Control and Anger

April 28, 2014

This is the sixth of my reflections on control and its influence on my life. I have looked at resistance, impatience, my need to be right, my need to plan and overwhelment. Now I found myself asking about control and anger. It seemed a logical connection yet anger is not a big part of my current life. In fact I have not projected my anger on someone else for many years.

My relatively calm, peaceful life rarely creates powerful reactions and although I can see many other repercussions from my unconscious desire to stay in control, anger is not one of them Yet this was not always the case.

At one time during my business career I developed a reputation as a bit of tyrant, quick to fly off the handle, and quite intolerant with the people who worked with me. I still recall an annual review I received when my boss somewhat charitably observed, “you have a reputation for having a low tolerance of stupidity”.

When I explored what this meant, I realized somewhat to my horror that my fellow employees suggested that I would lose my temper when mistakes were made. In those days I had no sense of my personal psychology and certainly absolutely no interest in exploring such things. However I was interested in my career and realized this kind of perception would not serve my future business success.

Somehow without quite knowing how I began to change. I would reign in my tendency to react at others and over the next couple of years I changed my behaviours dramatically although the perception stuck to me like a thistle to a pair of socks.

Recently I attended a reunion with many of the people that I worked with during this period. I took the opportunity to apologize to someone with whom I had been particularly aggressive and critical. Somewhat to my chagrin her response suggested the apology was long overdue. The healing winds of history had certainly not tempered her opinion of my inappropriate behaviour.

With the benefit of hindsight I can now view my behaviours through a psychological lens relative to the power of needing to be in control. Anything less than perfection would reflect on me and on how I was managing the client’s business. My sense of being in control would be diminished, I would begin to act from the place of a child fearful of losing, with anger as the outcome.

Unfortunately as a child I had a powerful role model in my father who modelled this kind of reaction. Despite my deep intention to be nothing like him, unconsciously I slipped into an old family pattern of behaviour.How worrying is that?

I can feel a sense of relief that I managed to change this particular aspect of my control reactions long before I understood the nature of my need to control. Of course it is not always a bad thing; it has contributed to my success at getting things accomplished. However it feels so freeing to begin to understand why I was the way I was and not to be held hostage to the past.

Control and My Need to be Right

April 24, 2014

I wrote this blog last November then revisited and retitled it when I began my exploration of the power complex and my need to control. After a conversation with a friend where I felt some deep shame and anxiety about the manner in which I tried to make her wrong. Inadvertently she triggered my fear of losing control and I reacted in a way that was a clear sign of a complex engaging. My relocation helped me to see that my need to be right is a way I put up walls to protect my carefully constructed control.

Many of my friends through the decades will have noticed (and likely challenged) my need to be right. I used to say that I was only wrong once and that was when I thought I had made a mistake. That of course is an exaggeration yet my track record is actually good. I have always had a commitment to excellence, being informed and to getting it right that has sustained both my business and personal life.

The unfortunate side effect of this preoccupation can be obsessively arguing the point and refusing to admit even when I am wrong. In the past few years as my focus shifted from the worldly to the sacred I have become aware that true Soul work involves both the psychological and the spiritual. I have also learned a lot about attachment and how it causes suffering and I have worked hard at letting go of my need to be right.

This caused a rift with one long-standing friend who claimed I was no fun to argue with any more. I recall the moment of humbling insight when I realized that most of my facts were actually other people’s opinions. This was accompanied by the realization that truth was frequently relative. For example one man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist and that everyone feels justified in their opinions.

So I have become more reticent to take sides and more willing to entertain opposing positions. Even if I don’t agree with them I can at least not try and shout down the person expressing them. This has created a much more peaceful and constructive coexistence with my close friends and helped me guard against raising issues that I know may trigger others.

If I create a furor inadvertently with no agenda then I know any reaction is someone else’s responsibility. I have also learned that the universe has an uncanny way of ensuring I live up to my commitment to unravel my personal psychology by setting the perfect trap. The same way a spider weaves an apparently innocent, gossamer web, the universe creates the perfect environment for my issues to emerge.

Recently I organized a major retreat involving ninety-five attendees. My role included registration, payment and eventually room assignments. At check-in someone came to me and complained, “How come I have twin beds in my room when single people have doubles” My response was quick and reactive, ‘Well you must have requested it.” He protested that he would never have done such a thing but I was so convinced of my perfect system that it never entered my head that I could have made a mistake. I realize now that to even consider I was mistaken would have thrown my sense of being in control.

Fortunately I could fix the problem as a couple had cancelled the day before but I went away aggrieved at his manner and attitude. I have observed in myself that it is very difficult to take responsibility for my behaviour when I am in the midst of the feelings. After talking it out with a couple of friends, the feelings of hurt and misjudgment dissipated and I let it go.

