Controlling Behaviors:
What's the story behind them?

The fear that drives controlling behaviors is rooted in language

It is commonly assumed that controlling behaviors come from a need to have power over others. That’s why your boss micromanages your work or your spouse insists you first clear your decisions with him or her, even personal ones. Making others follow their rules makes control freaks feel good about themselves.

The Need For Control

The need to control others is about more than getting one’s kicks by bossing others. Underlying the need to control is a set of assumptions - language actions - about how life operates and what will happen if others are allowed to do or say whatever they wish.

The basic assumption is there are limited resources in the world and others are out to get more than their fair share.

If you want to survive, you have to keep them at bay and protect what you have already secured. If you don’t, someone will try to take if from you.

Obviously, anyone whose basic outlook is “get them and theirs before they get you and yours” is motivated more by fear than by anything else. Occasionally they may feel good about getting more for themselves or preventing others from taking away their goods, but the feeling is always short-lived. The fear that it could all be gone if they do not remain vigilant quickly replaces any feelings of satisfaction. That fear is what motivates them to employ controlling behaviors of every kind.

Limited Resources

Just as natural resources are limited, like oil or gold or potable water, so are other resources such as good jobs, recognition for work well done, pay increases, professional development opportunities, promotions and the admiration of others.

Some of these jobs, opportunities, and rewards are better than other ones, just as some oil is considered sweeter or cleaner than other oil and some gold more valuable or purer than other types of gold. Keeping others from getting the better resources is part of making sure you are not left behind and stuck with the poorer ones.

So, if your spouse makes more friends, he or she may want to give more attention to developing those relationships. In your mind, that could mean less attention for you. Or if a co-worker’s performance impresses your boss more than your performance, you assume your co-worker may get promoted ahead of you.

In both instances, you believe your portion of limited resources is at risk, be it attention or opportunity.

Purpose of Control

That’s where controlling behaviors take over. They are not meant to help you fulfill your legitimate responsibilities, like parents who ought to know who their children spend time with , or a manager who wants to be kept up to date on how projects are proceeding. Nor are they meant to help you develop your personal talent or skills.

Their purpose is to keep others from putting at risk something you value, be it a possession, your position, your reputation, your legacy, or respect for your opinion.

How can you let go of controlling behaviors? The most effective way is develop your self-awareness. Pay attention to when and where you try to control others. Then identify the assumptions or beliefs you hold that make you want to gain and keep control.

Finally, challenge your assumptions about what will happen if you don’t keep control.

Will you really receive less attention if your spouse develops more friendships? Do you believe there is a limited supply of it? How do you know that? What is your evidence?

When you challenge such nonsense, you create new ways of looking at things. You replace empty belief with real facts that change how you feel, how you behave, and how you get along with friends, family members, and co-workers.

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