Are you good at doing things right, following the rules, and controlling your emotions? Maybe a little too good?
Having some degree of self-control, emotional regulation, and willpower can be useful in a lot of ways! But having too much self-control has some downsides. Many people who have an Overcontrolled style of coping look like they have it all together on the outside, but in reality they don’t feel like they do, and their suffering often goes unnoticed. Focusing too much on doing everything “right” can lead to rigidity, perfectionism, and loneliness, making it hard to connect with others and enjoy life.
In this episode, the first of a two-part series, Debbie talks with Hope Arnold, a therapist and trainer who specializes in Radically Open DBT (or RO DBT), which is designed to help people who are Overcontrolled learn to loosen up and reconnect socially.
In part one, we discuss:
The difference between being overcontrol and undercontrol
Characteristics associated with overcontrol
Some of the common pitfalls of overcontrolled coping
How overly controlled facial expressions can affect social connection.
In Part 2 of the series, Debbie and Hope will discuss evidence-based clinical strategies for helping people with overcontrol to loosen up and reconnect socially!
ABOUT HOPE ARNOLD: Hope Arnold, LCSW, MA is a Senior Clinician and one-day Trainer in Radically Open DBT (RO DBT). She began her RO DBT training with Dr. Tom Lynch, treatment developer, in 2016. Hope writes a blog for PsychCentral on RO DBT topics called Radical Hope. In her clinical work, Hope is the founder of RO DBT Denver in Denver, Colorado, a center dedicated to evidence-based care and treating disorders of overcontrol. She specializes in personality disorders (Obsessive Compulsive PD, Paranoid PD, Dependent PD, Avoidant PD), eating disorders, autism spectrum disorders (special interest in female autism), and treatment-resistant disorders (depression and anxiety). Prior to opening RO DBT Denver, Hope was in private practice at the DBT Center of Houston and was the RO DBT Lead Clinician. Hope graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans with a BBA in marketing. She worked for two of the largest private financial and consulting firms in the world before transitioning to clinical work. She has master’s degrees in social work from the University of Houston and psychology from Saybrook University with a concentration in Jungian studies. Hope has presented at the local, national, and international level on topics related to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Radically Open DBT, and Jungian Analysis and Theory. She is licensed as a LCSW in the states of Colorado, Texas, and Virginia. For fun, Hope enjoys hiking, traveling, visiting with friends and family, and creating art.
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TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE
Hope Arnold: [00:00:01] Overcontrol-leaning people tend to lack receptivity and openness. Okay, so, might not want to take risks and they’re really hyper vigilant for threat like we were talking about and they don’t really want to do new things and they tend to discount feedback that’s critical, that doesn’t really fit their point of view very quickly. So it makes it actually very hard to have an open, receptive relationship with a maladaptive overcontrol person . so, if you think about someone that might not be very flexible. They probably have very rigid routines. They prefer order and structure. Hyper-perfectionistic, they really see mistakes everywhere, especially in themselves and they like to compulsively plan and rehearse
Debbie Sorensen: That was Hope Arnold on Psychologists Off The Clock.
Diana Hill: [00:00:54] We [00:01:00] are three clinical psychologist committed to cutting edge, integrative, and evidence-based strategies for living well.
Yael Schonbrun: [00:01:10] On this podcast, we bring you ideas from psychology that can help you flourish in your work, parenting, relationships, and health.
Diana Hill: [00:01:17] I am Dr. Diana Hill, practicing in Seaside Santa Barbara, California.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:01:20] I’m Dr. Debbie Sorensen, practicing in Mile High Denver, Colorado.
Yael Schonbrun: [00:01:24] And from coast to coast, I’m Dr. Yael Schonbrun, a Boston-based clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Brown University.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:01:31] We hope this podcast offers you ideas for how to live a full and meaningful life.
Diana Hill: [00:01:35] Thank you for listening to Psychologists Off the Clock!
Debbie Sorensen: [00:01:44] Diana I have a question. Is your self control out of control?
Diana Hill: [00:01:50] A little. At times. You know, I listened to this episode and sometimes it’s the case that someone’s going down the checklist of symptoms [00:02:00] and you’re checking all of them. And I think that was certainly the case for me and listening to this episode on overcontrol because I definitely lean in that direction. How about you, Debbie?
Debbie Sorensen: [00:02:12] I’m more in the middle, which I talk about in this episode. And actually I think I scored slightly over controlled, but I actually think that’s… I’ve had to learn to be a little more over controlled than I naturally am and I think I actually… I think I am in the middle but leaning slightly under controlled which is, I think, probably part of our dynamic with each other.
