Helping you become all that you are capable of becoming!




Chapter 15 Developing Self-Control

Tools for Handling Control Issues

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

What is self-control?

Self-control is a set of behaviors which:

  • Accepts the reality that the only thing in life which you can successfully change and control is yourself.
  • Keeps in check all self-destructive, addictive, obsessive, compulsive, irrational, and unacceptable behaviors.
  • Gives you a sense of personal mastery, autonomy, and competency over your own life.
  • Is under your control and power to direct and orchestrate with no need for interference or manipulation from others.
  • Makes you the master of your own destiny because it keeps in check those barriers and obstacles which are a threat to your overall success in life.
  • Is a middle ground between perfectionism and laxity in self-care.
  • Results in your life having a balance and focus by helping you to cope with new challenges in life as they come.
  • Helps you to keep your overemotional responses in check or moderation.
  • Helps you to open yourself up from non-feeling or pulled-in emotions so that you can have a healthy emotional life.
  • Is the foundation for healthy coping and contributes to your accepting personal responsibility for your life.
  • Keeps your life in moderation, helping you to avoid extremes in any direction.
  • Is the focus of the efforts to let go of the uncontrollables and unchangeables in your life so that you can concentrate on yourself.
  • Eliminates the need for you to be manipulative, helpless, fixing others, intimidating, overdependent or a caretaker of others.
  • Helps you to be detached from others and to keep your relationships in a healthy balance of give and take.
  • Reflects your inner desire to grow up into a mature, responsible adult.

What are the negative effects of not maintaining self-control?

If you cannot gain self-control in your life, you could:

  • Focus all your attention on trying to control, fix, or rescue other persons, places, and things and divert your attention from your own needs.
  • Suffer the negative impact of your out-of-control behaviors such as alcoholism, chemical dependency, overeating, compulsive sex, addictive relationships, compulsive shopping, gambling, smoking, etc.
  • Become deeply depressed and despondent over your weakness and inability to get your life into check or balance.
  • Prefer to be overly dependent on other helpers, caretakers, fixers, and rescuers to give your life the control it needs.
  • Fall prey to an overly perfectionistic and idealistic belief system in which no matter how well you get things in order you see them as being imperfect and not good enough.
  • Lose control over the emotional boundaries you need to maintain from becoming over-enmeshed or controlled by others.
  • Become lost as to where you begin and end and where others in your life begin and end in relationship to you.
  • Find yourself responding to situations in your life either in an overly emotional and hysterical way or in a withdrawn, pulled-in and non-emotive way, with neither response being healthy or appropriate at the time.
  • Find it impossible to become detached from people, places, or things who are toxic or unhealthy for you.
  • Find yourself in a state of powerlessness to effect changes to get your life into moderation or balance.
  • Fall into the trap of learned helplessness and convince yourself that you are not capable of taking care of yourself and thus allow your life to get more and more out of control.
  • Seek out caretakers, fixers, or rescuers to help you solve your own problems and get your life under control.
  • End up convinced that there is no way you can get your life into balance because the amount of work, effort, energy, and resources needed are too great an investment just for you when there are so many other people, places, and things on which you could better focus attention.
  • Experience even lower self-esteem because of your inability to believe enough in your worth and value to take action to get your life into control.
How is self-control a control issue?
Self-control is a control issue because it is:
  • Keeping the locus of control internal and removes the locus of control from the externals in your life.
  • Giving to yourself the power and control to have an impact on your personal destiny and fortunes.
  • Ensuring your focusing on what in life you have the ability to change and control, namely yourself.
  • Not allowing yourself to fall into the trap of using manipulation or helplessness to get others to come to your rescue to fix or care for you.
  • Not needing a fixer or caretaker to help you determine your own future.
  • Not allowing survival behaviors to get in your way of reaching out for support, intimacy, and vulnerability from others in your life.
  • Exercising moderation in your emotional reaction to life so that you are neither overcontrolled or undercontrolled in the expression of your feelings.
  • Accepting responsibility for your own actions, feelings, thoughts, and life and giving power to yourself to accept the consequences for all of these.
  • The lack of needing anyone else to fix, rescue or be a caretaker for you in order for you to be successful in your life.
  • Being aware of people who are trying to control or exert power over you and you take the steps to change this.
  • The exercising of your control and power over those things, people, or places to which you have a compulsive or addictive attraction so as to put them into a moderate or abstaining relationship with you.
  • The realistic and rational exercise of power and control in your life.


