How to Let Go of the Need to Control Others

Written by Dr. Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay

“Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” ~Thomas Kempis

Many of us attempt to do the impossible on a daily basis. In an effort to prove that we have control over our lives we try to control everything in our environment including the people around us. Essentially, we are trying to control our inner life by controlling the external world. The world is seen as predominately unsafe and unstable unless we are in complete control. This view may be a reflection of the inner chaos and fear that we may be suppressing. Over time, our inner conflicts will begin to seep out and manifest itself in a number of ways. Perhaps you mask your need for control by micromanaging your spouse or in the rigidity of your child’s after-school schedule that accounts for all of their “free time.” If you are not able to control your surroundings you will begin to limit your interactions with the outside world to events and people you can control.

Unlike a work environment where you may be responsible for managing a workforce, trying to control individuals is like trying to control the unwanted weeds on a lawn. People will always find a way to do as they wish when you are not looking. The truth is, no one likes not having control over their lives and at the same time, no one wants to be controlled. Perhaps you were raised in a chaotic environment where your feelings were invalidated and you never felt safe. As an adult, you now need control in order to feel validated and secure. Having control over others allows you to distract yourself from having to deal with unresolved inner conflict. This need for obsessive control is exhausting and will limit the quality of your life. If you do not make changes to your behavior and learn to cope with unpredictability and change soon, you will begin to fear to interact with anything new. By limiting yourself to things and people you can control, you are building a social wall around you.

Here are some suggestions to alleviate your need to control.

1. Redefine yourself
Take the pressure off yourself. Establish that you want to be in control but don’t NEED to be in control. Give yourself permission to relax and stop policing others.

2. Respect others
Accept that other people have their own wants and desires. With some limitations, this includes your child. Allow your child to explore their boundaries in order to learn more about themselves and the world they live in.

3. Adapt your vocabulary
Eliminate the words “should,” “need” and “ought” from your vocabulary and include the word “adaptability.” Stop telling those around you what they need, should and ought to do. Try to limit the use of these words. Instead, when asking someone to do something try to make it a suggestion and give them some options. Realize that it is never too late to adjust to new conditions in your life. Adaptability will allow you to have more flexibility in your life.

4. Introspect
What is going on in your own life that you feel you need to control? Perhaps you are projecting (Click here to read my post on Psychological Projection) your lack of control onto other circumstances in your life. Your need to control may also be a result of your upbringing where perhaps you were overcontrolled. It may be helpful to seek professional help from a mental health professional to identify the underlying cause of the behavior.

5. Relinquish the control
Let go of the control and after a while, you will see that it was not the end of the world. By gathering empirical evidence that the world will function properly without your control you can begin to relax. The truth is we do not have much control over many aspects of life. It has its own pace and rhythm and we are just along for the ride.

6. How does it make you feel?
Ask yourself, “How does my need for control make me feel?” The need to control everyone around you and your environment is exhausting. So much time can be spent on trying to make things a certain way while we forget to live in the moment.

7. Positive reinforcement
Make a list of the events that have worked out when you were not in control. Have you been a passenger on an airplane and landed safely? Have you made it to an appointment even when you thought the traffic would make you late? By making this list you can see that much of life is really not in our control.

By accepting that you cannot control all the circumstances in your life you can let go of the self-created tension and anxiety. By not lingering in the pains and fears of the past and the unpredictability of the future, you can learn to live in the present moment. You may find that by relinquishing your need to control others your relationships with them improves. People will always resist being controlled. Nurture the belief in your ability to cope with change and trust yourself.

Thank you for taking a moment to visit my blog. I hope you enjoyed this post. I would like to hear how you deal with your need for control or if you have someone in your life who needs to control you. This post is not about individuals who seek control through psychological manipulation because of a personality disorder such as NPD (Click here to read my post on Psychological Manipulation).

The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.

Dr. Perry

Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology

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123 responses to How to Let Go of the Need to Control Others

  1. Carrie says:

    I love your blog! Thank you for another insightful post. I do believe this applies to me and I am working on it.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. shineb4 says:

    Surviving 25 years with a chronic illness gives you a lot of experience in letting go. I have actually gotten to a point where I am aware of my incompetence and want to give it all to God for the best results!

