So many of us crave more control in our lives. In fact, the perception of being out of control is often linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression. We believe that with control comes predictability and being ready for any hurdle or circumstance that comes our way. Being caught off guard, even when simply by our thoughts or an emotional reaction can be overwhelming.

There are many people that reach for destructive means to gain control.

  • Parents may use physical punishment to try and handle their children.
  • Someone flooded with powerful feelings may reach for a substance to control the experience and temporarily mute the feelings and escape.
  • A person perceiving herself as unattractive, unworthy or undeserving may regulate what food she does or does not put into her body or how much she exercises to manipulate the number of a scale.

What does control mean?

Control seems to be equated to power. When we have control, we feel a greater sense of power. To take it further, we assume that when we feel powerful and in control, it will mean that we also feel increased self-acceptance and general happiness.

Unfortunately, control is an illusion. For the most part, control is very elusive, with it being present one moment and gone the next. The perception of control is likely much more valuable than actually having control. And ideally, the perception of control is much more realistic also. A wave of “let go” is sweeping through the mental health world. This movement is seemingly aimed at combatting the illusion of control that still exists as an obstacle for many.

Shifting to management.

Therapeutically, I lean heavily on the concept of manageability rather than control. Control brings with it a demand for rigidity. There is little forgiveness when one has a control mindset, you either have it (control) or you don’t. My preference for a goal of management was born out of my work with clients struggling with disordered eating. It was a paradoxical place for me as a provider to essentially prescribe more control to a symptom set of needing to be in control.

Counting calories is a form of control, yet the clients that I saw needed to gain weight. With this population, it happened to be mind-blowing to incorporate a process of intuitive eating.  Rather than focusing on counting, measuring, timing or weighing. Management of hunger (and fullness) and emotions became the goal, shifting it from the previous goal of attempting to control the body and what is put into it.

How will your life be experienced differently if you shift your goal from control to management?

You may find that you will more creatively go about your day, opening your mind to many possible solutions to problems. Perhaps further, you will assess problems on a continuum of importance, attending only to those that are very high on the scale and need immediate attention. After all, there are many problems that could be redefined as irritants or annoyances, which simply do not require attention.  Ultimately, freeing up a good amount of time and energy in your day and brain. Incorporation of a management mindset will shift your thinking from being all-or-nothing to allowing for much more fluidity and flexibility.

I predict that you will go through a mourning period when saying good-bye to control. Ironically, control will fight to remain in your life. It will try and convince you that you will lose focus, settle for less and be generally less of who you could be without it.  Sounds like a pretty toxic relationship, doesn’t it? Just like setting a boundary with a toxic person and deciding to end the relationship is difficult, so too is shifting away from a toxic process to a more healthy one.

Manage your anxiety as you trust that letting go of control will lead to a more secure, empowered and happy place of being. Just because your anxiety is temporarily heightened, this is not a reason to turn back to your previous controlling behaviors and thoughts.  In fact, that is exactly what control wants you to interpret – that anxiety will decrease if you return to your controlling mindset; it won’t!

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.