When does 'Self-Control' become 'Self-Restriction'?

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This article follows on from "Are You in the ‘Happy with My Life Outcomes’ Team?". It is the second of a series of articles that outlines some of the core principles underlying Live Life Satisfied. To quickly recap, at age 28 my whole life was transformed when I read Raymond Cattell’s research concerning the 16PF trait ‘Ego-Control’. Over the next couple of years, I began to learn to learn to control my excessively impulsive behaviour and my life outcomes had been transformed. After breaking up with my then fiancé, I moved into a new house with two new flatmates and continued in my plight to become rigorously self-controlled. During the same period, I had begun to notice that one of my housemates (Doug) was a model specimen of a self-controlled individual. To this day, I still think of this friend when I think of the prototypical self-controlled personality. I learnt a hell of a lot from this friend, by watching his behaviours, and observing the kinds of mental processes that went into his life decisions. And this really helped me to begin to alter my mental processes in order to make better life decisions myself. Being Self-Controlled can be associated with some significant problems I idolised Doug for his impeccable capacity to withhold his impulses and control his behaviours, thereby shaping his life outcomes. However, I began to notice that Doug’s attitudes and behaviours also appeared to be accompanied by some significant problems. I will list some of these.
  1. Doug was extremely Anxious. It began to strike me that Doug was an extremely anxious person. For the first couple of years after I met Doug, all he talked about was his ‘terrible work situation’. We would go to the pub and he would talk endlessly about how the company he worked for was badly managed, and how he was continuing to meet with his boss and her superiors to explain how the company business processes needed to be improved and to request a job position that would enable him to make necessary improvements to the company and would provide Doug with performance related pay increases. None of these things in themselves were necessarily problematic: the problem was that it appeared to be all Doug could think or talk about. Every time I was with Doug, he would spend a great amount of time criticising his boss for her incompetence. From my perspective, this kind of obsessive talk about something, to the near exclusion of any other topic, demonstrates significant anxiety.
  2. Doug constantly criticised. Eventually Doug left his job and obtained a far more prestigious position within a company in which his skills were properly recognised. Around the same time, I also moved in to the flat share with Doug and so began to see him on a daily basis. I began to notice that Doug was extremely critical. Doug would express annoyance when he was driving, about other people's 'awful' driving skills, he would express annoyance about the incompetence of people at work, he would watch television and most of his comments would be an expression of his annoyance at the incompetence and stupidity of people on the television shows. In fact I have sometimes wondered if he even chose reality TV shows simply so that he could criticise the participants. All in all, the majority of his conversations appeared to have a good component dedicated to criticising people. It was as though he had a deep need to talk about how incompetent people are.
  3. Doug was only interested in a person’s career prospects Doug’s conversations appeared to be centred on work achievements and life achievements. If Doug met anyone new, he would straight away ask what their job was, and then try to ascertain whether or not they were doing anything valuable with their life in terms of their job situation and job prospects. After meeting someone he would then tell me either that he felt the person had problems with their life outlook, or alternatively, that they were ‘switched on’. This became his favourite phrase to refer to people whom he felt had strong career direction.
  4. Doug would try to fit all conversations into a limited number of themes. Doug tried to group everything into distinct preconceived categories. No matter what you talked to him about, he would try to summarise what you had said by relating it to a number of distinct life ‘rules’ that he continually made reference to. Conversation would typically be steered back to these set frameworks of reference. One got the impression that Doug was not really trying to learn anything new: he was simply trying to fit everything you said into a limited set of topic themes.
  5. Doug was extremely controlling. During the time I lived with Doug, he saw it as his personal responsibility to change all of my behaviours in order that they would conform to the way he lived. He would criticise almost every aspect of my behaviour, since it did not meet his standards. He criticised what I ate, the time I went to bed, at one point he told me I needed to change jobs because I worked evenings and weekends, which he thought was bad for me. He woke me up one Saturday morning because it was sunny and he thought I should be out of bed. He constantly complained that no one was cleaning in the house – so I began to spend a lot of time cleaning. I became paranoid about all my behaviours because I was worried he would criticise them, but eventually I realised, it didn’t matter how hard I tried, he just continued to criticise.
Click here for part 2 Photo: DVIDSHUB


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