Taming Your Inner Control Freak
Anyone else hate that feeling of being totally out of control?
There are a number of reasons why I think motherhood is potentially harder for some of us than it was for previous generations – too many for one blog post, so more another time – but today I want to talk about a biggie – CONTROL.
I like structure, I like control, I like certainty – these helped me excel at my corporate career. But I don’t think they set me up well for motherhood. Most of us grew up being told that the world was our oyster, we could do whatever we wanted, we could have it all – the amazing career and blissfully happy kids and a happy family life. And in so many ways this belief is truly fantastic. This belief has led to the emergence of so many pioneering and independent-thinkers, ambitious and high achieving woman, who have proved that they are equally as capable as men at controlling the boardrooms.
However, in this breading of independent, ambitious woman have we also fostered personality traits with strong tendencies towards perfection and a generation of woman who are used to being in control? It is often these tendencies in high achievers that help them excel in their careers. But these tendencies are also often linked to anxiety or depressive disorders, even without throwing a baby into the mix. It’s therefore not surprising that motherhood can seriously knock many of us off kilter, when our tendencies towards control and perfection are tested to the max on a daily, or at times hourly, basis. From the birth itself, to the sleep, the feeding, the getting dressed, the tantrums, the starting school, the shouting back (I could go on.. and on..) – we constantly find ourselves completely out of our depths and out of control. Not only do tendencies towards perfection and control cause a huge amount of stress and anxiety, these tendencies can also mean we are even less likely to seek help or admit when they are struggling or not coping. Some of us also find ourselves running back to their careers in order to pull back some sense of control in our lives.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe woman have always had these issues with perfection and control and it has nothing to do with our careers – after all they have been controlling households for centuries. What do you think?
“The reality is that tomorrow is certainly uncertain and no matter how many expectations we form, tomorrow will come, tomorrow will do, and it will be what it will be” – Lori Deschene
I was recently very interested to hear (thanks for sharing Elizabeth of The Mummy Coach @themummycoach.co.uk) that there has actually been a research study conducted by Swansea University showing “The association between use of infant parenting books that promote strict routines, and maternal depression, self-efficacy, and parenting confidence”. This does not surprise me at all. Many of us consume these parenting books with the miss-guided belief that they will give us a sense of control as we enter motherhood, or give us back control when we are in the midst of overwhelm. But I think our lives as mothers would be much simpler without these pre-formed expectations of how things will (or maybe even should?) be or the belief that we can fix or control things with the right information. Yes there are a few occasions where the information is useful or it really does work for your child / baby, but this information can often set us up for even more disappointments and feelings of failure when we realise we really are not in control. Could I have coped without the parenting books? Probably not. I might have felt like I was totally out of control and drowning at sea.
You might not be surprised to hear that we did control crying with both of our kids. My daughter at 6 months when I couldn’t cope with the lack of control over naps lengths and the severe sleep deprivation anymore, and my son at 4 months. Despite my craving for control, this was not an easy decision and caused a lot of grief. I wanted the control but the sound of their crying sliced at every nerve in my body. I think if I’m honest some of my most stressful and darkest moments as a mother have been struggling with my lack of control over my kids’ sleep and of course their feeding.
As I’ve said, I like structure, I like control, I like certainty and I don’t think these traits set me up well for motherhood. I kind of wish someone had sat me down beforehand or earlier in my motherhood journey and helped me recognise these traits – and maybe even given me some tools to manage them! How about you?
So how can we soften our control issues and surrender to uncertainty and imperfection? Well it’s certainly not easy and I’m still learning at this, but here are a few techniques I have found do really help with acceptance and letting go. I’d love to hear about more tools though so please share your wisdom!
“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway” – Steve Maraboli
The first step is noticing when you are in control or perfectionist mode – recognising the stress and tension build up and consciously shifting our energy towards acceptance.
We are typically trying to control things because of what we fear will happen if we don’t. It can help to ask yourself a series of questions. The first thing to ask yourself is: What exactly is it that I am afraid of? What do I think will happen if I let go? – What do I think will happen if he doesn’t eat today? What do I think will happen if he doesn’t sleep?
Next it is important to ask ourselves: Do I know this will happen for certain or is it only a possibility? Often when kids and sleep are involved, we know from our past experience what this is likely to result in – tired, shouty kids, an exhausted broken mummy – and the thought is pretty horrendous. But is there a chance that actually it wont be as bad as you think?
So finally, it’s helpful to ask yourself: Would it actually be the end of the world if it did happen? Would I manage to muddle through anyway? Maybe there are also other changes you could make to help that eventuality less stressful even if it did happen.
By asking ourselves these questions we can often significantly increase our acceptance of the situation.
Make it Visual
Some people also find visualisation techniques helpful with acceptance – one idea I have read about is to imagine yourself rowing a boat against the current and then letting go of the oars and letting the boat drift backwards downstream. Another idea I like is to imagine yourself holding on to a bunch of helium balloons and then letting them go and watching them drift off into the sky.
Make it Physical
Clench your fist as tightly as possible – or use a stress ball if you have one – for 3-4 seconds and then completely relax it and imagine letting go of your control with it. When we are struggling with control or perfectionist issues we will most likely experience some physical tension somewhere in the body. Try to pin point this tension and make a conscious effort to relax it. If you find it difficult to release the tension t can help to tense it even more, a bit like you did with the fist, and then relax.
There are a couple of brilliant mindfulness which combine a lot of this thinking – i.e. re-framing the mindset, but also relaxing the tension in our body and re-centering ourselves. I find these techniques really helpful for practising acceptance – relaxing my grip on the need for control and letting go, in the moment.
The first technique uses the acroymn SPACE:
Stop – stop and breath consciously – bringing your attention to your breathing for a few breaths
Posture – next notice your posture and gently allow your spine to straighten towards the sky. Sit tall or maybe even adopt a warrior pose.
Allow – notice your experience right now, what thoughts are running through your mind, what emotions are you feeling, what sensations – allow them to happen with a gentle kindness and without judgement, and let them pass again
Centre – draw your attention back to your breath and hold it there for a few breaths
Expand – finally expand your attention to your whole body, and possibly even the space around your body for a few moments, breathing naturally.
The second is similar but with greater emphasis on exploring the body sensations and distancing ourselves from our emotions- it uses the acronym RAIN:
Recognise – recognise what is going on right now – what emotions, what sensations are you feeling in your body right now – and giving it a name e.g. stress, anxiety,
Allow – allow the experience to be there, just as it is – feel those emotions and sensations just as they are, without judgement – accepting them
Investigate – investigate the experience with kindness and curiosity, notice what are the most dominant sensations in your body e.g. the sensations in the body – and investigate it
Non-identifying – distancing yourself from the experience – knowing that you are bigger than the experience, knowing that by observing the experience it is not you and knowing that it will pass
These techniques are brilliant coping strategies for creating space and dealing with a number of emotions, or stressful situations, not just for managing issues around control and perfectionism. I can highly recommend giving them a go. If you find it easier you can listen to a guided meditation using these techniques on the Buddhify App.
I’d love to hear whether you agree with my views above and how you get on with any of these strategies, or indeed any strategies of your own. Let me know in the comments or feel free to contact me HERE.
Good luck letting go of control mamas! #wereinittogether 💜