Pursue What Matters
Episode 132: 4 Challenges of Overcontrol and What to Do About Them
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
So maybe you’ve confessed that you do indeed have control issues. Of course, this fact is perfectly obvious to anyone who’s ever interacted with you. Well, what do you do now? Join me today as I share the four core challenges of over control, and what you can do about them. What does it mean to love and worked 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 web matters podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So last week, I asked the question, Are you a control freak? And maybe you answered yes for yourself. And maybe people in your life answered yes, for you. Typically, it’s our loved ones, it’s our friends, our associates, associates that can point out, when we are a control freak, better than we can, we just think we’re getting things done. We just think we’re highly functional, but it carries some big costs, and most of the costs accrue in our relationships. So last week, we talked about some of those costs of being a control freak, we talked about healthy control. And we talked about over control. We also talked about some of the benefits of over control, because there are definitely benefits, there’s a reason a weed control freaks are control freaks. But I also shared with you, again, the difference between healthy control and over control. And And with today’s podcast, I want to give you some practical solutions. So first, I’ll share the four core challenges of over control. And these kind of orient you to what do I need to pay attention to here, some of these may fit perfectly for you, and others may not really apply to you. So in last week’s podcast, I talked about thinking about control and lack of control, right, because that’s the other end of the continuum where we run into social problems. When we when we don’t have control of ourselves, that I want you to think about these as on a continuum, with one end being hyper over control, the other end being a total lack of control of yourself. And that our goal today is, you know, to really help you nudge in the direction of more moderation, more balance, more integration. And so you know, if you want to go back and learn a little bit more about healthy, healthy control versus over control, definitely check out last week’s podcast, I will link to it in the show notes. And then today, we’re really going to focus in on these core challenges and recognizing that not all of them will apply to you, because it’s a continuum, right? We’re all in different places with that. And so some might fit for you, some might not apply to you. And that’s not a problem, it’s okay, just take what might be useful. And then of course, the second thing I’m going to do today is I’m going to share several very practical solutions to help you address over controlling your life to just help you nudge yourself a little bit more towards some flexible structure. Because what we know is that control is a good and necessary thing. And that over control can even be functional at times, but we really want to focus on helping you retain the benefits of control without accruing the costs of over control. So that’s the goal for today. And of course, every week, I strive to help you pursue what matters. By strengthening your confidence to lead, I try to do that in one of three areas. So first, leading with clarity, which is all about connection to purpose. Second, is leading with curiosity, which is all about developing self awareness, and making the commitment to self leadership and self care. And third, is leading and building a community. Right and with it with relationships, this is where over control can be really problematic. And so today, primarily, we’re addressing curiosity, and community because you have to have awareness about how these behaviors might be showing up for you. We want you to take responsibility, so that self leadership to make some changes, right? Don’t you don’t try and do it all. But one or two things that you could just nudge yourself towards a little more balance. And then of course, it’s helpful for your community, whether that’s a work, whether that’s at home, whether that’s socially, so that you’re not, you’re not creating collateral damage with some of these over control issues. So let’s jump in. So as we think about the challenges of over control, I just want to write that up for you. So maybe you’re listening to this for yourself, or maybe you’re listening to this relative to someone you care about. So when you think about solutions, the last thing you want to do is to tell this person, whether it’s yourself, or whether it is someone else, that you’re doing it all wrong. Because for the folks who are over controlled, they are, they’re spending their whole life, all their energy trying to get it right. And we know that not all of the behaviors are effective. But to go in there guns blazing, and say, You’re doing it all wrong. And again, whether that’s you’re telling yourself or someone else, it will really kick up a lot of shame. When when you hear the message, you’re doing it all wrong. So it kicks up shame, these folks tend to already feel like they might be getting life wrong. And they have a heightened sense of what is right and what is wrong. And so they’re going to be pretty sensitive to those messages. So instead of being critical, we want to get curious about what’s healthy or functional about this approach to life. So what’s healthy, what’s functional about over control, as a starting point. So you know, because as you look at your own life, if if you’re looking at yourself or a loved one, you will inevitably find things that work well. So I think about my own relationship. So my husband has complained plenty over the years about me being a control freak. But there are also aspects of that, that he really, really benefits from, right. If we think about finances, if we think about making sure that license plates don’t get expired, those sorts of things, right, paying bills, all of those details work really well for him, because of my tendency towards over control. And so we just want to pay attention to that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:06
