by Lesli Musicar, M.Ed., R.P.

How is it that so many of us have this constant need to be in control? Is it because we don’t trust other people to manage things? Or is it because, deep down, we feel out-of-control? And in controlling everything and everyone around us, it somehow makes us feel more secure.

When you come from a home where you didn’t feel safe enough, loved enough or connected enough to your parents, it is hard to develop a secure sense of self. In such cases, children are often left to fend for themselves. Sometimes they must care for younger siblings. Often, they feel responsible for their parents. Having no real power or control over their environment (or the option to leave it), children will try to care for themselves by manipulating others.

What this means, is that children will behave to elicit a response that will best meet their needs. This is rarely thought out or planned. Rather, it tends to occur on an instinctual level—it is a matter of survival. One example is the child who is very quiet and reserved. This is rarely a child's true nature. However, if it can bring praise, attention, or safety (by being invisible), children will do it. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the children who are "troublemakers." This often occurs when being "good" hasn’t worked. Or it may be that a sibling has already taken the "perfect child" role. Let's face it, negative attention is better than no attention!

When a child is so preoccupied with safety or with trying to get basic needs met, they don't have the luxury of being spontaneous, curious, or adventurous. As a result, they never get the chance to explore their true potential. They will therefore fail to develop confidence in themselves. And low self-esteem will often follow.

As adults, we then become insecure. This often leads to a life of passivity. Rather than taking action on our own behalf, we wait for life to happen to us, and then worry about how to react. We become fearful of pursuing our dreams. Or we set our sights too low, compromising what we really want. We will stay stuck where it is safe, yet unfulfilling. And we will maintain our childhood habit of trying to get our needs met by controlling others. As adults, this rarely works.

So, how do you begin to ease up on control and pursue what you really want? How do you begin to build confidence and self-esteem? The answer is simple: by taking the necessary risks. Whether it’s the risk of reaching out to others, the risk of saying "no," the risk of putting your needs first, or the risk of making a mistake. We must prove to ourselves that we can survive them all.

We need to discover our inner resources and strengths. These are inherent. They really do exist! And, perhaps the biggest risk of all is facing the emotional pain of our past. It will spring to the surface as soon as we loosen our grip on control.

Suddenly, we are confronted with the pain of what should have been. The carefree, irresponsible childhood that never was. And, because of this, we now feel all the loss of our missed opportunities, failed relationships, stunted careers, and wasted potential. It is a necessary grieving we must enter into. One that cleanses, unburdens, and leaves us feeling peaceful yet energized.

But be aware, this process is painful and, at times, may seem endless. Don’t despair! It only means you’re getting a sense of what it was really like for you as a child. For children, the present is all that exists—it is where they live. So if the pain feels endless, it’s because it was endless. You were stuck in it with nowhere to go, no place to run. Children just don’t have the options we have as adults.

With the grief that comes with change, we need comfort to make it bearable. We must give ourselves what we always needed: compassion, understanding, reassurance, and hope. As adults, we can call on those close to us for support. We can learn self-soothing techniques, like yoga, meditation or relaxation. We can write in a journal, seek counselling, or join a group.

We now understand what happened to us and have the vocabulary to express it. We no longer need to hide it from the world or from ourselves. When someone loses a loved one, we understand their need for support, to cry and talk about their loss. This is no different. Only, in this case, the loss constitutes a chunk of our life, a part of ourselves. We no longer need to carry this pain all alone!

And, bit-by-bit, with each necessary risk we take, with each new wave of grief we ride out, our inner strength grows. We become proactive instead of reactive. We begin to recognize and take pride in our accomplishments. Instead of trying to guess what others think is right, we judge the world through our own eyes. We learn to trust our perceptions and intuition. And we stop needing to change others so that we can feel secure. Finally, we feel safe in the world without having to control!