What is some irrational or unhealthy thinking which leads you to not exercise self-control in your life?

  • There is no sense in trying to gain control over this, since I'm going to fail at it anyway.
  • There is no way I will ever be able to gain control over my behaviors.
  • I'd rather have others do it for me.
  • I prefer to have others monitor my behaviors and make me suffer negative consequences when I falter.
  • If I no longer need them in my life to assist me gain control of myself, then they no longer will be interested in me.
  • If I become too independent and in control, I'll be unappealing to them.
  • I've never been parented in a healthy way and it's my turn now to get parented.
  • I'm never going to grow up; it's too boring.
  • I'm young so why do I need to act old?
  • They'll just have to put up with me the way I am.
  • I was like this before you met me and you knew who I was then, so don't try to change me now.
  • I feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities involved in being an adult.
  • If they want me to change, then they'll have to work hard to make this happen.
  • I like myself just the way I am.
  • There is too much to change so why try?
  • Why do I always have to do it for myself? Why can't others, just once, do it for me?
  • It's so much easier to know what others need to do for themselves than it is for yourself.
  • I've never had any luck in the past in controlling these behaviors so why should I expect to do better now?
  • I hate trying to take charge of my life. It is always so tough and I never feel good when I do it.
  • Loneliness is the major result of self-control and it keeps me from working harder on self- growth.
  • I'd rather be sick than lonely.
  • All this centering on self stuff is absurd and nobody I know really does it so why should I?
  • I'm so addicted I could never change.
  • If you can't be 100% successful in changing, then why try in the first place?
  • I hate myself so much for being weak, how could I ever make it straight?
  • Giving up my old behaviors would change me so much that nobody would ever like me.
  • I can't live with it but I can't live without it.
  • My anxiety and frustration get worse when I try to control myself.
  • I enjoy what I'm doing. Why stop now when I'm having fun?
  • No one is going to tell me what I have to do with my life.
What can you do in order to develop self-control?
In order to develop self-control you need to take the following steps:


Step 1: You first need to identify in what areas of your life you need to gain more self-control. Review the following life arenas and identify in your journal any issues you may need to take control of.
Life Arenas Control Issue Checklist
Personal life
  • Balanced diet
  • Body image
  • Exercise
  • Obsessive behaviors
  • Unconditional acceptance and love of self
  • Self-esteem recovery
  • Compulsive and/or addictive behaviors
  • Eating
  • Shopping
  • Cleaning
  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Gambling
  • Sex
  • Smoking (nicotine)
  • Relationships
  • Sugar
  • Crisis-oriented activity
  • Excessive activity
Relationships with fixers, helpers, caretakers, and enablers
  • Overdependency on others
  • Manipulation of others
  • Helplessness
  • Overenmeshment
  • Lack of emotional boundaries
  • Overuse of survival behaviors
Relationships with needy people
  • Need to fix
  • Use of intimidation
  • Powerlessness to control them
  • Dealing with threat of suicide
  • Overidealism
  • Need to be a caretaker
  • Unconditional acceptance and love of others
  • Establishing emotional boundaries
  • Handling anger or resentment
Work/school life
  • Time management
  • Stress management
  • Workaholism
  • Fear of success
  • Assertiveness
  • Self-image as worker and/or student
  • Self-recognition of accomplishments
  • Handling perfectionism
Community life
  • Need for support system
  • Involvement with others
  • Participation in clubs and activities
  • Recreational and leisure participation
  • Participation in an organized religion
  • Handling competition
  • Handling leadership


Step 2: Once you have identified the various issues in which you need to develop more self-control, then you need to identify which emotions tend to lead you to be more out of control with these issues. Use the list of emotions and feelings clusters to identify for each issue out of control which emotions or feelings tend to exacerbate the loss of control.

