Pursue What Matters
Episode 131: Are you a Control Freak?
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Have you been accused of being a control freak? Well join the club. Having a sense of control feels good. But having people in your life giving you the side eye is not so good. So for the sake of sanity and preserving your relationships, let’s not be control freaks, shall we? What does it mean to love and work well, and how do I pursue what truly matters? Working at the intersection of business and psychology? I help you answer these questions and more. So you can focus priorities, inspire, change, lead with courage, and live with more joy today.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:39
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the pursue matters podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So are you a control freak? Have you been accused of being a control freak, if you like life in order, whether it’s your socks, your schedule your kids or your marriage, you just feel better? When things are in order, you might be a control freak, believe me, I get it, I freely admit that I have been a total control freak in my life. And for a long time, I thought it worked pretty well Give me control, and everyone will be just fine. Or maybe not. But the truth is, control has really carried some high costs for me, across my life. So some of the costs over the years have been perfectionism. very rigid rules for my life, high anxiety, difficulty letting others in. And oh, yeah, everyone in my circle wanting to slash my tires when I wasn’t looking. So it’s carried some costs for my relationships. So feeling in control can feel very good. But we’ve got to pay attention to the costs that it has. And you know, for me, for sure that has been the case. So when you stop and take a look, there can be a lot of collateral damage, to always needing to be in control. So today, I want to talk to you about healthy control, and over control. So again, I like to talk about continuums. If you’ve listened to any of my podcasts, you know that I like that it’s I think it’s a helpful way of thinking about things. We’re avoiding all or nothing, we’re really thinking about balance, we’re thinking about integration. And so my goal is to help you understand the difference between healthy control and over control. And so that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. And then I hope you will join me next week, because I’m going to have some really great solutions to help you navigate life without feeling like you have a noose around your neck. Okay. And every week, my goal is to help you pursue what matters. By strengthening your confidence to lead. I try to do that in one of three ways leading with clarity, which is all about purpose, leading with curiosity, which is all about self awareness and self leadership, and leading and building a community. Right. And so we’re thinking about teamwork, or we’re talking about communication. And so today, primarily, as we look at this question of, are you a control freak, we’re primarily paying attention to curiosity. So with today’s topic, we really want to build self awareness, we want you to have awareness about your behaviors and your choices, the impact, those choices have not only on you, but also on others. And we want to increase your commitment to making some shifts, if that could be helpful. And that’s really the self leadership part, it’s taking responsibility for what you understand about yourself taking responsibility for that self awareness, taking responsibility to make meaningful change as as it could be beneficial. So to take action and take responsibility for yourself, because we always first and always must lead ourselves. So let’s first take a look at this idea of being in control. So I think it’s very important to, to share right from the get go, that having a sense of control of yourself is very functional, and good, right? We can all think about examples in life of people who are totally out of control. Usually they are in mental institutions, they are in jail, they are in prison prison, right? Like these are not folks that are within the normal bounds of healthy functioning. And so to have a good sense of control of yourself is absolutely functional. And so we think about that as healthy control. Okay, there is a place for that. So let’s let’s learn a little bit more about healthy control. So it’s having control in your life, meaning that you are able to manage your emotions, you’re able to manage your responses. And you’re able to manage your decisions. And all of that’s a really good thing that that helps us to be functional, functional contributors in society, it helps us to grow, it helps us to make wise decisions. And I think for for most of us, right, if we’ve had the feeling of being out of control, whether that is in response to a traumatic experience, whether that is in response to an emotional upset, right, feeling out of control is one of the most upsetting and terrifying experiences that we that we can have. And it’s so it’s unsettling, it doesn’t feel good to feel out of control. And of course, we know that the world we live in is so incredibly unpredictable. And so having a healthy sense of control of yourself and your life, is a very, very important counterbalance to the