CONTROL IS THE PROBLEM – NOT THE SOLUTION

In our journey through life, pain is an inevitable companion. The world presents us with a myriad of experiences that can cause emotional and physical pain.

THESE EXPERIENCES MAY PRESENT THEMSELVES IN THE END OF A…

  • Cherished Relationship: The emotional turmoil and agony of a breakup with a long-term partner or spouse, especially after a deeply meaningful and significant relationship, can be excruciating.

  • Loss of a Loved One: Coping with grief and heartache following the death of a family member, close friend, or someone dear to you is an intensely painful and challenging experience.

  • Financial Struggles: Confronting challenges like unemployment, mounting debt, or the inability to cover basic expenses can lead to significant stress and hardship.

  • Interpersonal Conflicts: Managing conflicts and disputes in personal relationships, whether it’s frequent arguments with a family member, tension with a colleague at work, or disagreements within a friendship, can be emotionally draining and painful. Pain takes various forms: fear, hurt, anger, shame, and sadness.

Pain manifests itself in various forms – fear, hurt, anger, shame, and sadness.

PAIN

Is a natural response to life’s adversities. It’s the initial emotional and physical reaction we have when faced with a distressing event

Suffering, however, emerges when we attempt to control or evade pain. It encompasses anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, and chronic stress that develop when we engage in behaviors aimed at suppressing or escaping pain.

The distinction lies in that Pain is ‘clean,’ while Suffering is ‘dirty.’

Pain cannot be avoided, but to a large extent, suffering can be.

SUFFERING IS ANXIETY. SUFFERING IS DEPRESSION. SUFFERING IS ADDICTION, TRAUMA, CHRONIC STRESS

Pain always precedes suffering, and most days, something happens that causes pain, whether physical or emotional. Suffering occurs when you try to control pain in some way, usually by attempting to avoid it or make it disappear. We employ various strategies, consciously or unconsciously, to manage or eliminate discomfort.

There are numerous ways people try to control their pain, but here’s a list of the main ones:

  • Avoidance: Skipping a class reunion to avoid encountering an old friend who deeply hurt you in the past.

  • Putting on a Facade: Pretending to be happy and confident when feeling sad and anxious, especially in social situations, to avoid judgment or pity from others.

  • Giving Up: Resigning from a challenging project at work due to stress and anxiety, even if it aligns with your career goals, as a means of escaping discomfort.

  • Keeping Busy: Overloading your schedule with tasks and activities to distract from emotional pain or intrusive thoughts, such as overloading your workweek to avoid dealing with a recent breakup.

  • Obsessing: Constantly ruminating over past mistakes or worrying excessively about the future to exert control over uncertainties, even though it intensifies anxiety.

  • Seeking Reassurance: Repeatedly asking friends or family for reassurance about your worth or the state of your relationships to alleviate feelings of insecurity.

  • Drinking: Using alcohol to temporarily numb emotional pain or anxiety, like having a few drinks after a stressful day to relax and feel more in control of your emotions.

  • Drug Taking: Turning to substances like prescription medications or recreational drugs to escape from emotional distress, which can lead to dependence and further suffering.

  • Exercise: Exercising excessively to manage body image issues or suppress uncomfortable emotions, such as working out for hours to cope with guilt or shame.

  • Blaming: Shifting blame onto others when facing difficulties or conflicts to avoid taking responsibility for your actions, which can create a false sense of control over the situation.

  • Self-Criticism: Engaging in harsh self-criticism as a way to motivate yourself or maintain high standards, even when it causes emotional pain and undermines self-esteem.

There are others, but you get the point. Many people may look at this list and say, for example, “I drink, but I don’t suffer,” and that is entirely valid.

Ultimately,

Ultimately, when any of these methods are used to avoid or control pain, suffering is likely to occur. More suffering leads to more attempts at control, resulting in even more suffering.

CONTROL ISN’T ALWAYS NEGATIVE

Control isn’t inherently negative, but it depends on the intention and effectiveness of the control attempt.

For example, the best man nervous about delivering a speech at his best friends wedding may well attempt control by having a pint of beer to take the edge off. Now delivering speech in those circumstances is very anxiety provoking for many people, and I would argue having that one pint of ‘dutch courage’ is workable.

However a best man at another wedding may decide to drink several pints of beer before his speech and ends up slurring his words and then being violently ill.

