How do you feel in control?

Welcome to this month’s newsletter.

This time I would like to discuss some of the mechanisms that most of us unknowingly use to make us feel in better control of our lives and our environment. I thought I’d raise them because quite often these mechanisms of control can put us in very undesirable positions, financially or otherwise. Let me explain.

We all have the need to feel in control, but how we obtain that feeling can vary from person to person.

Let’s look at some of the following situations:

  • Making others feel guilty in order to make them comply with your wishes (so that you feel in better control).
    • It is very common to hear parents telling their kids (and adult children) all the sacrifices they have made in bringing their children up. This is an effort to make the children feel very guilty about not complying with their parent’s wishes.
    • It is also very common to see friends running the "guilt trip" on someone whom they have done some favour for in the past. I often remind myself to be careful about friends who are far too helpful, as they are likely to be the ones who want to control you later with guilt.
  • Punishing your body in order to control others’ attention.

    • Some people actually get themselves chronically ill in order to keep your love and affection focussed on them. It is almost like they have learned that every time they are sick, you give them much more attention, i.e. you can be controlled by their illness. Hence a sick person can feel in much better control of their environment when they are sick.
    • Some people also make themselves unwell to avoid taking responsibility or confronting their weaknesses, as very few people naturally feel they can be demanding of someone when they are sick. So when you’re unwell, your environment backs off from you, and you feel in better control over your environment.
  • Failing in your finances in order to control your environment.

    • Some people will get themselves into financial trouble in a financial transaction or partnership in order to blame others for doing the wrong thing by them. In doing so, they feel in better control as they see themselves as the party doing the right thing by being "ripped off". In other words, they feel ethically in better control of their environment when they lose money.
    • Some people overpay others so that they can be up on the high moral ground waiting for those others to do the wrong thing by them. These people have the need to feel morally better than others and the high moral ground they feel they have obtained through losing money is what makes them feel in control of their environment.
  • Making your life very difficult to control your destiny.

    • Many people do things the hard way to justify their efforts in achieving something. It almost makes them feel out of control if things could be done too easily. For example, if you feel there must be an easier way to get something done, you naturally look to someone who has done it before to learn from, but many people like the challenge of making all the mistakes themselves along the way to achieve the same outcome.
    • Many people prefer to work with people they feel they can control, i.e. people who have less ability and skills than them, because this make them feel in better control. The problem is that a single person’s capacity to do things is very limited, so if you are not willing to be "out of control" a bit to let others help you, it can become too difficult for you to move forward on your own.
  • Manipulating others to comply without knowing it.

    • Many people criticise or inject fear into people around them as a habit, in an effort to exert control over them. We call this "control by domination". These people make others think less of themselves or lose confidence, so that they will forever rely on them to survive.
    • Some people give you the silent treatment whenever they feel out of control, as most people can’t handle silence for too long in a relationship, so they will end up giving in to this.
    • Some people always come up with better ideas than others around them, whether those ideas are practical or not. In doing so, they make themselves "irreplaceable" and always "wanted". This is the way they feel in control, but at the expense of others around them being out of control all the time.

I hope you can see a pattern in some of the above examples I’ve shown you. Our need to be in control can be manifested into many different forms in our daily lives, and we are often likely to be unaware of some of these negative impacts.

You could almost say that the more you want to be in control, they more you’ll be out of control. So the key here is to strike the right balance: we want control, but not too much.

The same can be said of investing. We may instinctively want to do it all ourselves and have "total control" but there is much to be said for letting others have a share of that control. As ultimately, what we really want is the result, not the control, so sometimes we need to learn to trust someone with the control. Until next month, happy investing.


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Investors Direct Financial Group (IDFG) was established in 2001.
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