When Losing Control Is Not An Option

losing control

In my world, the word control is generally used in a negative way.   I commonly hear it applied in the sense of someone feeling dominated or pressured or “micro-managed” by another person.   I think we’ve all been there.  Everyone has felt manipulated and/or coerced to do things against their will.  And we don’t like it.  Over the years I have heard some troubling stories of people being beat up by negative control.  By contrast I have also heard stories of supposed harmful control that were actually just normal responsibility taking in relationships.  Sometimes a profoundly under-controlled individual takes offense at a colleague or supervisor simply trying to influence or encourage the person toward a constructive action.  As you can see, control in a bad way is often in the eye of the beholder.

On the most basic level, control involves impact and structure toward a desired response.  People taking active control in situations can facilitate good results.  For example:  I want my staff to end their counseling sessions at ten minutes before the hour.  No big deal: It is standard practice across the counseling world.  To facilitate that desired response, I explain my expectations to my counselors as a group.  The impact is minimal.  It is only a verbal request.  The clock and appointment calendar provides the structure.  I’m not forcing anyone to do anything.   Problems with control begin to emerge when the desired response is not forthcoming.  If this is the case, I have to increase the impact and structure.  I may have a one-on-one session with offenders and emphasize the reason this standard is important.  I may also suggest a more intrusive structure (e.g. setting an alarm) to encourage the desired response.  If I still don’t get compliance I would again have to increase both impact and structure.  The impact and structure would continue to greater levels of intrusiveness until either the desired response or a stalemate of controlling forces takes place.  Problems with control usually occur when the efforts to facilitate the desired response become extreme in terms of impact and structure.  Both the would-be controller and resistant controlee start to feel disrespected and mistreated as the interventions become more intrusive.

So, how can we deal with breakdowns on either side of the control giving/receiving?  Even though there are no easy answers, I will offer a few principles that can apply to whichever side of negative control you’re on.   First, it is always best to seek ways to share control.  Most control abuses can be negotiated by working out a solution that meets both parties’ needs.  My way or your way may be shaped into our way as both parties honestly disclose what they want and are willing to do.  Second, even though a collaborative solution is always desirable, a third party is sometimes helpful when both or one side is unwilling to budge.  An arbitrator can offer some previously overlooked suggestions for shared control.  When I am asked to function as a mediator in these cases, I keep in mind that the basic emotional state of both sides is fear.  They may present anger as primary but it is usually secondary to feeling threatened about potential negative consequences of the desired response.  In my intermediary role I try to find ways to help either/both sides feel less threatened.  Sometimes people are unwittingly scaring each other into greater levels of defensive entrenchment.  Reducing the spiraling intimidation often helps people make concessions toward a solution.

One area of life that is not subject to over control is biblical self-control.  This is a spiritual dynamic that is at the heart of Christ-likeness    Self-control is conspicuously one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22,23.  2 Peter 1:5-7 offers a look at where self-control fits in the scaffolding of a Christian’s life stance:  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  Paul uses Olympic athletes’ rigorous training to illustrate what needs to take place in our spiritual being:  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.  1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  I have never had to do a mediation for people who were overly self-controlled in Christ.  Please understand that I’m not talking about an overdeveloped goofy religiosity.  I’m talking about being absolutely and biblically controlled by the Holy Spirit.

This Mission Fortnight is getting too long.  It’s cutting into your real fortnight celebration.  Go forth and have a good one…while exercising a whole lot of godly self-control.

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