If you’re a person who is labeled a “control freak” or frequently told that you need to accept that you can’t control everything, then you’ve arrived at the right place.
Controlling behavior can be challenging to deal with personally, and it can be even harder for others (the people impacted by the controlling behavior) to cope with.
Though your intentions are likely good-natured, it’s essential to acknowledge that controlling behavior can indicate further issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety disorders, unresolved trauma, or feeling unsafe (along with many others).
If you’re unsure whether you’re a controlling person, read the statements below to see how many you identify with:
- I have high standards and expectations, and I don’t trust that others will be able to uphold them as well as I can. (This can apply to all areas of life, be it employment, home life, relationships, etc.)
- I have anxiety, and being in control of everything makes me feel calm and more comfortable.
- I love being in the spotlight and receiving praise and credit for my efforts.
- I have a big ego, and showing off makes me feel important and validated.
- Being in control makes me feel needed and as if I belong.
Do you struggle to assign, share, or delegate tasks because you need them done a specific way and no one else can seem to do it like you can? Perhaps you feel the panic, fight or flight response when someone questions you or something you did.
You like being in charge and in control of everything, and when you aren’t, you are overcome with negative emotions. Things go from feeling great to feeling entirely out of control. And, even though feeling in control is generally good, if you’re constantly trying to exert control over external factors, it is time to learn some tips to help manage it.
People who are deemed “controlling” are often hit with complex challenges. Controlling behaviors and patterns can cause ripple effects in all areas of life.
Being in charge and in control might bring a sense of peace and safety that you don’t otherwise feel. It can make a person feel validated and important. However, it can also drive people away and lead to challenging scenarios with employment.
Here, we share reasons why a person needs to control everything, what causes this behavior, and how to move forward and let go of these controlling patterns.
What Does Controlling Behavior Look Like?
When a person tries to control everything, it touches all aspects of their life. Here are some of the major ways that control issues can be seen:
- Controlling all the money in a relationship
- Not allowing a loved one to have friends of the opposite sex
- Physical, mental, and/or emotional abuse
- Micromanaging plans and having fits when they don’t go your way
- Giving loved ones the silent treatment when they don’t do/say/act as you want
Control issues can also manifest into issues with self-control as well. This can include exerting control over yourself and your environment. While this can look different for everyone, a few examples of how this can present are:
- Disordered, unhealthy eating habits
- Compulsive exercise routines
- Substance abuse
- Excessive tidying, cleaning, or arranging
Controlling behavior includes anything where a person seeks to limit or eliminate risk and uncertainty. And while this may sound like a good thing, it results in a constant fight against the realities of life, because life is risky and uncertain.
Causes Of Control Issues
There are many reasons why people develop control issues, as there are many ways control issues can present themselves. The causes of control issues listed below are some common ones, but bear in mind there can be more than just these.
For example, childhood trauma, abusive relationships, and fear of abandonment are complicated causes of control issues that can be addressed with a qualified mental health professional.
Working through controlling behavior can be challenging for both the person with the behavior and their loved ones. There are several causes and reasons why people try to control everything, and understanding why you do can help you develop new habits so you can stop.
People with an anxiety disorder can feel the need to control everything as much as possible to be at peace. While on the outside, it can look like they’re control freaks, on the inside, they’re simply in survival mode.
Structure and order are a calm way to ease anxiety, and those with anxiety disorders might do everything they need to obtain that. Being in control can reduce their feelings of uncertainty, help them to feel safe, and lower stress levels surrounding the event or thing.
Fear of failure.
Fear of failure, or atychiphobia, can be a crippling feeling that causes a person to need to control everything. It can come with various mental, physical, and emotional symptoms. A fear of failure, and needing to be perfect (perfectionism), are closely related.
Lack of trust.
If a person lacks trust, they will likely try to control everything. This isn’t usually because they’re malicious; instead, the need for control soothes the fight or flight anxiety response.
If you lack trust, then needing to control everything will help you feel better and more sure of yourself and your surroundings.
