What do I mean by “suffering is trying to control the uncontrollable”? This phrase comes from a quote by Greek philosopher Epictetus, who said: “Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power”. External events are beyond our control, but we are responsible for our own actions.
Similarly, the Serenity Prayer states: “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”.
We can control and are responsible for what’s in it, such as our actions, our decisions, what we choose to spend our time, energy and attention on, etcetera. With regards to what’s outside our “sphere of control”, such as the weather, the economy, traffic, what other people do and think, etcetera, these are all things we cannot control.
Therefore, trying to control that which cannot be controlled is often futile and exhausting, as it tends to deplete our energy and emotional wellbeing. One word that tends to give away that we are suffering trying to control the uncontrollable is when we use the word “should”.
- “It shouldn’t be raining right now, I really wanted to go to the beach today”.
- “That other person shouldn’t be driving like that!”
- “I shouldn’t have made that decision. I wish I could go back in time and change the past”.
- “I think that person doesn’t like me. He thinks I’m not smart enough. He shouldn’t think of me that way!”.
That may all be so, but it is what it is. No amount of spending your emotional energy suffering trying to control the uncontrollable will change it. You can only accept it, and then decide what you want to do about it. In other words:
- It shouldn’t be raining, but it is. Instead of going to the beach, would you like to stay inside watching a movie? Or maybe you can grab an umbrella and still go outside?
- That other person shouldn’t be driving like that, but they are. So, maybe once the opportunity presents itself, you can safely drive away from them?
- You shouldn’t have made that decision, but you did, and you can’t go back in time to change that. Is there any way you could try to repair the consequences of that decision?
- He shouldn’t think that you aren’t smart enough, but he does. You can’t control what he thinks or what he does. That being said, is there anything you’d like to say to him to see if maybe you can change his mind (which might or might not happen), or would you like instead to go and focus your energy on something else?
Now, what might happen sometimes is that we might understand all of this intellectually, but emotionally we can’t help but suffer over that which we cannot control. This is where we can use EFT to diminish or release our unpleasant emotional reactions to those situations that we can’t control.
We do that by tapping on how each of these things makes us feel. Here’s a few examples of how this might sound like, as we start a round of tapping on the side of the hand:
- “Even though I can see that it’s raining now, and I really wanted to go to the beach today, that makes me feel sad, and I feel this sadness in my chest, I accept this is what I’m feeling right now”.
- “Even though when I remember how that person was driving this morning, he was driving so slowly! Who does he think he is? He was really wasting my time! When I think about it now I feel so frustrated, and I feel this frustration in my solar plexus, this is what I’m noticing right now”.
- “Even though I really wish I hadn’t said that stupid thing at the party the other night, what a foolish thing to say! If only I could go back in time. When I think about what I said I feel really embarrassed, and I feel this embarrassment in my face, this is what I’m feeling right now”.
- “Even though when I remember what Mike said to me the other day about me not going to college, he must really think I’m not smart enough, and that makes me feel so angry, I accept myself anyway”.
As usual, notice after each round, as you go back to think about what you were just tapping on, what emotion comes up for you now (if any) and what aspect of it you are focusing on the most now, and adjust the phrases accordingly. Sometimes you might also notice other memories coming to mind. These are probably connected somehow to that which you are tapping on.
As you notice these memories coming up, you can make a note of them and decide if you want to work on them right then and there, or at a later time, maybe even with the help of an EFT practitioner.
If any of this feels like it’s too emotionally intense to work on your own, feel free to enlist the aid of a certified practitioner. I love helping other people (and myself) deal with these issues.
So, to recap, we can use EFT to diminish our unpleasant emotional reactions to situations that are outside our control. Suffering is spending emotional energy trying to control that which is beyond our control. We can only control our actions. Therefore, EFT can help us feel more accepting of things we cannot change (because they are beyond our control), be more courageous to change the things we can, and gain the wisdom to tell the difference.