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Control Less, Trust More

“The closest to being in control we’ll ever be is in that moment when we realize we’re not.” ~Brian Kessler

My 9-year-old son said something so profoundly right that it kept me awake. He said that in order for him to be happier I would need to let go of controlling him all the time.

Now granted he is young, and believe me, if I didn’t tell him to get dressed he’d run outside in PJs, but I was struck by his wisdom because this is also my obstacle to becoming happier.

In the past, the more I felt out of control, the more I tried to control others. We moved many times, sometimes to different continents for my husband’s job. We had children, and not all of them planned.

My husband and I drifted apart over the years, realizing we are very different and have completely diverging core values. I became sick with an eating disorder, a scary and tricky disease.

I felt overwhelmed, scared, alone, and lost. This is where the controlling mind came to rescue and took over. In time, my eating disorder became stronger than me, and yet also a familiar friend.

I tried to control both my eating and my body—and also the lives of everyone around me.

The emptier my marriage felt, the more I tried and control my husband’s behavior at home. The more I felt overwhelmed with my job as a mother, the more I structured my kids’ activities, often making them do things they didn’t want to do. Needless to say that didn’t help to foster my relationships with them.

I tried to control every aspect of their lives. Whether it was the lunches that needed to be made with a specific type of bread, or the homework having to be done at this time of the day, or the decision of which movie to watch, I told them how to do it and had a hard time letting them make their own choices.

I was hardly ever wrong—at least I didn’t think so. I thought control equals security equals happiness, up until the day when I took a close look at my life and found that nobody around me was smiling anymore.

They were miserable. They lit up when their Dad came home because he did things with them that were fun and, best of all they never knew what would happen with him. With me they could foresee everything, and the routines were never fun or joyful.

That made them bored, angry, and sad.

And it hurts to admit that—but the great thing about what my son told me is that I have the power to change.

I don’t want my children to grow up in an environment where things don’t flow, where creativity doesn’t get sparked often, and where the predominant facial expression is a frown. I have to change.

That is more than scary because it means that I need to take a close look at things I want to have control over and understand the reason why.

When we become over-controlling, there is always an underlying reason. Our job is to determine what that is and then do something about it.

I’ve realized I keep a tight control of my schedule to avoid having breaks, because I’m afraid to face the fact that I don’t always know what to do—and I think that my self-worth depends on my doing not my being.

This means I’ll need to face my fears of simply being with myself, and my instinct to distract myself, and I will have to come up with new ways of being.

My plan is to identify things I enjoy doing and make a list. This is the good thing about having a controlling mind—when I channel it effectively, it allows me to create great, efficient lists!

One of those things will be sitting still—not doing things, and for sure not multitasking. Meditation is my prescription drug. It involves listening and just being with my feelings of sadness, boredom, and all the others I have bottled up and hid behind activity.

I’ve also created a strategy that will allow my son to let me know when I’m being too controlling. We’ve agreed on a code word that’s the last name of a famous soccer player. The deal is that he will only say this word when he feels I am being overly controlling. This will prompt me to think about my intentions, and then back off if I realize it’s not in his best interest.

It can be humbling to give someone else this kind of power—especially since our little ones can really work us at times—but I feel fortunate that he hasn’t tried to abuse it yet!

I’ve also realized I need to accept that I can’t control how everything unfolds in my life.

In the past, I thought that if I controlled everything around me, and created as much structure as possible in my daily life, there wouldn’t be any surprises, and that would make me happy.

I’ve accepted, however, that I am not omnipotent or all powerful, and no amount of planning will change that the future is unknown. Still, I believe the universe has a plan for me, and my job isn’t to define or understand it. It’s just to trust it.

This, I’ve learned is how we let go of the need to control everything: to surrender more and stress less.

My mantra, therefore, is simple: Let go, have trust, and everything will be just right.

I will write it on post-it notes and stick it to control-crime-scenes like the kitchen or the kids’ bathroom.

This is what it means to “live life on life’s terms.” It means accepting that the future is going to be unpredictable, and even if we’re scared, we can accept this and move forward, trusting that we can handle whatever happens.

Photo by Liamfm

Avatar of Susanne von Borcke

About Susanne von Borcke

Susanne von Borcke grew up in Germany and has lived in four different countries. She considers the USA her home. She loves to write, and one of these days she plans to write a book. She enjoys reading, playing piano, and practicing yoga. Visit her at www.dailyblurp.blogspot.com.

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  • Bettina

    This really resonates with me. i too have had an eating disorder in the past and whilst I have overcome this disease I didn’t really ever associate it with my need for control, but it definitely was. Thank you for sharing these reflections, given me lots to think about.

    Bettina @ http://lovelylittleone.blogspot.com

  • Mrs. King

    To avoid disappointment, practice for just one day having ZERO EXPECTATIONS of the conduct of others.

