I like to be in control. I’m the oldest child. I grew up in a home where nothing was in my control — something that’s pretty common for children of alcoholics.
However, I’m not a control freak in the usual sense of the phrase. I often think I’m right (who doesn’t?), but I can certainly recognize when other ideas are better or truer. I can let other people take the reins, as long as I trust in their competence and capability. I don’t need to take charge of absolutely everything.
Pretty standard, right? Wrong. I came across a Psych Central article about the ways the need to feel in control manifests in adult children of alcoholics. And again, what an eye-opener! As always, this childhood trauma comes out in some weird ways.
Some list items that stood out to me:
Feeling uncomfortable with uncertainty
You guys. I’m known to say, “I dislike ambiguity.” That’s a thing that comes out of my mouth on a regular basis. I hate uncertainty. I hate the grey area. Most of the time, I just want to know one way or another, even if it’s not the outcome I want. The thing is, sometimes, there is no solid answer, and I’m not sure how to deal with that.
Difficulty having plans change
This one is a real struggle for me. When I make a plan — or even when I’m simply anticipating something — I automatically create an image of it in my mind. Then, I start looking forward to that thing and building emotions around it. When it doesn’t go as planned, it’s difficult for me to be pleased with the reality. Funnily, this doesn’t happen every time; I can handle most changes of plan easily. It’s really only things that have an emotional connection, I think.
Perfectionism/Being highly critical of yourself
This tendency shows itself most in my “athletic” pursuits. (I put that in quotes because that’s a pretty generous description. :)) I like to be awesome at the things I do; I don’t like just being competent. I like to improve quickly. I hold myself to high standards, and it’s frustrating when I can’t meet them.
Running has been a really great help in this area. I’ve never been athletic, and I’ve always had a super negative interior monologue…and then one day, I was finishing my very first 11-mile run, and when I hit the 10.5-mile mark, I started scolding myself. “Wow, you’re slow. You’re pathetic. People must be laughing at you for struggling so hard.” And then, I snapped back to reality. WHY wasn’t I saying “You just ran 10.5 miles! You’re about to hit 11 miles, which is further than you’ve ever gone! You’re amazing!”?
I’m so, so fortunate to have a friend who is my biggest cheerleader for anything physical. He constantly supports me, always tells me how well I’m doing, and reminds me that it’s fine to be a human who sometimes needs to run slower. After a year of this constant positive feedback, my internal voice changed! I stopped berating myself (mostly) and started being gentler. When long runs get tough, I think — and I’m not kidding — “you-are-awe-some, you-are-awe-some” in rhythm with my footfalls. It helps. I am awesome!
The super-critical tendency has arisen again now that I’ve taken up swimming. I want to be great (or hell, at least baseline competent) right away. I know that’s not reasonable. With the help and coaching from that same friend (a super athlete), I’m trying to quiet those voices and just accept that I’m a beginner, that I’m learning. Maybe not succeeding completely, but I’m not beating myself up about it.
Difficulty delegating or asking for help
I’m getting better at this! I’m pretty comfortable asking for help, though delegating is still tough unless I trust the person. And I either trust people too much or not at all, so that’s kind of a crapshoot.
Are normal people really super gentle on themselves and so easygoing that they just flow with everything instead of wanting to control it? I have a hard time imagining that life. 🙂