    Liked by 8 people

  3. mindsoul11 says:

    Simply awesome!! I am at awe at the level of your understanding the dynamics of the human brain. There are many things in this articles where each and every person will find it resonating to his/her life at some point. So much to learn from you. Thanks a lots.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. theoutspokenintrovet says:

    As always another fascinating post! One of the paradoxes of life – when we have no control we try to control others.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Hope this helps others learn sooner than I did that the only person you have ‘control’ over is yourself and that if someone is mistreating you, you cannot change them, only you can change your situation. Love your blog Dr. Perry, really helpful stuff.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Well said! Thank you very much and I am glad the blog helps you in some way. Have a great day✨

      Liked by 3 people

  6. L.M. says:

    Awesome post! My X useto do this to me. Whenever things were chaotic in his life he would be extra controlling. My response was usually to point out that he was being controlling and ignoring his commands. This would work temporarily until he would spin out of control again.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. This is a wonderful post. How many of us live in fear and struggle with a need to control? I’d say there are many people facing this issue. I had a burning need to control for about half my life. Fortunately, I met a wonderful therapist who helped me identify my issues with control and fear. I am eternally grateful for her help. I have found the serenity prayer helpful…God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (we really cannot change others)…the courage to change the things I can (my own attitudes and negative thoughts) and the wisdom to know the difference. I really hate when people are “shoulding” me, and I do my best not to “should” others. It really feels shaming and it is so toxic.

    Dr. Perry, you really are such a blessing. Many people cannot afford to see a therapist so your extremely kind sharing of your gifts is sure to have a positive affect on our world. I enjoy your wise and sensitive posts. Sincere thanks once again.

    Liked by 5 people

      • And I appreciate your timely reminders! You have been a greater help than you know. So, in my little corner of the world, you have made a positive difference. So, no, thank YOU! 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

  8. Meredith says:

    This is a great post that puts a lot of things into perspective for me. Thank you Dr. Perry💗

    Liked by 4 people

  9. DorothyMarie says:

    I enjoyed this post, but I think I’m opposite. I don’t feel a need to be in control. When I was in a relationship, I tended to let my husband have control. Perhaps that was the problem. lol

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Danny says:

    I am a control freak. I don’t know that I fully knew that until I read this or maybe I wasn’t ready to admit it. I appreciate you writing about this topic Dr. I have much to ponder 🙏

    Liked by 7 people

  11. Letting go can be such a difficult thing to do, especially when you can see that someone is making a big mistake. But sometimes that’s what they need to do in order to grow, and all we can do is to step back and be ready to catch them when they fall.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Lynn says:

    I believe I have an issue with control. I need to control to feel secure. Thank you for your suggestions. I’m going to try them.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Going through difficulties in life has taught me that we truly have NO control over anything or anyone. Situations in our lives will come and go and all we can do is walk thru them and leave the rest to God. Thank you for another great post! 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

  14. JanBeek says:

    I found this suggestion to be particularly thought-provoking: “Eliminate the words “should,” “need” and “ought” from your vocabulary and include the word “adaptability.” Stop telling those around you what they need, should and ought to do. Try to limit the use of these words.” It gave me pause to stop, think, and examine my use of those words. I didn’t realize how they might be perceived by the hearer. Thank you for sharing your insightfulness. I try not to be “controlling” and don’t want to unwittingly do so with words that are red flags!

    Liked by 5 people

  15. Chrissy says:

    It’s hard enough to change OURSELVES and break old patterns, even when they no longer serve us. So, thinking we can truly change another person is a recipe for disappointment. People only change if THEY want to. Awesome post! 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

  16. thinkinkadia says:

    You are helping so many people by conveying important things in such an accessible way. Insecurity, control, or perfection have led to alternate lifestyles, that create so many unnecessary issues. Thank you the work you do, Dr. Perry!

    Liked by 8 people

  17. MaKupsy says:

    I read this blog post and the entire time I thought, Dr. Perry is writing about me! I’m a control freak and the part where you wrote, ” Your need to control may also be a result of your upbringing where perhaps you were overcontrolled.” this best describes me. I want everything around me to go according to plan and when I look back it has a lot to do with my upbringing. Now that I’m all grown up I feel I need to be controlling everything including my boyfriend. It’s only months ago that I slowly stopped the behaviour but I didn’t even realise that I had issues then.