Diana Hill: [00:02:30] Absolutely and what over controlled looks like is these these aspects of having a lot of control over your behavior both, you know, on the outside really focused on details and not very flexible when things don’t go your way. And I definitely experience that for myself and in some ways it’s quite functional and that’s how you get through a Ph.D program or how you, you know, run a [00:03:00] long race. But in other, also may be more personal ways, it’s not always the most effective.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:03:06] Yes, but I think that is worth acknowledging. We really do value a lot of the things that go along with overcontrol, like being able to control your emotions, you know, following the rules of society, doing things “right,” staying organized, like, those are all…. those really are all valued. And, I think when it’s in it’s very extreme form, it definitely does have the problematic side.
Diana Hill: [00:03:30] So I was thinking about when she was talking in the episode about when my son was two and he took a stapler and he stapled the staple all the way through his finger. So it went in one side and out the other
Debbie Sorensen: [00:03:41] Ouch!
Diana Hill: [00:03:41] ….and we took him to the ER and the ER doctor had to do this process of getting out pliers and pulling the staple out. And he was the most calm, centered, probably over controlled person I’ve ever met and I was so grateful that he had that that temperament and that characteristic. So, [00:04:00] yes, it can be very very helpful. And it’s actually something I really appreciate, though, the opposite in you, Debbie, is that sometimes you’re not so rigid about things, and you show your emotions, and you can be flustered or be flexible. So that’s the other side of it. Yeah.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:04:19] Well, and in all fairness, you can to Diana it seems like you’ve you’ve worked toward the middle, right?
Diana Hill: [00:04:24] Working on it. Yeah.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:04:26] So, Hope Arnold in this interview, she talks about some of the downsides though. And I think sometimes this idea of overcontrol shows up in clinical practice because when people lose flexibility and they can become actually overly rigid and rule-bound or perfectionistic. Bigger, though, is the social consequence. So, people can end up feeling quite lonely, have difficult have difficulty being open in their relationships when they’re so over controlled. It can be really hard to break in there and have close relationships with people like this. [00:05:00]
Diana Hill: [00:05:00] It can be hard for others to connect with them, yeah, as well, and they’re not getting that kind of feedback of maybe enthusiasm or engagement, which is the the signal for us to move in that you’re safe. So if you’re overcontrolled and not showing a lot of facial expression or showing. excitement, then people may not want to approach you as much.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:05:20] Or not showing vulnerability. You know, I think that sometimes when people are really good at controlling their emotions, almost too good at controlling their emotions, it can feel really scary to let their guard down, but it’s actually quite important in relationships to be able to do that.
Diana Hill: [00:05:34] Absolutely. I worked a lot initially early on with eating disorders. That was my research, and worked in a treatment center for quite a while and with, especially with anorexia, this is something that we see. And what’s interesting is that with anorexia that it’s an over control not only of controlling food or controlling exercise. There’s also a overcontrol of emotional experience internally and often [00:06:00] times people experience what’s called alexathymia, which is inability to even understand your own emotions, or experience emotions, or name your emotions. And what was, what’s sort of interesting is that for the individual that is experiencing this overcontrol on the outside, it may look like they have things, you know, in order but inside it can feel really out of control and scary. And then also can feel like a seat of power. That there’s this euphoria that can happen when you feel like you’ve got everything under your control, but it’s this false power.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:06:38] I think that’s important to acknowledge that there is a powerful… There’s something reinforcing about it, right, which is that powerful feeling, and that feeling that oh when everything’s under control, it’s all okay, that feels good, right, and I think as someone who probably, you know, doesn’t, isn’t quite in that place, sometimes I look at my life and then people who are more overcontrolled and I [00:07:00] feel a little jealous, like, oh, they’re, what nice, their life must be so nice because everything’s so orderly.
Diana Hill: [00:07:06] Yeah, but what if the orderly is making you feel miserable, you know, someone that has something like obsessive compulsive personality disorder and their house has to be perfect before they can leave it. That’s really stressful. If your house has to be perfect before you can leave your house because then you’re having to wake up at 5 a.m. to make your house perfect or containing your kids so that they don’t mess up anything. Yeah.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:07:28] Or if it’s not perfect it distresses you. I think… I had a client, this was years ago, I had a client who was definitely overcontrolled and she would come in and she would once in a while make a comment about how this pile of books and papers I had in my office, like on top of a, you know, filing cabinet was just growing over time and it like really bothered her that this was not neat and tidy and of course just to be sort of clinically provocative I’d just would kind of be like, huh, yeah, and kind of [00:08:00] leave it and we talked about it and…. But you know, I thought, wow, yeah, if you have everything like that that you come across kind of bugs you I could see how that can be a problem.