So you’ll find things that work really well. And you’ll also find things that don’t work well at all that really get in the way, hey, we are a slave to your schedule, that’s a problem. So if you can start approaching this topic, right, approaching over control, not by attacking, then you will find that the individual with who’s over control is more willing to acknowledge what may or may not be working, or the costs of the over control. And so, you know, I want you to do that relative to yourself as well. Being able to approach yourself with curiosity rather than criticism can make a really big difference. The other thing that I want you to keep in mind is that there are three key ways to improve psychological health and well being when it comes to over control. Okay, so the first way to do that is to increase openness to new experiences, and also increase experience, increase openness, to feedback and to disconfirming feedback. So feedback that might be kind of challenging in order to learn, okay, now, this, those might sound really painful, but it’s so helpful. So it’s interesting how there are ways perhaps that we find, we find experiences to help us counterbalance some of our personality traits. So you know, I have shared that I have a long history of being over controlled. And it was always very interesting to me,
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:41
that I would set myself up in a situation in terms of my career, bad my training, especially where I was constantly receiving disconfirming feedback. And of course, it did help me to learn. So as a graduate student in psychology, you are opening yourself up to intense feedback, about everything, about everything, not only the professional work you’re doing, but how you’re sitting in a chair, how your eye contact is, the quality of the tone of your voice, and the quality of your responses. And so I always, always kind of laugh at that. I mean, that is like an over controlled person’s worst nightmare. We we recorded all of our work, and we would often have a group of supervisors and fellow students watching in fine detail, our supervision videos, and back in the day, they were videos, they were the great old VHS videos, and you just had to sit there and take it and he had to try and be open to it. And I will say there were times that it was very painful because I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I didn’t like that disconfirming feedback. But as I learned to tolerate it, because I really cared, I had a great deal of purpose around completing my education. And I saw the value of the feedback to help me grow to help me learn, I found a way to tolerate it, and got to the point where I actually really have learned to welcome feedback, it can still staying sometimes, but that’s the first key way to improve psychological health. And well being, if you struggle with over control is increase your openness to new experiences, and to disconfirming feedback. So opening yourself up for feedback is really helpful. The second way to improve psychological health and well being is to move towards flexible control. And so we’re not talking about rigid control, we’re talking about flexible control in order to adapt to changing environmental conditions. And so sometimes I talk about structured flexibility, this is the same idea flexible control, where you don’t have to be so rule bound, you don’t have to be so schedule bound. And I have, I’ve been able to do that with my own schedule, which I’m grateful that I have that ability to do that. But you know, I have a very busy schedule, I’m, you know, pretty tightly scheduled throughout the week. And so what it means for me, on the weekends is, I try to keep my weekends, very unscheduled. So there might be a thing or, you know, a scheduled event here or there. But one of the ways I try to counterbalance the the pretty tightly scheduled workweek, is by having very little structure on the weekends. And that works really well for me. And so the second one is flexible control, so you can adapt to life’s changes. And then the third way to improve psychological health and well being is through intimacy and social connectedness. So with at least one other person, hopefully, you’ve got more than that. But you know, we need as humans, we require a secure attachment to survive, and to improve our health and well being that’s been very well established through various domains of research. And so are you opening yourself up to intimacy and social connectedness. So you know, of course, if I think about my own experience, I have some strong family bonds, and do the work there for me is really around being present, right. So not being distracted, not multitasking. But that being present and having distractions put away, but it also can include, you know, so using the over control to your benefit, right, so scheduling, lunch dates, scheduling a hike with a friend, and so that you are building and opportunities for intimacy and social connectedness, where you can be free of distractions. So those are three ways to improve your well being, especially if over control is an issue for you. Okay. So as we think about addressing this and nudging along this continuum towards more balance, we want to prioritize the value of seeking pleasure, we want to prioritize the value of relaxing control, and of joining with others. So those are those are three really important
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:36
