By Suma Varughese June 1997 As control dramas go, this one had few equals: a 10-month-old moderately stable coalition government in India was toppled overnight due to a single individual’s hunger for supremacy. What Congress chief Sitaram Kesri did to the Gowda government is a graphic example of the potential for contained in what is coming to be knows as ‘controlholism’ Controlholism, or the compulsive need to be in control of all aspects of life at all times, has the buzz of a cutting-edge word, but it describes a phenomenon as old as history—indeed, the prime cause of history. Most of human history is a chronicle of mankind’s attempt to control life through controlling the environment and human society. Wars have been waged and won by the need to control and acquire territory, subjugate others and impose their own brand of truth on them. All of the industrial revolution and indeed western civilization itself is based on an implicit faith in mankind’s ability to control the environment. The need to control is a primal urge, part of the human condition. It is an aspect of the package deal mankind inherited when it evolved into consciousness and free will. ‘With the possibility of choice, anxiety follows like a shadow,’ comments Osho in The Psychology of the Esoteric. Consciousness tells us we are alone, and free will that we are responsible for our lives. This combination tilts us towards the urgent need for control as the only way to effect the life we want. How do we distinguish between control’s desirable and undesirable components? It boils down to whether control is directed inward or outward. Since the Vedic times, sages have been urging the internal route of self-control. ‘Better is Swadharma—the law of one’s own being—even though itself faulty, than an alien law well wrought out; death in one’s own law of being is better, perilous it is to follow a law foreign to one’s nature,’ says the Bhagavad Gita (III: 35). According to this school of thought, all of life can be controlled through control of the self. By controlling the senses, thoughts, words, and deeds, one could be in full control of one’s life. Such an approach is gaining validity today, as psychologists and behavioral scientists recognize the truth that it is not what happens to you but how you react to it that determines your well being. Positive thinking gurus from Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie onwards have reiterated the message that we can bring our lives within our control by monitoring our responses to external circumstances. Says Dr Wayne W. Dyer: ‘All the things we think we absolutely must have in order to be happier, and indications that we are controlled from without, rather than from within.’ Says Sultan Shahin, freelance writer on spirituality and Islamic affairs: ‘Even while controlling oneself, one should be circumspect. The desire to control needs to come from within, with sanction from the entire personality. It this is forced, it can be of no good.’ Even management texts and gurus are prescribing self-mastery as the solution not just to the endemic stress of corporate life, but as a new approach to management itself. Gone are the days when leadership was an up-by-the-bootstraps form of mastery. Gone, too, or at any rate facing extinction, is the leader who ran his team like a troop, through commands and sanctions. Today’s leader is a rather more subtle individual, using persuasion not force, and relying on motivation instead of punishment. He controls by letting go. From controlling by fear, he is moving gingerly into love. Horizontal management techniques such as kaizan, the Japanese way of constant improvement, and Total Quality Management emphasize the need to build team spirit and decentralize control. Depending on our degree of self-mastery. All of us use some form of controlling life. In his book, The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield identifies four most common control drams: Intimidator, Interrogator, Aloof and Poor Me. An Intimidator controls through the use of verbal or physical abuse, using fear as an instrument. An interrogator controls by asking questions and always finding something wrong with the answer. These are overt control dramas. Aloof and Poor Me are covert control dramas. The Aloof person controls by being cold and distant, forcing others to pursue him. Poor Me controls by playing upon guilt, making those around responsible for all the horrible things happening to him. In the context of the family, an intimidator parent creates a Poor Me child, who, as parent, creates an intimidating scion. This cross-relationship works with the Interrogator and Aloof types of personalities as well, explaining how the same behavioral tendencies ricochet for generations. Redfield sees all forms of external controls as ways of drawing energy from each other. Says he: ‘When we control another human being. We receive their energy. We fill up at others expense and the filling up is what motivates us.’ What this means in effect is that we draw our well being at the cost of that of others. We can only be superior by making others feel inferior, we can only by in control by depriving others of their control. We can only rule by having subjects. It is this either /or approach that is responsible for the term’s bad press; and when it goes to extreme lengths as in the case of controlholism, the outcome can be as catastrophic as the Holocaust. According to Maynard and Leanne Dalderis, coauthors of Beyond Controlholism and self-development program leaders based in Calgary, Canada, who were in India recently: ‘Controlholism is a desperate attempt to manage the world as we think it should be. It is a life run on self-will and a strong desire to be right about solutions and what one thinks should bring happiness. Controlholism does not care for consequences, it only cares to be in control at all cost.’ If controlholism, then, is an extreme form of poaching on others’ energy, what is its root cause? All forms of external controls emerge from inadequate internal controls. Since self-mastery is really a function of self-knowledge and self-esteem, controlholism stems from a paucity of these attributes. When we are unable to control ourselves, we control others or external circumstances. Neuropsychiatrist Dr Avdesh Sharma sees this distinction between internal and external forms of control as a basic East-West difference: ‘In the Western model, everything has to be made, sometimes regardless of how, for there is only one life and a fixed amount of time. The Eastern philosophies view this life as a continuum of past, present and future. We Orientals believe that whatever we give will come back to us-whether it is now or later is only an inconsequential matter of time.’ Controlholism, as he explains it, could very well develop during early childhood when insecurity often breeds a need to control the immediate environment, using every ruse from temper tamper tantrums that devastate parents to remarkably sophisticated emotional blackmail. Behavioral specialists believe that this tendency could fade as the child grows up, but circumstantial stimuli like stress or a hedonistic lifestyle could toss a spanner in the works. Ashima Singh, pranic healer and former media person, says: ‘people who have a control fetish become dependent on the behavior they use for gain until they become prisoners of their own image.’ Singh identifies three types of behavior. First is conditioned behavior, emerging from lack of self worth which seeks gratification by controlling others. Next is opted behaviors, where control is either retained or surrendered, depending on circumstances. Such behaviors are usually the mark of a stable and responsible personality. The third is role model, where control is sought, purely for individual gain. Dr. H.K. Chopra, cardiologist at Moolchand Hospital, New Delhi, India, and director of the Heart Care Foundation of India, offers the example of one of his patients who suffered a massive heart attack in Kathmandu, Nepal, in February last year. This young man was supposed to deliver export orders worth $ 40 million by a certain date. His employees had been working continuously to meet the deadline. But two days before the consignment was supposed to be shipped, it became apparent that the company would not be able to fulfill its promise. The young man summoned all his employees and fired them, but in his huge fit of anger he suffered a massive heart attack. This incident, Dr Chopra says, could easily have been avoided if only the man had been realistic and had delegated responsibility and subcontracted work to other exporters. The moral is stark: Controlholism can kill. Adds Dr Chopra: ‘The heart attack was not merely a result of bard stress management, it was also a manifestation of a piling up of negative emotions. When we experience negative emotions like anger, hatred, hostility, fear or jealousy, the body’s biochemistry changes, forming clots that block the free flow of blood to the heart and could result even in a heart attack. Positive emotions, on the other hand, like love and compassion, give rise to a healthy heart.’ Dr Chopra’s is a faithful description of the internal state of the controlholism. Negative feelings abound, fuelled by the urgent and constant need to pit oneself against others for survival. For, ultimately, the controlholic’s hold is illusory. His control over others is based on the belief that no one will call his bluff that his subjects will not rebel and overthrow him. But even the worm turns. Naresh and Ramesh were two friends from a small town who came to Mumbai to seek their fortune. Naresh, the extrovert, came first. When he was relatively stable, he found
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