It lies deep within human nature ... the need to be in control of our environment; it must - our very survival depends on it.
We have an innate drive to understand things that influence our lives so that we can have some control over them, some control over our own survival and existence.
Any situation that we cannot understand or control remains, in a sense, unresolved, anything might happen; the situation has the potential to cause us harm and as such remains frightening.
This drive has led humans to conquer the oceans, the highest mountains and outer space and we'll search a lifetime to achieve insight into something we feel has power over us. When we have a sense of control over something we feel safe for we know we can handle whatever happens. However, knowing that we cannot control something causes constant anxiety.
Anxiety and panic, phobias, OCD and depression seem so strong because they involve feelings of not being in control; we don't understand them and feel that they control us.
A sense of being in control is reflected in love, joy, knowledge and freedom; lack of control involves fear and despair. Even resistance to and recovery from illness
can depend on how much control we think we have. This is why doctors now give us as much information as possible about what is happening to us and why.
When we feel weak and inadequate, with little power or significance we can never feel in control. Studies with groups of baboons have shown that those lower down
in the social hierarchy, with little power or influence are in a state of constant stress.
Feeling that we have no control is damaging to us in numerous ways. So much so, that we spend our lives trying to be in control; every one of us, not just those with
anxiety-related problems. Everything is ordered and categorised to help us know what we are dealing with. People are labelled: married or single, rich or poor, employed or unemployed; superstition and lucky charms are used to ward off bad luck and gamblers devise systems in attempts to control random outcomes.
Lack of control can be so anxiety arousing that we don't want to be in that position. Our inner-self won't let us. The basis for many optical illusions and magic tricks, our mind will ‘fill in' any information that is missing in a situation, rather than leave it incomplete.
A certain amount of control is not only natural and normal, but also necessary. We control what we eat and how we exercise to keep our body fit and healthy and we keep clean to avoid infection and disease. However, an excessive need for control indicates a problem. The correct amount in the right way is beneficial but too much, based on insecurity and desperate need, is harmful.
Anxiety and depression problems reflect this desperate need.
Without exception, they comprise rigid, set behaviours - we need to be in control, nothing can be left to chance; we cannot stand chaos and inflexibility. Without exception, they involve ‘thinking too much' - a constant search for reasons and answers; we have to understand them, we must know what is going on; again, to be in control.
By Terry Dixon B.Sc.
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