The moment an infant becomes self-aware (i.e. that s/he is not simply an extension of his/her parents), s/he has the ability to feel afraid. The very first fear we ever feel is the fear of being helpless. Even though we as infants may not intellectually conceptualize our dependence on others, we nonetheless understand that everything we want (or need) is given to us by others, that we cannot get these things on our own, and that by developing strategies (i.e. crying, whining, submission, guilt trips, etc.) we are able to get others to fulfill our needs...at least we hope so.
This was not just an imagined story, but rather the true state of affairs as children. We really were dependent on others for survival, and we deciphered and created ways to get others to fulfill our needs. This ability to get outside forces to give us what we wanted gave us a sense of control over our worlds; and since the recognition of our helplessness is simply too scary for small children to handle, the idea of control via manipulation became a way of avoiding this overwhelming fear and a crucial part of our survival strategy...when we were young.
Unfortunately, by the time our bodies grew powerful and capable of surviving on our own, our mental patterns and nervous systems had already been firmly programmed to continue operating and reacting to the world as though we were still helpless and incapable. Although it’s no longer true—which you may understand intellectually—there is a part of all of us that believes, whether consciously or unconsciously, that we are still helpless on some level. Now, this has become an imagined story. And the part of us that imagines this story is too afraid of facing the scary feeling of being helpless, because we never learned how to feel that fear before. Thus, we continue to use the strategy of control in order to keep us feeling safe in getting our needs met.
At this point, what we believe we actually need has been dramatically exaggerated. When things aren’t going the way we want, when someone isn’t acting the way we expect, when we’re not getting what we feel we need, instead of facing the fear of not having control over people and events outside ourselves, we come up with stories, strategies, and behaviors that aim to control or manipulate these external forces. These stories and actions help us feel more stable and in control, even though we actually cannot control anything outside ourselves. And these control behaviors lead to disconnection with others, dissatisfaction with life events, the inability to live in the present moment, and a slew of others conflicts with those forces and beings we aim to manipulate into our service.
So what’s the way out of this illusion of control? How can we start living in reality and feeling our true power to take care of ourselves now? Remember, control is a story we tell ourselves to stop being afraid of our own helplessness. So the way to stop controlling is simply to be afraid! Allow yourself to feel the fear of helplessness—the sense that you’re not in control—and in that feeling, you will be able to discover the truth of your power and ability as it stands today. By allowing and feeling that which we resist and avoid, we can recognize our true power, establish our true connection with others, and become present in the Now.