The role of control in our personal perceptions

The role of control in our personal perceptions

The entire spectrum of human experience is impossible to put into words, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. “Name it to tame it” has been instrumental in, well, taming my mental health. In particular, specificity has helped immensely in my reflections and understanding of myself and the world.

Generally, people assume they’re in control of their life, actions, and thoughts. The jury is definitely out on all of those. In addressing my depression and its role in my life, I had to be honest with myself and my limitations. Now (mostly) on the other side, it’s interesting to see how distorted our perceptions of people are on the basis of control.

Someone who exercises almost everyday is disciplined, but someone who smokes almost everyday is addicted. These habits bind people in both cases. The difference for me lies in the perception of control. Either a person controls the quality, or the quality controls them.

It’s important to note that we can’t control everything. We can guide, reframe, and rename until the cows come home but intrusive thoughts are a part of humanity. The only way to barricade the mind from wayward thoughts is to be in a vegetable state.

Recently, I realized that a lot of people (myself included) misattribute qualities because we misidentify the direction of control. The person who holds out could be patiently waiting for the future or stubbornly fixed in the past. Wallowing can easily turn into self-reflection, especially after a genuine mistake.

Similarly, someone could be dedicated to a project, or obsessed with it. People misrepresent calmness as apathy or “being logical”, when it is often just an avoidance of issues. Someone’s perceived passion is another person’s drama. Mania and joy are both euphoric, but joy is typically in response to an event, whereas mania is excessive enthusiasm. Someone’s control of a situation is often the line between people pleasing and being polite/accommodating.

While discussing this with my therapist, he mentioned that there may also be something to say about intent in a situation. I see intent as a driving force, and in that way it’s a personal view of what controls your actions. Intent and control are so similarly subjective that they may not even be wholly different. Intent is simply a subset of control.

Maybe there’s more to this than control, but I can’t think of what it would be. At any rate, I think control is something to take into consideration when doing self-reflections and evaluations of people. Biases often blind us in a situation, but root-cause analysis is always enlightening. Knowing the intention doesn’t change impact, but it can change future actions and responses.

Language also evolves and is surprisingly personal, so maybe all of this is hogwash. Or perhaps we’re all terminally unique and I could never describe the human experience. Nevertheless, I persist!

Fighting to flip myself while bungee jumping off the Auckland Harbor Bridge.
Fighting to flip myself while bungee jumping off the Auckland Harbor Bridge.

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