We generally think of self-control as a positive trait. It helps us keep our emotions in line, allows us to follow through with our plans, and prevents overly-impulsive behavior.
But the truth is, self-control can be a double-edged sword. Like many of our traits, it can sometimes become counterproductive, causing us more harm than good.
Being overcontrolled, a personality type which involves an excessive amount of self-control, is associated with:
- Strictly following rules
- Avoiding risks
- Constantly delaying gratification
- Constantly worrying about being fair and moral
- Emphasizing responsibilities
These tendencies often decrease impulsive and aggressive behavior and increase reliability and performance. However, in excess they can cause the following “side effects:”
- Restricting emotions
- Internalizing problems
- Social isolation
- Feeling disconnected
- Relationship challenges
We often learn at a young age that we aren’t always permitted to express ourselves completely, and that demonstrating negative emotions is not socially-acceptable. But the imperative to control our feelings can become excessive. Keeping our emotions bottled up eventually becomes a burden, preventing us from understanding ourselves and being appropriately open with significant others, friends, and family.
When we restrict our emotions, we can’t properly empathize and connect with others. This interferes in forming new interpersonal connections, and the relationships that we already have become superficial and lacking in substance, causing us to abandon them and further isolate ourselves. This becomes a vicious cycle.
And then it gets worse…The less people we have around to talk to, the more likely we are to remain stuck in our own heads. When we don’t receive insights from an outside perspective, we’re more likely to irrationally blame ourselves for our problems, or get caught in patterns of hopeless and fatalistic thinking. At the extreme end, this tendency can lead to what are called internalizing disorders, which include anxiety and depression.
Letting go of overcontrolled behaviors
Overcontrolled behaviors are common, and chances are, everyone can recognize something familiar in the description above. The good news is that once we recognize the problem, we are set to work on a solution!
Therapy can help us to learn how to become more flexible and open to new situations, better express our emotions both verbally and non-verbally, and connect meaningfully with the people around us. We begin to modify our overcontrolled traits. And then, as we see the change, we start to:
- Connect better to people
- Feel understood and accepted for who we are
- Open up emotionally
- Overcome perfectionism
- Be the best version of ourselves.
- Develop self acceptance.