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Sometimes I feel the need to control everything about my life, including the people I’m in relationship with. I experienced this the other day. I was working on a project that involved coordination from a bunch of different people. I needed to get some paperwork from everyone before moving forward, and the deadline was approaching. I found myself trying to control and micromanage the situation, which left myself (and my colleagues) unhappy.

Around the same time, I had a friend who was going through a difficult time. When I was talking to her, I was aware that I wanted to fix the situation, and do something to make her problem go away. Again, I found myself trying to control and micromanage the situation, which (a) didn’t work and (b) left me feeling stressed out.

Maybe you have felt a similar feeling? Have you ever felt like you really wanted to control your situation, and the people around you? I think it’s a pretty common human experience. We all want to have control over our lives and our situation.

At some level, having a sense of control over our lives is healthy. People who think they have the power to effect change in their own lives tend to do better than people who think everything in their lives is left up to fate.

But I think there is a balance. Having too little control is a bad thing, but trying to control everything is problematic also. I think one reason for this is that the reality is we don’t have control over everything. Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes people get cancer. Sometimes things happen that are outside our control, and we just have to deal with it.

When I’m feeling a need to control everything in my life, it is helpful for me to sit and think about what is going on underneath my need to control. What is my need for control about? What is it protecting me from?

For me, I think my need for control is all about fear. I get scared about something, and I use the strategy of control to try to keep whatever it is that I’m scared of from happening. But a lot of times this happens underneath the surface, outside of my conscious awareness. If I can make the unconscious conscious, sometimes my fear (and need for control) dissipates.

For example, remember my situation from work, where I was trying to control everything? When I sat with that for a bit, I realized that I was scared the project wouldn’t get done on time, and if that happened, it would mean I wasn’t any good at my job. If I wasn’t any good at my job, it would mean I wasn’t good enough, etc.

So a lot of things got brought up for my when I examined my need to control (and the fear underneath it). There were a lot of things going on outside of my awareness. If the project didn’t get done on time, would that necessarily mean I wasn’t good at my job? Probably not. I realized I might be placing too much of my self-worth in my work and career. Importantly, when I realized some of these things going on underneath my need for control, the need for control actually dissipated and became less intense.

Discussion: Do you find yourself trying to control everything around you? How is this working for you? What do you think is going on underneath your need to control?

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