Control and My Need to be Right

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.

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