Control, Helplessness, and Love
During my 35 years of counseling individuals, couples, families and business partners, I have discovered that an important purpose of our controlling behavior in our relationships is to avoid the feeling of helplessness. One of the hardest feelings to feel is helplessness. Most of us are unwilling to even know what we are and are not helpless over. Our controlling behavior toward others generally comes from our unwillingness to accept our helplessness over others’ feelings and behavior. We do not want to know that we are helpless over whether another chooses to be loving and accepting toward us or judgmental and rejecting toward us.
If we truly accepted our helplessness over others, would we continue to get angry at them? Would we continue to blame, to judge, shame, criticize? Would we continue to comply, or to be nice instead of honest? If we truly accepted our helplessness over whether others loved us and accepted us, would we work so hard to prove our worth to others?
Sometimes – because we often manage to have control over getting approval or avoiding disapproval – we may confuse approval with love and think we can have control over getting love. But love is always a gift freely given with no strings attached. We may receive attention and approval when we try to control getting love from another, but that is generally short-lived and not fulfilling.
Moving beyond our controlling behavior, as well as our core shame (the belief that we are inherently bad, inadequate, unlovable, unworthy, not good enough), happens easily and naturally once we fully accept our helplessness over others’ intention to be open or closed, loving or unloving, accepting or judgmental. Our core shame is one of our deepest, oldest false beliefs and one of our oldest protections against our feelings of helplessness. Our shame gives us the illusion of power over others: that is, we tell ourselves that if we are not being loved because we are not good enough, we can continue to strive to be good enough and then we will have control over getting the love we want. Believing in our core shame allows us to believe that we cause others to be unloving to us, that it is our fault when others are unloving because we are not good enough. It takes us out of the truth of our helplessness and into a sense of control – if only we change ourselves we can then change others. This illusion of control over other people’s feelings about us is difficult for most people to give up.
Paradoxically, accepting our helplessness over others leads us to our personal power. Once we fully accept that we cannot have control over others loving us and taking care of us, we may then finally decide to learn how to take care of our own feelings and needs.. This major step moves us out of being victims of others’ choices and into control over our own lives, which is what we do have control over. We do have control over our own intent to learn about loving ourselves and others, or protect against pain with some from of controlling behavior. You will feel incredibly empowered once you fully accept your helplessness over others. Try it! For one week, try throughout the day reminding yourself that you are helpless over others’ feelings and behavior. You will be astounded at the results!
Once you accept your helplessness over others, then lots of energy is released to take care of yourself. Many of us have been taught that taking care of ourselves is selfish. Contrary to taking care of yourself being selfish, taking care of your own feelings and needs is what personal responsibility is all about. As long as you make others responsible for your feelings of worth and lovability, you will try to control how others treat you and feel about you. As soon as you take responsibility for defining your own worth and lovability and taking care of your own feelings and needs, you move out of being a victim and into personal power.
The challenge is to accept our helplessness over others. This is often difficult, because as infants, if we were helpless over getting someone to feed us and attend to us, we would have died. Many of us went through the terror of crying and crying and no one coming to love and care for us. Many of us experienced that life-threatening experience of helplessness over getting others to take care of our needs. We became deeply terrified of the feeling of helplessness and learned to do anything we could to avoid that feeling and that situation.
The problem is that we do not realize that today we are no longer helpless over ourselves as we were as infants. We will not die of someone doesn’t attend to us. We can feed ourselves and call a friend for help if we need it. Yet many people still react to the feeling of helplessness over others as if it were a life and death situation. Many people still do anything they can to avoid feeling helpless, including controlling others or shutting out our feelings with addictive behavior. How often have you found yourself grazing in front of the refrigerator, turning on the TV, grabbing a cigarette without even realizing you were doing it? Often, this addictive behavior is a way to avoid the feeling of helplessness that may have come up in an interaction with someone, or as a way to avoid responsibility for taking care of your own feelings and needs.
The first step in moving beyond controlling and addictive behavior is to be willing to become aware of the feeling of helplessness. Once you are aware of what it feels like in your body, embrace the feeling as you would embrace a small child who is feeling scared. As you bring love to the feeling of helplessness within you rather than avoiding it with controlling and addictive behavior, you will discover that it isn’t as bad as you thought. If you are willing to open to the love that surrounds you in Spirit and bring that love inside to the part of you that feels helpless, this frightened wounded part that just wants to be loved begins to get healed. The more you practice embracing helplessness rather than avoiding it, the more you will move out of being a victim and into your personal power and ability to love yourself and others.