Controlling Behavior – How Do You Attempt to Control?
by Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Controlling behavior: Behavior intended to control your own feelings, control how people feel about you and treat you, or control the outcome of things.
All of us have grown up learning many different ways to control – we had to as part of our survival.
Perhaps you grew up in a family that used anger and criticism as forms of control and this became the role modeling for what you do now. Or you might have been a child who picked up on anger early, had temper tantrums, and you are still using anger as your primary form of control.
If anger and criticism was used in your family, you might have learned to respond to it with compliance – being a good girl or boy. You might have learned to put aside your own feelings and needs and go along with what others wanted in the hopes of controlling their feelings and actions toward you. You might use care-taking as your primary form of control.
Or, you might have decided to go in the opposite direction and resist others’ attempts to control you. You might have decided that having control over not being controlled is what is really important. If you struggle with procrastination, you might want consider that resistance has become a major form of control for you.
Perhaps you decided as a child to just withdraw and shut out others’ attempts to control you. You might have also decided to try to control your own feelings through addictions such as food, alcohol, drugs, work, TV, gambling, spending, and so on.
Finally, you might have decided that avoiding your feelings by staying in your head instead of your heart is the way to feel safe from pain. The abandonment of your own feelings – the lack of love for yourself – results in inner emptiness. Your emptiness becomes like a vacuum on others’ energy, pulling on others to give you the love you need to fill your inner emptiness.
Most people chose a combination of the above ways of trying to control. For example, you might be a caretaker in the hopes of getting people to love and approve of you, and then you might turn to anger when that doesn’t happen. You might find yourself giving in to what people want to a certain extent, and then retreating or resisting their attempts to control you. You might find yourself being furious at someone’s attempts to control you, but then giving in anyway to avoid his or her upset with you. Or perhaps you are a mellow person until you drink, and then you unleash your rage. Or vice versa – you are nice only when you drink and you are a rageaholic the rest of the time. Or, on the surface you might be a nice and giving person, all the while pulling energetically for others’ love, attention, and approval.
All of these behaviors are intended to protect you from some form of pain – the pain of rejection, of engulfment, of failure. Most people attempt in numerous ways to have control over getting love, avoiding pain, and feeling safe.
Yet it is these very behaviors that, as adults, are causing most of our pain. Anger feels terrible in the body, as does compliance. Being stuck in procrastination or withdrawal also feels awful, as does the emptiness of staying in your head instead of your heart. All these behaviors result in feeling alone inside, because they are all ways to abandon yourself. Controlling behavior is not loving to yourself or to others.
We’ve all heard that you can’t love others until you love yourself, and this is very true. Loving yourself means that your focus is on what is truly in your highest good – what fills your heart with peace and joy and a deep sense of integrity and self worth. Loving yourself means that you are asking throughout the day, “What is in my highest good in this moment?” It is never in your highest good to try to control others or use them to fill your own emptiness. Nor is it in your highest good to harm yourself or others in any way.
Try practicing throughout the day asking this question, “What is in my highest good right now?” Answers will come to you, and then you can take the loving action. This one shift in your thinking can change your life!
Read part two of this article here.
For more information on Margaret Paul, Ph.D. go to http://margaretpaul.com/