What's In and Out of My Circle of Control?
Updated: Oct 5, 2022
During the last 18 months while I was working at a group practice, other therapists would joke about how often I would re-decorate and re-organize my office. I'm not exaggerating when I say it happened at least twice a week! I even had a weekly client tell me how they noticed there was always something different about my office whenever they came in. The client's observation caught me off-guard. It's one thing for my colleagues to joke about it because they've seen me re-arrange my office on a semi-daily basis. But when someone, like my former client, who didn't know what I was doing and was able to notice the slight differences in my office, I had to ask myself,
"Am I doing this too much? Why am I doing this too much?"
Thanks to the combination of years of my own individual therapy, being in the mental health profession, and conversations with friends throughout the years, the answers came to me as soon as I finished asking myself these questions:
"Am I doing this too much?" YES! To the point of hyper-fixation!
"Why am I doing this too much?" CONTROL, DUH!
For 18 months, walking in Office 2 & closing the door behind me was my break from the uncontrollable chaos that was overwhelming my life. It seemed nothing was going my way and I felt alone and misunderstood as I reached the peak (or the pit, depending on how you look at it) of my trauma response. My life seemed out of my control, so I obsessed over the one thing I could control: my office.
I created a world in that room where I was in charge of myself and I wasn't accountable to anyone. Before this period, I would leave my door open in between sessions in order to interact with my co-workers. As time passed, my office door remained closed & I isolated myself from nearly everyone, especially my family (I worked 12-15 hrs a day). In my office, things were in order, and it stayed that way. When I saw a slight imperfection, I was able to fix it. I spent the majority of my time in between sessions re-organizing my books & supplies that I just organized less than 24 hours ago, and sometimes, just 3 hours ago. My office was also immaculately clean and this was before COVID. My office was my sanctuary.
"What's so unhealthy about that?"
On paper, it sounds like a great coping mechanism, doesn't it? Cleaning and organizing doesn't hurt anyone, right? Well, I wasn't coping, I was avoiding. I avoided talking to people, especially my husband, about important issues. I avoided the things I needed to get done. I avoided being still because I did not want to slow down long enough to realize my responsibility for feeling the way I do. I avoided being still and praying to God because I knew He would not let me nurse the fury & resentment I had brewing inside of me. I avoided my own healing every time I preoccupied myself with my office.
"How did I get here?"
I focused too much on & tried to control things I had no control over: people's actions & words, people's opinions of me, how people treated me, anxiety over the future, and past events just to name a few. And since it was never in my power to control such things, I obviously failed! I came to the incorrect conclusion that NOTHING in my life was in control. That wasn't true, though. If I had stopped re-arranging my office long enough, I would've realized that I was trying to control things that were out of my control, and I needed to re-focus that same energy to the things I can control: my own actions, words, & decisions; how much I was going to let people's words and actions affect me; prioritizing my mental health & healing; using my coping skills when I'm triggered; establishing & enforcing my boundaries; taking care of myself by eating, sleeping, taking my meds, & keeping my medical appointments; how I treat myself; and so many more factors that would've easily dispelled my thoughts that nothing in my life was in control.
Through this experience, I learned how focusing on controlling things I can't control increases my anxiety, and believing I have no control over anything makes me feel hopeless & overwhelmed, which often leads to a severe depressive episode.
"Just because I can't control everything, it doesn't mean everything is out of control."
Besides, do I really want to control everything? That's a lot of responsibility for a person to handle. Even for someone who is a "control freak" like me! -CW #CounselorsArePeopleToo
Tools/Resources For You!
Here is a tool I use with my clients (and myself) to help me sort out what is in and out of my control.