unpredictability of life. And so that, right, like you could have craziness happening around you. But when you have good management or healthy control of yourself, you can be the calm in the storm. Self control is the ability to inhibit competing urges, competing impulses, competing behaviors, or competing desires, and delay gratification in order to pursue larger goals. Okay, so self control is really, really important. We, we need that to be able to function well. And this ability, tied to self control, right, so a sense of self control is often associated with success and happiness. Now, this comes to us from Thomas Lynch, he has a very good book it is it is geared towards clinician. So right, it’s geared towards psychologists, therapists, mental health professionals. And so it is good to understand that so it may or may not be really helpful for you, it can be kind of dense language, but it’s a very good resource. So as a psychologist, I found it very helpful not only with clinical clients, but also with leadership clients, because we all encounter these challenges to a greater or lesser degree. But I did just want to let you know that it is a clinical book. So it’s geared towards mental health professionals, but I’ll include a link to that book. So you can take a look at it, if you’d like it’s also a really good doorstop it’s big, it’s thick. So it’s a good resource, though, to have. So self control is a good thing. It’s associated with success and happiness, and inhibitory control, which, you know, is another way of saying self control is highly valued by most societies. And failure in self control really characterized many of the personal and societal problems, afflicting modern civilization. So right, if we think about needing hospitalization for mental health concerns, if we think about if we think about incarceration, right, these are societal issues, that can often be related to inhibitory control. Now, obviously, there are other factors going on. But inhibitory control is absolutely one of the factors driving many of these societal issues. And so we want to, we want to recognize that healthy control is a beautiful thing. But life is not meant to be rigidly controlled. So I think that’s the part that some of us who are prone to being control freaks, sometimes this. So self control is a good thing. It’s helpful, and it’s functional. But sometimes we try to rigidly control life. And that’s where we really get in trouble, we can also have too much control of ourselves, which is also problematic. But the idea is that while having a sense of control is good and healthy, some of us just go overboard, and think that if some control is good, then more control is better. And I’m here to tell you that wrong. Too much self control can be equally problematic as not having enough control. So some of the concerns or problems that over control is linked to include social isolation, poor interpersonal functioning, hyper perfectionism, rigidity, risk aversion, lack of emotional expression. So risk aversion I just talked about that had a three part series on risk tolerance, so maybe check that out. Lack of emotional expression In development of severe and difficult to treat mental health concerns. So right, this is where we see that this over control issue can be a big driver in some of our most challenging mental health concerns, including chronic depression, anorexia. I’m an eating disorder specialist. So I run into this all the time, and OCD. So we really want to pay attention to that. And if you’re not careful, control becomes a blunt instrument used to manage all the uncertainties of your life. And you we know that that’s really heavy lifting, because ultimately, life cannot be controlled. That’s not a thing. And when you try to control the uncontrollable, you set yourself up for anxiety per separation, and ultimately, hopelessness, when it turns out that you can’t control life, and you can’t control others. And you can’t even control your own body sometimes, right? Our body isn’t meant to be rigidly controlled, either. So this is the message. Life is not meant to be controlled. This is important revelation, because it changes the calculation you make when you are approaching decisions. So if it’s not about controlling life, what is it about? What is it about, and what I would say to that is learning to ride the waves with grace, the ups and downs of life that everyone faces, your your waves may be unique to you. But it’s not about rigidly controlling waves trying to control the ocean, trying to stop the waves from from coming in. Right, which is think about that that’s a lot of heavy lifting, then maybe perhaps it could be about learning to ride the waves with grace. Maybe it could be about finding peace and grounding within yourself and within secure relationships. Because you know, that ultimately, life is unpredictable. And that thought can be scary. But control is not the answer. The answer is learning to trust yourself. The answer is learning to trust, good people that you surround yourself, learning to trust that you can face challenges, it won’t be perfect. It won’t be controlling the waves, but you can do it. You can do life, you can do hard things. So too often control is used to manage fear and anxiety, the belief being that if I can control life, I can eliminate