If we experienced a traumatic childhood in which we felt frequently under threat, in danger, vulnerable, powerless and entirely lacking in any ability to control what was happening to us, we may develop, as adults, in order to protect ourselves from further emotional hurt and from being further victimized, a psychological defense mechanism which takes the form of a desperate need to be in control at all times.
In simple terms, then, the person who has an excessive need for control is usually being unconsciously driven to exert total control over his/her environment in an attempt to avoid the mental distresss s/he experienced in childhood.
Locus Of Control:
People may believe that their locus of control is internal, external or a blend of the two. Below I briefly explain what is meant by these terms:
Internal Locus Of Control:
Those with a belief that their locus of control is internal believe:
– they must try to exert direct control in all situations
– they have the power to make change happen
– they can get results by taking decisive action
External Locus Of Control:
In contrast, those with a belief that their locus of control is external believe:
– events are completely out of their control
– what happens to them is entirely as a result of the actions of powerful others or situations completely out of their control
– they are at the mercy of luck and chance
Above: Some things we can control, some we can influence, but many we can neither control nor influence.
Problems can occur for individuals if they have an overwhelming need to have an internal locus of control at all times and at all costs, as, in reality, this is impossible.
Other Problems Of People With An Excessive Need For Control:
– black and white thinking: such people tend to believe that if they are not fully in control at all times then they are completely vulnerable and will be exploited or hurt
– hypervigilence: they also tend to believe that if they are not hypervigilence at all times they will lose control and expose themselves to danger from others
– frustration and anger: caused by trying to control that which is clearly beyond the person’s control
Effects Upon Physical disease
– increased risk of heart disease
– increases in anxiety/frustration levels
Those who have excessive need to exercise direct power and control (direct control is also known as primary control) can benefit greatly by making more use of secondary control. Secondary control involves:
– changing one’s behaviour in order to adapt to a situation
– delegating direct (or primary) control to others who may have more influence
– changing one’s attitude to a situation that can’t be changed
Also, those with such a high need for control that it causes problems can benefit from remembering:
– whilst some situations can’t be controlled, it is possible to control one’s response to these situations
– it is usually best to ‘let go’ of what can’t be changed
– it’s also usually best to accept what one can’t change (which is not the same of approving of it, of course) to save wasting valuable emotional energy (which could be put to far more constructive use) fretting about it.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).