Do You feel life's circumstances leave you feeling you have no control? Here's how to get your hands back on the steering wheel. Image courtesy of vectorolie at freedigitalphotos.net
Some people seem to adjust quite well to unexpected changes in their lives. However, for some of us, change can unsettle us. Some people crave a sense of sameness and change may feel threatening to some degree.
Unless it is a shift in circumstances which was desired or self-directed and achieved, change can call on our resources and confidence to adapt
I don’t believe I have ever felt that comfortable with change that seemed out of my control. For example, when I changed schools, before it even occurred I decided that I would be unhappy! Sometimes, we may be closed-minded that the change might actually be a positive one. We may not be open to the opportunities that are waiting to present themselves to us.
Leaving high school and going to university was also incredibly scary for me. However, I was pleasantly surprised to quickly find a new group of friends, some of who I still keep in touch with today. I certainly did not anticipate this happening going into my first lecture.
I did hate saying goodbye to old friends who meant a lot to me. (It was not really good bye of course, but no longer meeting the same group of people every day essentially meant the people I associated with daily would be different.
I used to do cross-country running at school and was fairly highly placed in races. However, when I got to university, I almost always came last. This change was painful for me as I no longer had a sport I was 'good at'. Unfortunately I quit. However, if I had chosen to adapt to this change in circumstances and seen running as a way to get fit, and feel better, this change could have been an opportunity instead.
I had a romantic interest during my university years. However, it remained unrequited. I foolishly chose to stay stuck, wishing and hoping that his response would be different. I could not control another person's choice, of course. However, I could have chosen to let go and enjoy the inner strength I would have gained. I also remained close-minded to other romantic possibilities because I was determined to stay fixated on something I could not change.
The hardest change is one that I believe is universally painful for everyone to some degree – losing someone you love through death. This is something that you certainly don’t have a say in and there are no easy ways to adapt.
So, how can you hold on to some feeling ‘of control’ when things in your life seem to threaten your ability to adapt?
1. Accept that it is difficult for you at the moment and that is okay. Go easy on yourself.
2. Seek emotional support. Talk to someone, perhaps a counsellor or friend, or even journal. Try to avoid talking to those who you know will, albeit unintentionally, invalidate how you feel by telling you to ‘just get on with it’. Talk to someone who understands that the particular change in circumstances is difficult for you.
3. Try to see the positives the change can bring. For example, “when one door closes, another opens” – a new circle of friends, if moving house, jobs, educational institutions. Even a dawning of one’s own inner strength and a realisation of the preciousness of human life (in the case of the upheaval of someone’s death). Except perhaps the case of losing somebody, most unwanted or scary changes to have a silver lining.
I eventually realise the wisdom of the “Serenity Prayer” when faced with change that threatens my feelings “of being in control”. “God, give me the ability to accept the things I cannot change, strength to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I think a lot of pain can come from not knowing, or accepting “the difference”. For example, unrequited love. If we have a romantic interest in someone that is not requited, all the wishing in the world won’t change the fact that we cannot control another’s wishes or free will.
Change can actually provide us with a tremendous opportunity for the realisation that we do in fact have the resources to cope, that we are stronger than we think.
The irony is when we know we can accept the things we cannot change, this is true control, because we are in charge of our own emotional responses.
If we carry with us the knowledge that even though we can’t change undesired circumstances, we do have the strength to allow ourselves the time to process it. Self-validate that it is difficult, and eventually move through to the other side. You are in control of yourself if not the situation and this is true "control" that can't be taken away from you.
It may be difficult to realise it at the time but the clouds of unwanted change can have silver linings: discovering inner resources we didn’t know we had, new friends, new interests, a realisation we are stronger than we thought.
If we try to change and take control of things that we just don’t have a say in, unfortunately such as making someone like us – we know it is not possible. Ironically trying to control something that we don't have a say in leads us to be out-of-control. By doing this, we are questioning our own resources to adapt - we are undermining our own inner strength.
Think back over the times things have changed and you thought it could only have negative repercussions. Looking back, what positives emerged? What life lessons did you learn?
Try to approach life with an open and excited mind to change – think of life has being full of opportunities to grow, to call on your inner strength.
In fact, you can choose to cognitively restructure unwanted change as an exciting possiblity to grown, to discover new avenues, people and inner resources you did not realise you had!
Great article which really 'spoke' to me, Jussie. I agree with you about the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer. Yes, there are things we can't change and can't take control of. I have learnt to accept this and now I am older feel relieved I don't have to take responsibility for everything in life. Sometimes things don't work as we would like (boy, do I know that) but sometimes the way they turn out is great even though it involved unwanted change.