There’s no blame or judgement here.
Being controlling is a common experience in today’s world. Each person uses it for different reasons, but it’s in response to (non-consciously) feeling unimportant, uncertain, “out of control.” It’s one of the most deleterious outcomes of the legacy industrial model (LIM) assumptions, as it undermines people’s lives.
In this diagram, you can see how the LIM assumptions generate thoughts or statements and outcomes that make it easy to respond by being controlling:
There’s no shame in it, rather an acknowledgement that it’s exhausting and ineffective because it can never fill the basic human needs it seeks to fill. It tries to fill the needs for significance and certainty more profoundly than the others, yet there are more effective ways to fill those needs that relieve the need to control.
You’re controlling when they’re not convinced that you’ll be alright/loved/respected regardless of what happens. You might feel that the stakes are high, for instance, with raising children or leading a new venture or a big environmental project. You might think that the consequences of being “out of control” are too high and they’d ruin you. You might feel that you’re not being responsible if you’re not trying to control things. It’s common to worry that it would mean something “bad” about you if you didn’t ensure that things came out in the ways you intended. You might also think that you need to try to control what people feel or think — you wouldn’t want anyone to feel hurt because of something you did or think that you’re arrogant if it’s not true; you likely want to ensure that you don’t feel or are considered a “bad” or “thoughtless” friend, partner, colleague, boss. We’ve been taught that being loving and caring about others is worrying about how they think and feel, but it’s a trap. It’s a function of the LIM that puts our attention on the external world, where all the power is internal to you. Let the other people you love and care about take care of their triads, otherwise, what would they do?
We’re all raised in different contexts with different messages and the ways we interpret those messages vary greatly, as well. When we might feel like we have no choice in these contexts, we can often respond by trying to control things. We can also become controlling in respond to being criticized heavily or punished for mistakes.
Controlling behavior is not a powerful state from which to live and lead. It limits, contains, shrinks what’s possible. It’s used to:
- feel safe or certain – “I feel good when I control what’s happening.” All the other points on this list are different ways to feel safe and certain.
- slow fast-paced change – “Things are moving too fast, so I’ll put boundaries here and there to control the speed and slow things down.” Some people postpone dates to slow down the dating process if they really like someone and feel out of control with “love” emotions or instill delays in business negotiations to ensure that things are going at the pace that makes them feel at ease.
- contain unwanted outcomes – “I don’t want my child to fall or the project to fail, so I’ll step in to prevent those from happening.” This is easy to spot in work environments, where a project leader, for instance, wants to empower others but feels anxious about the outcomes and steps in without realizing it.
- feel important or significant – “I’m being a good person when I make sure that everything goes in the way it should.” You can imagine some children thinking this when their parents and teachers are critical and demand certain outcomes; they keep thinking like this as adults without even realizing it.
- get things done at work for which you’re responsible, even if we’re not the ones who complete all the pieces of work – “I need to ensure the project gets done or else I may get fired.” This is a way that the LIM and the organizations we design from LIM assumptions reinforce controlling behavior. So, to let go of being controlling, you’re being counter-cultural and benefit from being with others who are on the same path.
- be perfect – “I have to be perfect and avoid mistakes, or else; so I’ll get everything just right and I’ll be loved and respected.” Perfectionism is another LIM outcome because we’re seen as machines and machines make no errors. You can ask yourself, what would happen if you’re no longer perfect? and journal about that to learn more about who you’re being when you have those specific thoughts.
Being judgmental is another way to be controlling, as it limits what’s “good” and “bad” and makes someone feel either safe about what’s happening or superior to others.
These thoughts and behaviors are often non-conscious, so it’s important to become aware of them in order to make change.
In today’s world, however, being controlling is especially expensive. Things on the outside – the external world is crumbling. There is no paradigm, institution, system or structure that isn’t failing, generating uncertainty in those of us who expected stability. Therefore, trying to control the outer world requires more time and energy, draining them from activities in which you actually do have control.
What you can control
The only experiences you HAVE control over are your thoughts, feelings and behavior (your triads). Nothing else! You can influence other people and situations, yet not control them. The distinction is: controlling is imposing your opinion and influencing is sharing your opinion, allowing others to choose as they will.
When you focus your time and attention on your triads, you start to feel good about yourself and no longer need to control the outer world. You feel more capable of handling whatever comes your way, without those outcomes meaning anything negative about you.
Taking responsibility (or control) over your triads is a full-time job, so it can relieve you from trying to control the outer world, which is NOT POSSIBLE.
How to you unravel your need to control
- focus on your own triads. Byron Katie puts it this way: “stay in your business,” which means don’t worry about how someone else thinks, feels or behaves. Katie has created an entire full-time business helping people answer her four simple questions and it’s not because no one is smart enough, it’s because we’re not taught to distinguish between our thoughts and feelings, due to the LIM assumptions
- learn to trust that you can handle whatever happens in life without being destroyed or destabilized
- focus on doing your best and then let go of the outcome
- distinguish between who you are, what you do and the outcomes you generate — they’re all different
- be clear about what needs to happen in a team environment, so that you don’t take the responsibility for everything on your shoulders
In a leadership context
When leading others, controlling behavior limits what’s created and so, puts you at a risk of being fired or laid off, to be quite frank. Unless, of course, your boss is also controlling and in that context, you might get promoted! That doesn’t mean it’s an effective behavior, however, so be careful about getting use to it. Be aware that controlling behavior limits creativity and causes compliance, talent turnover and much frustration.
Do you do any of these:
- say “yes” to lots of tasks, even when you’re already busy
- delegate only work that you don’t want to do or things you consider less “essential” or “high risk” or “highly visible”
- tell people what to do vs discuss what needs to be done and agree on who does what
- share responsibility and if others don’t do things with your style or expectations, you re-do or correct what’s been done
- finish people’s sentences
- purposefully delay meetings to think about how to feel better or keep an “upper hand”
As you reduce your need to control, you’ll thank yourself for having the courage to tackle this challenge. Give yourself plenty of time and judgement-free awareness. It’s very rewarding to feel good about yourself, do your best and let the rest play out as it will. In all cases, you’ll be ok, as you’ll figure out how to respond to whatever happens in the best way, in that moment.
[Image by Freepik]