In many different ways we seek control of our lives every day, whether it is something small such as setting our alarm to get ourselves to work or something large as in telling everyone around us what to do. We all seek some level and form of control, yet most of us do not take the time to understand what motivates us to create this control in our lives.
When we seek to control someone or a situation, we are attempting to create some level of safety for ourselves. Control is used as a way to manage our fear because the greater the fear, the greater the control. When we have no fear, we also have no need for control because we have a level of trust that allows us to not control that situation.
At a very young age we are taught to control ourselves and our feelings. We are taught to hold our feelings in until the energy disappears from sight. We are also taught to control our urges—such as a need to be loud, run, and play—with statements like “children are to be seen and not heard.”
These forms of control are created from fear of displeasing our parents or authority figures as a child and become engrained in us so that we continue to control that aspect of our lives in adulthood. Control can be helpful in protecting us in certain situations; it can also be limiting so that we fear experiencing the fullness of life.
An example of positive control is when we set healthy boundaries that are respectful of ourselves and others. The boundary creates a level of safety and accountability and is a form of control. Control can also create negative consequences by limiting ourselves and others in such a way that we are not able to fully experience the many positive things life has to offer.
Our need for control is based upon what we have experienced and have been taught. As a child we may have had an experience that scared us and continues to present fear and a need to control and limit our activities. Our parents and/or authority figures may control certain situations due to fear associated with their history, and they may have passed that fear on to us.
The question becomes what is positive and healthy control and what type of control is unhealthy. Healthy control is control that is designed to protect a person or persons in ways that are respectful and do not create limits greater than the situation demands.
Unhealthy control is based upon exaggerated fear, meaning the fear is greater than the situation demands due to emotional history, phobias, and misinformation. Unhealthy control is disrespectful to ourselves and others. While we may not recognize the disrespect because we have grown accustomed to it, the disrespect still exits. The disrespect could be associated with pushing others away with our control when deep down inside we actually desire closeness.
When we are told we are controlling, which everyone is to some degree, it creates an opportunity to explore. In what ways we are controlling? Is the control healthy? If it is not, we can learn healthy, different ways to explore and work through the fear that creates the need for control.