The Trouble with Excessive Self-Control

January 14, 2020 Megan Griffith

Impulsivity is not the only impulse control issue that can coincide with mental illness. The opposite can also be a problem: excessive self-control. I can remember being overly concerned about controlling my impulses from a very young age, even though I was never a very impulsive child. For some reason, I thought I had really bad self-control and needed to be more in control. To this day, I still struggle to simply act on my impulses without a lot of anxiety; excessive self-control causes problems for me.

What Does Excessive Self-Control Look Like?

Most people have a fairly clear picture in their mind of what impulsivity looks like, but what about excessive self-control? What does that look like? For me, it starts when I have the impulse to do something. They don't even have to be big impulses, it could be something as small as getting up to make a snack. As soon as the impulse arrives, my brain starts to shut down and second-guess. Am I really hungry, or just bored? Do I really want that particular snack? Is it fair for me to have that snack when my husband hasn't had any yet? Is there a healthier snack I could be making? And the questions go on and on. Essentially, I don't trust my impulses to lead me to good decisions, so I force myself to overanalyze the situation until I'm paralyzed with anxiety.

This has happened to me every single day of my life that I can remember, and it often happens more than once in a day. In school, I used to get paralyzed in my seat, unsure if I should get up to sharpen my pencil. At work, I used to get paralyzed when I wanted to use the restroom. Now I often get paralyzed when I consider starting a conversation with someone.

Ending Excessive Self-Control with Healthy Impulse Control

I have struggled to find a balance when it comes to excessive self-control and healthy impulse control. Sometimes, in an effort to let go of my impulses, I end up doing impulsive things that aren't necessarily good for me, like buying concert tickets I can't afford or leaving the doors in my apartment unlocked. There is a healthy balance somewhere between impulsivity and excessive self-control, but I haven't found it yet. Here's what I'm working toward though.

For me, healthier impulse control would mean trusting myself more and allowing myself to be a person, even if that person isn't perfect in every way. Maybe it's selfish for me to eat that snack, but I can always go to the store and buy more. Maybe someone doesn't want to talk to me right now, but it's not my job to anticipate and accommodate everyone's needs; the person will let me know if he or she doesn't want to talk. Healthy impulse control for me means living in the moment more, instead of living in my head and overthinking.

Do you have impulse control issues that go along with your mental illness? Do you deal with impulsivity, excessive self-control or both? What does healthy impulse control look like for you? I'd love to talk about it in the comments below.

APA Reference
Griffith, M. (2020, January 14). The Trouble with Excessive Self-Control, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 20 from

Author: Megan Griffith

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Lizanne Corbit
January, 14 2020 at 1:32 pm

I love this post because it addresses another side of a commonly discussed subject. This is something I think people can relate to, maybe even just on small or occasional levels. I love this: " trusting myself more and allowing myself to be a person". At the end of the day we are truly all so beautifully human and this comes with things like impulses and awareness and honest conversation. Thank you for sharing.

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