fear, doubt, and uncertainty. That’s a nice thought. But it’s totally wrong. So again, wrong. That’s not That’s not how it works. The act of attempting to control life actually leads to more fear, more doubt, and more uncertainty, because you put the responsibility on your shoulders, to control life and to control outcomes. And it’s right, it’s all on your shoulders, to ensure that life isn’t ever hard. And so you’re putting a responsibility on your shoulders, that is too heavy to bear. It’s impossible, because that’s not how life works. But if you believe it’s up to you, to control the uncertainty out of life, you will always be on high alert, like pray in the wilderness, you move into flight and fight mode. And this becomes your chronic state of functioning. And ultimately, it takes a huge health toll on your body and mind. One of the findings coming out of the research is autoimmune illnesses, especially are tied to this high chronic state of stress. And if you think about this trying to control life, you’re constantly on high alert, you’re constantly bathed in stress hormones, right, the fight and flight mode, which is not the way our bodies were designed to function. fight and flight mode is for those short bursts of energy required to save your life. We shouldn’t be running into that very often. But if we’re not careful when we are trying to control the uncertainty out of life, we move ourselves into a chronic state of fight or flight. And boy that takes that that takes a toll on our health. So now let’s understand a little more specifically over control. Okay, so over control is another way of saying control freak. Now this happens on a continuum. So I don’t want you to hear some of the things and freak out which control freaks are prone Do but really we want to, we want to just pay attention to, you know, are there elements? Or are there threads that could be useful for you? Okay, so I don’t want anyone panicking about this, but the dark side of managing yourself, right, so the dark side of healthy self control is over control, right. And this is where we move into that control freak territory. So when we think about over control, the way that it is best understood is as a personality style that results from the interplay of both nature and nurture. Now, most of us are familiar with that. But let’s break it down a little bit more. So what do I mean when I say nature? Well, for this discussion, we’re talking about temperamental predispositions right, some of this Come, come with our wiring, right, our personality style, geared towards more control. And then there are some of us who are temperamental dispositions, right predispositions, our wiring, if you would, is towards less control. And I talk about this dynamic all the time with folks that I work with, because it helps you to know, Okay, where am I at, on the continuum, because as you can have self awareness about that, then that can guide your decision making. And so what can happen, so I work with a lot of folks with severe eating disorders, and they are absolutely over controlled. So they are clear out on the end of the continuum around over control. So everything in their life is over controlled, not just food, and eating. And so, you know, when they hear messages that are geared towards the other end of the continuum, to the people that have a lack of control, right, who need to bring a little order, and need to bring a little more control into their life and into some of their habits, these over control people because they are on hyper alert, right? They hear the message sent to the other end of the continuum, and they go into hyperdrive on the over control. And so the conversation I often have is that message is not for you. That message is for people on the other end of the continuum, it’s not for you. And so the the message for the folks on that on the extreme end of over control, is let’s move towards more balance. Let’s move towards more flexibility. Let’s move toward a little more playfulness in your life, a little more flexibility in your habits and in your routines. And so nature is all about those temperamental predispositions. So think about where do you land on that continuum between extreme over control, and total lack of control. And most of us are somewhere in the middle. And then let’s talk about nurture. So when we talk about nurture, we’re thinking about family influences, we’re thinking about environmental influences, our thinking about cultural influences. And that can be a lot of things that can be many, many factors. But when you combine nature and nurture, it results in a style of coping, that is characterized by excessive inhibitory control. So just think about over control, like super, super rigid control. And the other part of that it’s characterized by aloof relationships, that function to limit new learning, flexible responding, and development of close social bonds. So I want to unpack that just a little bit. So why with over control? Do we have aloof relationships or social disconnection or even social isolation? And the you know, the, the quick answer to that, I think the, you know, the answer that makes sense to most people, and this is based in the research, so I’m just translating for you here is that if you are, if you are over controlled, and you add another person