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How Does Control Play a Role in Mental Health?

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA, NCC

Do you feel angered or out of control when things don’t go your way? If yes, you may be subjecting yourself to unnecessary suffering. As human beings, we have many common needs: food, water, shelter, love. One such need is also that of our need for control. Humans exercise control in all matters of their life, from choosing what to eat to who they want to date to where they want to work. While this need is natural and may even be innate, it becomes increasingly more problematic when it leads to negative thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

You have likely heard the terms, “control freak” or “type A” personality. A “control freak” is defined as someone who likes to exercise control and has diminished tolerance for uninvited situations. As we know, the need for control varies from person to person; however, when a person’s need for control increases, he or she may notice that they become more tense, irritable, restless, or generally dysregulated.

         The euphoria we feel when everything seems to be going our way is inexplicable, I admit. But have you ever thought of the anxiety you experience in those moments when things do not pan out as you had planned? Or the anger you feel when you do not get what you wanted? Just take a moment to reflect on these experiences and consider how they may have informed your negative thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. I would assume that, by now, you have become more self-aware of the impact the need for control can have on both your mind and your body.  

         Now, this may seem a bit harder, but I want you to give yourself permission to let go of the need to control everything around you. Imagine what it would feel like to miss a meeting, fail an exam, burn a pie, etc and not criticize yourself or worse, act out in anger towards those around you. As humans living a human existence, we must accept that there are a million and one things that are entirely out of our control. Attempting to micro-manage that which is out of our control is futile and leads to us expending more mental and physical energy than is necessary. If you have read the preceding paragraphs and found yourself inspired to release your grip on the metaphorical rope of life, you can refer to the list below to give you a jumping off point:

  • Become more aware of your thoughts

Our thoughts and thought patterns can tell us a lot about ourselves and how we see the world. You may find that there is some underlying reason, such as an unexpected loss or traumatic event or even internal self-criticism, that is fueling your need to be in control. I have often found that when clients are experiencing internal chaos, they try to control their external surroundings. Meeting with a therapist can help you sort any troubling or overwhelming thought patterns and can help you to regulate your emotions.

  • Use logic to reason with yourself

Tell yourself that it is impossible to control everything. Yes, that is a fact! There will always be something that does not go as planned no matter how hard you try. So, instead of being that person trying to prevent the other shoe from dropping, I encourage you to enjoy living in the present moment. Take things slow and let them unfold organically. 

  • Be Calm & Creative When Surprises Surprise You

Plan less and enjoy more. For example; you don’t need to decide the ETA every time you leave for office or blame yourself if you forget to carry the power bank with you and your phone dies. Instead, experience the other side of the picture. Connect with your surroundings and people when the phone dies while being out and about. You can always charge your phone later. 

Failure is the first step towards success. Turn unfavorable situations into lessons. Above all, go easy on yourself! If you or someone you know is looking to address the need for control, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling to get paired with a counselor in Chicago.

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