There are so many catchphrases in the realm of self help and mental health that, although true, are presented in such simplistic, crudely reductionist ways as to be unhelpful if not actually harmful.  The snippets we consume and share on many social media platforms simply cannot include the nuance and context that many of us need.

One of those statements that has been irking me lately is “the only thing you can control is yourself.”  Now, when someone is struggling with a level of codependency that is creating pain, learning to set and hold their own boundaries, hearing that is necessary.  We need to understand that we cannot control other people’s choices (and that even if we do manage somehow to get compliance that will not actually protect us from difficult emotions).  We need to learn that when we claim we’re setting a boundary but actually trying to force someone to comply with our rules, we are not respecting our own needs.  We need to let go of attachment to particular outcomes and make choices about how we respond to the slings and arrows of fate.  We need to give ourselves permission to leave people and situations that harm us rather than remaining convinced that we can love them enough to make them change.


The idea that we all have the ability to control ourselves at all times and in all situations is 1) inaccurate and 2) gross.  It is ableist, it is misguided, it dismisses any intersectional understanding of the effects on human bodies of trauma, illness, disability, and oppression.  Our ability to exert an iron grip on our responses in any given moment is highly influenced by many factors.  I might not have eaten for a day and a half because my anxiety is running rampant and I’m experiencing a strong aversion to food.  I might be irretrievably overwhelmed by social situations and sensory input.  I might be in the middle of balancing a high number of demands on my executive function and experiencing crushing decision fatigue.  I might be having a panic attack.  I might be experiencing poverty and the deep physical and spiritual exhaustion caused by living in a constant state of threat.  I might not have access to therapy that helps me unlearn patterns so that I can respond in alignment with my values when I am angry or afraid.  I might be experiencing any of countless circumstances that affect my cognitive abilities. A person with a fat body, a disabled or chronically ill body, a brown or Black body, a femme body, a queer body may experience all the different challenges we face to our decision making in exacerbated ways.

Sometimes, we will feel out of control.  Sometimes, we will be out of control.  Sometimes, the things we can control are our choice to apologize well and our choice to practice being kind when we make mistakes.  Sometimes all we can do is keep trying.

Sometimes we can learn to influence and avoid situations where we struggle.  But listen.  Our amygdalas don’t know shit about moral philosophy.  Our amygdalas know about not getting eaten by hippos.  We all have human brains.  And we are all innately worthy.

I love you, drink some water.