5 Tips for Letting Go of Controlling Behaviours
Controlling behaviours are very common for those in addiction recovery. Unfortunately, controlling behaviours may spill out into your relationships with others, creating a ripple effect in your life.
Trying to control other people, situations, or outcomes leads to anger, resentment, anxiety, and depression, all of which can threaten recovery.
If you’re in recovery and struggling with controlling thoughts and behaviours, know that the only way to have true control over your life is by letting go of the need to control.
Where do controlling behaviours come from?
Controlling behaviours can stem from many different places, including anxiety disorders and personality disorders. When someone is struggling with controlling behaviours, it can also root back to childhood trauma or limiting beliefs that developed in youth.
A need for safety
Sometimes, controlling behaviours emerge out of a need for safety. You may subconsciously feel unsafe, unstable, and scared in the world. As a result, you try to control as much as you can to ensure your own safety and security. However, a true sense of safety and security cannot be found in anything outside of you. No matter how hard you try to control the things around you, a sense of safety can only truly be fostered within.
If you struggle with anxiety, your way of coping may be to control everything around you. For instance, if you're anxious about your child's well-being, you may call or text them constantly, just to ease your own fears and make sure they're okay. Additionally, if you're anxious about what your partner is doing when they're not with you, you may try to regulate their behaviour to make sure they don't spend time away from you. If you're engaging in these behaviours, it may come from a place of anxiety and fear. However, when you try to control other people based on your own anxieties, it ends up pushing them further away from you.
Growing up in a dysfunctional home
Growing up in a chaotic environment is another reason you may have developed controlling behaviours. If one parent or both parents were inconsistent, this could have caused you to feel a lack of control and safety. If your caretakers were together but were violent or dysfunctional, this could have caused you to feel a lack of control and a deep sense of helplessness. That helplessness could have translated into controlling behaviours as you grew older.
Additionally, controlling behaviours can come from low self-esteem. If you struggle with low self-esteem, this can cause you to expect the worst out of situations. Therefore, you try to control the situation to avoid the worst from happening. For instance, you may have trouble believing that your partner wants to stay with you, because you don’t see your own innate value. So, you try to control them so they won’t leave you. As you’ll come to learn, you can’t control another person’s actions, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. Trying to control someone based on your own struggles with self-esteem may backfire and ultimately end up pushing them away. This cause of controlling behaviour can also manifest in many different areas of life, including with friendships and in the workplace.
Signs of controlling behaviour
It can be incredibly hard to recognise your own controlling behaviour.
You may engage in certain behaviours without even realising that you're trying to control an outcome, a person, or a situation.
Below are just a few signs of controlling behaviours that may help you understand if your own behaviours have been less than accepting:
- Trouble accepting blame
- Dictating where a loved one goes
- Dictating who a loved one talks to
- Having trouble accepting “no” for an answer
- A need to be centre of attention
- Unwilling to self-reflect
If you struggle with any of these behaviours, know that this is incredibly common for many in recovery.
Understanding why it’s so important to let go of control can help you work on shifting your own controlling behaviours to live a more peaceful and less anxious life in recovery.
Why is letting go of controlling behaviours so important?
Letting go is central to recovery, and to finding peace and balance in recovery.
When you aren’t able to release control, you’ll feel less joyful and satisfied in life.
You’ll experience increased amounts of stress, constantly trying to change things that you physically cannot change.
You’ll experience troubles in your romantic relationships, your friendships, and with your coworkers.
Additionally, you won’t be able to feel truly safe just being yourself. You won’t be able to allow yourself to be fully authentic with others.
Recovery is all about surrendering to the flow of life, and learning to lean into that flow to discover who you are and create the life you want.
When you release control, you experience…
- More peace
- More joy
- Less anxiety and stress
- More presence
- Stronger connections with others
- More spontaneity in life
- Mental and emotional freedom
Now that you’ve uncovered why it’s so important to release the need for control in life, read on to discover what you can do to get started.
5 tips for letting go of controlling behaviours
Below are 5 helpful tips for letting go of controlling behaviours:
1. Acknowledge what you can and cannot control
The first step in letting go of controlling behaviours is to first acknowledge what you can and cannot control. It's important to realise that you cannot control other people and what they do. You cannot control the outcome of an event. You cannot control how life unfolds. However, the beauty is that you can always control your own actions.
Gaining a really deep understanding of what is within your control and what is out of your control is paramount if you're working on letting go of controlling behaviours.
2. Observe the root of your behaviours
Another important part of letting go of controlling behaviours is gently observing where that need for control is coming from. This requires you to be vulnerable with yourself and to be really honest with yourself. When you’re trying to control, what are you actually looking for? What fear is driving the behaviours? Understanding where that need for control is coming from will help you learn what you need to do to shift that behaviour.
3. Understand your triggers
It's entirely possible that you approach certain areas of life with ease and security, whereas other areas of life cause you to feel incredibly anxious or cause you to feel the need to exert control. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to what situations prompt you to engage in controlling behaviours. Knowing your triggers can help you understand where the behaviours are coming from.
4. Rewrite your story
If you find your controlling behaviours are stemming from a place of fear, anxiety, or low self-esteem, you can change your own narrative. If you struggle with anxiety and low self-worth, your mind is probably constantly telling you negative things about yourself, your life, and the world around you . Even though there is likely so much good happening around you, the stories of your mind constantly focus on the bad. Because of this, rewriting your story is a powerful way to let go of controlling behaviours.
After you’ve identified the root of the behaviours and what could have caused them, start to work on telling yourself new, more supportive beliefs. For instance, if your low self-esteem is causing you to try and control your partner, work on shifting your beliefs about yourself and your worth. This doesn’t happen overnight and takes conscious effort. However, if you get into a practice of shifting your thoughts and working on your beliefs consistently, you’ll be able to let go of the need to control and watch the world around you change for the better.
5. Practise mindfulness
Practising mindfulness is a great way to learn how to observe your thoughts. Engaging in practices such as mindfulness meditation helps you become more present. When you’re present and mindful, you’re in a space where you can actively look at your own thoughts. When you’re able to do this, you can become aware of the stories you’ve been telling yourself, and where certain beliefs may have come from. Additionally, developing a mindfulness practice can be incredibly beneficial when you’re interacting with other people. You’ll become more aware and more intentional of your own actions and behaviours towards them.
A final word on letting go of controlling behaviours
Letting go of controlling behaviours is a process. It takes a great deal of patience with oneself and an ability to look inward. However, you will experience a true sense of mental and emotional freedom when you let go of the need to control and instead move through life from a place of surrender and acceptance.
Author - Thurga