Diana Hill: [00:08:10] Mmhm, yeah, and that’s a lot of what Hope talks about is how to find the middle path with people. So get us into, if you err on the side of Overcontrol, where is a middle way of living so it’s not so stressful. If you find yourself undercontrolled, how do you find yourself more towards the middle. And I think that’s why we balance each other out, Debbie, because you can remind me to not be so controlling about things and then I can remind you that the episode needs to go out.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:08:39] That’s right, like, um, where’s your episode? Well you joked that I probably did this episode on this topic on purpose because of the podcast.
Diana Hill: [00:08:50] Yeah, it’s to help you out with me as your co-host. Maybe it could could change a few things in our Dynamic. Yeah so I’m working on it. Thank you for having Hope on. It’s a great episode. I’m [00:09:00] sure, if you don’t relate to it as a listener, you probably have a family member or friend or a client that this would really fit for and hopefully opens your eyes and increases compassion for them and also a little bit of strategies on how to work with them.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:09:16] I’m delighted to introduce Hope Arnold, who’s here to talk to us today about overcontrol, and we’re also going to talk in a separate episode about Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Welcome, Hope.
Hope Arnold: [00:09:29] Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:09:31] So Hope and I both have practices in Denver, Colorado.
Hope is the founder of RO DBT Denver. She’s a senior clinician and trainer in Radically Open DBT. Tell us a little bit, Hope, about how you got interested in RO DBT.
Hope Arnold: [00:09:49] Sure. Yes, so, I’m a implant into Denver. I guess. I’m not a native. I’m from Houston and I used to work at a large DBT [00:10:00] Center in Houston, Texas. And one of the things that I started to notice was that there were certain clients that weren’t getting better with traditional DBT, and I had one particular client who said to me, “this is not working.” She was very adamant. This is not working and I thought oh, she’s just trying or something was going on and I was very arrogant about it. I remember thinking, you know, if I start really analyzing what she’s saying and what’s not working. Mindfulness wasn’t really working for her and emotion regulation. She didn’t need more of it. And so what did she need? And she actually need to learn to chill out. Be a little less controlled and a little less rigid. And so actually my mentor and a boss at the time Karen Hall had started to learn about RO DBT and she said go to this training and I was like, okay, so I did. And I thought oh, well, this is it. This is an amazing therapy [00:11:00] and it’s for disorders of overcontrol and I just thought this can help so many people that aren’t getting better with traditional treatments.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:11:08] Well, you must have loved it because now you’re a senior clinician and trainer. and we’re going to learn all about it today- overcontrol. You’re the founder of RO DBT here in Denver and you specialize in particular concerns or disorders. What are some of your areas of specialty?
Hope Arnold: [00:11:25] Sure. So so the two biggest ones we see, or I see, and RO DBT therapist see, are chronic depression and chronic anxiety. So sort of treatment resistant in both areas. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, autism spectrum disorders, anorexia, and then some additional Eating Disorders like..Sometimes a kind of purging or binging that’s a subtype that’s overcontrol-leaning and that’s actually kind of a new emerging cool thing and it’s eating disorder community and maladaptive perfectionism in general.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:11:59] Okay, [00:12:00] so a lot of things and they have some common which is over control.
Hope Arnold: [00:12:03] That’s correct.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:12:04] And you have a Blog. What’s the name of your blog?
Hope Arnold: [00:12:06] My blog is so this one on psych Central and that’s called Radical Hope
Debbie Sorensen: [00:12:11] love it, Radical Hope.
Hope Arnold: [00:12:13] Yeah, and it’s, thanks, all about it’s all about over control and RO DBT, and then I also have one on my personal RO DBT Denver website, which is you can just go to that. RODenver.com
Debbie Sorensen: [00:12:25] great. We’ll link to that on our web page along with other resources that we talked about today.
Hope Arnold: [00:12:29] Cool. Awesome.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:12:30] So here’s the most important part of your introduction. Hope. Which are you? The listeners want to know- over or under controller do you to disclose?
Hope Arnold: [00:12:39] Yeah, absolutely. That’s a big part of the treatment is for clinicians to know which way they lean so I definitely lean OC and I think you know, I know that you have actually taken the test too. Which way do you lean?
Debbie Sorensen: [00:12:53] so the test is called the styles of coping word pair questionnaire. Hmm. So I was [00:13:00] almost exactly in the middle, Hope, but leaning over controlled but slightly and I actually was a little surprised by that and I think what I realized is that I think I’m around a lot of people who are more over controlled than me. So I thought I’d be under but I’m actually not I lean over
Hope Arnold: [00:13:15] oh interesting. Okay. Yeah, so that the thing that you just mentioned that that sort of styles of coping word pair. It is not a measure of Psychopathology and it’s just a measure of which way you lean over under control and what it does is lets us know. You know when we get in a stressful situation or which way do we tend to like cope with whatever the issue is that’s going on. So definitely I score pretty high on the Over Control sides.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:13:43] Right you mentioned that before, so you’re a little higher than me on over.
