“If I have a hard time controlling myself, why would I want to control you?” –Tim Smith, yoga teacher.
Having a sense of control plays a big role in our lives. We feel happier when we’re “in control.” Edward Deci names “self-determination” as one of the three basic motivators of human existence (the other two are competence and connectedness). He ties autonomy in with authenticity, suggesting that when we’re autonomous, we’re fully invested in what we’re doing, as we’re choosing our actions that are in alignment with our true selves. (For more from Deci, see his book called Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation.)
Relationships with others, however, create havoc with this easy, flowing process from true self to authentic choosing. Once we’re faced with trying to maintain connection with others, there is much more at stake than just getting clear about our choices. Their reactions, their desires, their approval can become part of the swirl of information coming at us when we’re trying to find our true self’s voice. If we don’t find a pathway through what can seem like competing wants, we can get deadlocked into a control battle.
We all have our methods of trying to get control. Sometimes we’re direct and open and it all works, everyone’s need for self-determination is met. Other times, however, it’s not so pretty. It might look like we’re not going to get what we want, so we shift into techniques developed in childhood: whining, cajoling, demanding, tantruming, withholding, exploding, stonewalling, criticizing.
Control battles sink relationships. Finding a way through them, so that both (or all) people involved can get what they really want, allows the stuckness to shift into creative flow, where the excitement of discovering previously unseen possibilities leads the way.
Assignment: In the next few days, keep track of the methods you use to try to get control in your relationship. Notice: Which ones make you happiest, lead to the biggest feeling of aliveness?