AlignMENt: The Myth of Control

By Patrick Donohue

February 16, 2013

AlignMENt: The Myth of Control

You know that co-worker or neighbor or family member that you find irritating or obnoxious.  I

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Controlling everything is tough work.

 am betting that their behavior looks something like this: 

1)   They do not listen very well.

2)   They have a critique or criticism for everything.

3)   They are controlling and lack empathy.

4)   Complements and encouragement are rare.

So, why do people behave in a way that is obviously alienating and unappealing?  The short answer is something called the Myth of Control.  Psychologists say the Myth of Control goes back to the messages we received before age six.  Many children received the message that the world is a “scary and dangerous place”.  The simple way to combat this message is to limit the number of variables in life and look to control as many things as possible.  This is the child who is afraid to try any new foods, activities or venture into unpredictable social settings.  Through maturity, self-insight and life experiences many of these children come to realize that the world is not as scary as they were told and trying new things is OK.

For some however, the intensity of the world is “scary and dangerous” messages stays with them into adulthood.  In my experience as a coach, these people typically take one of two paths.  Some remain quite timid and spend their lives fearfully trying not to make mistakes.  These are adults who are overly cautious and tend to catastrophize small problems into large messes. 

The second type of person is whom I described at the beginning of the post.  Since the world is “scary and dangerous” then “I need to take the bull by the horns and control everything.”  These people tend to be verbal bullies, who do not listen well and are demanding and overbearing.  There are intent on subduing the “scary and dangerous” world by controlling every last variable.  This is boss who is a major micro-manager, the parent who does not trust anything their children say, the neighbor who is rigid about the details of the block party and the spouse who is never satisfied.

These are tough people to be around.  They tend to be negative and have trouble showing any emotion other than anger.  They are a funny combination because on one hand they are very forceful and domineering, yet they are really being driven by a gnawing fear of not being in control.

Dads, if you are that guy who needs to control everything, I challenge you to take a step back and analyze your behavior.  Is there an underlying fear driving your behavior?  Your controlling behavior is not helping your kids mature, nor is it promoting a healthy, close relationship with them.  Let go of one area where you normally control things, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

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