Hope Arnold: [00:13:46] Yes. probably very higher than you
Debbie Sorensen: [00:13:50] very higher than me. It’s interesting that you are drawn to this work. I’m just saying
Hope Arnold: [00:13:54] yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:13:56] Yeah. So what do we mean by Over Control? What is it? And [00:14:00] how is it different from under control?
Hope Arnold: [00:14:02] Sure. So over control and under control are a spectrum and what I think would be helpful to talk about is the old model of self-control so if psychological Health was sort of like in a graph and the more that you move up the control Spectrum the more healthy people thought that you would be and actually what we’re finding out is that that’s incorrect. What is more true is that it is more like a bell curve meaning that both sides both. Super under control in both super over controlled actually have lots of mental health disorders. So if you’re in the middle, which is if that bell curve, which is sort of like Optimal control people tend to be pretty flexible and pretty healthy and not have pretty significant mental health disorders, but if you’re very under controlled, so that’s things like borderline personality disorder and other kinds of disorders that have a lot of emotion regulation [00:15:00] issues like. Bipolar and binge eating that’s on the under controlled side. Those are you know equally as significant mental health issues, but. The over controlled side we’re starting to find is actually too much control. So you can quote unquote have too much of a good thing and what we see on those side is that chronic depression chronic anxiety a lot of personality disorders that I mentioned that I treat and so people actually need to learn to relax.
And chill out a bit. So yeah, that’s that’s the spectrum of control.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:15:39] So what they’re controlling. What is it that they’re controlling these over controlled type? So you said they need to relax a little bit. How is it showing up? Like what does it look like when someone’s over controlled?
Hope Arnold: [00:15:49] Yes, so. Generally speaking. You don’t see actually that much. they look they look like there’s really nothing wrong on the outside but inside their suffering and their suffering quite a [00:16:00] bit and they’re suffering very quietly and.Not a lot of people tend to know that people that are over controlled have severe mental health disorders until it gets so bad that they actually reach out for help and they may have been suffering for years before they really do something. Obsessive-compulsive personality sort of can be super functional. and I always kind of joke, like what who doesn’t want a surgeon that has a little bit of ocpd with them because you know, you don’t want them to leave a sponge inside of you. You want them to be a little bit anal and very rule-governed about how they do things. So a lot of times over control is really reinforced in society because people want people to be sort of rule governed and in some ways rigid and in situations like a surgeon or even possibly a lawyer or kind of doctor
Debbie Sorensen: [00:16:49] so can be adaptive. It sounds like there’s certain way in which it these are maybe people who look good on the surface get things done.Or may be organized or [00:17:00] hold it together.
Hope Arnold: [00:17:01] Yes, that’s a great way to say it a lot of times. What is going on is that people are very very small social signaling that are over controlled. So if you think about the opposite side under control under control is dramatic and erratic and they’re running all over the place and they’re you know, if there’s food there they’re putting in their mouth and they’re having a great time in actually a lot of fun, but they need to learn to actually actually control all the emotions and they need to emotionally regulate over control. People are generally speaking pretty good at emotionally regulating especially externally you’re not going to see a lot so they need to learn to actually relax a little bit getting more in touch with free expression and open expression.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:17:44] Okay, so they they maybe are doing too much emotion regulation and that’s going to learn to kind of like feel it and let it out a little and loosen up
Hope Arnold: [00:17:53] the term is distress over tolerance and over control though. They’re so good at tolerating to [00:18:00] stress that actually what will happen is that they will spend a lot of time regulating regulating regulating and then not actually. It’s sort of like an avoidance strategy this over-regulation. I’ll give it its ok. I’ll give an example
Debbie Sorensen: [00:18:15] Give an example examples are helpful. Yeah,
Hope Arnold: [00:18:17] so this is actually this is a true story. It is over control cleaning therapist that that I know. And so he had saved all of his money up to buy a car of his dreams and when he saved and save and save and I also I’m like, how did it go, how’s your car? And he’s like. It’s great. I love it. And he makes no facial expression, no inflection in his voice. He’s not really showing even excitement and he’s externally looking like, you know, That he’s not all that happy about it and inside he’s going like I’m super super happy about hmm. So Over [00:19:00] Control not only does it control the negative emotions, but it also controls the positive emotions so they might not be actually expressing joy as well.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:19:09] I think as therapist. Sometimes we’re trained almost to be neutral. Yeah. I’ve heard that therapist say I’m feeling very angry. It’s like there’s no anger being expressed. It’s like a comment an observation of their emotions, but it said in the most, like, non-angry way.
