Feeling in control
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Veronica Grigore, BABCP (Accred), Member of BPS, division of Clinical Psychology
23rd November, 20140 Comments
As soon as we experience difficulties and emotional upheavals, there is a strong sense of losing control and with that a desire/urge to retrieve it. It is as if ‘feeling a sense of control’/balance/emotional equilibrium is essential for our survival. Mental steadiness and emotional stability equates a sense of control.
From an evolutionary perspective it is understood that being in control of our environment means that we will have had more chances of survival.
These notes are concerned with seeking a sense of control as a way of attending to our mental health/well-being.
It is to be clarified that feeling in control is a felt sense and therefore a feeling/impression lived and experienced viscerally and is strongly associated with the belief that ‘I am in control’ vs 'I am not in control’.
The sense of control includes:
- The need to know/have knowledge. Children want their parents to have a sense that they know what they are doing. People seek advice from professionals and trust that they know what they are doing. Such learning only comes from direct experience that enables us to differentiate situations and pay attentions to subtleties.
- A sense of predictability. Living in a predictable/an unpredictable environment is strongly associated with metal health. Being able to make predictions with some accuracy/errors is important in order to take/avoid risks. Life is not compatible with taking no risks.
- Options/choices to choose from. A sense of control comes from choices, alternatives. We might not be in control of our feelings or thoughts, beliefs as long as they are automatic and we have no awareness of them.
- Automatic responses/rituals give us a false sense of control. Believing that we can prevent bad things from happening if we engage in certain rituals holds a questionable logic to it, but many people suffering from OCD find it hard to break through it. It is the sense of control that prevents them from dropping rituals/habits.
When people exercise choices, they feel in control. The most obvious source of control is our behaviour, what we do, we don’t do, the activities we engage with. Planning activities ahead is one of the most helpful strategies to tackle low mood. Keeping a diary is the most used tool by people who are active. Our mind works better in the presence of predicting how the week is going to look like.
Too many choices will impair the decision making, and therefore narrowing down the options to number two will help decision making as we make decisions by contrast. We know this already from our experiences as children and parents.
Claiming a sense of control comes with increased awareness of possibilities, alternatives and choices. With our thoughts, the same applies. As our thoughts are not the only interpretations of the events, considering plausible alternative explanations increases the sense of control.
The moral/key message of these notes is that feeling in control can only be achieved in the presence of options/alternatives/choices and that rituals/habits give us a false sense/illusion of control.
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