    Thank you for this piece, it was very informative.

    Liked by 7 people

  18. I used to be a HUGE push-over. I still have my moments even now. I did control people in that my obsessive compulsive thoughts had me attempting to control THE SITUATION (so, I controlled people indirectly). Over the years I developed healthy boundaries, healthy standards, and now I only have moments of trying to control the outcome in life. I actually do not indirectly control people at all any longer. Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser now. Or, maybe I just decided enough was enough with being full of stress and anxiety all of the time. Life is much more fun when you are loose and free, in the flow and alignment with the Universe, and being thankful for everything you have and receive in your life! Makes it much easier to manifest more blessings as well. ❤ Great post! ❤ Thanks for the great read, Dr. Perry. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  19. Sherre Webb says:

    This message is so profound. Recently, I had to deal with a person very close to me who has tried to control everyone around them. Needless to say it just finally came to a head and as you mentioned, everyone ended up doing exactly what they want to do anyway. It’s unfortunate when its a loved one because sometimes you have to leave them exactly where they’re at if they refuse to do anything different. I appreciate you writing this article simply because I can totally relate as the one who has been dealing with a controlling person. It just helped put things into perspective. Thanks Dr. Perry.

    Liked by 5 people

  20. Sanjana says:

    Loved it. I have a very similar set of values and beliefs and it’s really relieving. I learnt them the hard way over a prolonged period of time but the journey and experience has been worthwhile so far.

    Liked by 5 people

  21. sobhanajm says:

    Great post, Dr. Perry. My parents treated me with utmost respect and I never once felt they “controlled” me. It helped me feel free and loved. I have always respected my children and given my two sons tremendous freedom to explore the world and figure out who they want to be and what they want to do with their lives. Letting go has given me more than I have given away. I truly believe, when you love someone, you respect them, you let go.

    Liked by 5 people

  22. Kara says:

    This was very helpful to read for me. Thank you Dr. Perry! I always am happy when I get the email notification you wrote something new!!

    Liked by 3 people

  23. wordblooms says:

    Thank you again for this wonderful post. When I used to get myself frantic about the way it seemed no one was listening to me, my husband used to say “imagine. God created the entire universe without even consulting you once.” I would start laughing and the entire situation would be defused. Humor has always been a miracle de-stressor for our family.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Tara_Hope says:

    Dear Dr. Perry. Your writing speaks to me directly as if you were reading my personal journal. I see so many truths about what you have written in this post in my own life. Thank you for not only the chance to think about this topic but also for the detailed ways to overcome this. I myself am more controlling than is maybe helpful. I will work on it and what you have shared here today will be very helpful for me. Thank you

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      You’re welcome! I am happy to hear this post resonated with you and has inspired you to make some changes. Thank you for your comment and have a great day✨

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Kim Huitt says:

    Grew up with a mom who had been raised in an orphanage. Needless to say it was a stressful and unhealthy childhood. Now I’m trying to unlearn and relearn. Love your post. Thank you for the reminders!

    Liked by 4 people

  26. Matthew says:

    This post really makes me think. It’s so true that I can be so controlling to those around me especially when I feel chaos internally. Thank you Dr Perry.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I am happy this post resonated with you. It’s important to recognize why we need to control others and learn to let go. Have a wonderful day✨

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Feministka says:

    The truth is we do not have much control over many aspects of life. It has its own pace and rhythm and we are just along for the ride. ♥️ so true! ♥️ cheers from Slovenia

    Liked by 4 people

  28. 🦋Steph🦋 says:

    Hello from the East Coast Dr. Perry. Are you also a professor? You write such informative pieces. I would totally want to take a course taught by you 👩‍💼

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you very much! I am a Clinical psychologist who love anything related to psychology and positivity✨

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Karen says:

    Excellent post. I have had a desire for control stemming from an unsafe home environment in my teens, rather than trying to control others I would take control and responsibility for everything. Having had EMDR last year I have learnt the reasons for this. I remember my psychologist asking how it would feel to relinquish control, my reply was that it would be liberating. I have made huge steps forward in allowing others to take the responsibility for things and have learnt to accept that I cannot control everything.
    Thanks for your great insight into this.

