I encounter four basic wounds that underlie most people’s struggles: the performance wound, boundary wound, abandonment wound, and the control wound.

Today we are discussing control, the footprint it leaves, and how to get through it. A client may get feedback that he or she is too controlling, or they are struggling to manage a person with control issues. How can we navigate this and set people free?

Control has to do with preventing harm. The person sees all these risks, dangers and threats, and feels he has to be vigilant to stop bad things from happening. I personally get worried about my cat when he disappears for an hour! So I keep him indoors.

The head of HR at a company I work with once said to me “tell me about a person’s first decade of life, and I can tell you what they’ll be like as a leader”. The control wound gets imprinted when, as a child, we get blamed for harm. It is my fault. We get blamed for harm. A child feels it deeply when something bad happens. It’s just something that we do as a loving parent, we overprotect and over-control. It is so easy to project, not only that the little one should be scared of something, but that the bad thing happened because of the little one. Because he or she was somehow unaware or indisciplined. Too playful perhaps. 

The message gets heard that, in order to prevent bad things from happening, we need to control ourselves, and preferably, everything around us. We learn to be a vigilant guard of our own behavior, watching for any risks, dangers and threats that could cause harm; in particular, watching for ways that we might cause harm and get blamed (or blame ourselves) for it.     

The control wound isn’t all negative. Such moments initiate an individual into a heightened level of awareness, train us to be alert, perceptive, and skillfully read people and situations. You learn to be good at strategizing, seeing the big picture, perceiving what is coming before it comes. 

It gets toxic, however, when you believe at some level you are fundamentally bad. Not just that harmful things can happen but “I am bad.” Negative outcomes happen because of me. My natural playful self cannot be trusted. I have to watch myself every second otherwise something bad will happen. And, when that doesn’t work, I have to watch and control everybody else too. This feeling makes people nervous and ultimately they feel suffocated.

So how do you help someone break free of this? I have two tips:

  1. Explore the fear by walking them into it, talking about what could go wrong so you can have a more practical approach. Honor their ability to forecast impending risks, dangers and threats and inquire curiously to have them name the bad things they are working so hard to prevent. By facing their fear you make it less powerful.
  1. Continuously reaffirm them of their own intrinsic goodness, the qualities of their character. Look at where this action is coming from – is it coming from love and care? Let them know how you see that they are acting this way from good intent. Share their desire to prevent harm. Getting innocently practical removes the shame, and the person begins to see how the “I am bad” message no longer serves. 

We each have a control wound that at times tempts us to surveil and micromanage our own and others’ behavior. To manage feelings of vulnerability or hesitate to be exuberant. As we set ourselves free, empower and trust ourselves to be fully who we are, we find ways also to empower others. If you have direct reports, friends or relationships with individuals that have a control wound, try the suggestions outlined here, and let me know what works for you. 


David Lesser