priorities to have to help nudge you towards more balance. And so that’s really what we want to think about. And mindfulness is a core skill that undergirds all of this because it supports self awareness, self reflection, and self leadership so that you can see in those moments, oh, my goodness, like, my schedule is getting the best of me, or I’m in the room with a friend, but I don’t care anything he saying. Okay, so now let’s get to the four core challenges. So I’m going to share the challenge, and say a little bit about that. And then I’m going to share a few solutions for each of these. So challenge one is low, low receptivity and openness. So this is you’re not open to change. So there’s low openness to novel unexpected or disconfirming feedback, there’s avoidance of uncertainty, or unplanned risks. They’re suspiciousness. There’s hyper vigilance for potential threat. And there’s a tendency to discount or dismiss critical feedback. So those are some of the features with low receptivity and openness. So now let’s, let’s look at some solutions. So, the best solution, which can be used in lots of different places, is known as radical both openness. And so this can be this can be challenging initially. But it’s learning to be open to new information, or disconfirming feedback in order to learn. So I think a good example of radical openness was my experience as a graduate student with all of the supervision, I had a moment during my master’s degree. So before my PhD, in my master’s degree, when I was getting a lot of supervision, and it was just, it was painful. And I was having a hard time coping with it, I thought, Oh, my goodness, that I don’t know if I can take more feedback. And I remember having a conversation with myself, basically saying, like, you better figure this out. Because if you don’t learn how to open yourself to feedback, you’re not going to survive, you’re not going to be able to be successful in this program, or successful as a clinician. And I remember very clearly making that decision. And really, you know, using a lot of coping skills to help myself, and recognizing that the folks who were giving me feedback, had my best intentions, they wanted what was best for me. And I could trust that I knew that. And so in those moments, when I was receiving feedback, it was super painful, I had to remind myself, this person has my best intention. And if I can, if I can manage my distress, and open myself up to this feedback, I know it will be helpful, and it will be helpful not only to me, but it’ll be helpful to anyone, I have the privilege of working with down the road. And so that’s what radical openness is, like, it’s learning to celebrate self discovery to say, Oh, my goodness, I learned something new about myself, it’s even learning to appreciate your quirks and some of your challenges, right? So for me, right, like, I am a control freak, I know that I’m doing, you know, I feel like I’m doing good work to address that. But it’s, that’s, that’s part of me, that’s part of who I am. And I can be playful about that. And others can be playful about that. And it doesn’t have to be a crushing indictment to acknowledge like, yeah, I got my control issues here. So learning to celebrate self discovery and learning to have compassion for yourself in that getting curious instead of critical, trying novel ways of behaving. Now, this might be really hard for you. But if you can, if you can try new ways of taking action, you may discover more effective ways to cope. And so it can be as simple as that. Radical openness really helps with connection in relationships, because it models humility, and a readiness to learn. The radical openness certainly requires self awareness and self reflection. So you know, after an interaction, maybe having this conversation with yourself, how did I do there? What can I learn from the situation? Why do I feel hurt, right to get curious about that. So you become your first stop for accountability in terms of self awareness, and self reflection. Okay, so that’s challenge. One is low receptivity and openness. And our solution is radical openness. And I shared several ways that you could, you could engage with radical openness. So now let’s move to challenge two, which is low flexible control. Okay, so this shows up as a compulsive need for order and structure. So those of you who are lining up your socks, this is the time where you would raise your hand. This shows up as hyper for perfectionism. That’s certainly been something I have struggled with before. And it shows up as high social obligation and due to fullness right. So you do things out of duty, you do things because you feel socially obligated, not because you have a strong desire. How many times have you gone to a party where you like, I’m just, I’m just counting down the minutes until I can leave, right sometimes that that is part of over control. There’s also compulsive rehearsal. So let’s say you have an event coming up. And so you compulsively rehearse, you know, the dialogue, what am I going to say? How am I going to present myself in preparation, there’s high premeditation and planning so you’re planning, planning, planning, planning, to like the nth degree. There can be compulsive fixing, and approach coping. So always having to have having to have things in order and getting compulsive about that, whether that’s even just around the house with picking up things around the house. There is rigid rule governed behavior. So these folks tend to have rules for everything. We have rules for how you eat, you have rules for how you sleep you have rules for how you wash your face, and so on. tended to like, okay, like, have a lot of rules about this. And sometimes you don’t really know that or you don’t get feedback on it until you are interacting with someone else, or you’re going on a trip with a girlfriend or something like that, that, you know, they’ll pointed out because they’re like, that’s weird, or what is going on here? There’s also high moral certitude. So what does that mean? So a strong belief that there is one right way of doing something and don’t cross that line. Okay, so that’s how low flexible control often shows up. So let’s now look at some solutions. So we want to engage in novel behavior. Now, if you just felt your chest filled with anxiety, you’re not alone. So some of the ways you could engage in novel behavior, seeing a silly song, dance in public laugh, open mouth, with others seeing at