Reasons people seek to control:
- Desire to feel better
- Fear of abandonment
- Fear of what others will think
When things around you feel out of control, you may want to start controlling what you can as a way to feel better in the moment.
Living in fear can also be a reason for attempts at control.
Feeling scared may feel out of your control, so you may seek security outside of yourself. This can happen with children, your neighborhood, and your workplace.
Often, abandonment and shame lead people to seek control in their lives. It can be scary to face past truths to become a better version of yourself. You can choose differently at any time.
There are many reasons people attempt to gain control. It can feel uncomfortable not to know what will happen next, and often, self-protection may be the reason for control.
The truth is that you won’t be able to predict everything that happens.
There will be times you feel uncomfortable, and dealing with that discomfort can help you to grow.
Letting go when you don’t feel protected can be an added challenge, and it can help you to move forward in a way that encourages self-love.
Here are a few things you can’t control:
- The state of affairs in the world
- Your children
- Your family of origin
- Your workplace
- Getting cut off in traffic
- The way someone speaks to you
Here are a few things you can control:
- The way you prioritize your time and money
- Giving your child choices to help them develop safe boundaries
- Setting boundaries with your family of origin
- Choosing a different job that better aligns with your values
- Leaving your house earlier to feel less stressed in traffic
- Standing up for yourself in a clear, kind way
While you may try to control people, places, or things to try to control, if you are trying to control anything other than yourself, it is likely an illusion of control rather than the real thing.
A negative thought or negative emotions can feel uncontrollable in the moment, as often they are automatic reactions to situations. This can lead to increased stress.
How you respond these thoughts, emotions and to a situation is within in your control, for the most part.
You may find yourself picking apart things that you don’t like about yourself during an effort to control. Gentleness and love go a long way if you find yourself doing this.
You can’t control people, places, or things. Even if you are attempting to do this as a means to be helpful, you are likely creating problems along the way.
Attempts to control can lead to learned helplessness:
Learned helplessness in both children and adults can be a result of a controlling environment.
You won’t be able to show up everywhere, so allowing people to make mistakes for themselves can be beneficial.
When you want to feel needed, you may need to look closely at how abandonment has shown up in your life. If people need you, they might not leave you.
Though this may sound true, the reality can turn out differently than you expect.
Rather than focusing on what others are doing, take a look within to help guide your next steps for personal growth.
Balance is important with control:
You can control yourself. You can control the responses you have to thoughts, emotions, people, places, and things in your life.
This can be taken to the extreme when it comes to weight, money, and your workplace. You can technically control these things, and if not healthy, your outcomes can be harmful.
Think about how you can be gentle in your approach.
Positive self talk is a start to making better decisions and creating a happy life for yourself.
If you are berating yourself or using negative self talk to force yourself into a smaller size, budget, or a different job, you aren’t helping yourself.
Negative feelings toward yourself don’t lead to good habits.
Think about how you can change patterns rather than recreate them.
You may have had a parent figure in your life that led with an iron fist, and the loving thing in this situation is to be gentler in your adult life.
If you are a parent who is ruling with excessive control, think about how you can lead by example in a loving way.
You may need some help. That is okay.
Signs of feeling a lack of control:
- Extreme control over food, money, and less powerful people in your life
- Rash decision-making in the moment
- Increased drug/alcohol/substance use
- Increased anger
- Verbal/emotional/physical abuse toward less powerful people in your life
Signs of feeling in control:
- Perspective taking on what you can control
- Small actionable steps toward achievable goals
- Having self-awareness
- Using time and resources toward causes that matter to you
- Building up a support system of people with similar solutions like 12-step programs or other support groups
- Accepting that you are powerless
- Staying humble in what you can actually control
You will have moments that you feel out of control, and that is okay.
Rather than extreme decision making, take a moment to pause.
Acting on feelings of fear can alter outcomes in unlikely, negative ways.
Part of self-control means that you act less on impulses and more on what you can do each day to make a change within yourself.
Take a pause, develop a routine, and create safe relationships with people who care.
Though this may sound simple, it isn’t always easy. It may be time to seek out therapy to help you establish boundaries, shift a pattern, or be heard in a meaningful way.
There are options to feel control when everything around you feels out of control.
Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of Denver therapists who provide teen therapy, young adult therapy, adult therapy, family therapy and other counseling and therapy in Denver and throughout Colorado.
We specialize in relationships, codependency, communication and boundaries and provide supportive therapy for people struggling with life transitions, trauma, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, negative body image, and more.
Our clinicians are trained and comfortable working with people who struggle with thoughts of suicide and work collaboratively with our clients and their loved ones to maintain safety through a trauma-informed approach.