The control freak in all of us

Defensiveness is natural, but there are better ways.  Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

We all like to control life.  It is bred into us.  We need to control our food to eat it.  We need to control our home to keep it in order.  We need to control our relationships to give us a sense of identity.

That last item in the list is an interesting one.  Just to repeat it: ‘We need to control our relationships to give us a sense of identity.’  Put another way, we need to feel reasonably free and in control of ourselves, in order to give others of our best.  If we experience others as destroying our freedom, it is very hard to view them generously, because we may be too busy defending ourselves.


Most people are familiar with the word defensive as applies to relationships.  It refers to the way we jump to our own protection so quickly, that it compromises the richness of the relationship itself.

There are a number of ways we do this, both overt and covert.  Some examples, in descending order of overtness, are:

  1. Physical violence
  2. Hurtful or disparaging language
  3. Argumentitiveness
  4. Passive aggressiveness
  5. Avoidance
Passive aggressiveness is indirect resistance, and is used in order to avoid being overtly aggressive.  It can include excuses, pretending to cooperate, and coming up with spurious obstructions to cooperation.All of the above are controlling responses, in that, in one way or another, they seek to obstruct the influence or presence of the other.

The problem is, defensiveness often only provides temporary solutions.  Violence and aggressive language result in harm and repercussions; argumentitiveness and passive aggressiveness can result in confusion and impaired relationships; and avoidance can result in loneliness.


Fortunately, there are other ways to achieve the aim of regaining respect and freedom in relationships.  In particular, there are:

  1. Setting of boundaries
  2. Questions
  3. Discussion
  4. Transparent articulation of difficulty
  5. Presence
Each of these alternative strategies is a moderation of each defensive tactic above.  Boundary setting is a moderation of physical violence (which is why countries, after war, have borders).  Questions are a moderation of aggressive language, opening up the possibility of empathy.  Discussion is a moderation of argumentitiveness, on a more equal basis.  Transparency is a moderation of passive aggressiveness, because it expresses clearly what is hidden.  And presence is a moderation of avoidance, providing the opportunity of reconciliation.RELO 20180125 Remindful logo transparent bg


We all like to feel respected in our relationships, and when they go wrong we like to defend ourselves, resorting to a series of defensive tactics.

With a little moderation, however, a new set of social tactics can be developed, with a better chance of relationship success.