a concert. Right now, I was the one in high school, right? So they have the different days where you dress up, whether it was for Halloween, or you know, spirit week, that sort of thing. I would never dress up. Because I was so self conscious. I didn’t like novel changes that really it, it created anxiety for me. And I think as I reflect on that, I think a lot of it was self consciousness, and that need to maintain control of myself. And the way that I maintain control of myself is keeping everything the same. Okay, and so are there small ways that you can engage in novel behavior, I think a great one. Not that there are very many concerts these days, but allowing yourself to sing at a concert, you know, you want to, and that can be helpful. Singing a song in the car, and maybe in the car by yourself is a starting point. And the next step is allowing yourself to sing a song in the car, with your partner or with a good friend. Another way that you can engage with this solution is to let go of the need to compulsively plan rehearse, or prepare prior to events and novel situations. So remind yourself that there is no required dress rehearsal, unless Indeed you are in a play or something like that. But most of life’s events do not require dress rehearsal. Remind yourself that people do new things every day, I think that gentle reminder can be so helpful. Remind yourself that the most successful people learn something new every day. So the most successful people who are like oh my gosh, like they have it. So together, they’re learning something new. Now, a few weeks ago, I did a great podcast on beginners. It’s a book review of beginners. And I think that really makes the case for being a beginner, not taking yourself so seriously. So rehearsal and compulsive planning feels responsible, but it’s actually avoidance. And it’s used to manage fear. So instead of performing or instead of taking the action, in terms of social connection, we use the excuse of I’m not quite ready, I need to run through it one more time. Oh, I, you know, I’ll talk to them next week. So rehearsal and compulsive planning is actually an avoidance defense mechanism. Okay. So, the next solution here for challenge too, is relearn how to play. kiddos, know how to play, even watch a kid out to figure that out. But try something novel, don’t have every moment scheduled in hyper productivity. Go watch some kids on a playground, but don’t be creepy about it. Right. But how do kids play on a playground? They’re here, they’re there. Sometimes they have some rules. A lot of times they don’t, but try playing on a playground. What what do you know what to do with monkey bars, right? You used to play on monkey bars. So allowing yourself to play giving yourself permission to play. One of my favorite things is sometimes we will take our pup on a walk. I mean, we take her on a walk every single day. But sometimes we’ll take her to the elementary school, which is near our home. And our pup is not a pup anymore. She’s quite old. She is she’s She’s an old lady, that pup and so she gets tired pretty quickly on our walks. And our walks are just around the neighborhood. They are not long walks. But by the end of those walk, she’s kind of dragging. But we’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. When we decide to walk over to the elementary school. We see a different animal we see a different pup our old lady, animal dog turns in to a pup because once we get to the grounds of the elementary school unless there was a big crowd, which we wouldn’t do this, but typically it’s quiet. There aren’t many people around, we’re able to take her off the leash and She turns into a pup she starts playing, she starts running and roaming all over the field and the grounds of the elementary school, she knows it’s time to play. And we don’t see any of the dragging. We don’t see any of the fatigue, we don’t see any of the slowing down. And so, you know, it’s the same for us, we need to relearn how to play. So dance, sing along to the lyrics play a game in the backyard, chase your pop, that’s something that I will do, right, she’s no lace off to chase very fast. But chasing her around the Ottoman in the family room or playing with the tug toy with her. That is play for me. And it’s great. It’s a good thing that we want to do. Okay, so now let’s move to challenge three and of course solutions. So this challenge is the pervasive inhibited emotional expression and low emotional awareness. So this is all about emotional expression. So how this shows up there is context, inappropriate inhibition of emotional expression. Boy, does that sound like a psychologist wrote it? A psychologist wrote that. So an example of this would be a flat face when complimented it would be laughing during an upsetting situation. So we think about insincere or incongruent, express incongruent expressions of emotion, so smiling, when you’re actually distressed, there is a consistent underreporting of distress. So you ask these people how they’re doing, it’s always fine, I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. And there’s also a low awareness of body sensations. So these folks do not have much interoceptive awareness, they don’t know what’s happening in their body. It’s hard for them to recognize signal sensation signals, right? So whether that’s pain, whether that’s pleasure, because they’re just very disconnected, emotionally. So now let’s pay attention to solutions. What can you do to help yourself? So, of course, the biggest thing is we want to understand emotions. So this is, this can be a helpful frame for you. We think about five emotionally relevant tools that are always at play for any of us at any given time. Because the reality is, we’ve always got something happening emotionally. So someone isn’t just unemotional. And so when one cue is activated, the other four cues are usually off, or they’re inhibited. Okay. And so what I have found working with folks is that sometimes it can be overwhelming to start by identifying a specific emotion, right? It’s like that’s overwhelmed. There’s like a billion emotions, and they can’t pin it down to save their, say their lives, right. But if you can start by identifying one of the emotionally root relevant cues, right, so there are five, in any given situation, this can be a really good starting point for increasing emotional awareness. Okay, so I want to share what those cues are. And, and that can can really help to start awaken awakening, your emotional connection. So number one is safety cue,