When I got home I checked his registration and found out to my horror I had made an error. Feeling mortified I sent him an abject apology but went no further in assessing my reaction and response. Those of you who follow my scribblings will recognize unconscious resistance setting in. The cosmos has developed a SWAT rapid response to my resistance; it immediately presented a parallel situation for my “enjoyment”.

The next morning I am sharing a conference call with two friends and regaling them with some of the more outrageous stories about what happens when one tries to organize ninety-five well-meaning members of a spiritual gathering to a retreat. (For example one woman booked attendance for herself and her husband. His response was to cancel the credit card.) It had become particularly dramatic during the two weeks prior to the conference with seven people canceling.

One of my friends hoped that she had done nothing to exacerbate my situation. I recalled that she had tried to cancel a couple of weeks before. Her response was immediate suggesting that this was only because I had a poorly defined cancelation policy. I thought it had been really clear, “Refunds are not guaranteed and will be negotiated based on final attendance.” She retaliated that I should have set a date and clearly communicated it. I noticed my desire to argue the point then chose the path of asking if we could discontinue the conversation as I did not think I wanted to carry on.

After the phone call was over I sat and pondered my feelings and energy around the discussion and this time knew I had some exploration to do. Obviously a complex had engaged. It was only then that I realized the similarity of the two incidents. In both cases I wanted to be seen as right. In fact in the moment I could not entertain the possibility of being wrong. In the first example I was wrong; in the second there was certainly some grey area, I had not mentioned the cancelation policy since my original communication in May of 2012. Once again my need for perfect control had been threatened.

The complex once it began to unravel was easy to follow. James Hollis, Jungian analyst and author of In The Dark Wood, suggests that all anxiety and reaction will stem back to the core wounds of abandonment and overwhelment and how we dealt with them as children.

One of my mechanisms to handle that sense of being overpowered by a powerful world was to take control of the situation and being right was an essential part of that control. When this was challenged there was a risk of the fortress being undermined and my job became to defend it. The child within me could not take the risk of the walls falling and getting overwhelmed.

I decided I needed to write to my friend and explain and apologize. It took five drafts before I got it right. When I am responding to something sensitive like this I check each response out by drawing a rune and asking if this is the one I may send. Each negative rune resulted in redrafting and taking out more and more of the self-justification.

The final draft was simple and to the point. “Sorry we got into the refund issue I noticed I was feeling a little reactive and needed to let go. (The complex around needing to be right.) Thanks for your feedback, I realize for the next one I will clearly state that no refunds are guaranteed after the final payment date so everyone understands instead of “Refunds are not guaranteed and will be negotiated based on final attendance.” In fact I will be able to refund everyone the majority of their money.” The rune I drew? – Joy, it seemed the perfect ending.

Control and Overwhelment

April 12, 2014
Elements of Control

Elements of Control

I love the whimsy of the universe. In November last year I began asking myself the question, “where am I stuck?” The question was posed by eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis in his brilliant audio book Through The Dark Wood. Nothing seemed to come to me except I began to find these little elastic hair bands that women use to tie back their hair in ponytails. It was weird; they seemed to be everywhere; I began to collect them; I sensed they must symbolize meaning of some kind but for the life of me I could not figure out what it was.

Eventually I got bored, I still noticed them but I let them lie. Then this morning, a beautiful sunny day, I noticed this particularly beautiful purple one glistening in the sun. It is my favourite colour and I don’t have one like it in my collection so I picked it up. I stared at it and asked myself what do these things actually do. The answer that popped in to my head was “control hair”.

I began to laugh, control has been the theme of my personal exploration since February – “how does my need to control impact my life?” I have written three blogs on the subject already and realize there are at least a couple more to pen. It began in Puerto Vallarta airport when I got really impatient in a protracted line up at the United Airlines check-in.

After I got home I realized that this impatience stemmed from loss of control. Since then I have had experiences to help me see the relationship between control and my compulsion to plan, between control and resistance and most recently control and my need to be right.

Last week during a conversation with a friend I noticed a reaction occur. We were having a disagreement and I felt energy in my body. I should know by now that this is a sign to go inward however I could not stop myself from arguing my point. In hindsight I noticed that I had been disparaging, dismissive and aggressive in my need to prove my point.

Finally after the heat of battle had diminished, I was able to ask myself the question about what was going on? The energy and the autonomous reaction suggested a complex had been triggered. I realized that she had inadvertently threatened the control I was exerting over a specific event in my life. My reaction was not only about the present; it was a charged message from history carrying its own energy or what C.G. Jung defined as a complex.

