One of our basic human needs is to be in control. This helps us feel safe. You may have noticed that it’s very difficult to control other people. Sometimes, it feels difficult to even control ourselves. Part of the solution is to find other ways to feel safe. These include asking for reassurance from loved ones, interacting with our companion animals, or tucking yourself in a cozy blanket with a good book and a cup of hot tea.
I also like to offer myself things that I can be in control of. One of those things Is the top drawer of the dishwasher where the silverware is kept. I absolutely love to line up each utensil precisely with the ones next to it and the grid of the tray itself. This brings me great pleasure. I also love to leave the remaining eggs in the carton after I’ve chosen the ones I’m going to eat in a symmetrical design. Luckily, we use egg cartons that have three rows of eggs, so this is always possible. For some reason, I find it reassuring to put the carton back into the refrigerator when the eggs are nice and symmetrical. I have decided not to question this. I just go with the impulse and enjoy it.
I know, these are weird behaviors. But they are small, harmless, and bring me comfort. They don’t hurt anyone. And by giving myself the small places of rather ratcheted down control, it is easier for me to let go and other areas.
Whenever someone says to me, “Oh I am so low-key. I’m just really chill. Everything is OK with me,“ I always wonder where is it in your life that you have absolute control and you never let go of? There’s got to be somewhere. Most of us aren’t really chill. And we know it. We know that we are a so-called control freak, or like things a certain way. This is so human. Particularly in today’s world where media is telling us about all the things that we do not have any control of that are often sad or frightening.
Yes, I know I am basically recommending extremely low-level OCD behavior as a coping mechanism. I own that. The thing is, I don’t know anyone that is 100% sane, or normal.
We all need something to be in control of. When we are unaware of this, we try to control things that can’t really be controlled. This leads to anger and frustration, sometimes even apathy. Some of these things that can’t be controlled are other people, most of what goes on with our bodies, the weather, children, pets, when we need to poop, the fact we have to eat and drink water every day to feel decent, and you know, the entire world in general.
It’s also kind of ironic that in today’s modern age we are fed the message that we can do it all! Work, home, recreation, some super cool craft-based hobby that will impress our buddies… And yet we aren’t really supposed to want to be in control. It’s not cool to be uptight, demanding, strong in that particular way. But how would we ever fit it all in if we weren't exerting some sort of magical super-human control over time and space? Poorly kept secret: None of us do it all, all the time. We aren't keeping it all together, leading balanced lives, and fulfilling our potential on the daily. We are doing our best and having good days and bad days.
And then we have the slew of mental disorders that have acronyms these days. Also, the high stress, insomnia, and generally feeling like we just don’t have time in the day to do it all and so here comes that apathy again.
So if there is something small you like a certain way, have a favorite cup, pillow, a certain blanket arrangement for sleeping, egg placement preference, only use green bath towels, arrange your clothing by color, own 47 pairs of warm socks, pet the dog twice before you let it out- whatever it is, just give that to yourself as a little gift of control.
A lot of what I write is saying the same thing in different ways. It all keeps boiling down to, again and again, do what you can. Offer yourself small graces how and when you can. Take the next small positive step. Acknowledge that that is meaningful. Acknowledge that you did something and feel joy about it. Do it all again.
Did you notice what wasn’t on that list? Judge yourself. Compare yourself to others. Think about all the things you didn’t get done. Go over your failings and feel shame for things you can no longer change. Think about past mistakes. Worry about the future. Feel stress about things that are out of your control.
Focusing on these subjects does not help. Go do your groovy craft instead. Or arrange the silverware in the dishwasher.