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Episode 60 - Control Freak or Vulnerably Weak?


Hey, okay, right off the bat, if you’re a control freak (and you know it if you are) let’s just get the hard truth out there: You are not in control of the world. In control of your circumstances, the people you interact with on a daily basis, or even the majority of your life. You can have self-control over your thoughts, and your actions, your words, and even your emotions. But you are not in control of other people or external factors or events. You weren’t in control of when you were born, and you won’t be in control of when you die. So why do we try so hard to control the things and people around us? Why do we feel the need to control?

What I’ve found, more often than not, is that control is driven by fear. Usually control got its foundation from an event that occurred early in life. In a time when the emotional brain, or the amygdala, ran the show. And the pre-frontal cortex, or the part of the brain that’s responsible for logic and reasoning, was not fully developed yet and was taking a back seat. The emotional brain was driving the show and was formulating all the perceptions and creating all the stories, all the narratives, about how life was going. So, it’s quite possible that this event occurred somewhere in the early years of our life. It could’ve been something like physical, verbal, or sexual abuse where you felt like you had no control over the situation. But it also could be something as simple as your sibling pulling you in a wagon downhill going way too fast. You were out of control. In any of these early life-events, emotions like fear, shame, dread, rejection, terror were experienced. And the emotional brain decided that in order to never experience those kinds of deep, painful, negative feelings again it would be best to try to manipulate and control our environment. We believed that as long as we were in control of things we could avoid them. Now, as we grew, our inner child continued to protect us from the vulnerability of fear and shame, and so we find ourselves as adults who are desperately trying to get people to act a certain way, or we’re staying away from certain challenges or anything that’s new, or we’re creating such a rigid structure around our lives so that nothing could penetrate it. But we know that’s not true at all.

There is nothing that gives more evidence to the fact that we are not in control of things as the death of a loved one. This is my personal experience. No matter how much I prayed, no matter how much I tried to intervene, no matter how much I tried to manipulate the situation, I could not stop my husband from dying. I was not in control. And not being in control makes me feel very vulnerable. I am at the effect of everything and everyone else in the world; their choices, their actions, their timing, their ability, their willingness, or not, everything. I am out of control. And that makes me afraid, and thus, vulnerable and weak.

But it’s here that we have a choice as to what to do about control and vulnerability. And let me just say, control and vulnerability do not coexist. Control protects. Control builds a fortress around our heart and mind. Control escapes or numbs out. Control makes us hide our real selves. To let go of control - which is a joke because we’ve already established that we don’t have any - to let go of the idea of control makes us feel vulnerable.

Author Brene Brown talks a lot about the power of vulnerability in several of her books. She says, “Vulnerability is the core of fear and shame and our struggle for worthiness.” Okay, that part we know. It makes sense. But this next part is what had me really digging into the concept of the power of vulnerability. She goes on to say, “But vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.”

So, in other words, when you allow yourself the vulnerability of being weak - and here in this context, to let go of control - you are opening yourself up to experience things in life that control would not allow you to experience: joy, creativity, belonging, and love.

I can think of this only through my own personal lens. Understanding and accepting the fact that I am not in control - and couldn’t even manipulate things or people into doing what I wanted them to do - has allow a sort of resignation that has lifted a weighty burden from my shoulders. It’s like the inner child that’s been trying to protect me from negative emotions for so long has finally been released of her protective responsibilities and she can finally relax now. And with that, the walls come down, the hardness softens. The resignation leaves me exposed, raw, and real. Vulnerable. But this time the vulnerability opens my heart and mind up to something that my soul has been craving: joy, creativity, belonging, and love. These are the greatest byproducts of the willingness to be vulnerable, to let my guard down, to be real, to let people seen my weaknesses, my challenges, my soft spots, to allow myself to be fully and 100% authentically me. This is where I’m experiencing all that my soul craves. This is where the power is. The power of vulnerability. Not power as the world defines it. But the power to truly live. To experience all that it means to be human. And that includes opening my heart to joy and love and whatever else the future might have in store for me, and to be willing to feel fear, and shame, and rejection as a risk of fully living.

So, what do you do if you discover that there in fact was an incident in your early years where you felt totally out of control and your emotional brain and inner child went into full-on protective mode leaving you a control freak in your adult life? What do you do then? Well, as an adult, you now have the power of the pre-frontal cortex - some people call it the Executive Brain - that leads with logic and reasoning. As an adult, this is where the majority of our thinking comes from. What you want to do is integrate the emotional experience of the event with what you know to be logical and reasonable. Integrating these two is key. We’re not looking to dismiss or erase the event, just bring some new information to the brain’s old story about the event. Doing this allows the protective mode to be shut down that then allows you the ability to live fully alive, experiencing everything that God intended you to experience as a human. Without protection. Without reservation. Without hesitancy. To fully embrace life, and love, and joy, and creativity, and belonging - all that God created you to feel and experience in your life, in your relationships, your marriage, in your connection with your children and your friends and other people you love. In your job, in your art and music and hobbies, in things that you dream about or the things you want to do. Joy, creativity, belonging and love. Jesus died for these.

Being vulnerable is a lesson I learned through my journey towards healing. Before, I wasn't very good at being vulnerable in front of others. I didn’t want my weaknesses exposed. I didn’t want anyone to see the kinks in my armor. I wanted to seem strong, and smart, and capable. So I set about trying to control everything and everyone just so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed or rejected or less than. I was fighting for my worthiness every day. But God…

But God has used all that I’ve experienced in such a huge way for my healing. I'm completely different in that regard since my husband died. Since I’ve let go of the need to be in control and surrendered to His Sovereign and good and perfect will, I’ve found the freedom to experience and express all the richness of life God has intended for me. And it's good and fruitful for the Kingdom.

Friend, He wants to heal and use you, too. Where do you think He's drawing out the power of vulnerability in you? This is for your wholeness - for the fullness of all that He’s created you to be and experience. Let me encourage you: Let go of the need to be in control of the things and the people in your life. Needing to be in control of everything, every person, every circumstance in your world is going to result in a very, very miserable life. Let go and live in the beauty and power of vulnerability so that every day you are experiencing and expressing joy, creativity, belonging and love, and so much more!

Friend, if you would describe yourself as a control freak and you’d like to explore why that might be. Or if you already know and you’d like some help integrating those emotional experiences or events of the past with the logical part of your brain, I’d love to help walk you through this process.

I’ve put a link in the show notes to my calendar to book at quick 30-minute chat to see if we’re a good fit to work together. Or you can visit my website and send me an email there.

Have a wonderful week, friends! See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life podcast.

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