Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Calming the Control Freak in You

Ila Bonczek
Ila lives in the Garden State with her family and four chickens. She has been growing produce and perennials for 20 years, and recommends gardening for food and fun, but not for fortune.
Published: September 24, 2022
The control freak is not uncommon — many of us exhibit controlling behavior when we feel threatened or uncomfortable — but it is rarely helpful and can even be harmful. (Image: Kindel Media via pexels)

Do you have an inner control freak? Most of us have the wish to control more in life than is possible. While the intent of our desire for control is to achieve comfort, happiness or satisfaction, in reality it is a good way to ensure the opposite. Why? Exactly because it is impossible to control almost everything

Let’s look at what motivates our inner control freak and explore some solid steps we can take towards adopting an alternative approach that will allow us to feel more fulfilled, joyful and comfortable; and less angry, frustrated and stressed. 

Why we crave control

Our inner control freak is, sadly, motivated by fear. The thought of all the possible negative outcomes to any given situation can make one sick with anxiety. Gripped with fear, we take all manner of measures to steer things in the direction we desire — including criticism of ourselves and others, meticulous planning, offering unwanted advice, micromanagement, manipulation and excessively strict regimes. Not only is this approach exhausting and stressful; it impacts our physical health and basically guarantees disappointment. 

Life is frustrating when you are attached to things that are not within your power to control. (Image: Yan Krukov via pexels)

It is certainly good and responsible to always try for the best; the problem is when we become attached to the outcome. If we believe our happiness depends on whether we achieve precisely what we desire, our happy moments will be few and far between. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to control a single significant situation. 

Life is mostly beyond our control 

Whether we want to control how others think, act, or feel, the only person over whom we have this control is ourselves. You can tell people what they should think or how they should act, or instill guilt or fear; but more often than not, this will drive them away — ultimately erasing any influence you might have had to begin with.  

Situations are even more iffy. Other than perhaps selecting some minor preferences — like what we wish to eat or wear, there are so many variables in any given situation that orchestrating it to meet our expectations is simply unrealistic. Trying to do so can cause stress, anxiety, irritability, anger, or depression, which, in turn, might result in a number of physical maladies — such as headaches, insomnia, fatigue, back pain, constipation or indigestion. 

In short, our goals of happiness and comfort are quickly undone by our attempts to achieve them through control. When our thoughts are focused on anxiety for the future or regret over the past, we can never ground ourselves in the present. But the present is precisely the moment where we can take charge in a meaningful way. 

Calming the control freak in 6 steps

Even if mellowing out seems a million miles away, this is actually something within your control.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you suspect you have an inner control freak that you should deal with; which means that you are already on your way. Becoming aware of your controlling behavior is the first step to managing it.

1 – Pay attention to your behavior. You might only recognize your controlling behavior in hindsight, but don’t fret — this is still valuable. Start writing down each incident — be it a conflict, procrastination due to over-analyzing, avoiding someone or something, criticism or negative labeling. 

Record how you felt in each situation. Was there tension, shortness of breath, a change in body temperature? You will probably notice some level of discomfort, reinforcing your incentive to change. 

Finally, take a moment to think of a more appropriate response for each scenario. Write that down as well, to help you stay mindful of your controlling nature and prepare you for the typical situations where you crave control.

2 – Look for the reasoning behind it. It can be difficult to analyze your feelings while the emotions are still strong; but after you’ve accumulated a number of different situations where you sought control, review your notes. Think about the underlying fears that drive your behavior and whether they are rational.

Control freaks tend to make a mountain out of a molehill, catastrophizing events that are actually of little consequence. (Image: Dulup via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Are they based on a negative experience from the past? Are you catastrophizing about how a small event could affect your future? In most cases, you will find that you attempted to steer a situation in the direction of a certain outcome that you are attached to. 

The thing is, there are many possible outcomes, and the likelihood of your ideal outcome may be very small. With your controlling behavior, you reveal your fear of not having things go your way.

3 – Be broad-minded. Rather than being attached to a single outcome, try to look at things from a broad perspective. Life is about continuous change, and adapting to various situations is part of growth and learning. Limiting yourself to only one acceptable scenario will cause a lot of unnecessary discomfort. Take a step back, look for a positive side to other outcomes, and you may find that there is no reason to fear them. 

Broad-minded people are open to new perspectives and receptive to new ideas. They tend to be comfortable in dealing with a wide range of situations and show sympathy for others, making them ideal teammates. When we hold on to the idea that our way is the only way, we create all sorts of barriers for ourselves and others.

4 – Cultivate trust. Oftentimes, we want to take charge of a situation simply because we don’t trust others to do it right. It’s true that most people won’t handle things in exactly the same way we would, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work. Other people can be competent and clever if you give them a chance. By showing trust, you enable them to show their talents, rather than stifling them and creating more work for yourself.

If it’s trust in yourself that’s lacking, your control freak may manifest as avoidance, due to a fear of trying new things. Get your notepad back out, and look around you. You can probably fill a whole page with things that you’ve done successfully or that you’re proud of. Keep this list handy for when negative thoughts crop up, telling you “I can’t do that.” Those thoughts are not only depressing, they are dangerous — because they can shape your reality.

When we consider the vastness of the cosmos, our human concerns seem petty and insignificant. (Image: ruanyuanyuan123456789 via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

5 – Acceptance. Nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes — including you. Demanding perfection from yourself or others is a huge source of frustration, because it will never come. Equally frustrating is the fact that you do not have the power to control life around you. 

All you can do is your best, and have faith that — whether it is readily apparent or not — there is a reason for everything. When things go wrong, look at it as an opportunity for growth. When you’re faced with an uncomfortable situation, take it as a challenge and face it head-on. When you get hurt or offended, try to think of times when you might have been the cause of such pain, and consider it karmic retribution, or pay-back. 

Check in with the universe now and then, and realize how small and insignificant each of us is. Maybe we’re all just acting out our roles according to a greater plan. Since going against the plan can only cause a mess, we might do better to accept what is, surrender to our destiny, and live in the present.

Trying to control our environment is like carrying a heavy and cumbersome burden. It’s exhausting and keeps us from reaching our goals sooner. (Image: ARnab via pexels)

6 – Control the one thing that is important.  The best thing you can do with your controlling energy is to turn it towards yourself — not in a scolding, critical way — but in a way that brings positive change. Let go of fear, the desire for comfort, and the wish to control. Letting go can be easy, once you make the decision that you want to let go. 

For an incentive to free yourself from limiting fears and attachments, look at all the ways in which your controlling behavior is negatively impacting yourself and others. 

For some people, visualization is a useful tool: Imagine that you’re carrying a great load, or swimming upstream with all your effort. Then release the load, or let yourself flow downstream. The relief is tremendous, and you might wonder why you were working so hard but not getting anywhere.

Ancient Chinese wisdom advises us to “follow the course of nature.” When we do this, we have the whole universe working with us, rather than against us.