Posted by: Marie | December 2, 2009

(193) Guest Post: Need for Extreme Control

Post #193

Guest Post

Today, I am honored to publish a guest post written by Evan Hadkins. Evan lives in Canberra, Australia, where he works in the mental health arena. He writes a fabulous blog, Wellbeing and Health, which deals with all aspects of health (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social), with an emphasis on psychology and personal development.

He also posts articles on the website Counselling Resource, which provides information on counseling and mental health resources. Finally, he is a writer of books and a developer of personal development courses. You can learn more about his books and courses at the Living Authentically website.

Evan has written this article specifically in response to my previous post (Structure, triggers and other fun stuff). In this article, he provides us with a better understanding of why people with a history of childhood trauma often have a need to tightly control their environment as an adult.


Need for Extreme Control Over My Environment

It seems to me that there are three obvious things about being a person. The first is that we have needs. The second is that we live somewhere (in some situation). The third is that our needs may be more or easily met depending on where we’re living. (If you disagree with any or all of these ideas please skip straight to the comments for this post.)

Photo by Martin Chen

Photo by Martin Chen

The way I see it, a lot of our early lives are spent learning about ourselves, our situation and how we marry the two. Strangely, we need to learn about ourselves and our needs: it takes a while to learn how much sleep we need, what foods we like the taste of, and what foods taste good but can have unpleasant consequences, for instance. And much of our attention in our early lives goes on negotiating our social environment: Why is it rude to point? Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in some situations and not others; and so on.

Over time, we learn all these kinds of things; they become automatic. We forget how much we have learnt and may only realise it when we are put into a different situation. This might be travelling overseas, working in a new workplace or industry or joining a new group. If the new situation is very different we may feel like a child again.

When we pay attention to all the things we have learnt, all the ways that we negotiate our environment every day, we can be amazed. We do so much so easily. We can also realise that much of what we do is habit, and so unconscious.

When we pay attention to this, we may realise that there are many things we can do other than the usual: we can try out different hairstyles or ways of dressing. We really can eat dessert first if we wish. The male lead in the movie “High Fidelity” organised his record collection by personal association (which meant a re-organisation when his romantic relationship changed), there are many ways to do some things other than the way we usually do.

In doing things differently (even if it is just playing for fun) we can discover that we actively contribute to our lives — that we creatively respond to our situation.

In the West, we are in the privileged position that our environment is often hygienic and safe. This is far from true for everyone in all times and places. However, reflecting on the size of our cities and that they manage to function to some extent shows us that most people are well behaved most of the time. Only a few dozen people each day parking across major roads would cause chaos.

When we are in danger, we also respond to our situation. We can respond by getting out of it (if a car is heading towards us we move, and rapidly), by responding in some other way – we might signal to the driver. We might make a bigger picture response too (we might start a lobby group to change the road rules).

After we have been in danger, it feels good to be safe.

Danger doesn’t feel good and so we want to reduce it. If I am a passenger in a car, I might alert the driver to a coming danger. This seems entirely sane and reasonable to me.

If we are in a situation where danger is normal, then we develop habits to deal with this situation. This is important. The problem is that the habits may persist when the situation changes. Soldiers returning from a war zone take time to adjust, and children who grew up in violent families also can find it difficult to believe that they are no longer in danger.

It is especially difficult for children from violent families – feeling in constant danger can be literally all they know. To learn different, they may have to put themselves in a situation, which seems very dangerous. These habits can often persist well into adulthood, and trying to change them can be very difficult.

The habits and other things learnt can become a problem because they don’t suit the new situation. If a person grew up in a dangerous situation then they may well want to control the situation so that they feel safe (when things were out of control they often got hurt).

In adulthood, this person may still feel these childhood emotions when he or she feels a situation is out of control. As an observer of such a person, if we can’t see the emotion, then it may be hard to understand this person’s need or order.

If you feel you may be a bit of a ‘control freak’, it can be worth asking yourself what benefit you get from this behaviour. If it is really puzzling to you, in my experience, the answer will usually lie in childhood feelings.

I’d like to hear about how you relate to control in your life. Are you a control or go-with-the-flow freak? Do you feel that you exercise control of your situation to your benefit? Perhaps you think you exert too little or too much control? Let me hear your experience in the comments.

Quotes 106


  1. I’m interested to read this post… I am a total control freak and have become increasingly so in recent years.
    I didn’t suffer any ‘abuse’ as a child but I did suffer from very extreme anxiety as a small child (and throughtout my childhood and teens I guess) and remember fear consuming all rational thought, particulalry at night when I feared the deaths of my parents and sisters.
    does this mean the answer lies in childhood feelings? Well… Perhaps, although I struggle to join them up properly.
    Thank you for a thought provking post Evan.
    Marie, thanks for an intersting read.

  2. Hi WonderingSoul,
    I’m wondering if there was a trigger to the increasing anxiety.
    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you found the post thought provoking.

  3. I don’t control anything about others lives, work place, etc. I gladly give the other person control of most situations, such as what to do where to eat, etc., at work and in my personal life. The one thing that I control like a pit bull on a bone, is my space, my safe place. I don’t let anyone, for any reason, tell me what to do, how to do something, or how something would work better. My personal space is so off limits, most people get lost in the translation.

  4. Hi Ivory, I understand this difference. I’m a little different – I see my life more in terms of time than space. I want control over my time and how I ‘spend’ it. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Hey,
    I am posting the reply I wrote and saved when my connection crashed…
    Here it is…

    Hi Evan,
    Just read your reply…
    I don’t know if there was a trigger… or perhaps it is better to say that IF there was a trigger, then I’m not aware of it.
    Many of my experiences do not correlate with my truths… Nothing really adds up.
    To my mind, I was brought up in an incredibly loving environment by nurturing parents with a good, strong marriage.
    And yet.
    I was plagued by acute anxiety. Terrible fears.
    Other things don’t add up but I won’t go into them here.
    It’s a puzzle ad somehow, putting it together feels quite frightening.
    My childhood was idyllic in many ways but, paradoxically, I was so horribly anxious and my memories of that anxiety are like a dark shadow.

    Thanks for responding.

  6. Hi WonderingSoul,
    If you do want to put things together, I hope you can find good support; so that you can at least have a companion as deal with the scary stuff.

    Thanks for your honest comments, I appreciate them.

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