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:23
you feel protected, secure, loved, fulfilled, cared for, and part of a community. So perhaps you’re at a family dinner, you’re having a great conversation with your loved ones. Can you cue to safety? Can you recognize it? Even if you can’t name that the feelings can you recognize I feel safe? Okay, so that’s what we would do. The second cue is novelty. So unexpected stimuli that may trigger an automatic evaluative process, to figure out if the cue is helpful to wellbeing, or something to be avoided. So when you think about novelty cue, just think about something’s new. It’s uncertain. Like, I don’t know if this is good. I don’t know if this is bad. And so you could be in situations where that novelty cue is what’s coming up for you. So maybe you attend a weekly meeting, you always attend, but they started differently, right, that you’re late. You’re your boss starts with a very different kind of beginning. And that novelty cue can be like, okay, is this good? Or is this bad? This is different. We never have breakfast at this meeting, like what’s happening? So can you even pin that down? Because that can be a starting point, to help you pick up the threads of some of the other emotions that might be coming up for you. And then the third cue is that rewarding to you. And so these are cues that look gratifying or pleasurable, like, Oh, this looks like fun. I’m excited about this. And then the next cue is a threatening cue. So This, of course, is in a situation where it looks potentially dangerous and damaging. And of course, we want to be aware of those queues as well. Okay, and the fifth queue is the overwhelming queue. And when we are in a situation where the overwhelming queue is triggered, it triggers our emergency shutdown system, it says this all system alarm. What’s happening here, it’s too much, I’ve got to shut everything down. So we narrow
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:32
we narrow our vision, right, we get tunnel vision, it’s hard for us to think clearly, we’re really paying attention to threat assessment, okay. And so overwhelming, the overwhelming queue can happen in situations that aren’t threatening. So that’s important to pay attention to. Okay, so another solution for challenge three is to participate without planning. So don’t be the one that’s coming early to set up. Don’t be the last one that leaves because you’re cleaning up. Don’t be the first one to respond to requests for help. Don’t be the doer in the room, can you just show up? Can you participate without planning. And I think that that is a really, that’s a great way to nudge yourself towards more balanced. And that’s not that hard, actually, you might find you kind of enjoy it. Okay, and now we’re on to the fourth challenge, along with solution. So this challenge is low social connectedness and intimacy with others. The ways that this shows up includes aloof and distant relationships, feeling different from others, frequent social comparisons, high envy and bitterness, that’s always fun. And then reduced empathy. So you can see this makes relationships and connection with others incredibly painful. So let’s talk about some solutions. So the first one is to activate social safety. So if you are on the high end of over control, you may often feel unsafe, even in very safe situations. And so you need to use your body to communicate to your brain that you are safe. This also signals openness to social connection. So to be able to say I’m okay, I’m with my family. There’s nothing wrong here. A lot of times, you may not know that you are sending signals to back off to others. And so you need to shift your body language to communicate openness. So if we think about some of these gestures, expansive gestures, communicates safety, right? So sitting back in a chair, raising your arms or spreading them out in an open gesture, open your hands, raising your eyebrows, brows, all of these nonverbal gestures communicate openness, and they also communicate to your brain. we’re safe, we’re everything’s okay. The next solution is to slow your breathing. So deliberately breathe more deeply and slowly, so if you can use slow long exhalations that can really help and what this does is it communicates to your brain that your body is a safe place to be. So paced breathing lowers physiological arousal. Okay, so there are some solutions for challenge for. So I hope this is helpful for you, I hope you will choose 123 of these solutions to help nudge you towards more balance so that we have that nice flexible control, but we don’t have the costs of over control. So head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode, I will include the link to last week’s podcast and for the skills training model, our manual from Thomas our Lynch, PhD, really great practical skill building, it is geared towards clinicians. So just keep that in mind. But you can find all of that by going to www.drmelissasmith.com/132-overcontrol. One more time. That’s www.drmelissasmith.com/132-overcontrol i would love to connect with you on social media. You can find me on Instagram at dr.melissasmith I always do a deep dive into some of the concepts from the podcast there and I’d love to have a conversation with you. I’d also be so appreciative. If you are willing to give the podcast a review. It helps me to connect with more people who may benefit from the podcast. You can do that on Apple’s or Apple podcasts or Spotify. 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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