Confessions of a control-freak – How to manage a fear of losing control

Confessions of a control-freak: How to manage a fear of losing control. Enthusiastic young friends riding amusement park ride

I would love to love rollercoasters.  Despite my numerous attempts (and if you would like some evidence, read: 48 hours in Abu Dhabi), we’ve just never clicked.  Why?   Those high-speed wagons of torture (too strong!?) expose me to one of  my greatest fears – my fear of losing control.  For me, rollercoasters are pitiless beasts who offer you no power other than the power not to get on one in the first place.  So when you’re someone who needs to feel in control – rollercoasters aren’t necessarily the epitome of fun.

Wanting to feel in control is completely natural…

A balanced level of control is essential to realise the best that life has to offer.  However, when the control-scales tip in favour of needing to be in control of absolutely everything – the underlying causes should be explored, addressed and then managed (practical tips coming up).

My need to be in control actually stemmed from my childhood.  It was peppered with instability and instances of unexpected trauma.  It created a fear in me that bad things could happen at anytime.  That upset could come from any direction without warning.  I sought comfort by finding refuge in what I could control.  Control gave me certainty.  Control was a shield.

Negative situations generate unpleasant emotions.  As a coping mechanism, you do all that you believe you can to stop those feelings from reaching you.  That means taking control, not rocking the boat and really becoming quite risk adverse.  It can be quite stressful.  Which is ironic considering stress is something us control-freaks actually want to avoid.  

Confessions of a control freak: how to manage a fear of losing control. Image of a young woman hiding within her duvet

Think about it this way, trying to control the outcome of a future event can be near impossible…

You can dot the i’s and cross the t’s, but you can’t account for everything and everyone.   So really it’s just an exercise in wrapping yourself in as much cotton wool as possible in order to minimise the fall-out should something bad happen.  Whilst this might seem reasonable, it’s actually unsustainable and more than anything equates to a lot of wasted time and energy.   

You see, the problem is we’re demanding certainty in a world that is anything but certain.  And regardless of how much we try, we can never be truly in control of future events.  Hearing myself say this does feel rather catastrophic – but actually it’s quite freeing.  Allow me to explain…

I spent a lot of time recently worrying about a situation in my life that I didn’t have much control over.  I had an element of control but not enough to stop it from seriously hurting me if it came to pass.  So there I was, allowing it to consume me – how will I cope if this happens, what will I do?  It was scary not feeling in control.  And then it happened.  Yes, I felt hurt.  Yes, it made me feel very sad, but – it didn’t kill me.  

Now I wonder why I wasted so much time worrying about it happening…

I should have spent that time enjoying my life as it was in that moment, not wasting the joy in preparation for the sad that may or may not come.  

For so many years control meant safety, power and comfort to me, but it also meant missed opportunity and limited fun, it meant a life not fully lived.  Massive reasons to adjust the control on control.  

Confessions of a control freak: How to manage a fear of losing control. Portrait of a happy teenager girl smiling and looking at side outside on the beach

Let’s go back to the rollercoaster… 

On a rollercoaster, you sit down, strap in and shoot off.  However long it takes, however fast it wants to take you, in whatever direction.  There is nothing you can do about it.  All you can do is scream and squeeze the hand of the person next to you so tightly they lose circulation.  

You may feel scared, anxious, unsettled – you may feel physically unwell – but unlike what you might usually try to do, whilst you’re on that ride there is no hiding or masking of these emotions.  When it’s over, your legs might be shaky, your heart might take a while to return to it’s normal rhythm and you might harbour a severe dislike of the person who talked you in to it (just me?) but you survive and ultimately you’re absolutely OK, maybe even more energised and ready to continue enjoying your life.

The point I’m trying to make here is this… 

No matter how much we want to protect ourselves from the bad feelings, reality won’t give up its uncertainty for you.  Sometimes the bad feelings will reach us.  But it’s OK if they do.  The important thing is to know they will pass – you will survive, you’ll be fine and if anything even wiser and stronger. It’s pointless to spend time worrying about situations you have little or no control over.  That time should be redirected to what you actually have real control over – your desires, hopes, wishes and preferences.  There are far bigger benefits to be gained from letting go, trusting, thinking positively and appreciating the good in the world you inhabit.

