I have anxiety and that used to make me a serious control freak.
I had a lot of fear and a general sense of instability. Understanding my need for control and the anxiety underlying it has been a big learning curve for me. I’ve read countless books, committed to meditation, and sat in yoga classes all with the goal of becoming a bit more chill.
Through my search to be zen, I finally discovered what is going on inside of me when I have the urge to be controlling. It started with a little question I asked myself on the back of a motorcycle.
Here’s a sample of my brain while my boyfriend was driving the bike: “He is an overconfident driver,” “I shouldn’t have to go through this to buy groceries,” “He should listen to my driving advice,” “I deserve my own form of transportation,” “I can’t trust the other drivers.”
Then I discovered the writings of Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun. In her book When Things Fall Apart, Chödrön says mental rants have two story lines:
“I’m right, you’re wrong,” and, “This is unfair to me.”
Neither mode is fun. It’s debilitating when we think that we are the only ones who can make a good decision or when we feel like everything is happening to us.
Thanks to Chödrön, there is one question I ask to eject myself from these stories:
” Am I a victim or a victor?”
Am I telling myself that everything happens to me or that no one realizes I am right?
This question has shown me that my anxiety doesn’t come from situations that stress me out, it comes from my brain creating all these stories.
I’ve realized that my need for control was a reaction to my mind telling me I’d lost control.
My mind was telling me I was being mistreated, which made me want to take my power back. Now, I use this question to catch my mind as it twists my perception. When I realize I am not actually being misunderstood or ignored, there is no urge to control everything.
Every control freak moment is actually just my mind going into self-pity mode or self-righteous mode. I notice, ask myself the question, and call the story out. Sometimes the stories will pop back up, but I see through them. They have lost their power.
Stressful situations are not about being right or being mistreated—they’re about my choices. No one makes me do anything. So, I don’t have to control anyone. When the stories try to destabilize me, I used to overcompensate by seeking control.
Now I ask one question, acknowledge the stories, and enjoy the ride.
Bonus: The Simple Buddhist Trick to Being Happy.
Author: Johannah Bogart
Image: @elephantjournal Instagram
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Catherine Monkman