We all would like to believe we have full control of our lives. I’ve heard over the years, and whole heartedly believed, that we can change the course of our lives, that we can always make a change if we really want to and given the right set of circumstances. However as I get older I’m changing my view slightly to more along the lines of the old serenity prayer “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”.
On my workshops with schools about children who’ve experienced trauma I always talk about control being an issue for such children. Due to the powerlessness of their lives and what has happened to them early on they struggle to allow things to just happen to them or around them. The more anxious and fearful they become the more control they need to have. There have been many times when I’ve felt the impact of that very strong drive to control their environment, and me as being something in that environment. It is an all-consuming feeling, that must be very exhausting for them emotionally.
However, I also know and have observed that as adults the majority, if not all of us, have issues around control – being out of control, needing the control, being frightened about being in or out of control and general angst about who has the reigns of our life. So do we really have any control over our situations and the outcome of our lives?
Well I still believe that we do, but only up to a certain extent. I think regardless of our start in life there comes a point when we have to take responsibility for ourselves, for our decisions and the consequences of them. When I think about my children grown up I am afraid for their futures – do they have the capacity and capability to make good decisions? Sometimes I know that the fear within them overrides any sensible decision making process that is in there. So holding the reigns of their own lives is going to be tricky. As I’ve writing this I’m mindful that they feel they have the reigns a lot of the time in their lives – their self reliance dictates that they do, however the horse on the end of those reigns is an unpredictable, untamed horse that takes them any which way it wants.
So maybe the question is not so much who has the reigns as what are the reigns attached to? When we think about our own lives – is it a mature, tamed, manageable, solid horse that is pulling us? Just like we talk about focusing on what’s behind the behaviour and not the behaviour itself maybe we’ve focused for too long on the control element and not on what that control represents? Maybe as we’re struggling to make sure we have the reigns and not someone else we’ve missed the point that some things we can steer in the right direction – other things will just happen and we have to ride with it, we have to let it just be.
So back to the Serenity Prayer then – I think we should hold the reigns but maybe in open hands. That we can change the things we have the power to – such as our reactions and responses to things, such as our ability to work hard and make a change, such as being proactive and doing all we can to steer in the right direction. But then the open hands allow us to let go of the things we cannot change or control – such as what other people think of us, such as what long term decisions our children will ultimately make, such as when bad things happen to us or people we love, such as being able to change and fix things for children in vulnerable environments. We can do our part but ultimately we may have to just let go.