Good to know:  Whilst I have talked about accepting the fact that sometimes bad things might happen, I want to be clear that I’m not advising you to resign yourself to the fact that they will happen.  Acceptance is not the same as resignation. There are things beyond our control, but they need not be a barrier to how happy our lives can be.

If you are ready to start loosening some control, here are some practical tips to help get you started:

– Start small (give it up gradually) –

If control is a state of mind you’ve fostered for many years, it will seem overwhelming to suddenly relinquish control on some of the bigger areas of your life.  Start with smaller  incidences, which you feel more comfortable about processing.  Allow someone else to  choose the restaurant.  Accept the invite.  Delegate.  By demonstrating to your mind and emotions that you can cope and that all is OK, your confidence will build and your grip will naturally loosen on things.  

 – Resist catastrophizing –

One of the main reasons why us control-freaks seek to maintain control, is to stop something terrible happening.  This is called catastrophising – the act of assuming the worst will happen.  Also known as distorted emotional thinking.  We are reasoning with our emotions.   It’s important to become well-versed in spotting when this is occurring.  Switching to logical reasoning can help change our perspective, reduce the intensity of the emotion and help us resist the urge to engage in controlling behaviour.  

How do you become more logical?

– Question your fears –

Question, question, question.  Where is this belief coming from?  What evidence do I have to support it? How likely is it this outcome will  occur?   Seek second opinions through talking to others.  Talking things through can help dissipate the hold any worries have over us.   Quite often just by hearing ourselves say it makes it clear whether our mind is operating on an emotional or logical basis.

– Seek therapy –

If like me, your love affair with control is linked with past trauma, consider therapy.  Sometimes professional help is needed to remove the influence your past has over your future.  There are also a wealth of helplines and support groups.  Click here for further information.

Ready to take life by the metaphorical balls? Read: Moments: Be defined by your actions not your circumstances.

It’s important to ensure that the amount of control we exert is sensible, measured and not preventative of any good opportunities or fun that could enter our lives.  It’s definitely a balancing act.  What measures do you take?   Do you find the need for control has been holding you back?  Just for the record, I know there will be some people who need to be in control but absolutely love rollercoasters!  My friend says losing all control on a rollercoaster for a few short minutes is actually (for her) quite freeing – what do you think?  Join in the conversation by leaving a comment in the box below – I’d love to hear from you! 

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7 thoughts on “Confessions of a control-freak – How to manage a fear of losing control

  1. I enjoyed reading this Alex, and getting to know you a little more. Im sorry that situations in your past have had a bearing on your future, but love that you are conscious of them. I think I am probably the opposite to you, in that I buck against routine, control or any other self imposed restriction. Probably too much so as I tend to just see what will happen in more or less everything in life hahaha.

    1. Thanks Kerry, it’s lovely to hear you enjoyed it! I’m definitely able to recognise the behaviour now and make a different choice. Maybe my new mantra should be – what would Kerry do 😉 x

  2. An excellent synopsis of what many of us ‘control freaks’ struggle with. Interesting to hear Kerry’s views too. Sometimes I swing between being a control freak and a ‘Kerry’, but more often resort to the controlling. Controlling can take over, which is a shame. As you point out Alex, it can rob us of freedom and living life to the full. I particularly like your practical strategies. One of my favourite sayings to myself is ‘will the sky fall in today, Rach, if X and Y don’t get done?’ Ninety-nine+ times out of a hundred the answer is ‘no’. As I’ve matured, I’m more and more aware that much of the angst I get from being a control freak is self-imposed; no-one else minds but me! Mmmmmm …………. some food for thought. Thank you for this insightful article. x

    1. Thank you Rachel for that kind feedback. I think the question you pose to yourself is an excellent acid test and some great logical reasoning! x

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