Emotions which lead to being out of control

Emotion Boredom
Feeling cluster listless, unoccupied, restless, uneasy, a need for novelty, change, or excitement


Emotion Anger       
Feeling cluster rage, hate, cheated, infuriated, spiteful, mean, mad, or envious


Emotion Guilt   

Feeling cluster ashamed, miserable, remorse, blamed, distraught, or pain


Emotion Depression         
Feeling cluster left out, ugly, empty, powerless, victimized, suffering, useless, low, sad, helpless, discouraged, or troubled


Emotion Anxiety    
Feeling cluster overstressed, out of control, nervous, overwhelmed, uneasy, tense, pressured, panicked, troubled, confused, or shocked


Emotion Loneliness          
Feeling cluster unwanted, unappreciated, left out, ignored, unloved, alone, hurt, neglected, ugly, or rejected


Emotion Fear          
Feeling cluster afraid, tense, anxious, nervous, weak, worried, skeptical, frightened, threatened, panicked


Emotion Excitability           
Feeling cluster eager, driven, energetic, capable, turned on, enthusiastic, motivated, or clever


Emotion Comfort    
Feeling cluster proud, refreshed, appreciated, satisfied, accomplished, useful, respected, content, confident, full, calm, or relaxed


Emotion Happiness           
Feeling cluster good, nice, glad, loved, pleased, wanted, wonderful, delighted, or beautiful


Step 3:  Once you have identified what feelings and emotions tend to exacerbate your loss of control, next identify what irrational beliefs lead to increased loss of control in each of these issues.


Step 4:  Then you need to identify new, rational, reality-based, healthy thinking which will lead to your gaining control over these issues. Some self-affirmations are:
  1. I can gain control over this.
  2. I am capable of controlling myself.
  3. I will take control of my behaviors.
  4. I can succeed in containing my compulsive/addictive behaviors.
  5. I am able to take one behavior at a time and keep it under control.
  6. It took a long time for me to become this way and it will take time to get it under control.
  7. I am a human being and not a perfect being so if I relapse and lose control it is OK as long as I get back on the wagon again.
  8. I can be rational, realistic, and healthy in my thinking, emotions, and actions.
  9. Changing old behaviors takes effort, time, and a motivation to change and I am willing to give all three of these to gain control of my life.
  10. I am a capable, lovable person who deserves to be deprived of the uncontrolled ways of my past so that I can grow, flourish, and be successful in my attempts to gain control in my life.
  11. I am the one person in my life whom I can control and change and I choose to do so.
  12. There isn't any thought, feeling, or behavior of mine I can't gain control over.
  13. I will make time for the work to develop my self-control.
  14. I will be a healthier person once I focus my efforts onto control of myself.
  15. Between handing over to my Higher Power the uncontrollables and unchangeables in my life and developing emotional detachment from the toxic relationships in my life, I will grow in self-control.
  16. I will cease using manipulation, helplessness, and overreaction with the people I am overdependent on.
  17. I will establish healthy, emotional boundaries between me and the people in my life.
  18. I will cease trying to fix, rescue, enable, correct, or change the people in my life.
  19. I will gain emotional support for myself when my emotional state is contributing to my behaviors getting out of control.
  20. I will work at moderating my thinking, emotions and behaviors so that I am able to have a balance in my life.


