I freaked out at my boyfriend the other night for not doing the dishes after he said he would. Ok, yes that’s annoying, but my reaction was way extreme. When I looked at it truthfully, I felt like the problem was really with me. I think I’m too controlling. I need everything in my house to be in order and I’m always on time. Even with sex I feel a need to control what’s happening. I feel like Marni in the show Girls and I hate it. What’s this about and how can I make some shifts? The struggle for order, control and neatness is often a learned behavior that helps you feel safe in the world. If you can control your environment you feel you have some power and aren’t so helpless and vulnerable. Controlling behavior often shows up in people who grew up in chaotic home situations with an unpredictable element like an alcoholic parent. Certain temperaments are more prone. Controlling behavior is often rewarded in school or at home as it can be related to being responsible. As you get older though, this desire to control the environment can get played out on other people. Not fun for others or yourself. Nobody wants to be told what to do and it’s unfair to yourself to be burdened with the task of policing others. So we support you getting control over your hyperactive need for control.
You’ve already taken the first steps to slay this dragon—you’ve gotten conscious of its presence in your life. Other people might behave in crazy ways, but now that you’re an adult, you have the skills and resources to walk away without trying to manage everyone. You’re safe. So in the case of your boyfriend, practice letting him make his own choices—good or bad—without interfering. When you feel the dragon of control begin to rear its head as you watch him fold the towels the “wrong way”, pause, breathe, hold your tongue and leave the room. Find out if the presence of uneven linens in your cabinet causes you to spontaneously combust.
The next step is to experiment with coloring outside the lines. Start small by doing unexpected things. Take a different route home. Don’t set an alarm. Try out tolerating longer periods of mess in your house. Go an hour with dishes in the sink. Extend it to a whole evening. Maybe even go crazy and don’t do them until the next day. Also, conscious drug use could help you hang loose. Not a whole lot you can do when you’re tripping in the garden and the flower petals start singing Dark Side of the Moon. You’ll have to just let go and ride it out.
Once you’ve played the no-control game in the safety of your home and garden for a while, take it further—travel. Alone. Pick somewhere non-westernized. Preferably somewhere you don’t speak the language. Don’t plan your stays. Put your faith in humanity. See where the wind blows you and allow yourself to be caught and cared for by chance. Many of the best stories start out with no plans, just wide open eyes and blind faith.
Continue to observe how even if you’re late for the bus, you forgot your umbrella, you’ve misplaced your cell phone and you’re wearing two different colored socks, you don’t die. The world keeps turning. Even look for the positives—like your boyfriend being more at ease. The reality is we all have very little control over anything in life. No matter how organized your spice racks are, there will always be chaos. But chaos doesn’t equal death. Relax into the reality that life is meant to be messy at times. You’ll begin to find there are unexpected riches hidden beneath that pile of dishes in your overflowing sink…