Control is the Problem; Not the Solution

Many therapists use a framework called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which suggests that “control is the problem; not the solution.” Attempting to control our environments, emotions, internal experiences, or other people can temporarily alleviate discomfort or anxiety, but it does not provide sustainable relief. Rather, it creates a cycle of trying to do something that is relatively impossible most of the time.

Additionally, seeking control often means seeking safety, but we can still be safe without the ability to control. We can also refocus ourselves on what we can control, and we can accept what little control we have over many situations. When we stop trying to control the people in our lives, we step into the most whole version of ourselves, as we allow room for imperfections and nuance.  

One of the best ways to respond to factors we cannot control is through mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion, rather than avoidance or over-control. Below you will find a detailed list of things you cannot control versus things you can. Of course, we must approach this list with a sense of flexibility.

Cannot Control Versus Can Control:

  • How others treat you–Your expectations and how you respond to them.
  • Your emotions– Whether you choose to regulate, self-soothe, and label your emotions.
  • The results of your efforts–How you cope with stress and how hard you work.
  • What people think of you–How you speak to yourself.
  • The past–Your present choices.
  • How others behave- The boundaries you create, communicate, and stick to.

What would you add to the list?

If you need support and would like to speak to a professional counselor about topics, such as the one featured in this blog, and are in the Chicago area, please contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477.

Written by Liz R, Staff Psychotherapist

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