Hope Arnold: [00:19:26] Yeah. Yeah, and it doesn’t make any really any sense because you’re going like you’re saying you’re angry, but your face is not showing it and your body is not showing it. So part of Over Control skill is to get them to actually let people know what’s going on inside of them. Obviously context-dependent, you know, we’re not trying to make someone that’s over controlled move to under control that’s impossible because it’s a biological temperament. But what we are trying to do is get everybody closer to the center, you know, so they have that optimal control which is
Debbie Sorensen: [00:19:57] okay. Tell us a little bit about some of those [00:20:00] bio temperament markers. These are characteristics of people who are over controlled. Can you tell us a bit about what those are?
Hope Arnold: [00:20:07] Yeah sure. There’s a three generally speaking, but the first one is called High Threat Sensitivity. And that would be something like scanning the environment for the thing that could possibly go wrong and the analogy that we use is that if you’re walking into the Rose Garden in particular you would see the Thorns first. And not the roses and so it’s actually a kind of very scary world. It’s like looking at the world with Gray colored glasses rather than Rose Colored Glasses and this temperament is actually biologically based so RO DBT is somewhat based on polyvagal Theory. And what it says is that if someone leans threat sensitive, they’re going to see the world much more threatening than someone that might have a little bit [00:21:00] less threat sensitivity and it can be actually very painful to live like that. If you think about threat sensitivity, you’re receiving all of this data in your brain super very very fast, receiving stimulus very very quickly. And so your body sort of is kind of always on edge as an over controlling person and we’re trying to get people to sort of like.Learn how to turn that off a little bit when they choose to. yeah
Debbie Sorensen: [00:21:32] to notice some of the other thing so it’s someone who would walk into a situation and notice all the potential danger notice the things that could go wrong.
Hope Arnold: [00:21:40] Yeah. I mean, I
Debbie Sorensen: [00:21:41] helped them notice the other stuff.
Hope Arnold: [00:21:43] Yeah, and threat sensitivity is. It can be can be really quite painful for people as you might imagine. It would prevent people maybe from dating or making friends because they’re worried about possibly rejection and things like that. You know, what’s going to go [00:22:00] wrong? A lot of my clients talk about worst case scenario. Like they’re all brain is always on worst case scenario and that can be what threat sensitivity is like for someone.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:22:08] okay yeah,
Hope Arnold: [00:22:09] the second one is called high inhibitory control , which is the ability to actually stop an impulse and the idea of that would be if there is something that I might not want to show to people. I would be able to actually stop myself from showing that thing on externally and another way that might happen is that if I make a decision to do something. I’m just going to absolutely stop it like an example of a client of mine who wife gave him some feedback that he was drinking too much the next day. He just stopped. Literally stopped drinking ever drink again. He’s been sober for 30 years.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:22:51] Wow. Cold turkey.
Hope Arnold: [00:22:52] Yeah. Hi inhibitory control. Okay, the third one is high attention to details. So our high [00:23:00] detail Focus processing. So an example of that might be something like have you ever walked into a room and notice like a book was kind of like askew? And you just go like oh that book and you may be like, you know change it back or
Debbie Sorensen: [00:23:12] and it like bugs you or something.
Hope Arnold: [00:23:14] Yeah, it has an emotional consequence to something but but the idea that you actually see the discrepancy in thing. An example of that might be so if you and I are hanging out and sitting at dinner and you know where with some friends and with those friends, do you say you know, what Hope? My favorite color is purple and I’m like, ‘oh, then I put this, you know, Debbie’s favorite colors purple and the back of my head. And then what happens is the next day. I’m hearing you talking you say, oh, you know what? Hope my favorite colors orange, and I’m like, what? I notice the discrepancy. So this sort of ability to understand patterns and recognize discrepancies and this High attention to detail might actually cause a sort of emotional [00:24:00] response to whether I want to be friends with you or not over something as small as a color and so part of what is really tough about over control is that the brain is doing this naturally because it’s biologically based and it’s really really quick. It’s almost like noticing these Superior pattern recognitions and they ability to notice these discrepancies really really quick. The other thing to think about too is how functional this could be in jobs like being a CPA or a lawyer or even a therapist could be really really helpful most therapists lean OC as you might have… If you didn’t know, they do. A lot of, we have a lot of data on this now and so this High threat sensitivity, High inhibitory control, high detail Focus processing goes into being over control and then that other thing of low reward sensitivity, you know my was talking about my friend who doesn’t really get excited that’s you know, kind of that opposite part of this. Where not [00:25:00] only are they threat sensitive but their excitement system isn’t really turned on very well.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:25:04] So there’s kind of an up-and-down of it. Yeah, sometimes the Downs can cause suffering I was thinking about the example of the guy who just quit drinking . Yeah seems like it could come in handy.
Hope Arnold: [00:25:17] It is
Debbie Sorensen: [00:25:17] Is there a downside to that?
