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What it is: Emotional over-control is the attempt to control or inhibit emotional experiencing, predict and control future problems, and find certainty in experience. Individuals who struggle with emotional over-control often struggle with uncertainty, unpredictability, and emotional grey areas. Emotional over-control is considered problematic when the desire to control the behavior of self or others, desire to control the environment, or the desire for certainty and predictability cause symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger, or panic. 


Individuals that struggle with emotional over-control often develop behaviors or rules to feel more “in control” of their emotional experience. These behaviors are often related to over-planning (e.g., rehearsing catastrophes), over-simplifying (e.g., approaching complex dilemmas in black and white ways), or may involve avoiding potentially emotional situations altogether to reduce the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed or “out of (emotional) control.” These individuals may often experience anger or resentment towards others when those others struggle to understand the rules or regulations that the over-controlled person lives by. This may result in interpersonal difficulties in areas such as work (e.g., difficulty delegating or collaborating), friendship (e.g., black and white approaches to others’ behavior), or romantic relationships (e.g., difficulty being emotionally vulnerable with a partner).

Associated Concerns:  Individuals that struggle with emotional over-control often have concerns with anxiety, mood disturbance, anger, perfectionism or shame. They may develop maladaptive ways to either take back control (e.g., restricted eating) or cope with perceived lack of control (e.g., substance abuse concerns). 

Treatments offered: An initial assessment is important to determine the best treatment for symptoms of over-control. Depending on the concerns, a variety of treatments such as those intended for self-compassion, emotional resilience, eating disorders, substance abuse, or autism-spectrum disorder treatments may be appropriate. Treatments may involve Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the Unified Protocol (UP) , or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) may be used.

Medication may also be helpful.

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