Sometimes I feel a burning desire to organize the canned food in my pantry. And when I say a ‘burning desire’ I do actually mean an overwhelming craving—an inner need to bring order to the lines of aluminum cans in my cabinets. I used to think this was a normal symptom of being a level one control freak. When I felt a yearning to alphabetize my skin products or color code my book shelves I would succumb to the pressure and wave away any apprehensive feelings.
Then Today happened. Today was a very bad day. The universe conspired and pooped out a number of scenarios that made me feel very out of control—the Dentist told me I need to get my wisdom teeth out, my website servers went down, they turned off the hot water in my building. First, I got angry. Then, I got hysterical. And, then…I wanted to organize my make-up bag.
As I emptied the grimy contents of my plastic Maybelline bag onto the bathroom floor a light went off in my head. A terrible Truth came into the front of my consciousness: This is a pattern. Have you ever discovered that something you hate about yourself is not just a one-time occurrence, but a recurring cycle? Let me tell you, it is not a good feeling.
I crouched down on the cold tile floor and felt suddenly out of breath, panicky, and anxious. My first instinct was to push this awful feeling away, distract myself as I usually do with chores, emails and to-do list items. AHHHH—another bad pattern! This was becoming overwhelming.
I took two, three, four, ten deep breaths. Slowly I began to let myself think about all of the times I have felt out of control, then anger, then hysterics, then cleaning, then distraction. When I ran out of fingers, I realized I had far too many examples of this happening in my life—it was definitely a pattern. A simple, devastating pattern:
When I feel out of control on the inside, I try to become in control on the outside.
Feelings, frustration, anger, sadness, hysterics are unavoidably messy. Instead of going with these feelings, processing them, dealing with them and moving past them I stuff them down, distract myself and try to clean-up my physical life. I think this is a terrible pattern for two major reasons. First, I do not process my emotions as much as I should. Second, I try to control meaningless things in my life that drive the people around me crazy.
This post started as a journal article, but then I thought of all my control-freak friends and cleaning obsessed confidants and thought sharing my pattern might both keep me accountable to changing it and help others. Realizing this pattern about myself has also given me insight to some issues that come up with control-freak moms and teens. So often at speaking events I am asked by teens how to deal with control freak moms or by moms who want to know how to help their controlling teens relax.
This question was always so difficult to answer. No longer. I think we often try to control our surroundings when we feel out of control on the inside. When we are messy mentally, we want to feel orderly physically. How do we solve this? I am not sure. Perhaps I should start my own 12 step and call it ‘Controloholics Anonymous.’ Any takers? I do think being aware of the pattern is absolutely the first step. Second, I am going to work on not seeing emotions or being out of control as scary things and instead seeing them as opportunities.
Thank you for letting me share this intensely personal story, I’m working on being better, processing and being ok with mess.