Step 5: Once you have identified healthy self-talk to help you through this time of gaining self-control, then you need to identify positive actions or behaviors which will assist you to develop self-control in your life. Such behaviors or actions are:
  • Stress reduction and relaxation work.
  • Self-hypnosis.
  • Time management, planning, and scheduling.
  • An aerobic exercise program five-to-seven times a week.
  • A balanced diet.
  • Thought stopping.
  • Anger work-out.
  • Spirituality formation and enhancement.
  • Motivation enhancement exercises.
  • Development of an emotional support system.
  • Joining a self help group (AA, NA, GA, SEA, etc.).
  • Altering relationships with people, places, and things.
  • Creative problem solving.
  • Reading self help books.
  • Using the Tools for Coping Series books
  • Keeping a personal journal.
  • Changing patterns or routines of daily life.
  • Self-affirmation work.
  • Inner child healing work.
  • Use of rational and realistic thinking.
  • Deprivation of the urge to drink, eat, smoke, use drugs, have sex, shop, gamble, have a significant other relationship, etc.
  • Development of goals and objectives to be met on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly schedule with self-monitoring of their achievement and refinement.
  • Permission to support system to call you on it when you revert to old patterns of thinking, feeling, or behaving.
  • Avoiding settings which arouse negative emotions.
  • Diverting your attention from the old patterns of desires, temptations, or urges.
  • Talking out feelings with a support person.


Step 6:  Once you have identified the set of healthy actions which assist the development of self-control, then develop a plan of action for each issue which is out of control for you.


Step 7:  Once your plans of action are developed, implement them one at a time, taking one issue at a time to get under control. To decide which issues to take first, prioritize the issues using the following scale:

Highest Priority
  • This issue is so out of control that your life is in danger.
High Priority           
  • This issue is so out of control that your physical and mental health are in peril.
Average Priority    
  • This issue is out of control and it affects your thinking and emotions so that you get compulsive or obsessive with it.
Slight Priority         
  • This issue is out of control but it presents no current threat to my life, health, or actions.


Step 8: Once you have prioritized the issues to be worked on, then begin to implement the plans of action to get them under your control.


Step 9: If after a time you find that you are still out of control, then return to Step 1 and begin again.

What are the steps to developing self-control?


Step 1:  In order to develop self-control in your life, you need to identify in your journal what issues in your life arenas are out of control for you. Use the Life Arenas Control Issue Checklist in this Chapter to help you. As you identify the issues out of control for you, answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What are the compulsive behaviors over which you need to develop more self-control? Why are these a problem for you? Which could be classified as addictive? Habit? Bad behavioral trait? Old pattern of acting?
  • How does your body or self-image contribute to your being out of control?
  • How does your obsessive tendency affect your self-control?
  • How in control are your efforts at working on your recovery from low self-esteem?
  • Who are the fixers, enablers, helpers, and caretakers, and rescuers in your life? How out of control are your relationships with them? What control mechanisms do you use to keep them hooked into caring for you?
  • Who are the needy people in your life? What control mechanisms do you use to fix, save, change, or rescue them? How out of control are these efforts?
  • How in control of yourself are you on the job or at school? What are your behaviors which are out of control there?
  • How in control are you in your community life? How obsessive or compulsive are you in your outside interests, clubs, church, or hobbies?
  • How does your being from a dysfunctional family explain why so much of your life is out of your control at present?
  • How does your current inactive relationship with your Higher Power reflect how out of control your life has become? How would getting a more active relationship with your Higher Power assist you to develop self-control?


Step 2: Once you have assessed the state of your being out of control, then identify in your journal what emotions make you most vulnerable to being out of control on each issue listed in Step 1.


Step 3: Once you have identified the emotions which help keep you out of control, then identify in your journal the thinking that contributes to your lack of self-control.


Step 4: Identify in your journal new self-talk which would encourage your efforts at developing self-control.


Step 5: Once new self-talk is identified, then proceed to identify in your journal behavioral strategies for gaining control over each issue identified in Step 1. Use this outline to help you identify your plan of action.

Self-Control Action-Planning Outline

  • Issue out of Control
  • Emotions which lead to lack of control with this issue
  • Old thinking which keeps you out of control with this issue
  • New self-talk on this issue
  • New behavioral strategy to use with this issue


Step 6: Develop an action plan in your journal for each out-of-control issue in your life.


Step 7: Decide which issues are the highest priority needing your attention and record this in your journal.


Step 8: Implement your plans of action for your priority issues first. Then proceed with the other issues identified in Step 1 until they all have been addressed.


Step 9: If you are still thinking, feeling, or behaving out of control, then return to Step 1 and begin all over again.