Say, “I Can’t Control This” When You Can’t

Playing in the Sink

Image by Paul Mayne via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #169 – When there is negative chaos, remember and say, “I can’t control this.”

Carol had worked there for seven years.  The supervisor had just asked her for more hours and Carol felt almost good to be able to say she didn’t have any more to give.  Yet when Carol got the email that her job position was closing in a month, she was physically affected.  Her autonomics (“fight-or-flight” reactions) were on full alert.  If there was an attacking bear, she might have out run him.

Healthy Carol had been to enough 12-Step meetings to remember, “I can’t control this.”  She said it a few times and turned it over to her Higher Power.  She did not crave or relapse in her addiction’s disease.  Her pulse was still fast and her hands were still tingling for the next several hours but she didn’t “use.”  She went to her meeting and she pushed on.

When Carol thought about her future and the things she could do to prepare, she inevitably thought about the things she couldn’t do.  She said,

I can’t control this.

When Carol imagined what other people would think after hearing about her unemployment, she said,

I can’t control this.

In mental health we struggle with that a lot.  The emotions that grow self-loathing, the behaviors that distance us from our support and loved ones, and/or the physical changes that keep us from performing – are all confusing.  At what point do we say, “I can’t control this?”

I remember a Seinfeld joke about water faucets in  public bathrooms.  The ones that you have to hold down to keep the flow going.  I’ll spare you the misery of me trying to retell it and get to the point.  Why do they have those faucets?  It’s as if they think people will have a water party in there or take free sponge baths if they could turn the faucet on long enough actually to wash their hands.

baby elephant | playing in the water

Image by Adam Foster | Codefor via Flickr

When we say something like “I can’t control this” to the idea of emotions and behaviors, the general fear is that people will take wild liberties, – splashing emotions around and behaving like elephants after the summer Serengeti drought ends.  Mayhem will ensue and the staunch healthy-minded with dry pants will have to clean continually after us.  Not many people want to be sullied by the emotions and behaviors of others and this, “I can’t control” business is a boundary issue.  Maybe stigma is one of the ways we change out the faucet on others.

There are some very primitive characters and severely ill people who might say in fact that they cannot control all feelings and behaviors.  This is more than most of us armored with some healthy coping skills would believe or say.

“I can’t control this,” is not a free pass to vandalism, vengeance, volley-ball or any other very vexing behavior.  It is not there to hand over like a ticket to other people for their excuse, justification or condolence of our situations.  It is there for us to hold up to ourselves for the purpose of honesty, submission to our Higher Power, humility and healing.  No one can control the flow out of that.  That is free self-care.

Questions:  When have you felt like you had to explain to others your behaviors and feelings even when you didn’t have an explanation?  How did you bring it back “home” to your own self-care and get past the stigma?  Please tell me your story.

22 thoughts on “Say, “I Can’t Control This” When You Can’t

  1. I’m not sure that I can say that I have totally gotten past the “stigma” but I have stepped out and allowed many more of my friends and loved ones in. The majority of whom have been very supportive. The person having the most difficulty with my re-lapse, has been my husband. He is the most optomistic, positive thinking person I know and has difficulty understanding how someone could feel the way I do.

    Today is the first day that I have had a feeling of hope in a very long time.

  2. The 12 Steps are an instrument to help us “control this” It is not easy. It is a daily struggle. But with time it gets easier. With almost 9 years sober the only time I think about drinking is when I attend the meeting of the fellowship that deals with alcoholism. The other “I can’t control this” is from external sources. I think the fellowship of the group is a source of strategies for not collapsing into helplessness. Millions of people have to figure these things out every day. So we are not alone or unique. Draw on the experience, strength and hope of the 12-Steppers. And sometimes you have to get plain old stubborn and live well in spite of these things.

  3. when providing the explanation would help them. when knowing that I am aware of my behaviors and feelings validates their concerns. maybe it puts some kind of closure on it for them.

  4. Hmmmm…. I would like to begin with a Sesamesque thank you to the letter V for bringing us all such a fine, yet somewhat inflammatory, closing paragraph. I am sure that always-kind DQ did not mean to crush my serenity with such far fetched rhetoric. Yet she has brought back such painful memories that I have managed to suppress up until this point.

    It happened at a picnic in Florida… I was asked to join a group of volleyball players in a friendly game. I had images of me flying high above the net and effortlessly spiking the ball to the amazement of cheering spectators, teammates, and opponents. Ah…. that was not to be a case. The spectacle that followed was one of me plowing into helpless children, becoming entangled in the net, and impotently collapsing as I attempted to hit the ball. At that point, I realized and admitted my true powerlessness over volleyball. I decided to walk away from the game for good. Never to return or even give thought to the “negative chaos” that I was subjected to that day.