Your lack of trust can be with people, environments, or yourself. These feelings can manifest into controlling habits, whether external or internal.
Low self-esteem refers to not thinking very highly of yourself. A person with low self-esteem likely has a harsh inner critic fueling them. The need for control can be the thing that helps a person feel better about themselves. Especially for a person who is in a leadership position, using controlling behavior with their team can fuel their self-esteem.
For example, a controlling person would complete team reports at work to gain recognition for their hard work and dedication rather than delegating parts to each team member and working together.
14 Ways To Stop Trying To Control Everything
Even though life can feel safer for you if you’re in control of everything, it’s not a healthy habit to have. In doing so, you might drive away meaningful relationships or make your work environment uncomfortable for others.
While it’s natural to want some control over life, there are serious consequences when it becomes obsessive and necessary.
Below, you’ll find tips that can help you stop trying to control everything. With these tips, you’ll be able to increase your self-awareness, identify your need to control everything, and make positive steps to let go of control and thrive instead.
1. Explore the reason(s) you want to control everything.
Before making a real change, you need to understand why you need to control everything. This question might be challenging to explore for some. It is a good idea to seek out professional help at any point it feels too heavy. The reason for your controlling behavior is like a key to a lock: pinpointing the reason will help you formulate a plan for positive change.
Is it because of past childhood trauma, an abusive relationship, or post-traumatic stress disorder? To heal and move past needing control, you must spend some time understanding why you have that desire.
Did you feel like you couldn’t control anything during your childhood? Was perfectionism expected as you were growing up? Maybe you have a diagnosed anxiety or personality disorder that makes being out of control all that more challenging.
These reasons are valid and important but also the foundation for creating change. Once you understand yourself better, and can identify the trigger, you can take steps toward positive change.
2. Build your self-awareness.
Much like a muscle, building your self-awareness takes work, practice, consistency, and effort. Self-awareness involves understanding how your thoughts, feelings, and actions align with your own internal standards.
By building and increasing your self-awareness, you’ll be able to identify your need to control everything and take intentional steps toward rectifying your behaviors.
Building your self-awareness will improve your life in more than one way. For example, people with a heightened level of self-awareness are able to communicate more clearly, see ideas from multiple perspectives, have lower levels of stress, and excel at decision-making.
Unfortunately, though, self-awareness is not an on/off switch. Instead, it requires building brick by brick, with each previous step significantly impacting the present one.
Tips for building self-awareness:
- Wonder and envision your best self. Consider your dreams and goals and let yourself experience what those feel like. You can identify the most important things when you envision your best self.
- Ask yourself the hard questions. If you feel a need to step in to control a situation, ask yourself why. Perhaps the environment makes you feel unsafe. Maybe the tone of voice that the person is using triggered a negative emotion inside. Always practice self-reflection to get to the inner reasons for why you feel the way you feel and what to do about it.
- Start recording your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Journaling is known to hold many benefits, and becoming a more self-aware person is just one. In addition, through journaling, you can safely explore emotions and give reason to the need to control them without external judgment.
3. Change your thinking.
Humans are creatures of habit, so your controlling behaviors may be deeply ingrained. You’re a controlling person because you’ve always been one.
One way to change that is to bring a focus to reprogramming your thinking. When you reprogram your thinking, you’ll start breaking through negative self-talk like “I can’t” or “I’m not good enough.”
Habits exist in our subconscious mind. This part of the brain is where we make decisions without actively thinking about them and perform them repeatedly without putting much energy into them. So if you’re a habitual “control freak,” then reprogramming your subconscious mind might be the answer to changing it.
How to reprogram your subconscious mind:
- Embrace empowering beliefs and let go of self-limiting thoughts.
- Focus on gratitude.
- Visualize the change you want.
- Let your mind wander to the “what if’s” to explore possibilities.
- Use affirmations.
