What Is Your Intention – To Relate Or Control?

mother and daughter relatingA Getting Real resource from Dr. Susan Campbell

Authentic open communication is about knowing another person and being known by them. Mothers and daughters can be expert in communicating in order to try to control a situation or a each other, rather than to relate to each other as adult human beings.

Take a moment to think about a mother’s role: to feed and nurture, protect, keep safe, guide and teach. All of these actions have the element of control. Controlling and caring are intertwined. For good reasons when we are little! But taking the same stance when daughters are grown up can undermine the relationship and lead to frustration and conflict.

Its no surprise that daughters will tend to respond in a similar way – trying to control the outcome so they don’t feel controlled. And the cycle continues. Two people trying to control each other and get what they want so they feel secure, right … and in control!

If you are reading this, then this approach probably isn’t working for you. Read on for an alternative strategy!

“Almost 90 per cent of all human communication comes from the (usually unconscious) intent to control.” Dr Susan Campbell goes on to talk about  two different stances when we communicate:

a)       Security and Control Stance.

The intention is to control the outcome and get things to come out in a way that we want such as avoiding conflict, getting someone to like you, proving that you are right or they are wrong etc.

Here’s a “controlling” example: You are shopping with your mother and she picks out a pair of pants for you that is a size bigger than you normally wear. Your button gets pushed and you immediately say “Mom, are you making a point about my weight. I’m not that big! I won’t go shopping with you again if you keep criticizing me.”

This is one way communication presented as an ultimatum. There is no room for discussion.

b)      Open and Relating Stance.

The goal is to know the other person and for them to know you in a new way. It’s about relating rather than trying to control. Relating example: “Mom, I think this will be too big. Is there a size 12 there?

You are making an observation from your perspective and engaging her. This opens up a connection and conversation.

Is your intention to relate or control?

Relating is understanding ourselves and being open to know the other person. It’s being open to others, ourselves and the unknown. When we do that we become vulnerable, and that’s why it is SO hard for so many of us to do. We have to knowingly let go of trying to control the situation and allow ourselves to be present to the discomfort of not knowing the outcome…. and the powerful feelings that rise up.

Controlling is about wanting to control the outcome, change a person or be right.

Controlling is playing the right, safe and certain game.

The rules of the game can look like this:

*      Project a positive image at all times

*      Don’t be too different from the norm

*      Don’t rock the boat especially if it will lead to conflict or disapproval

*      Deny or cover up any doubts you have about yourself

*      Act like something doesn’t matter – even though the truth is that you are feeling upset

*      Act like you know, even when you don’t

*      Be cold and distant as a way of punishing someone for being thoughtless/controlling/disrespectful etc.

*      Try to show you are always together and don’t show any vulnerability

Sound familiar?

We learned this game when we were little and dependent on big people. Now we are big and self supporting, not small and dependent. The world will not fall in if someone disapproves of something we did. We no longer need to act as if we are mortally wounded. We are big enough to handle honest feedback. We can see what is.

Let’s put more value on seeing what is than what other people think of us!

Basing our self esteem on our ability to control external events actually keeps us feeling out of control.

‘We live in a culture that does not support relating. We have been conditioned to measure our worth by how much people like us, how much gets done or how much power and control we have. At some level of our being we hate the predicament we’re in. We long for the feeling that we are okay just as we are. We long to feel relaxed. We long for the courage to live with integrity. We long to reconnect to our authentic self – that sense of uniqueness and originality that comes from deep inside and is independent of others’ expectations” Susan Campbell

Control Patterns

Control Patterns arise when we are fearful of being rejected, controlled, criticized, judged, ignored, frustrated or shamed. We avoid our true feelings because we don’t want to feel the hurt. As we grow up the behavior is repeated over and over, so it becomes an unconscious part of us.

A control pattern is anything you do to:

1. Act more knowing or in control than you really feel

2. Justify your actions

3. Convince yourself or the other that you are right

4. Play it safe in order to prevent an unwanted outcome

5. Manage or manipulate the other person to behave in a way that serves your interests, not theirs

6. Avoid feeling what you want or what you feel

7. Avoid saying what you feel or what you want.

Take a few moments and ask yourself – What do I do to protect and comfort myself?

Here are some strategies you may be familiar with. Becoming very busy, drinking and/or eating for comfort, shopping, over-talking, seeking more attention, being a know all, becoming invisible, withdrawing, judgmental self talk, over positive self talk, blaming and judging others, pleasing all the time, perfectionism, a physical sign such as a pasted on smile or frown…. And many more.

All of these are about avoiding uncomfortable feelings. (To find out more about our control patterns click here. ) This kind of strategizing is usually in our unconscious mind. It’s a defense mechanism that helps to keep us safe and in control. However, as most of us already know, it doesn’t work in the long run and actually creates more anxiety and stress and feeling of being more out of control.

It also prevents us from learning more about ourselves and keeps us stuck.

Once we learn to let go of struggling to control we will feel more relaxed and in control, and are able to relate more to others. We can get on with living our lives authentically.


When we relate we are expressing how we are feeling. When we express the feeling things change. Whatever we were feeling recedes. We feel lighter, more open. Our energy is flowing again and nothing is blocking it.

Controlling prevents you from clearing feelings as they occur. It keeps you distracted and creates interference. You can’t listen fully or relate to others because you are no longer present.

Relating means revealing what is going on with you now, in this moment. By relating as a regular awareness practice, you will learn to trust that you do not need to control how other people react to you or whether things turn out as planned. Your sense of self worth becomes based on whether you express what you think, know and feel, rather than how things turn out.

We need to feel more comfortable with not knowing and not being right!! It starts with becoming aware of what we are feeling, in the moment. Being with that feeling rather than suppressing it or avoiding it. There is something from our past that we can learn from and an unblocking of energy that will move us into new awareness and an ability to live life authentically and to it’s fullest.

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