Home > NewsRelease > Maybe We Should Stop Believing Self-Control Is Good for Us
Maybe We Should Stop Believing Self-Control Is Good for Us
Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ
Sunday, November 5, 2023


As children, we were taught to learn to control our actions and our emotions and that we’d be fine, but that may not always be the case.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

The rules by which we have been taught to live may require a bit of retooling in light of recent research that is now touting psychological flexibility rather than simply control. But what does this mean, and is it something to which we can quickly adjust? Basically, it calls for the ability to survey the situation and make conscious decisions that should be the best ones for us, our future, and the lives of others inside or outside our circle.

Controlling our emotions and actions is appropriate, but being overly controlled works against us. Rigidly caving in to others, potentially learned in childhood as a defense against aggressive parents, can mean we succumb to the wishes of others in all instances, disregarding what may be best for us.

One specific new study points not to self-control as a means of promoting acquiescence but to aggression and retribution. According to the study, those who are the most aggressive do not seem to have personalities that are marked by a lack of self-control, and programs designed to increase self-control have not been successful in lowering violent tendencies. Rather, there is a wealth of evidence from the study that shows violence can result from effective self-control. This would seem counterintuitive to most of us. Shouldn’t self-control mean the ability to maintain a certain distance from emotion in the service of rational actions?

The study provides examples of how self-control may serve aggression: “a pacifist sets aside their non-violent convictions and strikes the jerk who has insulted them all evening; a slighted ex-employee spends diligent hours (that they would rather spend relaxing) planning out the destruction of the boss who fired them; a profoundly fearful teenager summons the courage to fight their friend’s bully; a soldier deftly employs their years of training to assail multiple military targets in a foreign battlefield despite their gnawing fears that the war is unjust.” All of these examples indicate that a reluctance to act in hurtful ways is a form of self-control, as we’ve never considered it previously.

The researcher contends that there is more nuance in the relationship between aggression and self-control than what the literature suggests. It is often viewed as a failure of self-control rather than one initiated for aggressive purposes by self-control. Therefore, hurting others is the object, not the restriction to damage or hurt others, as we would think in terms of our cultural training and mores.

A two-sided paradigm, therefore, is shown where self-control can be both restrictive or active, depending on the situation. One side of this view has been presented as the “low self-control syndrome” where a failure of control leads to anti-social, criminal behavior. But acting, rather than restriction, is also one side of self-control and not a failure of control. We can also see this as an inhibition at the same time the actions are taken. It is not always uninhibited impulses.

Other than acting in an aggressive manner, moderating our self-control may be called for in some situations, and viewing it negatively could be to our disadvantage. For example, when someone makes an offensive comment to us or about someone else, how should we handle it? Should we remain quiet or offer a reasonable comment?

Depending on the environment, we would have to determine our best action at that time. Remaining quiet can result in becoming a doormat for anyone who sees us as weak and quiescent, which doesn’t bode well for corporate advancement or our position in the eyes of others. On the other hand, if we are always loaded for bear, responding emotionally can be damaging to us.

When we are in positions of power and learning, as we would be with children, the need is there to present self-control in areas of possible, fluctuating conditions. Rigidly following a rule shouldn’t be the standard, but reason and thought must be employed for any resolution.

Website: www.drfarrell.net

Author's page: http://amzn.to/2rVYB0J

Medium page: https://medium.com/@drpatfarrell

Twitter: @drpatfarrell

Attribution of this material is appreciated.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Title: Licensed Psychologist
Group: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., LLC
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ United States
Cell Phone: 201-417-1827
Jump To Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Jump To Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
Contact Click to Contact
Other experts on these topics