Lesson 1 of 7 - free your true Self to guide you

Options for Balancing
Your Self Control

Control Yourself, Not Others

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Expert Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/control.htm

 Updated  02-03-2015

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      This is one of a series of Lesson-1 articles on how to free your true Self, reduce psychological wounds, and gain personal and social satisfactions. The article explores...

  • perspective on "self control."

  • the roots of self control, and perspective on destructive self control,

  • options for improving your self control, and...

  • how to stop controlling other people

      This brief YouTube video summarizes what you'll find below:

      The article assumes you're familiar with...


  Perspective on "Self Control"

      What comes to your mind when you read "self control"? Do you agree that a vital aspect of "growing up" is learning to control some impulses and reflexes to avoid social conflict? Can you think of someone  who has significant trouble controlling their anger, language, eating, spending, libido, sarcasm, criticism, interrupting, smoking, nail biting, gossiping, or other behaviors?

      Many kids and most adults have some annoying or unhealthy behaviors they "just can't help" (i.e. can't control). Most of us break our New Years' resolutions to stop vexing behaviors - or we avoid resolving. What allows some people to maintain better self control over their behaviors than others? A common superficial answer is "They just have more 'will power'."  Where does that come from?

  The Roots of Self Control

      Premise - normal personalities are composed of semi-independent subselves, like the talented players in a sports team or orchestra. Each subself sees the world in a unique way, and has a unique purpose or "job." Every person has a unique ''inner family'' of subselves, tho many of them are very common.

      One universal subself excels at guiding the other subselves effectively in all situations if allowed to - the true Self (capital; "S"). Because this talented personality "part" is undeveloped in childhood, other evolving subselves ignore and distrust its leadership in seeking to survive as the host person matures.

      If young people grow up in a high-nurturance environment led by adults who are guided by their true Selves, the kid's subselves gradually learn to trust and follow their wise Self's leadership. Their inner family becomes a harmonious team that consistently makes healthy short and long-term decisions.

      Because most average people inherit psychological wounds from their adults (and society), their wise true Self is often overruled or disabled by other well-meaning subselves. These form a false self, which lacks the true Self's wisdom and wide-angle, long-range perspective.

      People controlled by a false self...

  • often choose immediate gratification over long-term health and satisfaction;

  • lack appropriate "impulse control"

  • ignore or distort reality, including justifying harmful decisions; and they...

  • make impulsive, unhealthy choices even tho (their Self) "knows better," and...

  • they don't know why they do these things.

      Ring any bells? From this perspective, healthy "will-power" is really a person's active subselves deferring their wants to follow the Self's wise short and long-tem guidance - even if they don't like it.

Destructive Self Control

      Unhealthy will-power occurs when a person is controlled by an intense Guardian subself like the Addict, Zealot, Fanatic, Perfectionist, Preacher, Survivor, or Martyr. Their determination to protect Inner Kids at all costs can cause rigid self-discipline which is toxic to the host person and or other people. The talented Magician subself can distort reality to justify or excuse "bad (toxic) habits."  

      Implication - "a weak will," or lacking "will power" and "self control" is caused by a person being unaware they're often controlled by protective false selves. Conversely, people with admirable "self discipline" often forego immediate gratification with the guidance of their wise true Self and other Manager subselves, without excessive ambivalence, procrastination, or self-doubt.


      Can you think of someone who has intentionally improved their self control without hitting bottom first? The paradox is - we need will power to improve our will power. People who do overcome "bad habits" are probably governed by their true Self without knowing it.

      If you seek to strengthen your self discipline, consider doing ''parts work.'' Identify the specific subselves that distrust your true Self, and work patiently to have them experience and rely on your Manager subselves' wisdom and leadership. This option is based on the observable reality that personality subselves will change when they're convinced (a) it's safe for the Inner Kids and host person, and (b) they won't lose their "jobs" and status.

      Here's a summary of how to do this:

  • Choose an open mind about personality subselves;

  • Invest time in studying online Lesson one ;

  • Inventory your subselves,

  • Learn how to tell when your Self guides you and how to interview your subselves;

  • Use interviews to identify the young and Guardian subselves that hinder your self control. Start with your...






Shamed Child

Scared Child

Guilty Child

Abandoned Child

  • Introduce each Inner Child to your Nurturer / Good Parent subself;

  • Introduce all subselves to your talented Managers - specially your Self and Adult ("common sense")

  • Identify subselves living in the past, and when they're ready, bring them to live with you in the present;

  • Negotiate with each Guardian to let your Self demonstrate it's ability to keep everyone safe.

  • If appropriate, help these subselves learn to trust your Higher Power to keep everyone safe and growing;

  • Option: use parts work to identify any subselves who are causing any toxic self-control (bad habits)

  • Enjoy your growing self confidence and self control! and appreciate your amazing subselves!

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - what are you thinking and feeling about what you just read?

__  This scheme makes sense, and I want to try these steps

__  I'm skeptical that this could improve my self control, and I may experiment with these steps

__  This idea is silly. I won't waste my time trying these steps.

Who just answered - your true Self, or ''someone else''? 

            Now let's look at the other end of the spectrum...

  Stop Controlling Other People

      As a veteran therapist, I've had many clients try to reduce their anxiety by telling me up front how our session was going to go and what I was "supposed to do" ("...and you'll ask me about my situation and not question my answers.") Do you know someone who you feel is "over-controlling"? Have you been told that you are "controlling" or a "control freak"? If so, you can moderate or end that reflex.

      The personality-subself concept suggests that compulsive controlling or manipulative behavior occurs when a person is ruled by a false self. It is probably composed of a Scared Child, and one or more dedicated Guardian subselves like the Catastrophizer, Controller, and Worrier. 

      When this is true, then an over-controlling or rigid person can work to get those subselves to trust their wise Self and other Managers to create safety, and have the Nurturer soothe the Inner Child who learned to be terrified of the unknown. As these subselves learn to trust the Managers, their confidence grows  and the Guardians' need to control recedes.


       This is one of a series of Lesson-1 articles focusing on freeing your true Self, and reducing psychological wounds and their toxic effects. This article proposes why average people struggle to maintain healthy self control and self-discipline. It then proposes how to improve self-control by respectful negotiation with personality subselves that distrust your true Self.

        Reference - options for relating to someone who is manipulative and over-controlling.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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