Hello. My name is Abby and I’m a control freak. Actually, I like to call myself a “control enthusiast” because that sounds better but, no matter what language you use, I’m someone who likes to be in control, and some may have called me bossy (and even that other “B” word when I’m extra-special controlling). So, if you’re struggling with control issues – I see you and I know the struggle is REAL!
Let me say first that just about every couple has control issues. Some partners are most comfortable when they’re in control and others are most comfortable when their partner is in control. Either way, it’s a thing.
Being controlling is a group of behaviors and thoughts based on fear. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: You can’t have a love relationship based on fear.
Let’s Talk About Why You Might Be Controlling:
Reason 1: Some of you have had some trauma in your childhood (often something you haven’t identified as a trauma) that’s created this response. You don’t want to be at the mercy of others. Maybe you had a parent who was so controlling that you’re craving control in your current life. Maybe you were the victim of sexual, physical or emotional abuse and you don’t want to let anyone see cracks in your current armor for fear that they’ll take advantage.
You can’t be in a love relationship and afraid that your partner, your most trusted person in the world, is going to take advantage of you! This is not a love relationship. Once again, you’re not allowing your partner true access to you so there’s no true intimacy.
Reason 2: Maybe you felt neglected in some way by one or both of your parents or guardians. In this case, you’ve had to control your environment from an early age just to survive and get by. You became used to relying only on yourself, because you didn’t feel you could rely on those who were supposed to be in the driver’s seat. That pattern of thoughts and behaviors gets set and it’s hard to break.
Reason 3: You’re being controlled by someone else, so feel the need to exert control wherever you can when you’re out of that person’s sphere. Maybe this is a controlling boss or maybe your spouse or partner is domineering or jealous. You might have a manipulative or overprotective parent who still runs parts of your life.
Reason 4: I’ve worked with a lot of women who were professionals before having kids. Then they made the decision (sometimes passively) to stay home with their kids and not go back to work. I think MANY of these women have control issues because they’re frustrated. Working out soccer schedules, foods for Jane’s gluten allergy, juggling gymnastics, trombone lessons and tutoring keep them super busy, but their brains are NOT stimulated. They’re actually bored and frustrated (yes, you can run around like crazy and still be bored – just like you can be in a room full of people and feel lonely). This boredom makes these smart, thoughtful, energetic women into controlling crazy people.
Two New Ways to Look at Control:
The first new way of looking at your control issues is to realize that it’s a defense mechanism NOT a personality trait! You can absolutely change this state of being!
Since your controlling behavior is a defense mechanism, the big question I want you to ask yourself is: “What am I defending?” “What am I so afraid of that I feel a need to cover it up in this way?” Who’s so scary that you need to defend yourself? Is it your partner? Your most trusted person in the world?
The second new way of looking at your control issues is to see control like a drug. This craving to micromanage, control the actions or behaviors of your partner or kids, or keeping any kind of rigid rules or routines is all something to look at. Just like it’s a problem if you’re craving drugs, it’s a problem if you’re craving control.
Just like with drugs, there are often triggers for controlling behavior:
- Stress is probably the number one trigger I see. People start to get stressed, they have too much on their plates or experience it as too much and then they get controlling as they attempt to keep everything in line.
- Perfectionism: Related to the stress is this relentless need to have everything a certain way. There’s something tied (self-esteem, ego) to things being a certain way because that’s the way it “should” be with little thought into why it needs to be this way.
- Being Unsure: when things are in flux or changing, the controlling teeth come out! Being unpredictable feels scary (there’s that fear again) and controlling folks want to get things back in line before it all goes haywire!
- Overscheduling: People tend to not only overschedule, but to plan everything down to the minute. You need to expect delays and schedule in cushions for these things. Sleeping until the very last second and then feeling rushed out the door in the morning is NO way to start your day. Scheduling 10 things after your kids get out of school is too much.
- Impatience: Many of us get caught up in our impatience. If you’ve ever watched your child try to zipper their jacket for the first time when you’re trying to get them out of the house, you know what I’m talking about! When frustration bubbles up, and things aren’t going exactly as planned we get upset and there goes that controlling behavior.
