The need to feel that you are in control of other people, and their actions, can be one of the most debilitating and draining processes in your life.
Often people have no conscious sense that they are trying to control what is going on around them, but the underlying need is often the most central one in their lives.
Let Go and let God
This is one of the many phrases that abound in AA and 12th recovery, and in one sense at least gives the message about trying to let go of the need to control life.
Unfortunately, many people often also read into it an implication that God is in control.
This is just a form of transference, of saying I will give up my belief that I am in control of what is going on around me if something or someone else will take charge of it.
This idea may seem familiar to some people, mainly because it is an idea that normally is rooted in childhood,
Children have a basic need for security and safety, a basic need to feel that someone is in charge of their life.
The Illusion of Control
People can often realise that they do not have control over a lot of what is going on in their life, but this does not necessarily stop them from trying to exert such control.
In fact, in many cases, it leads to trying even harder to force their life to work.
Perhaps the first step in terms of letting go of the need to control is a recognition that most people the sense of being in control of what is going on around them is an illusion.
That can be a hard lesson to learn, not because of the truth of it, but because of the implications of it.
The Al-Anon Preamble has a phrase in it to the effect that ‘our thinking became distorted by trying to force solutions’.
This goes to the heart of the issue and contains both the problem and solution within its simple sentence.
People often have quite a strong felt sense that they are trying to push their life uphill, that they are somehow trying to force their life to work.
This is normally a feeling that has been with them for a large part of their life.
At its core, wherever it comes from, is an issue about an inverted sense of control, a paradox that is in many people’s lives.
It is often most clearly seen in the lives of families and friends of alcoholics, who are either trying to get them to stop drinking, or still feel the need to try and control their life once sober.
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Whilst there are many numerous and varied effects of growing up in an alcoholic home, one of the most common ones is the sense a child will have a feeling overly responsible, if not totally responsible, for the well-being or even the very life itself of one or both of their parents or caregivers.
Taking on this type of responsibility at any age is a heavy-duty demand, for children of any age it is almost an impossible burden for many to bear.
The practical reality is that anyone in this type of situation normally focuses then tar spirit and energy on the belief that they are holding the other person together.
This is really at the heart of feeling you’re in control of someone else, not necessarily as a control freak, but as a sense of feeling you have the power to determine someone else’s mental state, or even their very life itself.
For many children in alcoholic homes, there is very little if any safety, either internally or externally.
What the majority of children/adults do is to create a sense of feeling safe by feeling they are in control of what is going on around them.
This is an illusion of control, as mentioned above, but for children in this environment, it is the only solution they have.
What tends to happen is that a child faced with no safety cannot emotionally afford to own that reality.
They will invent a sense of feeling safe, based on the belief that they have this power or control over the adult or adults in their lives, in the sense of being able to affect or change or control them or lose emotional stability.
As the child/children grow older, this belief or need to feel in control of what is going on around them normally deepens, and for many people becomes the dominant emotional drive in their life.
It is also probably the most destructive source of emotional turmoil in their lives because it totally reverses the very nature of our psychological makeup as human beings.
People believe that they have control over things that they do not have control over, and do not believe they have any control or power over the thing that they can control, which is predominantly their own lives and emotional make-up.
Step Three in Alcoholics Anonymous
When most people talk about Step Three, they enter a world of debate about God, turning over one’s will and what it means.
What many people often don’t talk about, is that the majority of the passage on Step Three in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is actually about control.
It uses the analogy of an actor on the stage, trying to control the environment around him, and the calamitous effects that it has.
It goes on to ask people to realise that this is the source of the problem, that emotionally and often practically, their lives are totally out of control because they are trying to control life around them.
What Step Three does is to identify the problem, in terms of control, and without offering a simplistic solution, offers people a way out through working the rest of the 12-step program.
The Serenity Prayer – Problem and Solution
Whilst any prayer can have several different meanings, the serenity prayer does tend to bring together both the solution and the problem in terms of the nature of control.
It identifies a sense of knowing what you cannot change, i.e. things that you have no control over and things that you can change, mainly yourself and your inner world.
In essence, people normally feel a need to try and control what is going on around them, because they feel out of control internally.
This normally results from childhood trauma, but not always as there may be other causes as well.
The solution, albeit a long-term one, is to take back a sense of control internally, and as you do so the need to try and control what is going on around you will drop off.
This is because it is about safety, and the need to feel safe.
The internal sense of safety, which is primarily about your inner world and your inner sense of God, will diminish.
In the end, it should pretty much eradicate this need to feel in control of other people as a way of keeping yourself together and giving yourself some internal sense of stability.
This is the ultimate freedom that Alcoholics Anonymous and all 12 Step Programs can offer.