    It has all come rushing back to me as horrible images of balls and nets fill my mind. Then, painfully, I reread the final paragraph of our fine leader’s missive and accept that… I could have controlled it. Lack of control, which I assumed to be my dilemma, does not apply to volleyball and thus the “chaos” of that day was all within my control. WTF? (That stands for What The Freud amongst psychiatric bloggers).

    As I often do, I call upon Freud for guidance and am taken back to his famous Clark University lectures. As everyone knows, Freud smoked cigars. One day, allegedly, a student asked him about what this signifies. And Freud replied “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”. I understand what he means, as if he was speaking to me… sometimes life is just life. Bad things happen to good people and frequently without reason. Hence, I realize that I must seek to accept the things I can not change and change the things I can. Time spent worrying about that which I can not change is wasted time in that it distracts me from changing the things I can. (ie. Being a Friend to Myself). In all honesty, all of the things that have happened in the past (including traumatic volley ball games) and most of what is happening in the present are beyond my control. Thus, the few things that I do have control over are of great importance in that the allow me to cope with life. Then as I look to the picture at the top of the page, expecting oh such splendid images of cake and such, I am delighted and amused to find such a pleasant picture of the baby in the sink. I am reminded that, I too am a father and of the wonderful time that I spent with my son today…. images of volleyball are gone and I may now, once again, focus on being the person that I want to give to my son.

    • laughing. thank u rick for our chortling. u r the best.
      “the few things that I do have control over are of great importance in that the allow me to cope with life” – for me in this case, would that be you? thanks for coming funny boy. keep on.

  5. I watched Tiger Woods, a year ago, explain what he had done and what he was doing about it – with no expression on his face, no life in his eyes, no inflection in his voice – and I remembered writing two letters: one to my church, telling them that I was too sick to volunteer there or to direct the children’s choir anymore, and one to the faculty at the school at which I taught, explaining why I had left and was in therapy and had actually been in the psychiatric ward for a while. I was asked to write both letters; I felt dead inside as I wrote them; I found it impossible afterward to look at anyone from either place in which I had been so active.

    I cried for Tiger last year and I cried for me (even sixteen years after I had had to write my explainations), I had “admitted” that I couldn’t control what was happening to me; Tiger admitted that he was giving his control over to a Higher being. However, I know that I hadn’t admitted it to myself and I have no doubt that Tiger hadn’t, either – at least last February.

    It took 16 years of therapy and many, many drugs and lots of talking and reading and praying for me to be able to feel confident enough to walk out of church on Sunday morning without crying all the way home because I “wasn’t who I used to be there”. I resigned from teaching because the principal told me that everyone there was afraid of me because I was “insane”, and I’ve not talked with even one of those people since I left (because I have, mercifully, never seen any one of them). I volunteer now at a school for special needs kids and every day I am there I come home smiling. I sing in choir at church and work on a worship development team now and come home at peace. I taught myself (with LOTS of help from my family and physicians) that giving up control didn’t make me less of a good, capable, loving mother, grandmother, friend, volunteer and child of God. I brought it “home” by taking care of myself by allowing myself to be cared for by others, when necessary. It was a long, painful, up and down and up again process and it continues to be but it’s been worth it.

    I still have difficulty giving up control. I don’t think I’ll ever totally be “there”, wherever “there” is for me, but I won’t quit like I did all those years ago…and I will NEVER allow myself to be forced to write a letter (or speech) explaining myself again. That wasn’t taking control of my situation any more than Tiger was taking control of his, and it wasn’t giving control over to a Higher poweer. It was being controlled by people and fear and panic and self-destruction, and that’s not acceptable for anyone.

  6. As I reread I see you mention Freud. Yes there have been divergent protocols and modifications in the field but you can’t go without studying him in my opinion and go on the be certified a practitioner in you field. It’s like trying to do calculus and algebra without knowing the multiplication tables. I am glad you have some respect fir his mind and insights.

  7. Hi Sana – I agree that it’s healthy to have this attitude to certain things in our lives, but as you say, it is also no excuse for bad behaviour and letting emotions go into freefall at the expense of others. I think there is a very fine line between the two. bb

  8. what can i say here when i am good i am good but when i am very bad i need help probelm is for me i allways know why i did sometihing resoning in my mind there is allways a reason some times that dosent messure up and people dont like it but i look after myslef as a canadian once told me is that my problem no its yours saying that that could me being defensive of my actions even if i dont know what i have done

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