The Clutter of Control

Lately, my girlfriend has been saying that I should write about some of the things in my second book, Clutter Busting Your Life, which has to do with clutter and relationships.

An opportunity came yesterday, when my girlfriend had a meltdown.

She lost it at the kitchen table and slapped the table and kicked the table leg. She slapped the table so hard her fingers bled, then she ran out of the room.

Her son and I looked at each other like, "What was that?"

I felt scared. I didn't know what was going on.

My inclination was to help her, but I also knew that if someone is in the midst of a meltdown, you can't really talk to them because they're not open. They're in a reactive state. So if I wanted to help her I'd have to let her cool down.

Once she cooled down, she came to me and she asked for help. She lay down with her head on my lap. She told me that she was scared of her anger and that she felt like she wasn't herself. She also told me that she realized that the rage came from wanting to control things and people -- her computer and her son -- and not being able to do that.

I asked her some questions about her experience. I could feel a lot of resistance inside of her, like she was fighting herself. Sometimes we take a difficult situation and make it worse by thinking we're doing something wrong and trying to diminish ourselves. She was having a hard time forgiving herself.

I figured the most helpful thing she could do at that point would be to allow the feelings she was having rather than thinking she was wrong.

I stroked her hair while I asked her to welcome the feelings she was having without judging them. She had the insight that all of her feelings of wanting to control others outside of herself were due to her fear that if she didn't control them, it would mean she didn't exist.

In my new book, I talk about how we think we need to control others. There's an innate feeling that we're sensitive creatures and that if we don't control someone else's behavior and make them act like we think they should, they might do something to hurt us. So we control as a protection device.

The problem is that whenever we try to control someone, we destroy our connection with them. The openness between us and them is gone. And that hurts, because we eliminate one of our most cherished feelings, which is connection. When we try to control another person, it's an attack on them.

The solution is to realize that what feels better is to become reconnected with others. There's no amount of control that we can use that would actually protect us. But we feel more alive when we're vulnerable. And it turns out that we're safer when we're vulnerable, because we're present.