The Relief of Not Being in Complete Control

The Relief of Not Being in Complete Control

Feeling the need to be in control all of the time can create a high level of stress. For those who are overwhelmed by the urge to control everyone and everything in life, depression and addiction can be right around the corner. No one person can dictate and control each of life’s events, and needing to do so can actually be a sign of fear or a negative self-image. When a person releases the need to control and learns to take life as it comes, his or her stress level is greatly reduced. It may seem like the opposite will happen, but learning to put that fear in its proper place can make your life easier and help you become a happier person.

Causes of a Controlling Personality

It can be very difficult for a person who needs to be in control to realize he or she has a problem. The very nature of the issue makes taking an honest look at yourself nearly impossible. You are too busy controlling every person and situation around you to see that the real problem is actually yours. If you think you may have a control issue or someone you love is trying to control you, understanding the problem can help. Sarah Newman, an Associate Publisher and Editor at PsychCentral and the Editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review suggests the following as a place to begin:

  • Those who can’t control themselves often turn to controlling others. In other words, a person who is insecure and has a negative self-image needs to receive a positive sense of self from other people.
  • Some people control out of a fear of being abandoned. This fear is born out of feeling insecure in a relationship. People who are afraid of being abandoned need to test their relationships by controlling to see if they are about to be betrayed. This often results in the very abandonment they feared.
  • Some people are narcissistic and feel the need to control their environment by any means necessary. They truly believe the world revolves around them. This type of controller is completely unaware of how his or her actions impact those around him.
  • Some people control because they feel they cannot live up to the goodness or success of someone else. They attempt to control other people by cutting them down or making them feel less than what they are.

Understanding the reasons behind the need to control is not the same as making excuses for the bad behavior that comes from someone with a control issue. Understanding can help you or your loved one recognize the problem and get the help you need to change.

Control and Depression

One of the most dangerous side effects of a controlling personality is depression. Because a person who struggles with control issues cannot maintain her level of control at all times, depression begins to creep in from the pressure. Depression can also be a symptom of a larger issue of control. A person tries to control things that he can’t and becomes angry or anxious when he realizes things are not happening in the way he wanted. This can also cause the person to take responsibility for situations outside of his control, resulting in more anxiety. This adds to the emotions that maintain his depression.[i]

When a person is depressed, it can greatly increase his risk of developing addiction. As he tries to manage the additional symptoms of depression—pain, fatigue, insomnia, etc. —he may be tempted to turn to a substance to help. Prescription pain-killers, alcohol and even street drugs can be a temptation when depression is in control.

Learning to Stop Controlling Behavior

Learning to stop your controlling behavior before it leads to depression or addiction is important. Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step. Erin L. Olivo, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, in her article “The Plan to Stop Being a Control Freak,” for the Dr. Oz website suggests the following steps:

  • Observe yourself – In order to change any behavior you must first recognize that behavior in yourself. Become your own mindful witness.
  • Identify the emotion that is driving the behavior – It may seem like the controlling behavior is causing the stress, but other emotions like fear, anger, sadness, shame, jealousy and even happiness may be driving your need to control.
  • Identify the distorted feeling and challenge it – Emotions can cause inaccurate thoughts. Learn to stop yourself when you feel the need to control coming on, identify your inaccurate thought patterns and replace them with what is really going on around you.
  • Do the opposite of what your emotion is telling you to do – Once you’ve identified the emotions that are driving your actions, stop acting on those emotions and give up your need to control.
  • Practice acceptance and self-compassion – Changing your behavior is hard, especially in the beginning. It’s not always going to feel good to give up the control. Be kind to yourself and show compassion and acceptance of what you are going through. Acknowledging how this process makes you feel rather than trying to avoid the emotion helps keep you balanced and moving forward.

Remember, these steps take practice. No person can change his or her behavior in one try. Practice these steps when you feel the urge to control coming on it will get easier with time.

Finding Help for Depression

The need to control can often be a sign of depression. Getting the right help at the right time is important for healing and change. If you or your loved ones struggle with depression we are here for you. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options. You are not alone. Call us now.


[i] “Depression and Your Sense of Control.” Accessed January 16, 2016.