  • B.

    Thank you for the reminder! I don’t believe that unconditional love can coexist with a lack of trust. In my relationship, it’s always a challenge to just let go and trust my partner to do the right thing. Trying to control him into doing the right thing ends up stressful for both of us.

  • http://ivegotadrillandimnotafraidtouseit.blogspot.com/ Paula

    This made me cry. I’ve been having the same thoughts of late, and I’ve let my children veg out in front of the TV after school today when usually the ‘rule’ is 6pm for an hour. You are so right, I’ve forgotten what to do, how to have fun, how to just be. Thank you for opening my eyes that I need to just let go and trust.

  • SB

    Thank you for the reminder.  Although I think I can be fun for my kids (as the primary care giver), there is no question I need some predictability to the days events.  I think this is still possible without being controlling.  Kids need that too.  Sometimes life can be stressful for them when there’s no order.   I think flexibility is key and of course how you respond.  My reaction to something is far more important than the event itself.
    Good luck with your plan.

  • tiny buddha fan

    Oh my goodness, thank you so much for sharing! I relate to your post so much that I’m thinking we must be twins! ;) I’m also guilty of busying myself to avoid sitting alone with myself, my feelings, and anxiety. Thanks for the insight and ideas.
    Peace, love, and blessings!

  • Taylorbsantos

    Thank you, I needed this today.

  • Surrender

    Thank you for this post. It is precisely what I am working on as of late. For me personally, my control stems from fear and vulnerability. Letting go scares me. I am working toward surrendering to God and going with the flow. Control is an illusion. Happiness is an inside job, and relying on external circumstances to make me happy sets me up for absolute crazy-making. Good Luck to all on your journey.

  • http://www.existation.com/ Rachel

    This is fantastic!! I am a control freak to the extent of trying to control things that haven’t even happened yet, or might not happen at all. So I guess that makes me a preemptive control freak. And in doing so, I exhaust myself constantly. I feel as though if I let go of some of my (admittedly imaginary) control, the world will come crashing down around me and only bad things will happen. It’s toxic. I actually wrote about it in a blog post on my blog recently:

    http://www.existation.com/2012/02/past-present-future-future.htmlThis piece really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.existation.com/ Rachel

    That got messed up, the end of it should say:

    http://www.existation.com/2012/02/past-present-future-future.html

    This piece really resonated with me, thanks for sharing!

  • 1DannyMiller2

    Suzanne, thank you for your insightful post.   I write extensively about letting go of control (and how to do it and enjoy the rewards that follow) and I have found that fear is the primary catalyst for our harmful controlling actions.   The more we can face and process our fears,
    the need to control lessens commensurately.  Ultimately, it is a matter of accepting life as it is and people as they are, and as you say, trusting that everything will work out okay.
    Even letting go of a little control at a time can work wonders, and the more confidence we gain in the process, the more willing we are to let go of control.

    In a very real way, the best way we can gain control of our lives–to the extent that is possible, and it really isn’t–is by letting go of control in our lives.

    Danny
    http://www.losingcontrolfindingserenity.com

  • Maggie Macaulay

    Beautiful post and it couldn’t have been better timed.  A friend asked me last week what the difference was between parenting (where we set limits) and being controlling.  I decided to write about it and have quoted you throughout!  It will be on the Whole Hearted Parenting Blog, http://www.WholeHeartedParenting.blogspot.com, shortly.  Thanks, and I hope it will bring readers your way!   

  • http://www.hang-in-there.com/ Vic Lawrence

    I took me a long time to learn how to let go of things I wanted to control. Now I have learned to let faith be the controller of my destiny.

  • http://grattitude.squarespace.com/ Jenna Joy

    I appreciated how heart-felt this confession seemed. There is so much power in approaching an internal issue without shame, with standing up to it and saying “I can change you and I will.” I support your resolution to let go! One of the beauties of such an open, expanded global community is that, even though I haven’t met you face to face, you’ve affirmed that every human has a struggle and I’m so thankful that you shared your story with me (us). 

  • Flexprogress

    This sounds just like my home life, my wife has had a lot of hard times in her life , she is an amazing lady but has to be in control of everything , i fortunately recognise this & can counteract this, unfortunately for our daughters they can’t & always seem to be on the receiving end of such controlling episodes, i may show my wife this article to see if it triggers off an epiphany, great article thanks very much.

  • Dshort2010

    Through our children sometimes come the biggest lessons.  He had it right as well as you knowing it was also the key to your happiness.
    Control can kill so much…it is only in letting go that we are truly able to see all that life has to offer us.  

  • Susanne

    I am glad you overcame your ED…. and wish you happiness today and all days

  • Susanne

    You are so welcome and I am glad I could help but it wasn’t me opening your eyes it was you yourself…. 