The root goes back a long way. Hollis would argue that all of us as children are faced with dealing with our inherent powerlessness in face of the world. We do our best to manage our overwhelment. There are three basic responses that can become ingrained: 1) Avoidance – to forget, suppress, repress, project onto to others, distract, disassociate. 2) Birth of power complex – we try and gain power over our environment. 3) Compliance. – To get along you go along. Being nice can become pathological.

I can see that at times that each of these can come into play. My need to control comes from the power complex. Exploring this has required me to unravel the first twenty-four years of my life.

I became independent at a very young age due to having three older siblings and two younger. I can still recall how free of interference my life was up until the age of six when something terrible happened. I was sent to school.

For the next twelve years I had very little control. In fact at the age of eleven my parents sent me to a boarding school that had much in common with a jail. Then after leaving my life became equally controlled at home by a dominating, religious father. My fear seemed to prevent me from leaving until I was twenty-one.

I went to Canada but never felt really in control of my life. It was not until I was in my mid twenties that life began to change. In hindsight I believe the combination of strict parental controls and the lack of social preparation at an all boys school severely impacted my growth and development until the age of twenty-four when finally I took control of my life.

Everything changed; I developed a new sense of confidence and freedom; my success in life began. It is not difficult to see why my need to control has been so dominant in my life.

My control was the secret to happiness and success however, underneath that control is a scared child in fear of being overwhelmed once again. My control helps me deal with uncertainty, anxiety and ambiguity. This is where the complex resides. Frequently I have no conscious sense of how I try to control my life. So when it is threatened my reactions are unconscious and those of a fearful child.

Listening recently to a lecture series that James Hollis conducted from his book What Matters Most, I heard these words, “Reflexive anxiety patterns are acquired because we had to cope. It is important not to judge them but we must become conscious of them.” “The present is sabotaged and undermined by the data and management systems of the past.”

He encourages us to ask the question whether it is acceptable to have life governed by the perceptions and strategies we needed to have a child. In my opinion it is understandable but not acceptable.

I sense that by becoming conscious of these patterns I begin to free myself from them. My journey is to maintain vigilance and continue my commitment to unravel my psychology. The words of St Francis interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky come to mind, “Darkness is an unlit wick; it just needs your touch Beloved, to become a sacred flame.”




Control and Planning

April 4, 2014

I am engrossed in planning my upcoming trip to Europe; I notice how much I enjoy the process. Sometimes I think I enjoy the preparation more than the actual experience. Then to my amusement I realize this is another face of my need to control. Planning is a way I avoid anxiety; it diminishes risk; it is yet another way I confront the powerful other.

Eminent Jungian psychologist James Hollis, author of Hauntings among his many books, describes control as a way at an early age we try and gain power over our environment. He suggests the birth of a power complex is a way we cope with feeling powerless in a powerful world and leads to the need to take control. This power complex can assume some relatively positive guises – education as an example. I realize planning is an extension of my need to control.

The ability to plan and strategize was a key aspect of my becoming successful in the business world. It certainly is effective to minimize unexpected challenges when I travel. However when I saw the clear relationship between planning and my need to control, I began to reflect on what perhaps were the downsides.

Suddenly I have clarity on why I feel so upset when plans go wrong and why I plan so carefully to avoid the eventuality of mishap. Because my planning is directly linked to a child’s need to control, when plans go awry I tend to slip into the overwhelmed reaction of a child not an adult. Momentarily I lose my ability to problem solve as an adult. My family refers to it as the “Simpson Spin”, a spiraling out of control that impedes finding a solution.

Ghost RanchHowever over-planning can eliminate spontaneity and risk missing out on those magical unexpected moments that arise when there is no plan or plans have to change. For example on a road trip last October the US National Park system shut down decimating my planned holiday in the South-West. Yet once I got over my childish pique and looked for alternatives, I discovered the amazing Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, which became the high point of my whole trip.

My reflection assumes a greater significance as I make a decision to challenge my comfort zone and subject myself to unnecessary anxiety. I am taking a train to Holyhead in North Wales then catching a ferry to Ireland the next day. I am about to book accommodation and the ferry but I pause. The train should arrive forty-minutes before the ferry leaves so I could make it to Dublin the same day. This would maximize the time I can spend in Ireland however it is by no means guaranteed. I can feel the anxiety about the train being late and of having nowhere to stay.

However I think it is time to face my fears. Hollis suggests that anxiety is a child state and that we need to convert it into a fear that can be managed. What is the worst that can happen – I spend the night in the ferry terminal? I think I can live with that.