into the mix, oh my goodness, that throws so many factors into play, right, because other people are unpredictable. Other people might not be as over controlled, other people might, you know, might want to talk to you about things you don’t want to talk about. And so keeping distance in relationships is one of the ways that an over control person maintains control. Because if they allow themselves to be vulnerable, if they allow themselves to be close, and intimate to another person, they they can’t maintain control, because right control does not work in relationships. And so again, not limits new learning, it limits flexible responding, and it limits the difference. And close social bonds. So I think that’s actually one of the most heartbreaking components of over control that we want to pay attention to. And so it’s easy to say over control. It’s not a problem, right? It’s helping me to function at work. But I would say, what’s it doing for your relationships? What, you know, what is the impact there? Where’s the collateral damage? Because it is, it is probably there. That’s one of the core components of over control is the difficulty with relationships. But I think it is important to remember that over control is not always a bad thing. And I use that in quotes. I don’t think that language is very helpful. But there is there is some functionality to over control, right? We’ve already talked about healthy control. But let’s think about times when even over control would be functional. And so you know, for these folks who are on the far end of the continuum, right, I would, I would like to think and I think it’s true that I have moved more to a middle ground, I used to be clear out on that end of extreme over control. And I’ve, I’ve definitely done intentional and consistent work over the years to, to move away from that. But some of the function functional components have over control and include these innate capacities to inhibit impulses, to plan ahead, and to delay gratification. You know, when I think about my own experience, boy, that that really describes me to a tee and I would say these are an innate capacities of, I’ve kind of always been like that, I could I could inhibit impulses, I could, I could delay gratification, at much more effectively than some of my peers. And I could, I was always planning ahead, I was, you know, one of those kiddos in, in fifth grade and sixth grade that had a planner, I’ve had a planner, everyday sense, I’ve got my planner right here next to me. And that, right, that sense of control brings a sense of peace. But obviously, you don’t want that to go on hinged. Still, you know, if we think about if we think about how this can show up. So it’s kind of funny how this shows up, because these innate capacities around inhibiting impulses planning ahead and delaying gratification. They’re not common to the population. So even just you know, this week, you know, my husband was talking to someone, and and they said, every time I’m at the gym, I see your wife there, she’s so consistent. And you know, a few people have shared that, with him have shared that with me. And you know, think think about that, right? For some people getting up in the morning and not hitting the snooze button like that can be an ongoing challenge for so many of us. And yet, those of us who are on the farther end of that over control continuum, can have more of an innate capacity to you know, delay that gratification, to inhibit impulses, to say, okay, the alarm went off, it’s early, you know, I’d rather keep sleeping, but I’m going to get up. And I would say that’s certainly
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:27
capacity that I have had all my life that I can remember. And so this is where we kind of think about the nature component of over control. So when we think about over control, these are the doers. These are the Savers, these are the planners, ultimately, these are the fixers of the world, so they get after it. And so they can be very helpful, very useful, not only to themselves, but also to others. And so when you’re in a group with if you’re with a group of people, you love these people,
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:03
because they are doers. They’re the ones that are going to stick around after and help you clean up. They’re going to ask, What can I do to help? And so these folks, right, if we think about how over control isn’t necessarily a bad thing, with over control, many of these folks strive for moderation in every area of their lives. So some examples, they value honesty, they value fairness, they value doing the right thing, right, they value getting to bed at a reasonable hour, right? If we think about moderation, we think about some of these basics around health and self care and coping. And so these are examples of where over control can be very, very functional. And I think the key is to make sure it stays on the right side of the line and doesn’t move into the extreme versions of over control where you know, your schedule is more important than anything else, your schedule is more important than relationships. And so that’s what we really want to pay attention to. But the folks who have some of this over control are often your most reliable team members, they will get the job done. And they probably