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Transforming Fear to Joy

Back to Basics — The ABCs of Control

The level of structure that people seek always is in direct ratio to the amount of chaos they have inside.     Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

As with any behaviour, in its extreme, control becomes dysfunctional and even delusional.  For me, the clearest memory of this occurred when I first left home to attend university.  Until one of my male friends said to me, “Quit hitting me,” I was completely unaware that when I wanted someone’s attention I gave them what I thought was a “love tap” on the arm.

After some investigation of my reasons for doing this, I also discovered that besides seeking attention, my lack of physical contact with close family and friends triggered this unconscious habit.  What I really wanted was TLC, but instead of initiating or asking for it, I was engaging in a behaviour whose consequence was more likely to alienate and push people away.

Thank goodness for the one person who told me the truth, which led me to stop the unconscious inappropriate habit and replace it with appropriate actions.  If I had continued with the “love tap” behaviour for the next 40 years of my life, very likely it would have morphed into more violent actions, and I would still be deluding myself about what love is or is not.

Inadvertently, our delusional thinking often leads us to counter what we perceive as chaos with control.  We attempt to control the economy, the environment, our children, our partners, and those who feel, think and believe differently than us.  This high need for control is a red flag signalling our insecurity, which has a reason for existing.  Applied Behaviour Analysis teaches us that every behaviour has a function as well as a consequence (result) that can reward (reinforce) or replace that behaviour.

Fortunately, my student friend from university triggered a replacement behaviour.  Now, when I touch people with my hand, I think of this touch as channelling my TLC and love into them.  The consequence of this new behaviour is radically different.  Try it for yourself, and see what results you incur.

Ultimately, our insecure need for control evolves into the act of manipulation.  Only a couple of years after my university event, another friend called me on my manipulating behaviour.  This was the next big lesson I learned as a young adult — did I want to