Before You Can Build Trust in Yourself through Self-Control (and Stop Self-Sabotage)…Ya Gotta Let Go!

I just can’t keep myself from writing about self-control again.  Must be a lack of…

Last post, I wrote about how another person’s self-control makes them seem more trustworthy to us (based on the results of a recent study). And vice-versa:  they also found that when others’ self-control was erratic, people had trouble trusting them. It’s all here in this post.

As with all things, self-control is to be practiced in moderation and isn’t all-good or all-bad. Remember, black and white thinking and all-or-nothing thinking is easy but problematic; the gray area, imperfect moderation is where it’s at.

There’s no question, it’s a serious challenge for adult-children to practice healthy self-control.  Our idea of self-control is going full-throttle–in the “all” direction as much as in the “nothing” direction:  ”I’m going to the gym EVERY DAY,” or, “I’m never going to eat chocolate again, EVER,” or, “That person crossed me, and she’s OUT of my life FOREVER,” and so on.

Can you see how that kind of thinking leads to self-sabotage?  If you’re worried about self-sabotage, whether in yourself or others (and I hope you’re focused on you - sweet, important, you), ask yourself this:  What was my expectation in this situation?  Was my expectation actually realistic?  If you had signed yourself up for a 5K race but didn’t have the full number of months to increase your mileage and endurance, then you’re setting yourself up for problems.  So unless you don’t mind walking the last mile, which is of course A-OK, then you might want to wait till the next 5K race so that you have time to train.  (When evaluating whether your expectations are realistic, be sure to consult a couple other people because, well, your version of “realistic” might not be aligned with those of mortal humans.)  Do a reality-check with a couple friends, friends who know your tendencies.

A Recipe for Self-sabotage

Set an unrealistic goal

Don’t prepare and don’t break-down tasks into small bits

Don’t step back, reassess, and readjust at any point

Brutally judge yourself in the end

Directions:  Mix, repeat, and serve to those you care about most.

Betcha can’t wait to mix up a fresh batch of Self-Sabotage with that recipe!  What’s more, people who have self-sabotage issues tend to share it with others as well:  they put unrealistic expectations on those around them, then criticize and judge those people for not meeting up to their envisioned ideas. I wrote about self-sabotage in this post if you’re looking for tips for breaking-free from self-sabotage (by the way, I don’t believe that self-sabotage really exists!)

Understanding your relationship to control is one step towards disengaging from self-sabotage.

How do we move towards practicing healthy self-control?  First things first:  if we are to come to peace with ourselves and the big bad issue that is CONTROL, first we need to reconcile our beliefs about what we can control and what we cannot, what we’re responsible for and what isn’t our responsibility.  First, we need to know, believe, and accept deeply a few immutable, irrevokable truths.

3 Immutable Truths about Control

  • I cannot control the thoughts, actions nor reactions of others.  I am not responsible for the thoughts, actions or reactions of others.

  • I’m not able to control, influence or willfully-mind-control things like TIME, rain, wind, fog, car accidents, lighting strikes, the distance between two places and the time it takes to travel between them, nor the length of previews before movies start when I’m running late.

  • I’m wholly responsible for MY thoughts, reactions, and actions.  Even if I would like to believe that someone else’s reaction, words, or behavior “made me” do something–that shifting of responsibility doesn’t exempt me from the authority over my mouths, tongue and voice.

You might laugh, right?  And you might agree, Of course I can’t control others.  But, if we give thought to the deep, inner beliefs that drive our actions, our reactions to others, our fears (abandonment, criticism, being crazy), and our magical thinking — it’s possible to see that because we were raised as if we were an extension of another person, we do think we’re responsible for things we’re not.

Accepting the above fundamental truths isn’t as simple as just appreciating how logical they sound! Why? Because we were wired from a young age to believe the opposite. Because addicts don’t take responsibility for their realities, they emotionally manipulate their children to accept a warped reality (I’m not saying that they consciously do it–but, they DO do it nevertheless). None of that is our fault. And, we can (and are!) re-wiring our brains. Yes, yes, and absolutely. Once we have these truths straight, practicing living by them is next. Once we embody the truths, we can have a shot at good, healthy self-control that engenders trust in ourselves and others. With the added bonus of lessening self-hate!

Another View of Self-Control

If you’re not yet a reader of the blog HEAL and GROW for ACoAs, you should give it a lookie here. Donna recently wrote about self-control, too, but from a completely different standpoint.  Her 3-Part series on self-control is an important read. It’s important because she explains the roots of problematic self-control and different types of self-control, and how those play out for adult children of alcoholics and dysfunctional families.

SELF-CONTROL (S-C) can be defined as gathering one’s willpower to accomplishthings that are generally regarded as desirable, including long-term goals, & is highly valued by society.
It is internal mastery over our own actions – by monitoring our thoughts, regulating our emotions, setting goals & making responsible choices.  This gives us the ability to moderate competing urges, desires & activities. Self-control implies the ability to govern oneself – to make choices & decisions that benefit ourselves, & then others. To do this we need to honor who we are – our needs, tastes, abilities & experience.

• S-C is not an inborn character trait that would automatically allow us to govern our thoughts, emotions & behavior.  It is a skill that has to be learned & built up – by the process of ‘stalling, distracting and resisting’ negative urges. Healthy families help their children to grow this skill as part of their over-all training.  In adults – developing S-C is motivated by a conflict-free desire to stop doing harmful things to ourselves or others. Practice & perseverance are required, but it gets easier with repetition.

(c) “Types of Self Control Part 1,” Donna M. Torbico, 11/15/11, from her blog HEAL and GROW for ACoAs

Be kind to yourself.


  1. Carol W says:

    My daughter introduced me to your blog. She is an ACOA. I have recently realized how much I fit the pattern. Thank you for what you share. I am not technically an ACOA, but might as well be. My mother was the ACOA who never understood there was such a thing and of course raised me and was my role model. Hence she passed it right on to me. My father was a teetotaler. His mother, my grandmother, who lived with us throughout my childhood, was also an ACOA who staunchly refused to ever even mention her alcoholic father who abandoned her family. She of course was my other closest female role model. Then my husband turned out to be an alcoholic who died of liver failure. Now I’m on the journey of becoming more me than I’ve maybe ever been, and healing and growing. So are my children. Thank you for pointing out that self-control is more about changing my own neural pathways and how I respond to life than about trying to be perfect.

  2. Amy Eden says:

    It’s great to see a family working together to break the chain! Your comment is an inspiration, thank you for taking the time to say this. Right, alcohol need not be present for the family patterns of an alcoholic family to be passed down. (And whenever there’s a teetotaler present…one wonders if that’s also symptomatic of reacting/coping.) You might like reading the Kritsberg book (the little, thin green and white one) called ‘The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome,’ because it outlines various family trees in an interesting way — he classifies 4 family types, all with varying degrees and levels of active vs. dormant alcoholism. Thank you so much for your comment! It’s no walk in the park to realize these things. I applaud your courage.

  3. Kristen says:

    I like your 3 immutable truths about control, and am thinking about posting it on the fridge. None of us is an ACOA but I grew up with a twisted sense of normal that I am working to reprogram, and my stepkids’ mother shows signs of a personality disorder, so we are trying to cut off certain behaviors at the pass. This is helpful for each person to be able to take ownership over our own thoughts, feelings, words and deeds, and let go of frustration about the things we cannot control.

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