- Anxiety: All of these triggers are really about anxiety. It doesn’t matter if you have a diagnosable condition or not. Control is all about some fear-based anxiety. Your worry about the future, stress about the past, apprehension about an upcoming meeting or obligation, your nervousness about your daughter making the basketball team, the jealousy you feel around your partner, your agonizing about what school to choose for your son; all the feelings of uneasiness, discomfort and concern: these are all anxiety and lead to control issues as you try to alleviate these upsetting feelings.
Love doesn’t trigger control. Fear does. Love-based emotions such as openness, intimacy, kindness, compassion, willingness, ease, and connection all make us feel relaxed, happy and peaceful. None of these trigger control.
So, how do you leave the fear-based control world and get yourself over to the love-based world? There are actually some tried and true methods to move you from control to being a calm and patient ninja.
Here are my top 5 tools:
1) Learn to Relax (Really).
I’ve always hated when people tell me “just relax!” There’s no “just” about it. Learning to relax is a skill. And, like any other skill, you need to practice it to get good at it. But, how the hell do you practice being relaxed? If I could do it, I wouldn’t need to practice it!!
I have the answer for you. It’s something called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). PMR was developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s. Jacobson was trained at Harvard by the “father of modern psychology,” William James. His premise was that mental calmness is a natural result of physical relaxation. And he’s right.
PMR has been researched quite a bit and has been shown to be a highly effective tool to lessen stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia and even chronic pain symptoms.
PMR is basically a deep relaxation technique which uses a simple system of tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time, as you progress from your head to your feet.
When you’re in a controlling state, you’re anxious and this shows up with physical stiffness in your body: shoulders inching up to your ears, jaw clenching, tongue on the roof of your mouth – you can check that one right now – tightening your stomach muscles and breathing out of your chest. This is one of the reasons that people with anxiety end up with physical pain such as back pain, headaches, and stomach/digestion issues.
This is an amazing and highly effective tool is to change your controlling ways. I want to give you a challenge. You can download a recording I made to progressively relax your body. I want you to create a 20-minute time slot for seven consecutive days where you can lie down and listen to the recording. You will absolutely see changes in just that short amount of time. This is also super helpful to do right before you go to sleep at night.
2) Learn to delegate or cut out. If it won’t matter in five years, it doesn’t matter now. It’s OK to hire people, use Blue Apron, and you’re not ruining your kid if they only have one sport or activity at a time. The really important thing with delegation is you can’t be attached to outcomes. No one else is going to do it just like you and that’s OK!! Start with small things if this is especially hard for you but find something and get someone else to do it today!
3) Boundaries please. It’s OK to say “no” even if it’s something you’ve always done so people expect it from you. I know you’ve done the Christmas card every year, but maybe not this year. Or, if you choose to do it, what are you going to take off your plate? Maybe hire more help over the holidays to off-set this time you’re using for the extra things that got added to your plate.
4) Let go of “right.” There actually is NOT a right way to clean the kitchen counter! Let go of right – if someone is willing to do anything, then let that be enough. If it’s half-assed, try to have the most generous interpretation of them and their actions. It’s not your way or the highway anymore. Let people find their own way to help and be part of the action.
5) Dispute negative thinking with realistic self-talk. Thinking things like: “I’ll never love again if we break up.” “I’ll never get over it if he ignores me again.” “We never make any changes that stick!” “We’ve been this way too long, this is just how it’s always going to be lead to anxiety and controlling behavior.
This type of catastrophizing or generalizing is fear-based and not real! This type of thinking comes from scarcity not abundance. It comes from fear, not love. If you’re thinking in this way, then you’re NOT staying in the relationship because you love your partner so much, you’re staying because you’re afraid of (being alone, having his mother hate you, the kids becoming addicts due to your divorce, insert phobia and traumatic thinking here). Ask yourself: What else could be true? If I was a calm together person, what would my reaction be?