Hope Arnold: [00:25:19] Well, it’s really wonderful actually because sometimes when an OC person makes a decision, they just make it and it’s done and then they can know if someone’s like, okay. Well, I’m going to quit my job and go to grad school and finish grad school. They might actually just do it. Or they have the ability to do this to apply themselves and in ways that are really really functional for goals. They’re very good problem solvers also, but the problem with it might be that it’s the jump to problem solving rather than actually assessing and going like is there really a threat here? Just because you said purple one day and orange the next day doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s not a moral judgment to have a different color [00:26:00] that you think that you like
Debbie Sorensen: [00:26:01] that could make it hard to be around people because you’re inflexible or say you set a goal and you’re like, okay, I’m gonna do this and you do it no matter what but what if there’s times when maybe that goal isn’t really helpful.
Hope Arnold: [00:26:14] Correct. Yeah, or if you jump to for setting a goal without really fully assessing the situation or really fully understanding all of the moving parts or even thinking that your perceptional bias is correct. We see that a lot as a problem. So if I go into a situation thinking that I’m right all the time or thinking that I know what to expect or know what to do.
I can actually isolate myself from people because I might look like a know-it-all. Hmm.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:26:49] Yeah, I can be socially problematic.
Hope Arnold: [00:26:51] Yeah, and you know, when’s the last time you would like, yeah, know-it-alls, I just love them so much!
Debbie Sorensen: [00:26:58] So, [00:27:00] so what happens in terms of those characteristics for people who are under controlled? How are they different?
Hope Arnold: [00:27:07] Yeah, so they are actually very different one of the biggest things that we see in under control is high reward sensitivity. So that would mean stimulus comes and they’re so excited about it. Like the exam example would be something like, oh my gosh. It’s a pencil and look at it’s a sticker. This is so exciting, have you seen my sticker? You know, and you just get so pumped, and and here’s the thing. It’s kind of like really fun to be around people that have high reward sensitivity because you kind of want to join in and. I always like using my sister has high reward sensitivity. She can be talking about Disney World or something like that. And she’s just like her face is so expressive and her hands are moving and she’s just feeling it and you can feel the excitement. It’s just wonderful and you kind of want to be around her because you’re just like I want to go to Disney World now, this sounds amazing
Debbie Sorensen: [00:27:58] yeah, she sounds fun.
[00:28:00] Hope Arnold: [00:27:59] She is she’s super fun. And then there’s this this other thing that undercontrol people do that’s kind of cool. It’s the opposite of. The high detail Focus processing it’s called Global Focus Processing. So being able to really see the forest and not just the trees so I can actually see the whole perspective of something and I can take other people’s perspectives and I don’t really get upset. If someone like challenges my perspective. I can just see everything and I kind of go. Oh this helps my global view, which is really really really cool and then low inhibitory control which would be. The idea of oh, you know, well, I want that cookie and I’m going to go and buy that couch because I saw it and I want it and I’m going to go and you know sort of pick up things and do them and then I’m going to tell you everything that’s on my mind and I’m going to explain all this stuff. So the emotions and are coming out more quickly with low inhibitory [00:29:00] control. And so it’s it can look really fun. It can also look very out of control. As well. So in the under controlled side what they actually need to do is move towards the center also that they need to learn emotion regulation skills, and they need to learn how to actually be more in control of their actions.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:29:19] Yeah a little bit less impulsive. It sounds like
Hope Arnold: [00:29:22] right. So sometimes, you know, a negative thing about undercontrol would be like, you know, if I have a headache and I’m undercontrolled I might not go to work and then I might get fired. Because I might be just like no, I’m not doing it. I don’t feel I don’t feel like it hmm over control people are not saying I don’t feel like they’re going to work with the headache and the migraine what no matter what and under control people are like, oh, whatever I’ll get another job. And so it can look a lot more volatile to be an under controls person.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:29:51] Okay.
Hope Arnold: [00:29:52] Yeah.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:29:52] I was going to ask you about some of the there are four main common deficits associated with Over Control. Can you kind of walk us [00:30:00] through think we’ve touched on those a little can you walk us through those little bit more?