  • Susanne

    Thank you so much for your kind words.

  • Susanne

    Just read it… great work! I love your honesty! Thanks for sharing

  • Susanne

    Hi twin…thanks so much for your words, it makes me realize how much we are all connected!

  • Susanne

    yep couldn’t have said it better

  • Susanne

    You are welcome and I hope that your wife finds out for herself that letting go can be the beginning of a more meaningful relationship with her family

  • Susanne

    I am deeply humbled by your words! Thank you so much

  • Susanne

    Thank you so much for your comment. I will read your book… and keep on trying to let go of control little by little. It is a process but even the little results are promising and so much more smiles producing!

  • Susanne

    I am learning this more and more each day. It is faith in someone bigger that is setting me free…

  • http://twitter.com/RobinsPeace Robin LaMoure

    Thank you, just what I needed reminding of today

  • dreamOn1988

    I can totally relate to what you say in this article. I would really like to know how did you let go and start trusting in everything going fine in the future?? I have become a control freak to an extent of becoming obsessive about my future with my bf. I really want us to be together but there is no certainty and he is not ready to commit to marriage. So I find my self obsessively thinking about it. Constantly worried.Suggesting ways of “improving” the relation. It’s like a viscous circle. I can’t seem to let go cause I am so worried about the future and us not being together. He can’t take a decision cause he thinks I am strangling him by constantly worrying and trying to control this relation. I really want to feel and be free. And trust that whatever happens will be good. Can you tell me ways in which I could do that? It’s like my entire world is only revolving around this.

  • Work in Progress

    Synchronistic indeed, coming across this post today. I have been doing some work on releasing control tendencies in my own life recently, & very much appreciate the universe’s indication that I am on the right track.  Nice to get some insight, from someone as conscious as the writer, on a subject all too familiar that I have been struggling with.

    Thank you:) from a ‘work in progress’

    Opal K

  • KFlo

    This post nearly brought me to tears, I felt that you writing about my life but this post has made me realize that it is ok to just be and live!!  thank you!! :-)

  • Bill

    There’s a lot in this post that I can identify with.  I, too, am struggling with letting go of my attempts to control everything around me.  It’s very scary, and-leaves me feeling very precarious.

    I do have one issue with the end of your post, though.  You write that your mantra is “Let go, have trust, and everything will be just right.”  The thing is, it won’t be just right.  And that’s why I myself don’t like using that kind of thinking as a rationale for letting go of being controlling.

    If everything in your life has been and will be just right, then your fear is completely absurd.  That leaves you as a simple lunatic.  I don’t think that’s correct.

    The truth is less comforting: some things will go wrong.  If your kid doesn’t eat a decent lunch, it’s entirely possible that he’ll come home in a foul mood.  You’ll have to deal with his foul mood, possibly interrupting other plans you’ve made, or frustrating other people that you’ll have to deal with.  That sucks.

    And that actually happens!  There is, in fact, a decent chance that (or something equally annoying) will happen.  Which is part of why you try to control it.  It’s not just cause you’re a lunatic!

    The rationale for letting go isn’t that you’re foolish for worrying about the consequences.  It’s that there are other consequences worth considering.  Your kid doesn’t want you being so controlling.  When you are, sure he eats a decent lunch, but he’s angry at you.  He also never learns how to make decisions for himself.  So to keep him in an ok state, you”ll need to continue controlling him.

    And therein lies the rationale for changing!  Do you want a well-fed but perpetually helpless kid who resents you?  Or a hungry kid who finally, after many pissy frustrating days, figures out for himself that mom was probably right when she said that eating a good lunch pays off?

    I’m guessing that your “everything will be just right” is probably more of a way to calm down and get through a tough moment.  But for people like you and I, who are truly and legitimately afraid of being out of control, I think it’s important not to rely on a panacea.  Real life isn’t always just right.  It’s often scary and painful.  But a fully-lived life is worth the pain and fear.

  • http://twitter.com/genebernice genebernice

    It is impossible for us to control everything and trust everyone in life. I do not agree with the sentence trust more. Mentality of people will be different, so we can’t trust them. Eating Disorders Channel

  • Pandulu

    I was just told by my husband that he was unhappy for 4 years (we’ve been married for 5) due to my controlling nature. I am willing to change hence doing research online. I was never a fan of disappointments in life – i rather not take the challenge to have no disappointment! I control every aspect of my life to avoid divergence in my daily path…i guess i went too far as to control my husband’s behavior as well.
    Thank you for your post…i really need to change my behavior. I need to constantly tell myself ‘it is ok if life takes a different path than planned …it might take longer but we will eventually get to our destination.’

  • Jeanette Carolina

    Thank you, Susan! You are amazing and beautiful. It was so kind of you to share this with the world, it is helping me too.