won’t complain about it, they are totally dependable. In fact, you don’t really have to think much about them. And so over control is highly functional, for focus efforts requiring great detail, think about a surgeon, right? This is a situation where over control is absolutely functional. And in fact, that’s the surgeon I want, I do not want a surgeon that has a lack of control. I want a surgeon that has focus who has attention to detail that’s very functional. But I think there’s a good point here to be made for that surgeon, right? So that surgeon he or she having not great focus for even hours at a time, they really need to create a counter a counter balance in their life that has flexibility has relaxed structure has opportunities where there’s not that great need to focus in great detail. And so sometimes that can be okay, on surgery days, you just don’t have anything else planned. So if you if you want to watch a movie and relax, if you want to go to bed early, you can do that, if you want to go on a bike ride, you can do that. But you’re just going to keep your evening unstructured, because you’re creating a counterbalance to the over control that’s required in your work. So that’s an important thing to keep in mind. But of course, over control becomes very problematic. When it comes to social connection. That’s where we see the greatest costs. Okay, so folks with over control can sometimes struggle with emotional loneliness. And the thing to keep in mind is that it’s not necessarily a lack of contact, but it’s a lack of connection. So these folks can, can have a lot of contact, they can have a lot of relationships, even. But what’s missing is the lack of connection. Okay. And sometimes that’s because they get caught in their rigid schedules. So I have certainly experienced that this in my life, and even recently, right, I can sometimes feel like I’m a slave to my schedule. And, and so I hear folks, you know, interacting in the clinic, and, you know, having fun, and I’m, you know, behind a closed door, working away, you know, feeling like a hamster on a hamster wheel. And, you know, those moments make me sad, but that, ultimately, is a choice that I making. And so one of the ways that we can counterbalance over control is, you know, I’m going to open the door, I’m going to prioritize social connection, because it’s great to get things done. If you don’t have meaningful relationships along the way, then what’s the point? So there are ways that you can help address that. And that’s why we’re talking about this today. Because if you don’t have awareness about it, it’s hard to know how to help yourself, okay. And so, today, I’ve shared with you the benefits of healthy control, right, and how that is very functional for each of us. And then I’ve also talked about the reality that life is not meant to be rigidly controlled. So even though it’s good to have some healthy control of yourself, the minute you start trying to control life, you’re in trouble, because that’s not a thing. And then finally, we’ve talked about over control, we’ve talked about the nature and nurture component of that, how it shows up how it can be problematic, and how it is also functional. And so I hope that you will join me next week, because I am going to be talking a little more specifically about four core challenges of over control. And don’t worry, I’ve got your back. For each of the challenges, I’ve got several practical solutions to help you address these. And so if you think about over control on a continuum, that we’re just nudging you towards more balance, and more moderation. And each of these solutions that I will share with you next week, are designed to do just that. They don’t have to be overwhelming. They don’t have to take a lot of energy or focus. But we want to be intentional. So two things, we need to be aware. So we’ve done that today, in terms of increasing your awareness about control, healthy control and over control. And then we need to be intentional, right, we need to be intentional about the choices we make and take action to help ourselves so to nudge yourself along towards common middle ground for yourself. And so that’s what we’ll really be focusing on next week. So head on over to my website. To check out the show notes with the resources for this episode, including a link to that skills training manual by Thomas R. Lynch, he really documents the research well, and it’s very practical. It is geared towards clinician so just keep that in mind. So some of you know some of the language can can feel a little dense, but it is an excellent resource. And so you can find all of that by heading to www.drmelissasmith.com/131-controlfreak
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:33
Okay, one more time. That’s www.drmelissasmith.com/131-controlfreak. I am social. I would love to connect with you on social media. I’m on Instagram @dr.melissasmith. I always go deeper with the content there. And so if you heard something today and you’re like, Whew, I want to understand that more. First of all, check out what I have. Please interact with me. I’d love to hear from you. In comments or DM. That’s a great way to to extend the conversation and keep it going. So I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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