By definition, control is the influence of behaviours and/or events under one’s will. So when someone says that he or she is in control, it means that this person is restricting behaviours and/or events according to his or her command and expectations.
This however does not necessarily have to be in association with other people and the environment, people can have a sense of control over their inner world by regulating their own emotions, reactions and behaviours towards stimuli, such as dieting, heated conversations such as arguments, or disruptions in the environment such construction noise (Mirowsky, 1995).
What does control give us?
Look through the lens of evolution, being in control of what happens in your life, both inside and around you, increases the chance of survival. In addition to this, keeping the inner and outer environment consistent to the expectations of the individual provides a sense of certainty, able to predict and be better prepared for what happens next (Siegel, 2008).
What happens if we lose control?
Unfortunately, it is impossible to maintain control of everything happening in our lives. One such example is the situation COVID-19 has brought us, having a profoundly negative effect on our sense of control in the workplace and on the outcomes of the rising cases in both Malta and all across the globe, so how does this affect us? As mentioned before, having a sense of control gives us a sense of certainty, having no control and living with uncertainty can cause anxiety (Cohen, 2011). The feeling of being uncertain about the obsessed object or situation may leave us stressed, overthinking about the potential events that may arise (Robinson, 2020). Symptoms may be nightmares, lack of concentration and depression.
How can we accept lack of control?
The truth we face, and tend to struggle with, is that we cannot control everything. We cannot control what other people do, or the changes in our environment, how can we accept this lack of control? According to Morin (2017), one way of accepting is refocusing your thoughts and energy on things you can control. We may not be able to control how people react to event, such as the rise in COVID-19 cases for instance, but we can focus our energy on controlling how we react to the event, staying at home and social distancing. Another way, according to the same author, is by affirming and reaffirming positive evaluations about ourselves. People tend to have negative feelings such as discouragement or self-doubt when losing control. By reminding ourselves that we are stronger than we think and can handle ourselves boosts our self-esteem, and self-confidence (Morin, 2017).
As a conclusion, we may not be able to control everything around us. As much as we grieve for the lack of control, we are still capable of having a sense of control over other things; our perceptions, reactions, thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Accepting that we can’t control sh*it, is letting it all go.
Cohen, E. D. (2011, May 22). The fear of losing control: What’s behind this fear and how you can overcome it. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-would-aristotle-do/201105/the-fear-losing-control.
Mirowsky, J. (1995). Age and the sense of control. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58(1), 31-43. Doi: 10.2307/2787141.
Morin, A. (2017, May 13). 6 ways to stop stressing about things you can’t control. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2017/05/13/6-ways-to-stop-stressing-about-things-you-cant-control/#6df684be30db.
Robinson, B. E. (2020, March 17). The psychology of uncertainty: How to deal with COVID-19 anxiety. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-mindset/202003/the-psychology-uncertainty.
Siegel, D. (2008). Mindsight, Oxford: Oneworld.
Lyon Vella is a Psychology student at the University of Malta and a Chat Bar volunteer with Willingness.