We live in a time when we expect to have control over a lot of things. I’m not sure why, but I suspect Googling has a lot to do with it. Never has so much information (and misinformation) been so readily available to so many, and this has left us with the impression that we ought to be able to do know more, do more, have fewer (or perhaps no) limitations.
I see these ideas show up in my therapy practice the way memes show up on my Facebook feed.
One person is concerned with diet: nothing processed, all local, only the most nutrient-dense foods will do. Spinach is out because kale is better. He doesn’t understand why food has suddenly become so stressful and feels “not good enough” because one night he was exhausted after working late and ate pasta for dinner. Another person reads constantly about parenting and child development and fights terrible anxiety about the fact that she’s not home schooling her five year old. She feels responsible for personally controlling every aspect of her child’s education. Meanwhile, she’s sure she’s not good enough at her job, and she has a Pinterest board full of ideas for improving her marriage and feels bad about never having done any of them. A grieving person says her sister died three months ago, and she should be “over this” by now. She wants to know how to make herself feel better, because she should be able to, and somehow she must have just missed an important piece of information because she can’t seem to do it. These clients ask me to work with them on how they can do better, make sure they eat healthy all the time, be a better Mom and wife and professional, get over grief. Now. Today. Ok, maybe that’s not reasonable, but surely we can do it in 6 sessions or less?*
Buying into the control meme sets us up to fail. People come to therapy looking for “tools” and “resources” when the very last thing anyone needs is more tools or more resources. The very landscape in which we’re trying to live is where the problem resides. Often, trying to have that conversation is bewildering, and I simply run out of both words and energy.
So friends, today, a simple thought: What if we are not always supposed to be in control?
*Hopefully it goes without saying: Therapy is confidential. These are not stories of real people but amalgams intended to summarize the various manifestations of this phenomenon I see people struggle with.