The term “control freak” is often interpreted (and said) negatively. But, to a point, seeking to maintain control is common. Many elements of our existence cannot be predetermined. The simple fact is that life is unpredictable. A cliché? Maybe. Unsettling? Undoubtedly. Fuelled by fear, we may try to bend situations to our will. The end goal? To reach an outcome within our comfort zone. This creates a feeling of security.
What’s more, the belief that we have agency over our lives is beneficial, within reason. The right to choose helps us build a positive self-view. It allows us to believe we can create desirable results. When we do, we gain confidence in ourselves. It also makes tasks feel enjoyable, rather than mandatory. However, being overcontrolling can cause damage to ourselves and our relationships.
The Harm of Overcontrolling Ourselves
Most of us have goals of accomplishing specific dreams. This is quite healthy, as goals help us strive to better ourselves. However, if taken too far, we can become obsessed with achieving the desired result. When we attach our self-esteem or joy to a goal, the pursuit of it may cause emotional distress. We may obsessively chase the goal and the related feelings. This is called obsessive passion. Also, we may believe we have more control than is true. This may lead to unwise risk taking.
Perfectionism is also a state in which people seek a lot of control. Perfectionists create unrealistically high standards for themselves or others. When standards aren’t met, people may experience feelings of failure or depression. Thinking may be black-and-white (ex. “If I’m not perfect, then I’m nothing”). It may also be catastrophic, where negative consequences are overestimated (ex. If I make a small mistake at work, I’ll get fired. I’ll never get another job again”).
The Harm of Controlling Others
We might believe life would be easier if people did what we wanted all the time. But that’s not reality, nor is it healthy. Our expectations, good or bad, lead us to control people. We may feel insecure, so we try to dictate what others can do. It can feel very upsetting when people don’t behave how we want them too. This is called power stress.
Aside from this self-defeating downside, we hurt those we care about when we over-control. At best, we annoy people and push them away. At worst, our behavior is abusive and may cause distress or serious harm. Sometimes, we might try to manipulate people without being aware of it. Other times, it’s intentional. Controlling behavior applies to personal or professional relationships. Ex.
- Things must be done on our schedule, and our way. We don’t care about the input others.
- We micromanage the behaviors of others.
- We are judgemental of others.
- We constantly criticize other’s choices.
- We try to control where our partner goes, and who they see. We often feel and act jealous.
- We demand perfection from others.
How to Be Less Controlling
Challenge Fear and Insecurity
To change, we must know ourselves. It’s important to understand what frightens us. Then, we must ask if the threat is real, or imagined. We can ask ourselves:
- What do we fear will happen if we lose control?
- Is this fear realistic?
- Are we expecting the worst?
- How likely is it that the fear will come true?
Accept Lack of Control
We need to accept that the actions of others are out of our control. We can only control ourselves. Practicing mindfulness, either through formal meditation or simply being aware, is helpful. Helpful tips:
- Notice the emotions and physical feelings that arise when we feel the need to control others.
- Ask ourselves what alternatives we can use to deal with those feelings.
- Question what is in our control, and what isn’t.
- Realize and remember how our controlling behavior negatively affect people and outcomes.
- Allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with lack of control, without trying to change it.
- Trust ourselves; believe that we can handle any situation that happens because of surrendering control.
- Use deep breaths to regulate emotions during moments we feel out of control.
When we overcontrol, we risk damaging our own well being, and that of others. It’s helpful to remember that we don’t know everything. Life is full of uncertainty. To embrace it means trusting that we can handle not having all the answers.