The Illusion of Control

We often attempt to control our emotions, especially the unpleasant ones, like fear, anxiety, anger and sadness. There are many good reasons for doing so.

  • Seems like a reasonable goal. Who wants to be unstable mess or Captain Negative all of the time?
  • Being “in control” is often equated with positive qualities. Yes, and certainly you want to be able to keep your head straight and stay calm in a storm. But you don’t want to go throughout life numb. Or like a pressure cooker without a release valve, so no steam is let off, ready to blow.
  • Sometimes emotional control does work. Not giving to the urge to cry or scream in your office, after the day from H. E. double hockey sticks feels great. Keeping yourself from getting hurt again in a relationship is entirely reasonable.
  • It seems like other people can control their emotions. You should be able too right?
  • Control works well in other areas of our life. Control requires discipline, and when you control what you eat, and regularly exercise your get good healthy results. Seems like that same approach, focus on only the good stuff, should apply everywhere.

However, research suggests it is not possible to gain complete control over feelings.

  • Attempts to control emotions are not effective in the long-term
  • Attempts to control emotions don’t work when you really need them to
  • Attempts to control emotions often backfire

Most people want a meaningful rich life, full of experiences. You cannot have a meaningful life one without emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly. A meaningful life requires honest relationships with yourself and others, and taking chances, both of which mean you are vulnerable. To love is to choose to be vulnerable. To explore requires knowing and risking disappointment. Speaking your mind means people may disagree with you. To grow means you’ll try something new and could feel awkward at first.

Two questions for you to consider the about illusion of control:

  1. When you clamp down on your emotions what are you hoping to gain?
  2. What do you actually get?

One final question for you:

What do you really want a rich deeply meaningful life or a ho-hum or numb life?


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