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Dear Miss SmartyPants,

I have been told recently, by two different people, that I am controlling. I do not want to be. How do I know if I am, and if so, what do I need to do to change?


Dear Worried,

You are controlling if:

You think things will go wrong if you don't do them yourself, or at least supervise them being done your way.

Your happiness depends on their going right.

You get upset when even minor things go wrong.

Those are the basics. You also correct the tiniest of mistakes, take on everyone whose opinion differs from yours, get look-at-me upset over things you actually could shake off if you tried.

It's all really just insecurity, a fear that you won't be able to handle your version of a worst-case scenario, like getting cheated on, or having someone close to you die, or being seen as stupid. Controlling behavior is a defense against all kinds of fears.

Let things happen. Let people be themselves. Let things go wrong. See that an evening at the restaurant you hate, instead of the one you picked out that would have been much cheaper/closer/better/less noisy, isn't the end of the world.

See that people dress themselves badly, eat badly, marry badly, express themselves badly, choose to invest badly, and somehow seem to like their lives that way. See that even when they do all this and hate their lives, there isn't a whole lot you can do about it anyway - and that's the way it's supposed to be, because it isn't your life.

Or, if you're a fear-of-death type control freak, see that people can drive badly and forget to wear their seatbelts and never get their brakes checked and still outlive the rest of us. Or they'll die in an accident and there won't have been a darn thing you could have done about it.

See that it's sometimes better that way, sometimes worse, but always less stressful, since you're essentially detaching yourself from the outcome, surrendering responsibility.

And if you can't see yourself seeing any of this, see a pro. No shame in it, and often it's the quickest way to trace the origins of a fear.

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