In both circumstances there is an attempt at control using the same mechanism, alcohol, but one is workable and the other is not.

In much the same way many people find exercise to be an important part of their overall well-being – and I do too. However when exercise is used to avoid or control thoughts and feelings then that is unworkable. Any attempt at control over our thinking and feelings, when we identify with them as disturbing (pain) in some way, is simply a cue to the subconscious brain that there is something to fear.

CONTEXT, THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS

When we encounter pain or distress, our brain automatically processes this information and creates a mental ‘frame’ around the experience. This ‘frame’ includes the context, thoughts, and emotions associated with the pain. Its purpose is to drive behaviors aimed at avoiding or minimising that pain. The subconscious craves certainty and seeks to avoid pain.

Professional Life

Imagine a talented employee who aspires to climb the corporate ladder.

They want to advance in their career, but the prospect of advancement interviews triggers anxiety and self-doubt. To avoid the potential pain of rejection or failure, they repeatedly decline opportunities for advancement.

In this case, their overbearing control mechanism of avoidance prevents them from pursuing their professional goals, causing them to suffer stagnation and unfulfilled potential.

Personal Life

In personal relationships, consider someone who values social connections and desires to be seen as a friendly and sociable person.

However, they have a lingering belief that a particular individual dislikes them. To control this perception, they habitually avoid social events where that person might be present.

Despite their genuine desire for social interaction, their avoidance behavior contradicts their values, leading to loneliness, isolation, and emotional suffering.

Family Life

In family dynamics, picture a parent who strives for perfection in their role. They want to ensure their children excel academically and socially.

To exert control, they become overly involved, micromanaging every aspect of their children’s lives. This not only suffocates the children’s autonomy but also creates an atmosphere of constant pressure and fear of disappointing the parent.

As a result, family relationships become strained, and the children may experience anxiety and resentment.

ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES

Health and Fitness: Someone with an intense desire for physical perfection may develop an obsession with diet and exercise, leading to overtraining, restrictive eating, and physical and mental health issues.

Creativity and Artistry: An artist who constantly seeks external validation may struggle to produce authentic and meaningful work, stifled by the need for approval, resulting in artistic stagnation and emotional distress.

Romantic Relationships: A person in a romantic partnership may constantly worry about their partner’s loyalty and fidelity, leading to invasive behaviors like checking messages and social media. This mistrust can erode trust and intimacy in the relationship, causing suffering for both partners.

OVERBEARING NEED FOR CONTROL

In all these scenarios, the overbearing need for control, driven by the subconscious desire to avoid pain and uncertainty, paradoxically leads to suffering and hinders personal growth, professional success, and meaningful connections with others.

Seeking Advice Can Be Transformative

External perspectives can offer fresh insights, challenging preconceived notions about control and providing alternative strategies for managing pain and discomfort.

They can help individuals recognise that true control often involves letting go, accepting uncertainty, and embracing vulnerability.

This realisation can be the first step toward breaking free from the illusion of control and finding a more balanced and fulfilling path forward.

In essence, while the pursuit of control is natural, recognising when it becomes an illusion and seeking outside assistance can be the key to breaking free from suffering and discovering a more authentic, resilient, and harmonious way of living.

A TO Z: ANXIOUS TO ZEN (ISH)

 

Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) emphasises cultivating awareness to notice when the control agenda is in play and how, through openness, it is possible to accept and defuse from the thoughts and emotions that try to drive controlling behavior.

Over time, people regain control over their lives by living in line with what’s important to them rather than being held back by control.

At A to Z: Anxious to Zen (ish), we impart these mental brake principles to groups, helping individuals create distance between their conscious thinking minds and the problem-solving narrative which it is being fed.

Once there is awareness of the narrative there is the opportunity to do something about it, and the likelihood that people will suffer less

ABOUT ME

Hey there, I’m Dan. While I’ve mostly called Wales, UK, home, my career has revolved around the world of finance systems, particularly Unit4 ERP.

My personal journey, marked by acute anxiety, led me to delve into Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT).

Now, my mission is twofold: to empower individuals with Psychological Flexibility and to assist business owners in supporting their staff.

By helping employees manage anxiety, improve focus, and build resilience, we not only foster personal growth but also create healthier, more productive work environments that benefit businesses in the long run. Join me on this transformative journey!