Why we crave control

April 15th, 2020

This article is the compilation of our learnings from 8 global dinners held in 2020. 

Last month, we hosted VIRTUAL dinners on the topic of “control” in 8 cities around the world. From Mexico City to Rome, Amsterdam to Seattle, women gathered on computer screens across the globe to discuss what control means to them. Dinner tables were replaced with Zoom rooms, as everyone logged on with a meal and a beverage of choice.

This article has two parts: 1) What control means for women and 2) What control means for women during this global pandemic. We offer these insights from our dinners around the world in the hopes of inspiring a deeper understanding of our relationship to control, and maybe, injecting a bit more trust into our lives.

And now, our key takeaways…

At the root of control — lives FEAR

Deep down, so many of us are afraid. We’re afraid of not being loved, of not being understood, of failure, of loneliness, of pain, of death. We’re scared that our needs won’t be met. What if my partner leaves me? What if my kids won’t respect me? What if my colleagues do a “bad job” — or worse — do a fantastic job and take the spotlight? Whatever the focus, fear tends to drive our urge to control as a means to prevent us from actually feeling what we fear most — fear itself.

Control helps us feel SAFE amidst uncertainty

Most of us crave certainty. When we don’t know what is going to happen in our lives and the lives of our loved ones, we get anxious. Whether we’re planning an event, collaborating on a project for work, or having a difficult conversation, we build high expectations of what we want to happen and do everything in our power to make that happen. It feels so good to have a plan, and being in charge of every little detail can put our minds at ease (even if just for a little bit).

How control sneaks in

  • Micromanaging — Many of us micromanage others because we believe we know what is best for them — but what would happen if we let people make their own “mistakes”?

  • Feeling overwhelmed and helpless — We feel lost and deflated when we don’t have a clear answer or plan. Things can feel too “heavy” — making us believe we are like a victim to circumstances (e.g. if a loved one becomes sick)

  • Perfectionism — When attempting to ensure our lives meet a particular (often unachievable) set of standards, anything less than “perfect” can feel like a total failure (e.g. extreme dieting to make our bodies look a certain way)

  • Addictive behaviors — When life feels too overwhelming, sometimes we escape to behaviors like self-harm, drugs, and alcohol. While these provide temporary relief, they often make life feel more out of control than ever before.

Trust is the antidote to control

In order to learn how to release some of our controlling tendencies, we must first trust. Trust begins with ourselves — it is in the belief that we are worthy, even when we “fail” or are not acknowledged by others in the ways we want. There’s also trust in something beyond ourselves — whether you believe in a higher power, a grand “plan,” or simply a code of ethics, many turn to faith to let go of what they cannot control.

There’s plenty we can do to develop trust in ourselves. From surrounding ourselves with a supportive, authentic community of people to creating and protecting healthy boundaries — self-trust is deeply connected to what and who we interact with. Trust also comes from deep within — whether through self-care, supportive rituals, mindfulness or therapy, the slow work of getting to know and love ourselves creates a quality of trust that permeates from the inside, out.

Control in the times of Corona

During this global Coronavirus pandemic, we find ourselves in unchartered territory. While our urge to control is ever-present, we have yet to figure out what “control” looks and feels like within this new paradigm. At the end of the day, we’re all having radically different experiences with control right now.

Some of us are feeling an immense loss of control

So many parts of our lives we believed we had control over suddenly feel out of control. For the first time, we’re realizing just how little control we have. And we’re feeling this loss of control across the board — in our relationships, jobs, personal space, time management, our own health or the health of our loved ones. Many parts of our lives that previously felt “under control” are suddenly overturned, unpredictable and utterly chaotic. And with that, comes a paralyzing sense of overwhelm and helplessness.

While for others, a sense of having more control than ever before

Without outside activities or social pressures, the simplicity of this new lifestyle can be a welcome respite. As Esther Perel points out, language matters — this is not “quarantine” or “shelter in place” for everyone, but rather, for some of us this is “cocooning” and “safe connection.” For some, this new world can represent peace, comfort, and tremendous relief. And for those folks, that offers a greater sense of control than ever before.

Now, many of us are in a process of identifying what we CAN and CANNOT control

First, we cannot control the big things that are happening outside of ourselves. This includes how many lives will be lost, who gets sick, where and how the virus spreads, hospital capacity, or the future of the economy. We also cannot control other people’s actions (eg. will my dad wash his hands for long enough even when I’m not watching him?). It’s hard to acknowledge just how little is in our control right now.

However, there is so much that is in our control right now — and it lives in the small things. We can control how we respond to this situation. We control how we design our days, how we care for our loved ones, how we care for ourselves, and how we look out for our communities. Ultimately, we only have agency over our own behavior and while in the grand scheme that may feel small — in fact, it is more important than ever before.


  1. When you feel the urge to control someone or something, ask yourself, “How can I shift my desire to control into trust?” Where can you trust yourself more? Where can you trust life more?

  2. What are the small things in your life that you can control right now? How can you exercise that control with love, care, and patience?

Written by Sybil Ottenstein and Veronica Marquez in collaboration with our hosts Rebecca Roebber in Seattle, Dee de Lara in Toronto, Alexandra Almaral in Amsterdam, Alexandra Suarez in San Juan, Diana Moya in Mexico City, and Julie Beretta in Rome.

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