Fear, control, and letting it all go

Madrid-Spain

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the pressures I put on myself. Part of my core identify is seeing myself as a responsible person who always does the right thing. I have this image of myself in my head and when I stray from that, I experience suffering. But I’m not perfect, and I don’t always do the right thing, and that’s okay. Hence, many times along the way, I’ve suffered.

For as middle-grounded as I am in most areas of life, I struggle with the line between slacking a little and the slippery slide to chaos. I’ve known for a while that this is an issue for me. Not being able to see the difference between the two has caused suffering in my life (in my head, mainly). But what I have failed to see until now is that this is a choice I’m making. I’m holding myself to crazy high and unrealistic standards. I have a hard time cutting myself the slack that I cut other people all the time.

I know intelligently that everyone makes mistakes, everyone slips up, and no one is infallible. I accommodate that all the time in life and don’t think twice about it. I’ve always said that I’m a Type A personality, but I’m a laid back type A. To me, this means that I am a certain way, but I don’t expect others to be that way as well. This is basically a sanity-preserving technique because I learned long ago that most people are not like me, and I’ve always known that that’s okay. I’ve had this wisdom for a long time.

But where I’ve struggled is cutting myself the same slack. It’s that slippery slope mentality, which again, I don’t really ascribe to in the wider world. Somehow I continue to hold myself to that, though. Why can I make all these exceptions and accommodations for everyone else but me? Why do I keep holding myself to some super high and frankly, sometimes impossible standards? Why can’t I love myself enough to accept myself as imperfect and flawed?

I’ve realized that this goes back to needing to feel like I’m in control. My childhood wasn’t chaotic, but when my parents divorced when I was 19, the solidarity and stability of my family fell apart before my eyes. At the time, I didn’t know how to process this or deal with it in a healthy manner. My main way of dealing with it was just not dealing with it: not really talking about it or just explaining my feelings away to myself or simply denying or ignoring them.

But those events revved up that need for control. Thankfully this hasn’t manifested itself in the form of me wanting/needing to control other people. It’s been more about controlling my life and my environment. My house is always clean. I always made good grades in school. I was always a model employee. I floss daily. This is me. I have a whole identity wrapped up in being “the good one,” “the buttoned up one,” “the organized one.” Even when all of that wasn’t necessarily true, I still clung to it as a defining part of my identity and my self.

Something I’ll be more mindful of and work on is simply giving my best in any particular situation, whatever my best is. I won’t lament over what it isn’t. I won’t beat myself up if I fall short of some stupid and random standard that I’ve set for myself. I’ve long been using control as a way to deal with fear. Chaos is scary. Uncertainty is scary. When I try to control things and I have an orderly environment around me, I can give myself that illusion so I don’t have to face what’s really there. I was taking comfort in an illusion of control and safety. It was never really there.

I suffer because what’s going on in my head isn’t even reality. It’s just me being lost in my own thoughts and my own headspace. It’s me needlessly suffering. It’s me allowing Starla – my inner critic and lizard brain – to control things. It’s letting fear run my life. But it took me a long time to see this because I’d fooled myself with the illusion of control. “I’m not scared! Look how good things are for me! My house is clean. My marriage is great. My body looks good. I eat well. How could anything be wrong? Everything is fine. Let’s sweep inconvenient truths and reality under the rug. It doesn’t fit in with the script. I can be perfect. See, here’s all this evidence!”

Consequently, I couldn’t see the fear because the fear had figured out how to master me. The fear had figured out a way to embed itself into a weak spot in my armor. Fear knows all the right buttons to push, and fear knows how to control. I’ve finally recognized that fear comes in many shapes, colors, and sizes. Fear will hide itself in compulsive behaviors and mental scripts or expectations. Fear doesn’t always mean you’re “scared of something.”

Starla has done a great job of controlling things around here. She had me so blinded that I couldn’t even recognize the fear as fear. In my life, I’d been taught or I’d learned to see fear as this big ugly scary thing that was obvious and overt. What I didn’t realize was that fear can also quietly rule your life in ways that are so subtle, they’re hard to recognize. That’s fear’s power: disguising itself as something else. Now that I see it for what it is, I can do something about it.