Feeling in control of your life and your world is an essential component of developing strong psychological foundations.  In this short article I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of control – and how to avoid the latter.

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Feeling in Control

Firstly please notice I am saying ‘feeling’, not ‘being’ in control.  This is a very important distinction.  I am not necessarily talking here about how in control you actually are but how in control you feel.  This is about what we believe, or sense, about our situation and it may be different to what others perceive.

Control can take many forms.  Self control is an obvious one and is likely to vary in different areas of our lives.  It may be relatively easy to control ourselves around alcohol for example, only to binge on chocolate.

Our sense of power and control may be subdivided into four key areas as follows:

Internal Primary Control

This is when we have a high sense of direct control, or influence, over situations and events.  Internality in these areas creates a positive outlook; a can do attitude.  We are willing to take responsibility for our own decisions and situations, taking the credit for good results and the responsibility for poor outcomes.

Internal Secondary Control

This is creatHow do you React?ed when we have a strong sense of our coping skills.  We acknowledge that we cannot control everything in life, but we are confident in our abilities to cope.  This will mean we don’t tend to dwell on negatives, we bounce back from adversity and stay calm.  People with this level of control tend to employ their skills and resources in the face of challenges, building new skills and abilities in the process.




So far, so good – BUT there is a flip side to this coin:

External Primary Control

Many people believe they have little or no influence over their life.  They feel powerless to create change and, consequently, are tossed around on the seas of fate.  Yes, I just used an ‘f’ word!  Belief in fate often creates powerlessness, helplessness, frustration and negativity.  If you put your successes  and failures in life down to external factors, such as fate, why make any effort?

Even worse are controlling relationships, partners, situations.  In these circumstances the feeling of helplessness, and an inability to change anything, can make it seem impossible to be yourself.

External Secondary Control

“I Can’t cope”; “If that happens I’ll just…….”; “I can’t survive without a smoke” – we’ve all heard these expressions and many of us have used them.  But why does this matter?  Because this behaviour displays a lack of confidence in our ability to cope when things happen – and more often than not we are wrong.

I recently finished working with a lady who had emetophobia (fear of vomit/vomiting for over 30 years.  Early on in the programme she told me she would “freak out” if her children were sick.  When I challenged her she admitted that last time one had been sick there was nobody else around so she coped with it. (Her coping skills were clearly far stronger than she believed them to be.)  This lady has now cured her emetophobia as she has become more internal in her beliefs.  Imagine how good that feels – and she did it herself by learning to thrive.

Why does this matter?

Feeling in Control is, as explained, about how internal or external our beliefs are.  If we feel external we are likely to try to exert control over everything, doubting our coping skills.  This strategy rarely, if ever, works and results in frustration, anger, stress, even violence.  We all know what it feels like when we are frustrated in something we want to do, and trying to over control our lives, and those of our loved ones, creates a toxic outcome.

Recently I was working with a young man with “anger management issues” – the typical ‘angry young man’.  But his problem was not anger, that was only a symptom.  He was trying to compensate for his beliefs that his life was not within his control, by over controlling everything.  He could not understand why all his girlfriends had left him and he was losing friends generally.

The core problem was that in his attempt to gain some control he was suffocating those around him.  He wanted to know where his girlfriend was 24/7.  If she was a minute late

arriving he was on the phone.  If she wasn’t exactly where she said she would be at the precise time she had said, he wanted to know why.  It was less like a boy and girl relationship and more like that of a probation officer and client.

He wasn’t doing this deliberately – In his mind he was showing care and concern, making sure she was safe.

In short, externality creates huge problems and often manifests as anxiety, stress, low self esteem, depression, anger, violence etc. etc.

Balance, Calm, Confidence, Determination, Willpower


The Thrive Programme teaches much more about these subjects than I can cover here.  You can learn how these beliefs and behaviours are affecting your life and how to change.  By becoming more internal self esteem  improves, social confidence improves, and life improves.  There is no magic formula or potion, simply insights and techniques that empower.

These life changing lessons take as little as 6 weeks to learn and, what’s more, you will be thriving.

For a free, no obligation, consultation (either in person or via Skype) please contact me now.  Why only live part of your life when you could be living it all, and thriving?




I’m Ian and I’m a qualified Thrive Programme Consultant. Using the professionally developed Thrive Programme – a proven, evidence based, positive psychology training programme – I work with people from all walks of life, providing the insights and skills they need to change their lives for the better.

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