Am I controlling?

It is understandable to want to be in control of your life, and there is a healthy level of control we all must retain in order to direct our lives and pursue our goals and passions. However, when the need for control becomes excessive, it can cause more harm than good to your relationships, career and overall sense of well-being. If you have reached a point where you are wondering, “Am I controlling?” it is likely you’ve passed the point of healthy control, and your need for control has become toxic. As Tony Robbins says, “Changing yourself is the first step in changing anything else.” Take action now to learn to let go, and you’ll create the lasting fulfillment you’ve been craving.

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Why am I controlling? Reasons behind the need for control

The need for control is rooted in fear and self-doubt. Mental health experts report that people resort to controlling behaviors to gain a (temporary) fix for feelings of anxiety. The foundational (but likely unconscious) belief runs along the lines of, “If I can control my circumstances so they feel stable and functional, I can finally rest assured that all parts of my life will also run smoothly.” In pursuit of this unattainable goal of creating rock-solid security, it’s tempting to try and control everything around you, from your relationships to your finances, and even to other people’s lives.

It’s a common experience to begin the day worrying about not only your own to-do list, but also the needs and fears of loved ones, colleagues and even strangers. Although this worry-driven approach is not helpful in finding feasible, effective solutions for life’s uncertainties, it is oftentimes the only approach known by someone suffering from an excessive need for control.

If you find yourself asking “am I controlling,” it’s possible you grew up under the care of individuals who did not provide an adequate sense of safety or who, ironically, felt an inordinate need for control themselves. To further complicate and cement controlling behavior, it is common for adults to praise a child for being “mature,” thus reinforcing the child’s fear-based efforts at control. Children in such a predicament approach adulthood unable to shake the need for control unless they develop adequate alternative coping skills.

Am I controlling? Signs and symptoms

In due time, the pursuit of control becomes exhausting, and you’ll finally reach a point of asking yourself, “Why am I so controlling?”

In addition to feeling fatigued, you might also notice that you are surrounded by two types of people: individuals who are dependent on your ability to “control” the situation (like your children) and those who want you to back off (like your partner and colleagues). This scenario backs you into an uncomfortable corner in which you feel alone, unappreciated and alienated in your anxiety. It’s also likely your thoughts are accompanied by feelings and circumstances that indicate an unhealthy need for control.

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Perfectionism is a tell-tale sign of control problems

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The need for control often manifests in the pursuit of unattainable perfection. Even under the best of circumstances, it is easy to feel that everything must go your way for you to feel at peace with your life. While this is true to a point – being a high achiever, for example, has obvious benefits for individuals and society – focusing on perfection without enough flexibility is a recipe for disaster. Instead of letting unrecognized, rigid perfectionism derail your relationships and overall satisfaction in life, learn to recognize and eliminate perfectionism. Here are some telltale signs that you need to address your perfectionism and underlying need for control:

You're a people pleaser

You might have learned in childhood that pleasing people is the route to security and contentment. However, in adulthood, being too focused on pleasing others is a sure path to disappointment since it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.

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You feel perfectionism is necessary for success

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While it seems to make sense that perfectionism ensures success, the reality is that perfectionism is a double-edged sword, creating illusions of security and self-loathing. No matter what you achieve, you find yourself in a no-win bind.

You procrastinate

Here is the great irony of perfectionism: You want perfection so badly that you are overwhelmed by the steps necessary to achieve it. You fear displeasing others and the overwhelming workload it would take to achieve the impossible, so you put off any action whatsoever.

 

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You are critical of others

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Perfectionism and projection go hand in hand. When you are bent on perfection, you’re unable to accept the imperfect parts of yourself which you then project onto others in the form of excessive criticism. When you’re overly critical of others due to the unreasonable demands you put on yourself, you set your relationships up for failure.

 

You only accept the best

Look for the ways in which you accept only the best or nothing at all. This type of black-or-white thinking fuels maladaptive behaviors that keep you dissatisfied with virtually everything.

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You feel lonely

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Perfectionism and its companion, self-loathing, can cause us to isolate from others due to a fear of rejection. Failing to recognize that the real reason behind our need for control stems not from others’ actions, but from our own lack of self-confidence. We become unable to connect with others due to the unreasonable demands we place on them.

 

You can't let mistakes go

You cry over spilt milk and take everything personally, whether or not it has anything to do with you or your performance. This approach leads to interpersonal results that will derail almost all your relationships.

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Discover your human needs and the root of your need for control by taking Tony Robbins’ Driving Force quiz.