Keep CalmWe were invited to a house party in Clontarf.  Bring along the Tiramisu, have a few beers, play a bit of music. All good clean fun. Somewhere during the evening the talk turned to obsession. People we know who are compulsive, who go to extremes (I know tons about this topic, recognizing many of the traits in myself).

Doll’s House: The story that I liked most was about a woman showing her friend around her newly re-decorated house of which she was justifiably proud. The tour was moving nicely until she came to her daughter’s room. Empty Chinese food cartons under the bed? The shower littered with cigarette butts? Mice droppings? No, none of the above. She went absolutely nuts because her daughters Doll’s House was untidy. Read that sentence again in case you think that it’s typed incorrectly. She went nuts because her daughters Doll’s House was untidy. Now, there’s a client for future therapy (perhaps they can get a group rate for both mother and daughter). So, what’s happening here? What is the payoff for the mother? (because there is always a psychological payoff for behaviour).

Psychology of Control: For some people, not being in control makes them fearful. Many years ago, when I lived in Singapore, a TV programme anticipated the type of apartments which would be built in 2050 – i.e. about 60 years ahead. In Ireland, when it comes to political outlook, we tend to do ‘dipped’ rather than full headlights. But, the real dilemma is that even with the best forward planning, having total control is an illusion. You don’t smoke. You don’t eat Yorkie bars for breakfast. You floss every morning. But you can still have sky-high cholesterol or get cancer. A footballing friend of mine, mega fit, died on the pitch (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome). And, people try desperately to control their teenagers, denying them the opportunity to grow up and ‘separate’ from the Mother Ship. The reality is that we cannot be in control all of the time. Yet, not being in control makes us afraid. Core point = we have to understand and learn to deal with our fear of being out of control.

Out of Control: In July 2009, the aid worker Sharon Commins who worked for GOAL was kidnapped and held captive in Darfur. She subsequently wrote a piece for the book The Rose and the Thorn (reflections by Irish People on their recent highs and lows) where she said that: “You cannot delete sadness and I had times when I felt destroyed”.  She went on to describe the birth of her niece Kate and how magical that event was for all the family. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the idea that you cannot delete sadness, but I agree wholeheartedly that you cannot be safe and in control all of the time. While most of us will not have to endure the extreme of being kidnapped, we encounter this sense of being ‘out of control’ in a myriad of ways.

So, here’s the deal. Total control is a fiction. Rather than fighting to attain this, you need to develop the skills of mentally responding when things go wrong. Being resilient is more important than being in control. As Jeffrey Fry reminded us: “When your back is against the wall, you will find it’s a good place to push off.”  Resilience is a worthwhile topic to brush up on (assuming that you buy the core argument, of course).

And, if your kids room is a bit untidy, how about just closing over the door. Would that work for you? Until next week.



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