Control issues

What’s your relationship with control?  Photo by niu niu on Unsplash

Do you think you have control over your life?  Do you even want control over your life?

The issue of control plagues many people who suffer from mental health issues.  A number of quasi-obsessive ‘disorders’ involve a keenness to control one’s own circumstances excessively.  In addition, a number of aggressive ‘disorders’ involve resistance to control from others, and therefore, by default, a desire to have one’s life away from others’ control.

Although some want to control their universe, others are keen to delegate that control as quickly as possible.  Thus, some people get great relief from being under the control of others – the person who seeks a dominating partner, or the obedient servant who needs a master.


All control motivations are not the same.  The terrorist who hijacks a plane may not have the same motivation as the person who compulsively wishes to restrict their own food intake.  (Although, in certain cases, there may be surprising similarities.)

Here are a few reasons why humans may try to exercise control over themselves or others:

  1. PREVIOUS HURT – If you have been damaged by a previous act of aggression, then you may be keen for the same thing not to repeat itself.  You have a strong motivation to try to control your universe so that no one else can damage you.
  2. PHOBIA – If you have a natural fear of something, then you will do anything in your power to remove it from your life.
  3. DRIVE TO ACHIEVE – If you really want to achieve a particular goal in your life, then you may feel you need to exercise great control over your environment and colleagues to get there.
  4. LACK OF COMMUNICATION SKILLS – If you lack the skill to communicate and persuade by other means, then you may resort to controlling tactics to compensate.  It’s quicker and easier.
It’s important to know what is driving a control behaviour.  If someone has been hurt before, you may want to reassure them that this time it could be different.  If someone has a phobia, then you may want to help them find an alternative solution.  If someone has a drive to achieve, you may want to understand their aims, and then negotiate.  If someone lacks communication skills, you may want to help them to express their concerns peacefully.


In the same way, all motivations to be controlled are not the same.  The evangelical who wants to be told what to do by the Bible may not have the same motivation as the sexual submissive who wants to be controlled in bed.  (Although there may, conceivably, be some common factors.)

Here are a few reasons why humans may try to put themselves under the control of others:

  1. HABIT – If, as a child, someone had a controlling parent, then they may be expert at collaborating with a controlling other.  It seems that some of us seek out situations in adulthood, that we are used to from childhood.
  2. FEAR OF RESPONSIBILITY – Some people strongly dislike having to take the lead in any situation.  They would much rather be led by others, even if they complain about it afterwards.
  3. WISH TO AVOID PRESSURE – It can be very pressurizing to push for goal achievement.  Some people dislike this so strongly, that they prefer to set aside their own goal-setting, and help others to achieve their goals.
  4. LACK OF INITIATIVE – Some people really don’t feel any overwhelming urge inside themselves to go in  any particular direction.  Being controlled can compensate for this, by providing initiative that would otherwise be lacking.
Again, it is important to know what is driving someone’s submissive behaviour.  If someone is replicating a childhood role, they may need sensitivity and safety to explore other non-submissive roles.  If someone fears responsibility, you may want to offer them a small amount and build up gradually.  If someone hates pressure, then they may need a supportive community around them.  If someone has no sense of personal direction, you may want to spend time with them helping them find out what they like, and what inspires them.


Maybe ask yourself these eight questions:


  1. Have you previously been hurt, and is this making you controlling now?
  2. Are you naturally afraid of certain things?
  3. Are you driven to achieve, and does that sometimes damage your relaitonships with others?
  4. Do you find it hard to communicate with certain people, and do you compensate by telling them what to do?

  1. Did you have a controlling parent, and does this make you seek out controlling people now?
  2. Do you dislike taking the lead, so you end up being led by others all the time?
  3. Do you fear pushing for your own goals, and so you end up working for other people’s goals instead?
  4. Do you feel directionless, so you let other people push you around because it’s better than nothing?
You will have your own answers to these questions.  They are difficult questions, but hopefully they provoke thought.

If you notice you are either controlling or submissive, and it is making you or others unhappy, then you may like to consider balancing yourself out a bit.



The issue of control is common to much psychological difficulty.  Sometimes we get too controlling, and sometimes we get too submissive.

If you are controlling, you might like to ask yourself where that is coming from.  Equally, if you are submissive, you might like to ask yourself what your motivation might be.

In addition, when dealing with others who seem particularly controlling or submissive, it pays to attend to what their motivation might be.

In general, reflecting on your relationship with control can help with self-development.  Do you seek control?  Or do you seek to give away control?  Once you know where your natural comfort zone is, you might want to make yourself more flexible by trying out the other side of the equation.