Dear Carolyn:

People have often shrugged me off with, "Oh, that's just because you like to be in control," and I'm starting to wonder if they're correct. Any suggestions for identifying/solving my possible control issues?

Mission Control

If you think someone else might be right, congratulations! You're cured.

Kidding, but only a little. The need to control is really just a failure to trust. You have to drive because so-and-so will be reckless, have to keep your mate in sight or else s/he'll cheat, have to do everything yourself because underlings won't be as competent . . . stop me when this sounds familiar.

A failure to trust, meanwhile, is really just a triumph of fear. Fear of crashing, heartbreak and failure in the examples I just gave, but it's all one biggie -- fear of the unknown. Specifically, that you won't be able to handle any outcome that deviates from the one you've envisioned.

Which means the person you don't trust is yourself. Right? Hard to admit, but also, I think, the hardest part of the process. From here, there's no universal solution, but asking why you're so scared is a start, or -- the true measure of strength -- just slowly releasing your grip.

Dear Carolyn:

My sister is married to a good man. It's been three tough years: They communicate badly and hurtfully, and she has gradually adopted new friends and passions (bodybuilding, narcissism) that have taken her farther and farther away from him. It got to the point where they were two strangers sharing a house, but only he was heartbroken.

He's finally had it; wants to divorce and move on. This has finally brought it home to her that it's over, and she's freaking out about losing him, though she's not sure she loves him. She now wants me and my parents to comfort her. She's brought this on herself. What's a critical but loving sister to do?

A.

Narcissists' Club meetings never have enough doughnuts; the person whose turn it is to bring them only buys enough for himself. You may be a loving sister, but you're not a liking sister. Which is okay -- being related to her hardly means you have to find your sister appealing.

I do think fairness demands you admit this to yourself, though, before you judge her behavior. While I'm sure her husband is a good person and your sister did bring on plenty, you are nevertheless far from being an unbiased critic.

So, what's a biased critic to do? You can force your mind open to ways you can honestly sympathize with your sister -- the communicating "badly and hurtfully" is a place to start, since that's never just one person's fault.

Or, you can be neutral: Say you love her but are also fond of her husband, and therefore refuse to take sides. "Maybe you just weren't good for each other" breaks no familial laws.

Or, you can use this opportunity to put your dealings with your sister on more genuine footing, either by copping to your bias -- good luck! -- or by allowing some distance between you. Sad, yes, but ultimately less so than faking it to stay "close."

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