By Suma Varughese
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, he found his friend a job, and shared his accommodation with him. In exchange, he sought and got Ramesh’s allegiance. In time, the two decided to pool their talents and bring out a joint supplement for a publishing house, with Naresh as boss. Soon, however. Ramesh, who had become more assertive and more confident of his ability to survive in the city, grew tired of Naresh’s bullying ways, and parted company with him. Naresh is still to recover from what he sees as base ingratitude and rank betrayal.
Ashima Singh says that rigid behavior often leads to a stage where people find that they have become redundant or start mattering less and less to people around them. This is when they realize that they need to change and break free from this vicious circle.
Another fallout of controlholism, feels Dr Sharma, is a feeling of emptiness; the high of gaining control dissipates very quickly. This could prompt introspection. Singh feels that ‘this inner search is very important for change. Through inner reflection people being to see other opinions and directions that are also valid.’
So how does the transition from external to internal control happen? Singh stresses that experience is the most effective teacher. Learning over time that attempting to control others or external circumstances is futile provokes us to search for alternatives. The Alcoholics Anonymous handbook says: ‘It is only by ceasing to play God, by coming to terms with errors and shortcomings, and by accepting the inability to control… that alcoholics… can find the peace and serenity that alcohol… promises but never delivers.’ The same holds true for controlholics. Accepting that we are not in control, and that is all right not to be in control, leads us to surrender and acknowledgment of a higher power. In turn, we learn to let go. To allow ourselves to feel naked and vulnerable and for the first time, human.
The Dalderises have what they call a highly effective 12-step program that they use for alcohol and drug dependent people as well as for those dependent on control. These include:
1. Accepting our inability to control
2. Belief in a higher power
3. Willingness to surrender to that power
4. See ourselves as we are
5. Admit to ourselves, God, and another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs
6. Supplication for the removal of shortcomings
7. Making a list of those we have harmed
8. Making amends
9. Prayer and meditation
10. Passing the word to other controlholics.
Other steps would include developing greater self-esteem, attending personal growth classes and increasing awareness of our control dramas.
Shahin advocates practicing a spiritual discipline, though he confesses: ‘Letting go isn’t easy. It comes from a faith in the universe and how it works and a recognition of the fact that there is an intelligent force that guides us.’ But, what if someone does not believe in this intelligent force that Shahin talks about?’ Control does not work either,’ he says perceptibly.
Ashima Singh adds: ‘One has to realize that even by not fighting, one can win-and live life with the spirit of adventure and in the spirit of the Gita.’
She prescribes a simple two-step process of letting go. First comes understanding of one’s own compulsions and the limitations of a particular way of thinking: ‘You being to experience the nurturing emotion of compassion.’
Second, she says, it is important to realize how much to let go. ‘You can’t let go to the point of mental lethargy.’ Only let go as much as impedes the achievement of the goal.
The benefits of letting go of control are considerable. The first is freedom. Not needing to be in control, not having to mind other people’s business, or even your own, can be an overwhelming relief. Suddenly, one experiences liberation from all the invisible strings that bind us to life. With freedom comes by. Rooted within our own selves, we experience the blissful sense of bring alive. Free from the compulsion to control, we become more authentic people. Our impulses, and words and actions spring from within.
Our relationship with others becomes more authentic and joyful. Our internal liberation liberates those around us, giving rise to relationships-formed not out of need or compulsion, but out of choice. Relationships begin to be savored for their own sake, becoming a deep source of joy and growth. ???Letting go of control accesses true control. In his book, Be Here Now, Baba Ram Dass says: ‘The most exquisite paradox is…as you give it all up, you can have it all…As long as you want power, you can’t have it. The minute you don’t want power, you’ll have more than you ever dreamed possible.’
Dr Chopra agrees: ‘Some of our great spiritual leaders exercise control not only over their own minds and emotions, but also over those of others, all in order to achieve the greatest good for as many people as possible.’ They do it, paradoxically enough, by letting go.
If controlholism stems from not being in control, then letting go comes fro being in control. And if we choose to live a life of conscious growth, this movement towards letting go is one thing once of us can afford to pass up.
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