    Liked by 4 people

  30. eddaz says:

    This is a great post because it speaks directly to someone I know very well who always likes to control people’s lives and from your post it helps me realise how insecure the person is because of not being able to control her own life. I wish I could send this link to her but yet she wouldn’t get it because she’s just so deep into it. I take it as a very sickening attitude to be controlling. Thanks for sharing Dr. Perry.

    Liked by 4 people

  31. earthskyair says:

    Recognizing my own attempts to control and learning to let go of them has been a wonderful journey for me. Thank you for another important and insightful reminder!

    Liked by 5 people

  32. Raised in a chaotic home is exactly the predecessor to my orderliness, organization, and attempted control. Acceptance that things are exactly as they are intended to be (by a higher order) help me a lot in letting go. Still, it’s a work in progress…

    Liked by 5 people

  33. Linda says:

    I love the suggestions you make. When I think how the need to control makes me feel I realize I waste so much time worrying about others. I need to stop this and just focus on what I can control, which is me. Thank you

    Liked by 5 people

  34. Cleo says:

    “By not lingering in the pains and fears of the past and the unpredictability of the future, you can learn to live in the present moment.” This is so true. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Dr. Perry🙏🏽

    Liked by 4 people

  35. Paula says:

    I am a recovered “control-freak” I have to say that I am much healthier and happier since letting go of my need to control everything. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 4 people

  36. Allen says:

    I always learn something new when I visit.
    Love your blog Dr. Perry. My wife sent me here last year and I have been following ever since. Keep it up and I’ll keep reading! Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  37. nikhop320 says:

    Great post! My mom is extremely controlling and I have had to learn to set boundaries with her. I can’t stand playing games and manipulation, my whole life she’s been that way. Extremely sad but thankful I’ve learned and overcome her life patterns.

    Liked by 4 people

  38. Can I name drop you if I do a blog post on my history of attempting to control others and basically mention that your post got me thinking about it, and some things that I’ve been doing to recover from this that line up with several of your points.

    Liked by 4 people

  39. I felt like I was safely under someone else’s control most of my life. It was an easier choice than being responsible for myself. What I learned was if I gave others the control they wanted, so I just had to follow directions and try to make THEM HAPPY; they were my scapegoats for why I was unhappy, because I didn’t have to take responsibility for myself, thus just perpetuating my unhappiness until I choose not to accept it anymore.
    I eventually had to choose to find my happiness and not try and be responsible for the happiness of the controllers using me for their crutch.

    Liked by 4 people

  40. Ana P. Rose says:

    Thanks for this post. It made me realize how I have been a bit controlling. Mainly, because my parents are quite ill, and it drives me insane when they don’t follow the right guidelines toward their health. But they are trying very hard, and have changed many things. So I will keep in mind the words “nurture” and “suggestion.” I’m sure it’s something I’d appreciate with my own self since now I’m struggling with my health too. Nothing serious. But enough to make things a bit more difficult. And it is exhausting… 😑🌹

    Liked by 4 people

  41. brookejcutler says:

    Gosh. This is absolutely wonderful, and makes so much sense! ☺️ It’s quite a job to master the human condition, isn’t it. Then again, I suppose it’s only our ‘control’ settings that say we should be aiming to master it, at all. What a mixed bag this life of ours can be. ☺️

    Liked by 3 people

  42. Betul Erbasi says:

    Inspiring, as always! This came just at the time when I really need to let go of control a bit more (well, I have been working on this for years, still work in progress).

    Liked by 2 people

  43. This is such a great post! Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve had relationships fail because of control issues. I’ve never been someone that was controlling per say. I have only tried to control what I do because i’m responsible for myself. I realized years ago you can’t control others only yourself. I believe this is a post everyone should read especially people with control issues. Thanks again

    Liked by 2 people

  44. Wonderful info (as usual)! Of course, if I overthink this too much I become entangled in greyer areas such as setting a boundary or asking a family member to have “manners or respect…

    Liked by 2 people

  45. ngawanglhun says:

    Great Post. It really is helpful. We need to apply these points in our day-to-day life.
    Going to read the post on Psychological Projection.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

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