Why Controlling Others Doesn't Work (Analyzing Control and Being Controlled)

Jordan Brown

I hate it when others try to control me, but I do the same thing.

It's human nature to want to have control over your environment.

And it's also human nature to think that the actions you hate in others are not ones that you, yourself do!

Controlling others is one of these actions.

Control is elusive--we can't ever have it.

But we can have something else.

There's another, more effective way to approach all kinds of relationships.

Why Controlling Others Doesn't Work

Controlling others doesn't work because people don't want to be controlled. They want to be free to explore and create.

Sure, a person can be taught (or indoctrinated) to only do what others tell them to do, but is that the best way to go about it? What would the world look like if individuals couldn't think for themselves?

Trying to control others is like trying to harness the wind. You can bottle it up, but is it still the wind? Wind is wind because of the free-flowing form it takes. It's power comes from its motion.

When you try to control others--or when others try to control you--a few things happen:

  • The desire to be free and creative dissipates and disappears
  • Work becomes orderly and boring instead of expansive and exciting
  • Fragmented power dynamics lead to one-sided decisions that don't consider all available information

Controlling others can work in some situations, like life-or-death emergencies, but it shouldn't be your go-to behavior.

Instead, go for a different approach--an approach that leaves some room for experimentation.

Stop Controlling and Being Controlled

All change starts with awareness. You have to ask yourself: Is this a situation where control is necessary? Is it absolutely crucial that I dictate every action that takes place, my own and others?

Most often that answer is a solid "No."

Emergencies are one thing. Run-of-the-mill situations are something else entirely.

To stop controlling others, you first need to ask yourself if you even know that you are controlling people.

This seems silly, but it's quite common. We are social creatures who were raised by people with their own personalities and flaws. Sometimes, we learn tolerant, adaptive behavior, and other times we don't even have the words to describe our behavior and emotions. What kind of household did you grow up in? Was it one that talked about control and power dynamics?

And to stop controlling others, you also have to consider the feeling of being controlled by others.

What does it feel like? Do you always know when it's happening? How do you respond? Do you immediately accept it, or do you push back? Your answers to these questions will tell you a lot about your upbringing and the way that you view the world.

Finally, you have to try something new.

If you're not getting the results you want from a command-and-control strategy, you need to--wait for it--change your strategy.

Why is this so hard for so many people to do, myself included? It's because change is hard. It's why humans attempt to control others in the first place. We want to feel that we are safe in our environment and that our world is predictable. This couldn't be further from the truth, but the illusion of control can be a soothing lie.

Trying something new is the only way to get different results. Do whatever you need to do to find your new actions. Document all the situations in which you control others and in which you are controlled. Does controlling others work 50% of the time? How about even 10% of the time? Once you have some data, you have a reason to start down a different path.

It's tempting to want to control others. It's tempting to want to control anything.

And it usually does not work.

Because if we could immediately control how we think, act, and feel, we wouldn't need to learn about mental health in the first place.