One of the hallmarks of a stressful life is the feeling of not being in control. Whether relating to job, finances, relationships, or even world events, feeling controlled instead of feeling in control causes a sense of powerlessness that drags down a person. Those who feel in control of their lives have far less stress than those who feel they are not in control.
What most people don’t stop to think about is that no one actually makes you do anything. You make choices that help you achieve your desired goals, even if they are subconscious goals. There is no one walking around dragging you by the hand from task to task, forcing you to complete certain actions. You make the decisions you make based on the options you are aware of and their known consequences.
Even God himself doesn’t control us, if you think about it. God gave us free will, and lets us use our free will to choose whether we will love him or not. We can either follow his son Jesus or we can choose not to. We can choose to do what is right or we can choose to sin. We aren’t robots who have no choice but to love God. If God forced us to love him, it wouldn’t be real love.
Now, there are a few times in the Bible where God essentially took control of someone through the Holy Spirit, but those examples are pretty rare. For the overwhelming majority of our life experiences, he does not force us to do anything. Also, there is demonic possession, but that’s something that can only occur because God allows it. Ultimately, Satan and his demons are defeated by Christ and know they are destined for hell. Until judgment, though, they are just trying to take as many human beings down with them as they can.
There’s also hypnosis, which I’m sure most of us have seen in action, but as far as I know it’s only possible because a person has agreed to let themselves be hypnotized.
So generally, not even God himself controls us or allows other powers to control us. So if not even God himself controls us, why do we feel like other people control us? God has given us control of ourselves—another word for that is self-control. Ordinarily that term is applied only to the choice to abstain from something, but logically, it applies just as much to the things we might choose to do if we didn’t feel controlled.
I saw a video on YouTube recently where someone had written in and asked how to stop being a “wage slave.” The response of the producer of the video was that no one is making you be at your job…but yourself (4:21). This guy seems kinda out there and I haven’t watched any of this other videos, but I wanted to give him credit for what he said.
Let’s analyze his statement. Our first reaction is to think, but if I don’t go to work, I’ll get fired. That’s probably true. But that doesn’t mean your boss is next to your bed every morning, dragging you out of bed so you can go to work. Okay, but I have bills to pay. That is also true, but the electric company or bank isn’t sending people to your house to cart you off to work. In reality, you are making choices because the consequences of doing things differently are unacceptable.
Why is this important? Because until you feel agency in your life, your stress level will be higher, toxifying you with unnecessary stress, and you will not have the vision to see other options in life. For example, if you believe you have no choice but to go to the same job you don’t like every day, why would you ever think of finding another job? Most of us understand that you do have a choice in where you work, and that’s why we look for other jobs. But to take the logic further, we all have the choice of whether to work at all. We must accept the consequences of getting fired and the electricity getting shut off, sure. But once you realize you could stop working any time you want to—although odds are you shouldn’t—your stress level decreases because you no longer feel controlled by your boss, or your landlord, or the bank, or the utility company. You have simply opted for one set of consequences (getting paid) over another (going broke and getting evicted). But it is your choice, not anyone else’s. You have just as much free will as your boss does.
How many times have you heard someone described as a “controlling” person? “He/she is so controlling…” Actually, that’s not true because that person can’t control anyone. They can persuade, but the person being persuaded makes a choice to accept the authoritativeness of the person doing the persuading. In other words, the person being attacked by the “controlling” person has chosen one set of consequences—appeasing that person—over the consequences of defying them.
One of my favorite books is Don’t Let Them Psyche You Out by Dr. George Zgourides. There is a great chapter on the utility of silence—non-responsiveness—when dealing with difficult people. His basic point is that you are not required to respond to anyone, and that there is an unwritten social rule that if someone says something to you, you have to respond, but actually you don’t have to. That rule is really just a courtesy, not an actual rule. You choose to accept the consequences of not responding, which can sometimes be a socially unacceptable option, but most people take for granted that they must respond every single time and therefore miss out on the times when silence is truly the wisest option. This is just an example of how control by others is an illusion.
If you don’t feel in control of your life, you will never be happy, no matter how successful you are. If you feel controlled, your success is not up to you, it’s up to your controller(s). You must do everything you are doing because they control you, and you have no choice in the matter. Living without a choice is not living though, something we can clearly see by the most basic fact that God gives each of free will. The most important question in the universe is whether or not we have decided to believe in his Son Jesus. If in the most important question of all time, God gives us a choice, how much more do we have free choice in every other aspect of life?
So, take responsibility for yourself and realize that the control by others that you feel is an illusion. Dispel the illusion with the truth. The title of this website says to not be a cog. A cog has no choice but to turn in the machine. You aren’t that cog—you can turn if you want to, or not turn if you don’t want to. But either way, you are in control.