4. Identify what is in your control.
Notice what is IN your control and embrace those things. For example, the words and actions of others are not in your control, but your response to them is. Rather than spending your energy trying to control external factors, turn it inward and examine and embrace the things in your control.
For example, notice how you reply when you receive criticism or feedback and explore it internally rather than exerting external control over it. Work toward accepting that you can’t control everything, but instead, you can control yourself, your actions, and your words.
5. Adopt healthy habits.
The benefits of developing healthy habits are undeniable. Healthy habits are imperative when working to develop and change controlling behavior patterns. Because habits exist in the subconscious mind, you need to repeat behaviors until they become automatic. Then it will happen without much thought.
Though it might feel challenging initially, adopting healthy habits can be transformational. Healthy habits help you be the best you possible. They help you to take care of yourself and your needs without exerting control.
If you’re typically a controlling person, healthy habits can make all the difference. A few habits to consider are maintaining a regular sleep pattern, consuming a healthy diet, participating in regular movement, and maintaining healthy relationships.
These simple habits will create a massive impact on how you feel about yourself and your level of self-awareness, while increasing your self-esteem.
In addition, combining these allows you to spend more time and energy on your internal being rather than trying to control external factors.
6. Build on your communication skills.
Committing to improving your communication skills can make a huge difference in how you try to control everything. With effective communication skills, you can improve your level of self-awareness, build trust, improve productivity, build empathy, and become better able to handle conflict.
How to improve communication skills:
- Focus on listening more.
- Think before you speak.
- Maintain a positive mindset.
- Smile more often.
- Notice your body language.
7. Have faith in yourself and others.
Sometimes life knocks us down over and over, and it can feel like you need to be in control of everything to survive. Curveballs get thrown at you, you lose relationships, and things don’t go as planned. This can be challenging to get past. It’s a heavy, negative place that can turn you into someone with controlling habits.
Rather than turning to controlling behavior and patterns, try to have faith in yourself and others. Remember that everyone is human, mistakes happen, and the only way out is through. So believe in yourself and others. Shift your thinking from, “They aren’t doing it right,” to “They’re doing their best.”
8. Increase your feelings of self-worth.
Self-worth is the internal feeling of being “good enough” and worthy. When your self-worth is low, the need to control everything might be high because you don’t respond well to criticism or feedback.
While most of this is done subconsciously, you can create change by bringing awareness to your feelings. You’ll notice a change in multiple areas of your life by increasing your self-worth.
Tips for growing your self-worth:
- Use positive affirmations that speak to you daily. Fuel your mind with positivity. This will translate into positive changes, such as not needing to control everything because you trust yourself and others.
- Make a list of your strengths and commit to building on them. Learning is fantastic and can shift your entire mindset.
- Change the way you speak to yourself. Rather than criticizing yourself, give yourself love, compliments, and compassion. By changing how you talk to yourself, you might be stunned by how that manifests in your daily life.
9. Challenge and change your internal dialogue.
Have you heard the phrase “you are what you think”? If you’re constantly fueling your mind with negativity, sabotaging thoughts, and carrying a level of distrust, then being in control of everything can be the tool that soothes it.
Your inner dialogue fuels your mind. The constant inner chatter can either build you up or break you down. Picture it like an invisible friend inside your head. If you always need to be in control of everything, shifting your inner dialogue can be very impactful.
Changing your inner dialogue takes persistence and effort. First, it requires recognizing and acknowledging when controlling thought patterns arise. Afterward, ask for evidence of it being true. Then, reframe the thought as more constructive, positive, and truthful.
10. Don’t overplan.
If you’re someone who has a busy, packed schedule, controlling everything might be the way you ensure things go as planned. When things are under your control, you feel as though everything will go smoothly.
Rather than mapping everything out, try to plan lightly. Focus on the things you can control and develop an understanding that surprises and unpredictable events can happen. Don’t overbook yourself and leave room for uncertainty. Events might take longer than planned, or people might say things you didn’t expect.
