The Three Types of Control You Use
Most of us are familiar with feeling that things are under control. This means that we know what’s going on, our finger is on the pulse and we are actively managing. The opposite of this is being out of control, and many of us know what it’s like to experience that. However, there is some evidence to suggest that there may be a third type of control. How are these three types of control different?
Both of these traditional ways of thinking about control are about conscious control, and either its presence or its absence. Either we have conscious control or we don’t. For many people the idea of control and consciousness are strongly intertwined; an absence of consciousness is an absence of control. No control equals chaos.
However, respected psychotherapist Karen Maroda says that this idea “rests on an outdated belief system about how the brain works”. In contrast, “behaviours of all sorts, including self-disclosure, that appear to be spontaneous and uncontrolled, are actually controlled by a system of internalised knowledge, experience and emotional reactions are primarily unconscious”.
We use this system all the time without thinking; we use it when we do something as simple as when we walk down the street without having to think about it. This is a process which is almost entirely a symphony of unconscious control.
Control and human development
This understanding about unconscious control neatly summarises how we can view the process of human development. Whilst at times we may set our minds to learning something specific, most of our development from adolescent to fully functioning adult is a process of unconscious control; we are guided by our internalised knowledge, experience and emotional reactions. This is entirely appropriate and undoubtably the most effective way to grow and change.
Whilst at times we might set our minds on conscious change of a particular sort, the more of us that we can bring to the process of change the better. If we can use the unconscious aspects of control, more of us is engaged and supporting the change process. This, coupled with conscious change, is powerful.
Psychotherapy recognises, values and harnesses the unconscious as being the chief ally and driver of change, and we work closely with it. Addressing this has the potential to unlock parts of you that you are unaware of.
Let me know what you think.
– Tim Hill
Reference: Maroda, K. J. (2012). Psychodynamic Techniques: Working with Emotion in the Therapeutic Relationship (Reprint edition.). New York: The Guilford Press.
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