When the world is a frightening place—almost invariably a result of insufficient Real Love in childhood—we do whatever it takes to limit our pain. One way to accomplish this is to limit the unknown, because often there is pain—real and perceived—in the darkness of what we do not know. We believe we can decrease the effect of the unknown by controlling the people and events around us. Rarely is that truly effective, but in the short term the illusion can be comforting.
Many people claim they are not controlling, only “helping.” People claiming to help, regrettably, have been the cause of some of the most hurtful experiences of our lives. These are the people who have criticized, manipulated, and micro-managed us. So how can we discern the difference between controlling and helping? Let’s look at just a few indications.
Obsession or compulsion. If we feel like we HAVE to help someone—we just can’t stop ourselves from helping someone we judge to be in need of our invaluable assistance—rather than simply WANTING to help, it’s very likely that we’re motivated by fear, and that we’re really controlling.
Persistence despite opposition. When the other person prefers that we not help, but we persist in our “offers,” we’re likely controlling. Sure, it would be wise for a parent to persist in keeping a child from running into a busy street no matter how vehement the opposition of the child, but such cases are rare exceptions.
Looking for praise. When we’re truly helping another person—for THEIR benefit, not ours—we don’t need or want their gratitude or praise. If we do need those feelings or behaviors, we’re controlling.
Managing the outcome. When we’re truly helping, we’re satisfied with assisting people to do things “good enough.” When we’re controlling, we need the task to be done “right”—according to our own standards, of course.
Need vs want. If you’re a passenger in a car, and you are filled with a desire to point out how the driver could be more efficient or save time, you’re controlling. If the driver is about to make a mistake that could be unsafe—where your advice is truly needed—then you’re helping.
Controlling is motivated by fear, while helping is motivated by love.
Controlling gives us a feeling of power, while helping makes us happy.
Controlling tends to irritate the people around us, while our genuine help is generally welcome.
We are wise to honestly appraise whether we are controlling or helping. If in doubt, we can actually ASK the people we’re “helping.” If we truly ask—rather than pressuring them to tell us what we want to hear—we’ll usually find out how our efforts are perceived.