Why do humans desire control?
Why do you humans desire control?
First, we need to understand what control is…
The definition on Google says; verb means: to order, limit, or rule something or someone's actions or behaviour. The noun means: the act of controlling someone or something or the power to do this.
We also need to understand this idea of having the ability to control people or our environment is an illusion. It’s a very unlikely situation where we do actually have any real power to influence or direct people’s behaviour. We definitely don’t have any power to control the course of events… even the best event managers in the world know that there will always be surprises or things that come up, totally out of the control of the organising.
Why is it an illusion you ask? Well, think about it, how can we possibly control our environment. The environment we find ourselves in, be it work, family, a share house etc, all consist of other people with unique upbringings, different values, different opinions or ways of working.
We know we can’t control things like the weather, or the inevitability of death, or if a plane is delayed. And, we know that we don’t like it when people try to control us by saying things like; you should do this, my way is better. So, why do we then want to control people and the environments we’re in?
Control and certainty
Does the idea of control make us feel like our lives will be easier, will flow better or be ‘perfect?’ Or could it be that if we feel in control, we then feel a sense of certainty? Certainty makes us feel content, at ease or even relieved and it’s one of the six human needs that Tony Robbins talks about. When things are certain it’s easier to feel like we’ve got our shit together.
What I do think, is that we can create certainty for ourselves by creating plans, or doing rituals and executing on them. We can feel certain by creating repetition, seeing the same or similar results many times over. We create certainty when we have order; like a tidy house or bedroom, tidy emails or a clear calendar or timeline, or a ritual to meditate or exercise each day.
So the illusion might be that we think we want control but what we really want is a sense of certainty and we can gain this over the things that are within our control that are external like a tidy house or by learning to control our own behaviours and responses. Creating a sense of certainty creates a feeling of comfort through repetition or ritualistic behaviour.
Read our article about certainty here.
Control and you as a human
There is only ONE thing you do have absolute control over. That is YOU.
- You can control, how you respond to people and your environment.
- You can control how you feel.
- You can control your emotions.
- You can control the feeling you have about the thoughts that wade through your mind.
You might think that the idea of controlling your own feelings and emotions seems weird BUT if you learn ways to understand and manage your own mind you can, indeed, take control of your responses, feelings and emotions. Have a listen to the genius that is Kara Lowentheil from Unfuck your Brain, she shares a myriad of information on learning to manage your own mind.
Understanding your brain to help you gain control of your feelings, emotions is key. In other words, managing how you feel and how you think about control is the first part of gaining the control you might desire. Which is really just control of your own mind and feelings or taking control of your own life.
Control and understanding the human brain
Evolutionarily we want to control our environment in order to survive. When we lived in tribes we needed to be able to control our surroundings to stay alive and we used our fight or flight brain, the amygdala, to help us do this effectively.
But now that we no longer live in tribal communities but in our society today, we no longer need our amygdala to behave in this exact way. It’s basically on constant high alert watching out for dangers like lions. The reason this is important to consider is because this part of our brain creates thoughts or releases cortisol that makes us feel like we might die and so it creates a reaction from us that far surpasses what is actually necessary in the situations we find ourselves in today.
So as an example, we might find ourselves fighting with a friend and trying to control their responses, but obviously not succeeding because we have zero ability to actually control others. What happens then, is that we are trying to control not being or feeling rejected or ousted from the group, because back in tribal times we needed the group to survive. That is no longer. Most of us lucky enough to be able to read this article are also lucky enough to live under a roof and work in a cushy office. So the feeling of needing to control in order to survive is not actually necessary for our survival.
Your feelings are your choice
Your feelings are your choice. Let’s think about the emotion of happiness… I always remember a friend saying to me, ‘I just want to be happy.’ I felt like it was such a strange thing to say as if the ‘happiness’ itself was this external object that she wanted to have. The concept to me is that you and only you can make yourself happy. Other people can’t make you happy, your external environment can’t make you happy. You choosing to feel happy about the people or the environment you’re surrounded by is what you have control over. If someone gives you a gift you hate, you can choose to still feel grateful and happy that they thought of you. Or you can choose to think they clearly don’t know you very well and therefore don’t care. It’s all about how you choose to perceive the situation.
It’s fair to say then that in this same vein your perception of happiness and how you can attain it, is what’s important. You can choose to feel happiness right now, think of a moment in time where you felt the most happy, where you laughed and connected with someone you love. Just by thinking about this time you are invoking the feeling of happiness in your mind but also physiologically.
Control of giving love
Let me explain with the idea of love. Love is said to not be an emotion but to be a human driver.
When you first start dating someone you get these intense feelings of desire, lust, joy, excitement, happiness, nerves and many more feelings come up! These all equate to the idea of what love is. The building up and growth of a connection with another human over time. That first year is called the ‘honeymoon period’ for a reason!
If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, do you still feel that intensity? Or, has it become a choice to commit to and actively love that person?
Once that feeling of lust and wonder or excited nerves disappear, how will you choose to behave, how will you choose to keep that flame alive? Will you move onto the next thing ever searching for that initial high or will you choose to consistently love that same person. In this instance, it is a choice. You choose a commitment to that person which is, in this case, love. It is your choice. And so, in the same vein are all your other feelings. It is your choice to feel happy, it is your choice to feel joy, it is your choice to feel anger and it’s all about your perception of a situation and how you choose to respond.
