Being in Control
Is it important for you to feel you're in control of your life?
Do you sometimes feel you are being controlled by external events or by somebody else?
Or do you strive to exert control over too many aspects of your life - maybe over other people?
What does it feel like for you when you are not in control?
Power v Powerlessness:
It is fundamentally important for people to feel they have choices - when this right is taken away the effects can be devastating. Feelings of powerlessness often originate during childhood as this is a time when people are vulnerable and dependent. It is a time when the nurturing guidance of a parent or carer is needed to help the child form a secure sense of him/herself and to establish the confidence to act in a safe and productive fashion. In some circumstances things can go wrong at this stage, depriving the child of the resources to act in a way that is necessary for their own well-being and protection.
When this happens the child has to find other ways to protect him/herself. This may take various forms. For instance, in a situation where a child is subject to overly strict parenting, they may in order to avoid criticism, become compliant to the extent of losing sight of their own need and desires: "If I do everything I can to please you then you won't shout at me." Such a child may grow into an adult who tries to please everyone and who forms relationships that continue and reinforce this pattern.
In more extreme situations, such as severe abuse, other ways of coping, for example dissociating from the traumatic experience, can give the child a sense of being in control: "If I remove myself from my body I cannot be hurt." In later life patterns of self-harming behaviour, such as substance abuse or cutting oneself, may continue a cycle of dissociation.
In some situations where a child feels bullied or helpless they may turn their own feelings onto other people. They may start to bully or control other children. When a pattern like this is established it may continue into adulthood where relationships become based on controlling behaviour. Such a person may become a despotic employer or a spouse / parent who allows no independence or autonomy to their partner or children.
What is not always obvious about the types of behaviour described above is that they may be masking a deep fear of being helpless or powerless. Such a fear may result in many compensatory behaviours, such as:
- extreme possessiveness or jealousy
- eating disorders
- unrealistically high expectations of self and others
- obsessive compulsive behaviour
How Can Counselling Help?
There are several ways in which counselling can help resolve issues of control:
- First and foremost, by making the decision to come for counselling you have gone some way towards taking control of a situation which has been troubling you.
- During counselling there is the opportunity to examine your current situation, in a neutral space, without fear of judgement by those who are close to you.
- Patterns of behaviour can be identified with the help of the counsellor and the roots of such patterns can be explored in a confidential and supportive environment.
- Strategies for challenging harmful patterns can be worked out during the sessions and tried out in your everyday life.The counselling sessions are an opportunity to consider how successful these experiments were and to evolve ways of progressing further.
Related articles from our experts
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Louise Gulley PGDip, MBACP, Counselling & PsychotherapyOctober 10th, 2016
Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
Keeley Townsend BA (Hons), Ad.Dip.CP with Distinction, MNCS (Acc)December 14th, 2009
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