Control and freedom

The balance between control and freedom is important for our safe development.  Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

We all have a mixed relationship with control and freedom.  As concepts, they interfere with each other, until we find our own accommodation.  What do I mean by this?  Well, imagine you are looking after a child.  On the one hand, you want to control the child enough to keep it safe.  But on the other hand, you want to give the child enough freedom so that it can be happy and independent.  Exactly how you balance control and freedom will depend on your assessment of the child, and your assessment of the context.


In the same way as you might manage that child, you need to manage yourself.  Self-development requires a clever balance of control and freedom.  Too much self-control, and you may find yourself trapped in a hell of your own making, forced by your own rules to live on tramlines which allow little leeway.  Too much freedom, and you may cause so much chaos that you struggle to get back on track.  There is wisdom in finding, for yourself, a middle way between the two.


One thing to watch our for is the ‘pendulum effect’.  This is where a person repeatedly swings from extreme freedom to extreme self-control, and back again.

One example is our relationship with food.  We are attracted by food and put on weight.  We are repelled by the effect on our physique.  In reaction, we impose a strict regime.  We are pleased by the result.  We relax our grip.  We become attracted by food again and put on weight.  And so on.

The pendulum effect, within reason, can be a useful part of life, ensuring we exercise both our freedom muscles and our self-control muscles.  But taken to an extreme, we can fall into binge-purge cycles that damage our health.


The issue of freedom versus control comes up frequently in counselling sessions with clients.  Counselling is a good forum in which to engage with such personal issues.  They can be hard to see for ourselves – we often ‘see through’ our normal psychological habits, and we may need someone else to challenge us into a new balance.

Whether in counselling or through self-analysis, personal engagement is helpful.  Without it, we can be destined to repeat the pendulum effect without realising what we are doing.  With personal engagement, we can develop an understanding of why the swings happen, and take measures to moderate their effect.



Looking after yourself involves finding a balance between control and freedom.  Too much self-control, and you can disable yourself with order.  Too much freedom, and you can disable yourself with chaos.

Sometimes we can even experience a ‘pendulum effect’, where we swing between strictness and freedom, purge and binge.

Via counselling or self-reflection, we can become more aware of our relationship with control and freedom, and find a balance that works for us.