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By Katie Bailey, MA, LPC

Here is one of life’s most important lessons: You are not in control. Did that make you break out in a sweat?

As humans, we all want to be in control to a certain extent. I spend a lot of time teaching clients about boundaries, and part of boundaries is learning what you can control and you can’t, what is your responsibility and what isn’t. We experience a lot of frustration, disappointment, anxiety and depression when we try to control things in life that aren’t ours to dictate.

Why do people want control?

The most common motivation for control is fear:

  • If I feed my kids all organic food, they will never get sick.
  • I can never show weakness, because everyone must think well of me.
  • I can’t let my adult child marry that person; it will be awful!

Another major reason people seek to control others is security:

  • If I stay home from the concert, I can’t get in a car accident.
  • If I can just save more money, everything will be okay.

Selfishness is also a reason people chase after control, which is also manipulation:

  • I am more important than my spouse, so I can do whatever I want.
  • I will yell at my roommate until they load the dishwasher exactly how I think it should be done.

How do I let go of control?

1. Realize you don’t have that much power – only God is really in control.

The reality is, you are not the one in control. God is. And trust me, I know that’s not a magic answer for the fears in this world. We live in a broken, messed up world where bad things happen sometimes. That’s how it is. But we have to remember that God will be with us even when those challenges come. That doesn’t take away our fears, but puts it in perspective. We cannot stop the car accidents, sicknesses, or people betraying us. When we try, we only make it worse for ourselves, and ramp up our anxiety. When we zoom out and look at the big picture, we have more appreciation for our place in the world, and we realize we don’t have nearly as much as power as we think we do.

2. Ask yourself, “What do I gain from controlling?” It’s probably not what you think.

You likely think that trying to control what your kids eat or what they watch will ensure healthy kids. Here’s the thing: you aren’t guaranteeing your emotional security. Now don’t miss understand; I’m all for setting good boundaries for your kids – but they will eat candy at their friends’ houses, and they will see inappropriate things on someone’s phone or computer. We can’t fear these things happening. We must prepare ourselves AND our children to respond well, and teach them how to make better choices for themselves. When you try to control their world there is no gain, simply stress for you and your kids feel micromanaged. That’s not going to grow into a healthy parent-child relationship.

Even if you don’t have younger kids, trying to control others in your world will only lead to damaged relationships. The point is this: there is no benefit from controlling. You think you get peace or security – and that may be true briefly, but long term, you are still stressed out, anxious, and hurting your relationships.

3. You have to let other adults make their own choices, whether or not you like them. This is a big one. We cannot dictate other people’s choices. We must let other adults make their own decisions, whether we like them or not. We can decide how we respond to those decisions, but we have to respect the fact that other people run their own lives.

For example, when two people get married, they inevitably have to decide how to divide their time between the two families for holidays. This choice is the new couple’s decision, not their parents. The parents might not necessarily like the answer, but everyone is better off if they respect their adult children’s right to make their own choices as to how they spend their time. Dealing with the disappointment is on the parents, not the new couple. In order to respect other’s choices, we must also be able to take responsibility for our own emotional reactions.

Are you chasing after control? Our therapists can help you.

At Lime Tree Counseling, we want to see everyone have healthy relationships. We believe people were made to be connected to one another, and that relationships are what life is really all about. If your relationships aren’t fulfilling, if you are chasing the need to control others, and if you can’t handle others making their own decisions, please call us today. We can help you learn to set boundaries, and improve your connections with those you love. We will teach you skills to manage your stress and anxiety, and grow closer to the people that matter most.

Our team specializes in trauma therapy, especially emotional abuse and sexual abuse, anxiety treatment, marriage counseling, and culturally sensitive counseling. Send us a message today and get started building stronger relationships!