Control: an introduction

banana bottle

Control means the ability to dictate reality — to make people, places and things behave as we want them to.

It is easily the most important idea in our lives.


Because controlling is a built-in function of the human mind.

It works like this:

Moment to moment, we each carry around in our heads a picture of the reality we want.

And we constantly compare that picture to the reality we have.

Anything we do to bring those two closer together — to change the reality we have into the one we want — is what I call controlling.

It’s controlling whether we do it in speech, in behavior, or only in the privacy of our imagination or dreams.

Our controlling may be overt or covert, conscious or unconscious, choiceful or compulsive, creative or destructive, healthy or unhealthy.

Studying control has led me to four conclusions:

(1) We are all addicted to control.

(2) This addiction causes most (maybe all) our emotional problems.

(3) Behind all controlling is the wish to control feelings.

(4) There are better ways to handle feelings than control.

These are the Four Laws of control.

Now, this view of control can be confusing, partly because so often control is clearly a good and necessary thing.

I won’t willingly surrender control when I’m driving my car on icy pavement, or my kid gets sick and needs a doctor, or garbage piles up in my kitchen, or a mosquito tries to bite me, or in any of a million other daily situations.

But there are two areas where controlling tends to cause more problems than it solves:

Feelings and relationships.

Overcontrolling feelings tends to make us sick —  frustrated, anxious, depressed, addicted.

Overcontrolling other people tends to anger, scare, and alienate them.

What does all this mean?

It means that anyone who wants to be healthy and happy needs to examine the role control plays in their life.

It means they need to learn

(a) to notice when they’re controlling,

(b) to decide if their controlling is healthy or not,


(c) to learn healthy alternatives to unhealthy control.

This is not easy work.

Worth doing, though.

Because the alternative — trying to control the uncontrollable — is harder.

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