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Do you have a strong need to be in control of situations, other people or yourself? Are you in a controlling relationship? Then you may be suffering from your own or others' need to control. If you want to know more about it and how to get help, this article is for you.

What is a need for control?

Need for control means a strong desire or need to be in control of situations, people, environments or oneself. It can manifest itself in different ways and in varying degrees of severity depending on the individual and the circumstances.

People often have a desire to control and predict outcomes and may have a need for order and structure. Need for control can affect both personal and professional relationships. If you are a victim of someone with a need for control, it is good to seek help.

It is also important to seek help yourself if you notice that you have a need to control that has negative consequences.

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What causes you to develop a need to control?

Control issues can have various causes, including personality traits, past experiences, or as a reaction to stress or trauma. In some cases, it can be linked to underlying psychological conditions such as anxiety disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is also a component of eating disorders and personality disorders. It is also common in neuropsychiatric problems, such as autism.

Is OCD a diagnosis?

Control issues are not a psychiatric diagnosis, but they can be part of other mental health problems. This does not mean that having a need for control does not cause suffering that can affect both you and others, but the good thing is that it can be treated.

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Need for control in relationships

Control issues in relationships involve a person trying to dominate and control their partner’s behavior, thoughts and feelings. This can arise from a desire to feel secure and stable, which can come from a personal lack of trust. The reason why people develop a need for control in relationships can be a result of, among other things, early experiences in relationships, uncertainty about their own identity and low self-esteem.

If a person has a need for control in a relationship, they tend to monitor their partner and restrict them in various ways. Emotional manipulation, such as using guilt and shame, is also common to get the person to do what they want. Criticism and devaluation can also be used to reduce the partner’s self-confidence. Other ways of exercising negative control include controlling the partner’s finances. You can also be jealous and isolate the person in various ways.

Need for control can lead to serious problems in a relationship where a power imbalance causes ill health. Need for control can also occur between other relationships such as with parents and friends. The person being controlled can feel stifled, diminished and insecure, which can lead to low self-esteem and depression. In the long run, this behavior can lead to several negative consequences, as it becomes difficult for both parties to trust and respect each other.

Controlling relationships can develop into violent relationships and it is important to seek help as soon as possible. If necessary, contact a women’s shelter or the police if you are living in a violent relationship.

Need for control and perfectionism

The need for control is often high in people who are perfectionists. They want to be able to predict things and are inflexible in the face of changes such as when things don’t turn out the way they want. If you are very perfectionist, you may have difficulty trusting others and delegating tasks, which leads to stress because you have to do everything yourself. If things are not perfect, you may also become frustrated and angry. This can affect relationships and make it difficult to work with others.

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Symptoms of a need to control

The symptoms of control issues can vary, but usually they involve a pattern of behavior where a person is constantly trying to control and influence their environment, including people, situations and outcomes. This can manifest itself in different ways:

  1. Excessive organization and planning: A constant need to have everything organized and planned, often to the point where there is no room for spontaneity or unexpected events.
  2. Micro-management: The need to control every aspect of a situation, project or people’s behavior, often in great detail.
  3. Difficulty delegating tasks: Not being able to trust others to perform tasks well enough, leading to taking on too much yourself.
  4. Perfectionism: A constant striving for perfection in everything you do, which can create unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.
  5. Difficulty with unpredictability: A strong aversion to uncertainty and change, which can lead to trying to control all variables to predict outcomes.
  6. Excessive control in relationships: Trying to control the partner’s behaviors, choices and social interactions, which can include jealousy and isolation.
  7. Fear of criticism: A desire to control how others perceive you, which may include over-interpreting feedback or criticism.
  8. Difficulty managing emotions: Using control as a way to deal with anxiety, fear or other emotions.
  9. Low tolerance for mistakes: getting very upset or angry about one’s own or others’ mistakes, as these are perceived as a lack of control.
  10. Stress and an xiety: Constant stress and anxiety about things you cannot control.

If you recognize these symptoms, it is good to seek help to change these thought patterns and attitudes. This can reduce your stress, make you feel happier and make it easier to relate to other people.

Treatment for control issues

If you have control issues, you may benefit from psychological treatment to manage your behaviors and emotions. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly useful for learning how to deal with the need for control and working with underlying thoughts and feelings. For more severe problems, schema therapy can also be a helpful method, working more on patterns that have been present since childhood.

Treatment for control issues usually involves working on the underlying causes, learning new patterns of behavior and developing healthier ways of managing your thoughts and how you act in different situations. Stress management and relaxation techniques can be used. Emotional management and communication skills are also usually part of the treatment to improve relationships. If necessary, medication can be helpful in combination with psychotherapy. Here are some strategies that can be used to treat control issues:

It is important to remember that treatment may vary depending on the person’s unique needs and situation. Professional help from a psychotherapist, psychologist or doctor may be necessary to determine the most effective treatment plan.