Hope Arnold: [00:30:02] Yes, absolutely. So Overcontrol-leaning people tend to lack receptivity and openness Okay, so. Might not want to take risks and they’re really hyper vigilant for threat like we were talking about and they don’t really want to do new things and they tend to discount. Feedback, that’s critical that doesn’t really fit their point of view very quickly. So it makes it actually very hard to have an open receptive relationship with a maladaptive overcontrol person because they are very close minded individuals. And they lack in addition to this flexible responding which is the second one. So. If you think about someone that might not be very flexible. They probably have very rigid routines. They prefer order and structure Hyper-perfectionistic They really see mistakes everywhere, especially in [00:31:00] themselves and they like to compulsively plan and rehearse a lot of times some of my clients, you know play and what they’re going to say even how they’re going to order a pizza. You know on the phone because it’s just so you know part of their biology actually having to like feeling like they have to rehearse everything even something that’s small is that and then a high rule-governed behavior and moral certitude. So, an example that how you might that might show up as something like if if I’m the same on a subway and there’s a bunch of people and all of the seats are taken. And then someone that might have some sort of disability where they’re using a crutch or you know, maybe a broken leg or something like that and then Overcontrol person might go. To someone that’s sitting in a quote-unquote handicapped spot might be like get up. How dare you be sitting in that thing. This is not okay. You need to give up and give your seat away [00:32:00] that high moral certitude can actually look really aggressive sometimes but it’s coming out of this rule of don’t sit in a seat that is designated as a disabled person seat and it comes out of this like actually loving pro-social thing a lot of times but most of the time it’s actually looks I’vevery odd.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:32:20] I’ve seen that before. Actually with people and I can think of actually some client examples where there’s actually something sort of moral and values-based underneath it. But the way it’s getting expressed causes all kinds of problems.
Hope Arnold: [00:32:34] Yeah
Debbie Sorensen: [00:32:35] getting in fights with people, or coming across in this very angry, like, “you’re wrong” kind of way
Hope Arnold: [00:32:40] you’re wrong. Yeah, and that would be an in public example generally speaking. Most over-controlling people are very behaved, so to speak, in public, but sometimes you know, everybody leaks right, you know, we can only hold it together for so long. And [00:33:00] so you might see a moral certitude leakage in public versus maybe other times those kinds of anger expressions are really only happening behind closed doors or in the therapists office. Okay. So the third the third deficit is emotional expression and awareness issues. So I might be…. And obviously this is a podcast that people can’t see my face but what I would be showing to Debbie right now is a inhibited expression which is a very flat face a flat face looks like no expression and it has. Generally speaking. Like no I movements no face movement its looks it’s actually called a lot of times neutral expression, but it’s the thing that tends to put people on edge because it’s such an ambiguous signal that nobody really knows what the signal is
Debbie Sorensen: [00:33:55] show us [00:33:55] will do a [00:34:00] video. Okay?
Hope Arnold: So what do you see, Deb, when you do when you see me do that,
Debbie Sorensen: [00:34:07] I just feel like you hate me.
Hope Arnold: Yeah, it’s got what did I do? And so it actually looks kind of a bit like I’m angry or something and I’m really not it could actually be very neutral expression. The other one might be something called a disingenuous expression, and what I’ll be showing Debbie right now is me smiling kind of like really big and I got a lot of teeth and it sort of looks fake as in if you have ever someone said like you don’t even take a photo together and then. For some reason they’re fumbling with the camera and then all of the sudden you’re just like take this stupid photo and you’re like holding this troubled grin and you’re feeling kind of icky. So let me do one of those really quick. Oh, okay. So what do you think it it?
Debbie Sorensen: Just looks [00:35:00], like, I don’t know it looks it does, it looks fake
Hope Arnold: [00:35:03] Yeah
Debbie Sorensen: [00:35:03] a little too forced
Hope Arnold: [00:35:05] smiling when we’re just stressed is actually something that we really look at or giggling when we’re just rest is a disingenuine expression like a nervous laughter. [Ha ha ha] It really can be kind of uncomfortable for people.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:35:20] Yeah, okay listeners. You gotta check out we’re gonna post a video, you gotta see it. Yeah,
Hope Arnold: [00:35:27] and then some part of this lack of emotional expression and awareness is also a minimization of distress. So sort of not really letting people know the how uncomfortable someone is in a particular situation and then low awareness also of the fact that smiling or giggling like that is really weird for people.It actually looks very odd. And so does that flat face and here’s the hard thing about it? Is that overview so people tend to know. That something is wrong and they’re not [00:36:00] connecting with people but they can’t really put their finger on. What’s wrong? And that’s really painful for them and nobody’s actually saying like, you know, hope hey when you smile and giggle like that, it actually makes me think you’re going to like murder me or something. You know, it’s like kind of like what is she’s signaling right now or that flat expression looks like you hate you nobody’s really giving them that feedback and part of learning to deal with your over controls actually noticing what’s going on on your face. You know, how aware are you of it?
Debbie Sorensen: [00:36:33] So we’re jumping the gun here but to get into the treatment, but do you tell people?
Hope Arnold: [00:36:37] Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:36:39] Listen, when you look at me like that. I feel like you hate me?
Hope Arnold: [00:36:42] Well, we do it in a kind of different ways and you can’t but but yeah, we do actually let people know what’s going on in their in their social signaling.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:36:51] Okay. That’s a teaser for the part on RO DBT.
