Within our nature as human beings, there is the need to feel that we have our life under control . This feeling helps us to feel secure and promotes psychological well-being.

However, when this need for control becomes an emergency or an essential condition for our peace of mind, it can wreak havoc on our personal relationships, our working lives and the quality of life in general.

What is meant by the need to be in control?

In order to know what a person with fears of not being in control feels we must first know what the need for control is and what the psychological implications are.

By “need for control” we mean a person’s need to understand his surroundings in order to exercise an effect or power over them. As well as the urgency he feels to determine a series of results or consequences before they occur.

In cases in which this feeling of control is threatened either by chance , because the situation does not depend on the person or because others are the decision makers, the person may experience a series of negative emotions such as frustration and anger, which force him/her to carry out domination, extortion or critical behaviour.

In these cases, a mechanism known as “control motivation” is put in place. Driven by the control motivation, the person may react in two different ways: on the one hand a psychological reaction may appear, through which the person makes even greater efforts to try to control an uncontrollable situation; or a feeling of helplessness may be generated in which the attempts to dominate disappear.

Although generally the tendency to plan things or prepare them in advance is considered as positive and really effective for the achievement of our objectives, when this tendency is taken to the extreme and becomes a necessity it can end up interfering in our daily life.

What is the cause of this fear?

The excess need for control is often caused by one’s fear of not having it. Although the exact causes of this fear of not having control have not yet been determined, there are some theories that relate it to personality or to the experience of traumatic events in the past.

One of these theories hypothesizes that in many occasions under the fear of not having control of the situation is found an irrational fear of being at the mercy of other people . The cause of this fear of depending on others may have its origin in traumatic events in which the person felt defenseless or vulnerable.

Past experiences of abuse, neglect, or abandonment can cause a person to disproportionately seek to regain a sense of control over everything in their life.

However, there are several factors that can play an important role in influencing a person’s need for control, making it more pronounced. These factors are:

  • Traumatic life experiences or of abuse.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Anxiety .
  • Fear of abandonment.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Beliefs and values of the person.
  • Perfectionism .
  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of experiencing negative or painful emotions

What are people with a high need for control like?

Although at first glance people who are afraid of losing control of their lives, or who simply have a constant need to feel that they have it, tend to appear strong and confident; the reality is that behind this appearance lies a certain fragility, as well as a great vulnerability to the idea or the fear that there are certain things that cannot be controlled , which occur regardless of what one wishes for.

People with a tendency to control everything around them experience a great fear of sudden and unexpected events, since their ability to be spontaneous or improvise is not well developed.

In addition, another characteristic that defines these people is the feeling that the rest depend on their ability to manage the events that occur in their daily lives . Therefore, this feeling of responsibility can become a powerful stressor.

What types of control are there?

There are countless ways that people can try to take control of their environment and others. These people exercise a kind of dominance in their intimate relationships, in the family, work or social environment .

1. Need for control over oneself

When a person experiences an excessive fear of not being in control of their life , they may carry out the following behaviours:

  • Compulsive exercise.
  • Compulsive cleaning or grooming.
  • Self-harm.
  • Substance abuse .

2. Need for control over others

Some examples of behaviors that these people engage in are

  • Control of partner’s activities .
  • Review of personal items such as someone else’s phone or social networks.
  • Preventing another person from talking or interacting with family or friends
  • Gaslighting.
  • Dishonest behaviour with third parties.
  • Overprotective parenting.
  • Physical , sexual or emotional abuse.
  • Intimidating or mocking behavior.

How can psychotherapy help?

Dealing with control problems from psychotherapy implies discovering the existence of a great need for control in the person. This point is extremely complicated, since on most occasions the patient is not capable of perceiving this need for control or power .


During therapy, the patient and the psychologist work together to address the underlying fear of this need. As well as the emotions associated with it, such as anxiety, creating a series of useful coping strategies when these appear.

This process of working on the patient’s self-awareness can help the patient give up the need for control.

Cognitive psychotherapy can help the person identify the real cause of the need for control: self-protection. Emotional instability and lack of options or autonomy can lead a person to seek control over other aspects of life. Recognizing and addressing this source of discomfort will help him/her develop self-pity and accept that part of the self that needs protection.