When we overplan things, we’re more likely to display controlling behaviors in an attempt to make everything run according to that plan. Leave space in your plans for things to go differently than you would like. It might feel very uncomfortable initially, but it’s a helpful tool to stop the habit of controlling everything.
11. Re-evaluate your expectations.
If you’re trying to control everything, it might be a good time to re-evaluate your expectations of yourself and others. Controlling behavior can be your way of ensuring the task gets completed accurately, but by always taking full charge, you’re not letting others grow and develop alongside you.
When you re-evaluate your expectations, you can start to change. Spend time with your expectations and explore whether or not they’re fair, accurate, and attainable. Allow space in your expectations for imperfection and mistakes. Re-evaluate what your expectations are and whether they’re self-limiting or not.
12. Be open to change.
Humans are typically hard-wired to resist change. Change can be perceived as a threat, and controlling everything can be a person’s tool to extinguish this threat. It’s easier to try to control external factors to avoid internal changes. However, you can change your attitude toward change.
By shifting your mindset, increasing your empathy, and re-examining your values, you can decide what needs your control and what you can let go. Be open to letting go of what is out of your control and hold onto the things that are in your control.
13. Repeat positive affirmations.
There are many benefits of positive affirmations, and used regularly, they can be a transformational self-help tool.
Affirmations are words, mantras, or phrases that speak positivity and motivation into your life. With repeated use, they can help change subconscious thoughts and habits.
Affirmations help reduce self-doubt and fear and increase self-confidence and self-esteem. They help change situations from dark to light by injecting them with some positivity and optimism.
Affirmations can be written down, said out loud, in your head, or any other way you can speak them into existence. They help to reframe negative thoughts and patterns into something positive. With repeated use, affirmations can help you to relax and stop trying to control everything.
Though affirmations are just words and phrases, they can disrupt negative thought patterns and habits. As a result, they can be an effective stress management tool and can improve your overall well-being.
Examples of affirmations:
- I release the need to control everything and instead trust the process.
- I let go of the desire to be perfect and instead embrace the beauty of uncertainty.
- I have everything I need.
- I trust the people in my life.
14. Check your ego.
If you are struggling to control everything, it might be a good time to check your ego and make some changes. A toxic ego can lead you to think that you’re the best at everything and that no one can do things as well as you can.
These thoughts can result in controlling actions and words. The ego is a person’s sense of self-importance, and it requires a heightened level of self-awareness. If your ego is very high, then controlling external factors can fuel it.
How to check your ego:
- Commit to being a student of life. Ego comes from how you feel about things. If you think you’re the best at “X” and “Y,” then you’ll be more likely to apply controlling patterns to manipulate the outcome and serve yourself best. When you are learning something new, it’s more apparent that you’re not the best at it, but instead, you’re learning. Try always to be learning and expanding your mind.
- Change what you believe to be important. Emphasize the work rather than the result.
- Check your pride. Praise others regularly. Tell your co-workers they did a terrific job, thank your husband for finally getting to that pesky to-do list, or tell the cashier you appreciate her kindness. Notice the great work that others are doing and validate it for them.
- Self-regulation is key. Rather than allowing yourself to be run by external factors and giving them space to dictate how you’re going to feel, practice a deep level of self-regulation. Identify what triggers you to need to control things, and do the work to stay humble, present, and aware.
Release The Need To Control
If you need to feel in control of everything, you may have been this way for some time, and it’s hard to recognize that change is needed. Your world might feel safe and secure the way it is. However, once you identify that you have controlling behavior patterns, and start applying these tips to your life, you’ll notice several changes.
First, you’ll begin to appreciate others more deeply. When you learn to be less controlling, you’ll be able to help others thrive and blossom. People around you will grow more comfortable and let you get to know them more. When you stop controlling everything, others will feel more comfortable to share, contribute, try to help, and be involved.
They’ll fear less judgment and criticism from you. These tips above can help you gain perspective, grow your appreciation, learn to trust others, and live a more full and present life. This can greatly affect all avenues of life, from employment to love and relationships.