Seeking help can change your life

Talking to a professional therapist or psychologist can not only help you understand your problems better but also offer treatment to deal with them. You are not alone and it is okay to ask for help.

Your next step

If you or someone you know has controlling behaviors and beliefs, it is good to talk to a professional therapist or psychologist. We assure you that all therapists and psychologists on our platform are qualified and that your conversation is always confidential. Don’t be afraid to take the first step.

With the right support and tools, you can significantly improve your quality of life. If you are ready to take the step, we are here to support you. Book your first session today and start your journey towards a better future.

12 frequently asked questions about need for control

What is a need for control?

Need for control means a strong desire or need to be in control of situations, people, environments or oneself. It can manifest itself in different ways and in varying degrees of severity depending on the individual and the circumstances.

Is a need for control a diagnosis?

Need for control is not a psychiatric diagnosis but it can occur in various psychiatric conditions. It is a way of coping with life but can also be a personality trait.

Are control issues hereditary?

Control issues can have various causes, including past experiences or reactions to stress or trauma. In some cases, it can be linked to underlying psychological conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders and neuropsychiatric problems.

What are the symptoms of a need for control?

People often have a desire to control and predict outcomes and may have a need for order and structure. Control issues can affect both personal and professional relationships.

How are control needs treated?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that focuses on thoughts, feelings and behaviors that can be helpful. There are also other methods such as schema therapy that can help to bring about change if you have more severe problems.

Can you have other mental health problems with control issues?

Control issues can occur in several different psychiatric conditions such as OCD, eating disorders, personality disorders and autism. If you think you have any of these other conditions, it is important to seek help for them too.

I have a problem with being controlling, what should I do?

First, it is good to recognize your problem behavior and admit it to yourself. Then you can contact a licensed psychologist or therapist for help and support. It is possible to feel better.

How does growing up affect control needs?

If you have had an unpredictable childhood where you have not developed trust, you may have a need for control, but it can also be a result of life events such as trauma. If parents are controlling, you can also learn the behavior from them. You can get help with this in treatment.

Does the need for control affect the ability to work?

Yes, it can affect your ability to function by making you very stressed and difficult to cooperate with others. You can become very detail-oriented and have difficulty with changes, which can cause problems.

I am in a relationship where I feel controlled, what should I do?

Being in a controlling relationship can be hard on self-esteem and confidence. If you feel bad in your relationship, you should seek help from a professional therapist or psychologist.

Is it possible to go to couples therapy if one partner in the relationship has a need for control?

It is possible to go to couple therapy to treat patterns in the relationship, but if there is violence in the relationship, you should contact a women’s shelter or the police. Feel free to book an initial consultation with one of our psychologists and therapists if the problems are at a milder level.

Where can I turn if I need help?

Through our website, you can book an initial session with a therapist or psychologist to describe your problems and start planning a treatment. We will help you make the hard things easier.

Couple therapy for control issues

To address control issues in relationships, it is important to identify patterns of this behavior and work on them. Communication is also a crucial part of treatment; expressing feelings and needs in a healthy way can help resolve conflict and build a stronger, more equal relationship. It is also important for the person being controlled to set boundaries and communicate their needs clearly. Working through control needs in relationships is a process that requires time and patience. It is important to remember that both parties in a relationship deserve to feel respected, valued and free to be themselves.

If the relationship is destructive and abusive and/or if there is violence in the relationship, it is important to get help as soon as possible. This may mean contacting a women’s shelter or calling 112 if necessary. It is important to seek help from professionals.

What does treatment for control needs involve?

Seeking help is a big step towards better health, it is a positive thing to decide to work on your wellbeing. Here is an overview of the steps usually involved in CBT treatment.

Step 1: An initial assessment session

The first meeting with your psychologist or therapist is an assessment where you review your history and how the problems have arisen. You may be asked questions about your life situation, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Step 2: Psychoeducation and goal setting

This is where you and your therapist set concrete goals for the therapy, both short and long term. It can define which areas of your life are most affected by your problem and how you would like to change them.

Step 4: Treatment with different techniques and tools

This is the start of the actual treatment phase, which involves exercises aimed at giving you tools to overcome and process the problem you are suffering from. This may include communication exercises and behavioral changes to manage emotions and thoughts.

Step 5: Monitoring and evaluation

Treatment is monitored regularly to see how well the therapy is working. If necessary, the treatment plan can be adjusted or renewed.

Step 6: Ending and looking ahead

As the therapy comes to an end, it is time to reflect on the progress made. You will also receive a maintenance plan for how to use the tools and strategies you have learned in the future. It is also important to monitor the results over time.

If you or someone close to you is seeking professional help, do not hesitate to book a session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists.

If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, contact 112 or the nearest emergency psychiatric clinic.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.