Why Do I Need to Control Everything?
So, way back when, our primary concern as humans, was to survive. Nowadays, yes we still need to survive, but our environment is very, very different. One problem though, our brain isn’t different and because of this our fight/flight/freeze response still becomes engaged when we see or even perceive danger. This then makes us fearful, and when we are fearful we tend to try to control ourselves, others or the environment, to take away that uncertainty and to put ourselves in a position where we can minimise anything that could possibly go wrong. Sounds logical, right?
But this need to control, to micromanage, may leave us feeling angry, overwhelmed, exhausted, depressed or anxious, ruining our relationships and basically our whole quality of life.
Now this runs deep. Our internal world is full of ‘stuff’. But why are some of us controlling?
- Maybe because somewhere in our past we have lost control and the consequences of this have been so unbearable that we now control things in order to make us feel safe.
- Some people control to feel superior and to feel superior makes us feel good, powerful, special, as well as safe.
- Historically, some of us have been controlled in the past and consequently felt incredibly vulnerable, so if we now take a controlling stance, no one will ever be able to do that to us again.
- Or, we may have a fear of being abandoned and if we keep that person controlled, they will never, ever be able to leave us.
So, all in all, for whatever reason, the underlying reason is safety.
Another reason for controlling behaviour lies historically with the adults in our lives, adults who may have been emotionally unavailable or absent and our childhood, therefore, our childhood was not a place where we felt stable or safe. This safety may have been lacking emotionally or physically, or maybe we were not given choices – all of this may lead someone to seek control over aspects of their adult life.
When we have come from situations like this, it is incredibly difficult to develop healthy attachments to our caregivers and we, as humans, we are attached to everything and everyone and these attachments dictate how we see ourselves, others and the world, how we manage our emotions and our behaviour within close relationships.
Actually, our attachment is linked to perfectionist tendencies, which is another reason why we may have to control our world. Things must, ought and should be a certain way, but this is a naturally rigid way of being and when change happens around us (as it invariably does!) then life becomes impossible. Perfectionism is toxic, it is impossible to achieve and trying to achieve perfectionism actually makes our goals further away.
In fact, Brene Brown distinguishes between perfectionism and more healthy behaviour “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth.” And she believes perfectionism is used to protect ourselves against blame, judgement or shame.
It can be helpful to look at where perfectionism originates, maybe you were only loved for what you could do and not who you were as a person, maybe you may have an insecure attachment, or if you need things to be perfect you it may feel difficult accepting outcomes if they are not perfect.
Research suggests that insecure attachment styles are linked to perfectionism, which is further linked to anxiety and depression. Crain (2005) stated that these anxious attachments may lead us to strive for perfectionism, because if we are perfect then we will gain the love of our parents or be able to avoid rejection from others.
But letting go of this control can be absolutely terrifying and feel incredibly unsafe because this rigid structure has kept us safe for so long. Counselling can help you understand your own attachment behaviour, address your underlying fears, challenge you in manageable ways, change your perspective and to finally help you develop more healthy coping strategies and instead of being smashed down by life’s waves, you may learn that you can actually surf!!!