately was about the plan in my head changing and no longer feeling in control of the situation.

The transition time most often was pushed later for a legitimate and appropriate reason. Sometimes he was finishing laundry of something a kid needed for that week or other times they would be in the middle of a game or something they wanted to finish. My kids transitioning between houses an hour later than the agreed-upon time is an okay thing to have happen. The problem wasn’t the delayed transition time. The problem was I felt a lack of control because things went off plan.

I’ve had years of practice attempting to control things (because it really is all a false sense of control anyway), yet I’ve never given too much thought to the WHY. I’ve never asked myself how I may be benefiting from trying to feel I have control in situations.

What is the benefit of having a plan and schedule? What is the benefit of obsessively gathering information and context, especially when I already have the information I need to make a decision?

When we continually perform a behavior, we are benefiting from it in some way (consciously or subconsciously). So what is the benefit behind my need and desire for control?

I heard Gabrielle Union on a podcast a few months ago talking about her need to feel in control of situations. She shared the example of going to In-N-Out Burger with her husband (NBA superstar, Dwayne Wade). In-N-Out is a fast food restaurant where the menu never changes. They’ve been going there for years and order the same thing every time.

As they pull up to the drive-thru, Union speaks quickly through the speaker with confidence and certainty ordering exactly what she wants. Wade, on the other hand, is slow and orders one thing at a time. He speaks his sandwich order, waits for the attendant to ask, “Anything else?” and then proceeds with his side order. That pattern continues for his drink and then anything else he may want. He is patient and deliberate waiting for the attendant to ask for what is next, pausing each time.

Union shared that in her head, all of Wade’s pauses provide an opportunity for chaos. Every time he pauses, it leaves space for a shocking surprise. Space for a bombshell to drop in her lap. Her sense of control in the situation vanishes because he has paused in his order and left space or room for the chaos to pop up. This was such an “A-ha!” moment for me!

Am I afraid of the potential for chaos or that I’ll succumb to it?

So going back to my why… if I control my schedule, my routine, my daily tasks, there won’t be any room for surprises or bombshells. No more whammies! There will be no more hurt, anger, chaos, or trauma. I won’t leave any room for struggles and hardships to happen.

Or at least that’s what I want to believe.

But first, that’s impossible. I can’t control other people, only myself. I live– we all live– in a community of people. I have to–and choose to–interact and share my life with other people every day. And humans make mistakes. Humans hurt one another sometimes. Humans are flawed. Intentionally or unintentionally, we all hurt other people sometimes. And no matter how much or how little space I leave in my scheduled and structured day, I’m going to be hurt sometimes. And no amount of trying to control my environment will eliminate that reality.

And second, the surprises, bombshells, and whammies aren’t really the problem. The bigger issue lies within me. I want to control my life because I don’t believe or have the confidence in myself that I can handle whatever comes my way. The problem isn’t the whammy. The problem is my reaction and the belief in my ability to overcome the whammy.

Yet, when I reflect back on my life, all of the evidence demonstrates I will continue to make it through whatever life throws at me. I am 48 years old and have been through some tough shit in those years. And I’m still here.

Sometimes it is hard as hell. Sometimes I have to ask for help. Sometimes I have to slow down or even pause. But I find a way to make it through. And I believe I will continue to make it through.

So, if I can trust and believe in myself, controlling the situation doesn’t matter. I don’t need to fear the empty, unscheduled spaces where bombshells might get dropped. I can lean into the unknown and know that I’ll figure it out.

Because I will figure it out. I will make it. I know I will make it. I don’t have to control situations because I know I can handle whatever occurs.

I am resilient. I am capable. I am strong. You are, too.

I don’t have to control my environment to try and eliminate the unknown. I need to believe and trust I will continue to overcome.

“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.” - Charlie Wardle, Understanding & Building Confidence

Journey well, my friends.


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