We all want to have control. We want to control our environment. We want to control people in our lives. Why? Perhaps because we have needs that involve others (e.g., being loved, accepted). Nevertheless, it is very difficult to control other individuals. If we engage in controlling behaviors—blaming, threatening, guilting, shaming, and blackmailing—then we might drive people away. By trying to control them, we paradoxically push them to resist, rebel, and defy our wishes.
Letting them do what they want
So what can we do? One solution to this problem was suggested to me many years ago by someone I highly respect. At the time I thought the suggestion was nonsense. It took me some time to be able to see the wisdom in the advice.
Here is the advice I got: To control people, let them do what they want to do.
Perhaps you find the idea laughable. So did I. The very thought of letting those you want to control to behave as they choose probably makes you feel angry and powerless. That may be why when we are unable to control others or the situation we look away or leave. And, if forced to stay, we find ourselves increasingly infuriated as we watch the person in question behave in a manner indifferent (or contrary) to our wishes.
It may be this powerlessness and utter lack of control that is behind the harsh threat, “If you don’t do what I say, you are ‘dead’ to me!”
The attraction of self-discipline
But consider this: What happens if you practice letting others be free and do what they desire? What happens if you work on yourself, including on your need to be in control all the time? Maybe you will slowly turn into someone who is strong enough and secure enough to be able to withstand not being in control. This is an attractive quality in a person.
Individuals in your life will sense the freedom and spaciousness around you and be drawn to you. Why? Because people like the company of those who let them be themselves. Even in close relationships, they will experience a connection to you without feeling controlled by your desires, moods, and insecurities.
If you want to be able to rely on others, remember that meaningful commitments are made by free individuals who consciously choose to commit and not by those who feel controlled and abused. So, working on yourself, respecting others, and letting them be, might, in fact, make them more willing to do things that will benefit you. No, they will not turn into your puppets, but they will be willing to act in ways beneficial to you because they enjoy your company and care about you.
If you still think this is not going to work, try it. For a few months, be as controlling as possible. Then, for a few months, do the opposite. If you are like most people, you do not need to do the first part because you already have experience with being controlling.
I leave you with these suggestions:
First, do not abuse others, and do not let yourself be abused. The idea of allowing others to act as they like does not mean “anything goes.” Being controlling, in oneself or others, is the problem, not control itself.
Second, if you are in a non-abusive and “healthy” relationship, and want something reasonable, simply ask. If you do not receive it, ask what the problem is. Others may be willing to do what you want if you ask them the right way and offer something they desire too.
Third, if you constantly feel the urge to control your partner, instead give your partner space. Let them be. If this is infuriating, maybe this is a sign of more serious issues about the relationship or your life in general (e.g., lack of control at work). You might need to do some self-reflection or seek therapy.