Depending on others to feel like we have control
Sometimes we handover control to other people, or we put trust in them to make decisions on our behalf. Consider a time when you were a child and the boundaries or controls your parents or parental figures put in place to give you order, consistency and certainty.
We do this often as adults too, where we handover our control to professionals like doctors or midwives to recommend or tell us what to do when we don’t have the expertise to take clear action ourselves. This can be really helpful but can also be detrimental.
If a doctor gives you a terminal diagnosis, it’s probably worth not putting complete control in their hands and in their one opinion or in their one brains’ perception of the situation. Why not extend out that professional view and take a bit more control yourself. Get 3 different viewpoints, maybe consider alternative medicines as well. Here, it’s about taking all opportunities to gain certainty, it’s about taking control of your options and taking all necessary steps to understand yourself and your bodies needs.
Or, consider the idea that you are in a relationship where you leave it to your partner to take control of all major decisions. If you do that and find yourself not happy, then ask yourself, am I giving away all control here? What can I do to change this? Try to consider how you are responsible for the unhappiness that you are feeling. Try to consider taking responsibility for the idea that maybe you’ve allowed someone else to make all the decisions and now you’re not happy with the decision, yet you handed over control to another person.
The physical manifestation of control
When we believe deeply in the ‘need’ to want to control the environment of the people around us we do manifest this in our bodies, so where does it go?
If you’re a business owner, or an executive it can be easy to get lost amongst the stress of working everyday and running a business. (Read and watch more about stress here). Often, we get stressed because we feel like we’re losing control or we’re struggling to get ‘control’ of the people around us be it staff or customers.
This causes us to make decisions based on the stress hormones being released into our bodies. More often than not, it makes us want to take on more, do more, do the tasks ourselves instead of delegating them. The thinking is that we can be faster in just getting it done but the reality is, if we just relinquished control to the people and team around us, the task could be done faster in the long run. So that short term time gain might be a long term loss if we continue to grab onto all the things we think we can control.
Side note: it also just makes your wider team feel helpless and not trusted when you take back tasks or just do it yourself. So consider your wider impact when making those decisions based on your desire to control.
Back to the topic. So again, where does control manifest in the body? Thanks to the incredible Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life, we know that control manifests in some pretty specific places in the body:
- Pain in Back Curvature: The inability to flow with the support of life. Fear and trying to hold on to old ideas. Not trusting life. Lack of integrity. No courage of convictions.
- Baldness: Fear. Tension. Trying to control everything.
- Bell’s Palsy: Extreme control over anger. Unwillingness to express feelings.
- Colitis: Insecurity. Represents the ease of letting go of that which is over.
- Diabetes: Longing for what might have been. A great need to control. Deep sorrow. No sweetness left.
- Food Poisoning: Allowing others to take control. Feeling defenseless.
- Gastritis: Prolonged uncertainty. A feeling of doom.
- Hepatitis: Resistance to change. Fear, anger, hatred. Liver is the seat of anger and rage.
- Incontinence: Emotional overflow. Years of controlling emotions.
- Lockjaw: Anger. A desire to control. A refusal to express feelings.
- Mouth: Represents taking in of new ideas and nourishment. Set opinions. Closed mind. Incapacity to take in new ideas.
- Neck: Represents flexibility. The ability to see what’s back there. Refusing to see other sides of a question. Stubbornness, inflexibility. Unbending stubbornness.
- Parasites: Giving power to others, letting them take over and life off of you.
- Parkinson’s Disease: Fear and an intense desire to control everything and everyone.
- Senility: Returning to the so-called safety of childhood. Demanding care and attention. A form of control of those around you. Escapism.
Note that some of these physical symptoms may not apply to you and can just be physiological or genetic but sometimes when we reflect on our emotional wellbeing and the kinds of stresses we’ve created for ourselves, these understandings can be helpful. In order to understand their meanings more in depth, we recommend you read You Can Heal Your Life.
The extremities of control
Over the past few weeks I’ve been watching Mindhunter and been absolutely fascinated by the interviews that the FBI had with serial killers in the 1970’s. It’s interesting to find out what their thoughts were before committing the horrific acts that they did.
I was sitting down at dinner with Arianne and we started having a chat about it, why did people do these things? Why did they get sexual pleasure? What makes someone like this? What was so interesting was that we seemed to boil it down to the human desire to control. These murderers desired the ultimate control over someone's life. They got off on the idea that they could give or take people’s lives as they pleased.
While this absolutely diabolic, it is interesting to understand how extreme this desire for control can be at the fringes of humanity.
Considering control in a new light
Control seems to be such an ever-wanting human desire yet so unattainable. It’s time to consider or change our perception of the things we can and can’t control.
We can ONLY control ourselves, our own responses and feelings.
We CANNOT control anything else. Not the people around us, not our environment, not the outcomes of our jobs, literally nothing else.
So, if we just look to work on the things we can control and release to the universe all other things, then maybe our lives will get just a little bit easier, a little bit freer. Next time you feel yourself tensing up and trying to gain control of the things outside yourself, just take a deep breath and consider what you can take control of. YOU.