There is a wide difference between control and self-control. Many of us would admit to a desire for control in our lives and in fact have developed patterns and behaviors to attempt to achieve it. We’re not as diligent, however, when it comes to incubating an environment as amenable to self-control.
One of the reasons we want to have control globally is to let ourselves off the hook personally where self-control is involved: “If I can control the things and people around me, it makes it less imperative for me to control myself.”
Control is a fascinating and frustrating paradox, especially in my line of work. The paradox I see comes when people start out engaging in some sort of behavior (including excessities) in an attempt to bring a sense of order and control into their lives. There comes a point, however, when the hunger becomes the hunted and the Gotta Have It! turns on them. The very thing invited into their lives to bring control now controls them.
Strangely, the way we often choose to demonstrate our sense of control is by our ability to say yes to something. We think that because we choose to engage in the activity, we show control over that activity. This often happens at the time children turn into teenagers and young adults. They think their “adulthood” is manifest in how many places and ways they get to say yes to things parents and other authority figures previously told them to say no to. With this mindset, teenagers and young adults will say yes to things like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and sex.
Gotta Have It! behaviors can be perfectly suited to this “yes” illusions of control. Saying yes after an extended period of saying no is a giddy, heady, exhilarating feeling. Saying yes can be sheer relief, especially if no is interpreted as deprivation.
So many people hit their young-adult years believing control is all about saying yes to those things they were previously denied. I think it takes us a bit longer to figure out that often the best way to exhibit our control is by choosing to say no to those same things. I guess you could call this the difference between control and self-control. So often we think control is about finally making sure we get what we want. Self-control, however, is more about making sure we get what we need.
Self-control is not easy to come by, requiring the long view over instant gratification and initially appearing harsh, unpleasant, and virtually impossible to employ. It requires practice, patience, and perseverance. Self-control presupposes an intimate knowledge of self, knowing what is and is not good and appropriate for you. It’s that person at the buffet who is able to cheerfully say, “No, thank you,” to that big piece of chocolate layer cake (when you’ve gone back for seconds). It’s the oddity of someone who is able to say no to thirty more minutes of sleep in order to get up to jog in the rain and the cold. It’s the anomaly of the person who is able to put down work and go home at the end of the day, saying no to the urge to stay another hour.
Self-control is a valuable defense against all kinds of problems. If you lack it, you leave yourself wide open and vulnerable.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.