Feeling the need to be in control is natural.
It’s something we all inherently want, and we feel best when we know exactly what is going on in all the different areas of our lives. It’s important to realize, though, that we can never control everything. Trying to do that leads to many different negative emotions when things don’t go exactly the way we try to force them.
There are many ways to increase your happiness in life, but one of the most simple and tangible ones is by letting go of control. Why should we do that, and how do we even begin? We’ll review everything you need to know about why you should stop trying to control everything in your life, and what steps you can take to get there.
Why Do We Feel the Need to Control?
Elaine A. Thomas, Psy.D.
As a therapist, I facilitate self-understanding and discovery which creates new coping strategies for anxiety, depression, stress, and trauma. I provide treatment for anxiety, child developmental trauma, PTSD therapy, couples therapy, and family conflict marriage counseling Atlanta Georgia. Please see my new book ‘Mindfulness Workbook for Perfectionism, Effective Strategies to Overcome Your Inner Critic and Find Balance’.
The desire to be able to control our surroundings and circumstances is ingrained into our consciousness. This is because the more we know about our world, the safer we feel. On the other hand, the less we know, the more scared we feel. The need to control is directly rooted in fear—specifically, the fear of what might happen outside our control.
How Attempts to Control Negatively Affect Our Lives
It may be natural to want to control everything, but that doesn’t make it healthy. There are many ways in which trying to control everything could backfire in the long run. Let’s take a look at some of the top ones.
Increased Stress And Anxiety
People who try to control everything may experience more stress and anxiety than those who don’t. The simple act of feeling out of control when it feels necessary to have it can make a person’s blood pressure rise.
One study noted that it is more devastating when things don’t go according to plan for people who feel the need to control than for those who feel less need to be in control.
Feeling the need to be in control and not having it can make us feel dissatisfied.
One study found that “subjects scoring high on a measure of general desire for control reported higher levels of discomfort and perceived the room as more crowded than did subjects scoring low on the desire for control at both levels of density.”
The very act of feeling a need for control led to a less pleasant situation for people for whom that was a priority versus those for which it wasn’t.
Because there is no way to control everything in life, caring too much about how things outside your control are going can lead to increased criticism about everything that happens. After all, when you don’t control the outcomes you want to, it makes sense that you don’t like them.
In turn, being more critical can make us more neurotic, creating an unending and spiraling cycle in which we get progressively unhappier with our lives. And criticism of others can also be damaging for people who deal with depression and anxiety, leading them to criticize themselves more.
What Can Be Gained By Letting Go of Control
Now that you know how badly the need for control can impact our lives, it should be no surprise that there is much to be gained from giving it up. Giving up the need for control is often referred to as surrendering.
One example of that is Michael Singer’s book “The Surrender Experiment,” in which the author describes how his life improved when he stopped trying to control everything. Here are some of the benefits of giving up the need to feel control over everything.
Increased Peace And Relaxation
Proponents of surrendering and utilizing a practice like Singer prescribes speak about the results of increased peace and relaxation. This makes sense when you consider that trying to control everything causes stress and anxiety, as peace and relaxation are opposites.
Better Preparedness for the Unexpected
When you are less set on a specific outcome to a situation, you’ll be in a better place to handle whatever the outcome is. People who have given up control and surrendered can easily take whatever surprises life throws at them.
By having less attachment, they’re more able to go with the flow. This means that however life unravels, you’ll be OK, rather than hinging your sense of OK-ness on specific outcomes that may be beyond your control.
Enhanced Connections With Self and Others
Inasmuch as trying to control everything makes you more critical of yourself and other people, giving up that control enables you to connect with others on deeper levels. That’s because you aren’t tying your love and acceptance for yourself and others on specific outcomes.
By simply letting people be how they are, and by allowing yourself to not be attached to how every situation turns out, you’re able to love more freely. This applies both to loving others and yourself.
How to Let Go Of Control
Suppose you’ve decided you’d rather be at peace and well connected to others, rather than stressed and critical. In that case, you’re probably interested in learning about how exactly you can go about giving up the need for control. The below tips will help you get started on this relaxing path, but there are many other ways you can accomplish it, too.
Anything you can do that helps you feel more OK with not being in control is excellent. It can be large or small, practiced often or only in moments of need. We encourage you to try one of the following to guide you on this new journey.
Discern What You Can and Can’t Control
There’s no way to give up control until you know where in life it’s needed. Take stock of what you have going on. Think through the areas of life that are in your control and those that aren’t.
Once you’ve established which fall into each category, commit to treating the situations where you don’t or won’t have control differently than you have been. This includes disconnecting yourself from outcomes and treating other people differently when they don’t behave exactly as you want.
It may be helpful to think through the situations you can’t control to feel less anxiety about the different possible outcomes. Do your best to feel settled with each one as you think of it, knowing it is outside your control, you’re safe, and you’ll be OK however things work out.
Writing down your feelings can be a big relief for your stress levels. When you journal, you may be able to think through things in a deeper way than if you just think about them. For people who feel the need to be in control, journaling can help you work through potential outcomes and give you an outlet for those feelings without enabling them to amplify and grow.
Get Support From Loved Ones
Lastly, there is no need to go through this process alone! Chances are you have at least one loved one who also tries to control everything about life. You can reach out to them and let them know you’re on a mission to surrender and give up control. Ask them to join you, then meet or talk with them regularly about how the process is going.
If someone in your life already has given up control and experienced the peace that comes with it, lean on them for support. Ask for tips, share about your experience, and learn from what they’ve accomplished.
The need for control is natural, but it can also make our lives more complicated. With these tips, you can be on your way to a happier life.