A desire to control the actions of other people often stems from feeling out of control. We typically learn controlling behaviors if we saw them modeled to us in childhood.
The irony is, trying to control other people and every little thing only makes you feel worse, because it’s a never ending battle we can’t win. When we learn to let go of control, we free up precious energy to focus on the things we can control — like our words, our actions, and our habits.
We can state boundaries, preferences, and express our needs and desires, but we cannot ever truly control other people, and we lose control of ourselves when we try.
When we let go of the need to control every little thing, we make room for bigger strides in our own happiness and progress, and give ourselves more peace of mind.
Life is uncertain and at times scary, and having a sense of control gives us the false promise of certainty, something sought-after in our sometimes chaotic and ever-changing realities.
Here are six things six steps you can take to relinquish control to find more peace and mental space to achieve your goals:
1. Accept the Truth
The truth may hurt, but it will set you free. And the truth is you are only ever in control of yourself. You cannot control other people, no matter how hard you try, or how masterful a manipulator you may become. People can be unpredictable and will always possess free will.
Once you accept that people are only ever going to do what they want to do, what they feel is right, or fun, or in their best interest, you are free to do the same for yourself and stop worrying so much about others.
Your stress and desire for control won’t change people. It won’t make them do what you want. It may make them resent you, however, or slowly erode your relationships.
2. Admit You Have a Problem
So often, we are convinced we are in the right, and if only this person would do this, you could finally relax and be happy. We feel self-righteous in our beliefs, and stand firm in the knowledge that our way is the superior way. It’s human nature, but that doesn’t mean it’s beneficial.
There’s always another side to the story. The person you oppose surely feels their way is superior, for whatever reason.
Like any addiction, an addiction to control requires we admit we have a problem in order to move on and heal.
Get honest with yourself if your well-being is reliant on others acting a certain way. The hardest part is realizing that even if we do “successfully” control others, it can’t sustainably make us happy, especially because we know how fleeting it is. If we rely on control to feel good, there’s never any time to rest. We convince ourselves that control is the antidote, but it’s an illusion.
3. Focus on What You Can Control
I think this is the advantage, and the cool thing about being a control freak. You have a leg up when it comes to your discipline and work ethic, which are things you can control.
You can always control your own actions and choices, and choose to make decisions that will benefit you in the long run, like prioritizing your health and fitness, making a budget and sticking to it, building a business, and spending your time and energy on hobbies that will help you become a more well-rounded, interesting, and savvy individual.
You can use your controlling tendencies to get into amazing shape, make amazing meals, and put energy towards your art, your craft, or your work.
When you decide to stop trying to control others, you free up a lot of energy, and it’s important you direct that energy into something else. So, play around and figure out where you want to focus. Use your energy that was previously directed at controlling others and put it towards something that means something to you. Do your thing, you little freak, you.
4. Practice Radical Forgiveness
Forgiveness isn’t about letting bad behavior slide, or letting toxic people back into your life. Forgiveness is about your peace of mind. Holding a grudge doesn’t serve anyone. It doesn’t solve any problems, instead it raises your stress levels, which can lead to a host of ailments.
When we forgive others for not doing what we want (or what we would do,) we allow ourselves peace and space to move on and be free of that worry. You don’t have to formerly issue a statement of forgiveness to anyone, just forgive them in your heart. We’re all doing our best and we’re bound to clash. Forgive it all.
Forgive yourself, too, for the times you’ve been controlling. Forgive yourself for doing what you thought was best and not knowing better. Forgive yourself every time you mess up, and just keep moving forward.
5. Don’t Take it Personally
This is one of the most freeing pieces of advice I’ve ever received, and it definitely is something to remember if you are a bit of a control freak. Don Miguel Ruiz even dedicated a quarter of his book, The Four Agreements, to this topic.
What others do is never about us, it is always about them. Even if it feels like someone is personally attacking us, it’s that persons way of attempting to soothe or satisfy something painful inside themselves. It may be some chip they have on their shoulder since childhood, or some insecurity, curiosity, or bad habit.
I know we think the world revolves around us, sometimes, but so does everyone else, and we have to remember that.
When you are getting the urge to control others, remember that what they do has absolutely nothing to do with you.
6. Find Ways to be Happy Anyways
This is about teaching yourself to find contentment and satisfaction outside of what others are doing, outside of the circumstances life throw at you. People can be unpredictable, and sometimes they do and say things that make us feel good, and other times they say and do things that don’t feel as good. The feeling part is something that happens in our internal world. We have the power to change the ambiance of our internal world, and make it a really nice place to be most of the time, despite the outside circumstances.
The trouble starts when we need others to behave a certain way to be happy, because then we put our own happiness in the hands of external sources when contentment is always an internal job.
Practice being in the present, taking steady breaths, and appreciating your blessings, and understanding that people are only ever doing the best they can with what they know.
Sometimes, in an effort to protect ourselves, we start to try and control trivial matters, and we think we’ll be safe if we can control other people.
Usually nothing changes, or it doesn’t change for long, because people only change when they are ready to change, and when they want to, so trying to control them is really wasting our energy.
Free up your energy for more important things, like what you can control, and give yourself the gift of a little more peace of mind.
Let go and focus on what you can control: your breath, your actions, and your next steps.