Hope Arnold: [00:36:54] Yeah. So the fourth deficit is the lack [00:37:00] of social connectedness and intimacy. So that would mean maybe having aloof relationships are distant relationships, you know, not really feeling close to people and so that doesn’t necessarily mean lack of contact. And now this is a really important point over controlled leaning people might be very polite and social because they’re following rules, but they actually don’t feel close to people. And they feel like they can’t ever get this level of intimacy with someone and they might have by a lot of friends or but they’re not really diving deep into them or they might be very isolated as well. So you can see very pro-social over control or you could see very isolated social Over Control where they’re actually not having a lot of relationships and might be kind of Harmony.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:37:53] Okay, and and that lack of social connection, the sort of loneliness, is really a [00:38:00] key part of the suffering with Overcontrol. Is that right? I remember reading about that.
Hope Arnold: [00:38:05] Yeah, absolutely. You know, there’s all kinds of reasons that people aren’t socially connected and intimate and you know, some of the things that over control people really struggle with is because they have this High detail Focus. They might be doing what we call like social comparing or ranking themselves. So for example, you know, it doesn’t like with you and I like if I were to say, oh, you know, where where did you go to college? And if I think your college was better or worse than mine? I might actually feel terrible. About myself about it or I might think oh, well, why does she even like me because she you know, she went to this better school than I did and oh, I just in a terrible person and I start to do these comparisons or or something like, I might start to compare myself and other kinds of ways about, , body image intelligence level money. All kinds of ways that we compare [00:39:00] ourselves to people and they really hurt and then I might get really envious and I might get bitter as well. So envy and bitterness are really big things and in be as just to kind of a reminder for people different than jealousy jealousy is. I’ve been afraid to lose something that we already have that is important to us and in be is wanting something that we don’t have and it can be positive or negative. So for example, if I want something that someone has and then I look at them with sort of helpful in thee and I’m like, oh why I need to do this and this and this to actually achieve this wonderful goal that’s really helpful and be but if I’m like, You know looking at someone and I want to achieve some something that they have and then I start gossiping about them and I’m like Debbie, can you believe that person that they’re doing this thing? And another that that’s kind of the unhelpful envy. And it actually isolates me because [00:40:00] what it’s signaling to someone else. It’s something like oh well if I’m gossiping about that person to you, who else am I gossiping about you too, huh? Ouch, right?
Debbie Sorensen: [00:40:10] You can’t trust that when people are sort of trying to knock other people down. Yeah, you wonder what they’re doing to you behind the scenes, right?
Hope Arnold: [00:40:17] And so if I’m bitter think about this if I’m a bitter person and I’m feeling like resentful the time. I’m not going to want to be close to people and I’m going to mistrust a lot of people and I’m going to think nobody’s ever going to really get me and then it further isolates me and it’s kind of like a loneliness trap and then I might stop being very empathetic to people. And I might not validate people. So it’s all sort of intertwined and it is a big trap. Yeah.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:40:48] We did an episode a while back for those who are interested in learning more about this about loneliness and social connection and some of the behaviors that people get into in social situations that might actually make [00:41:00] things worse.
Hope Arnold: [00:41:01] Oh, yeah. Absolutely. It is. It’s like a big cycle and you know, one of the things that we actually. Talk about is when she’s my language here when I say is getting out of your health know you kind of know that you’re in it and how do you actually climb out of it? Because it’s really not fun and it’s very painful to be in this over controlled trap. Yeah.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:41:24] Yeah, and some of those emotional, I’m kind of blunting or holding in the emotions that happens. I think there’s some research about how people actually find it hard to connect that even if your emotions are unpleasant ones or something like that.
It actually helps connect you to people to show a little bit of that ocean.
Hope Arnold: [00:41:42] Absolutely. You’re totally right. One of the thing as skills that we we teach over controlling people to do is actually to show distress. Sometimes because it can be really helpful to actually let you know that I’m in pain and I might need help.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:41:56] Yeah, it sort of humanizes us with each other too, and if you can open [00:42:00] up to people then they feel like they can open up to you and it builds that bigger connection
Hope Arnold: [00:42:04] and right there. That’s the key to getting out of over controlled maladaptive over controls open expression equals trust equals social connectedness.
Yeah, this is wonderful.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:42:18] Well, this is helpful to give a sense of what Over Control is and isn’t and how it works.
So we’re going to continue in our next episode talking about the gold standard treatment for over control, which is Radically Open DBT. So stay tuned for that.
Diana Hill: [00:42:33] Thank you for listening to Psychologists Off the Clock.
Yael Schonbrun: [00:42:38] You can find us on iTunes Facebook and Twitter.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:42:42] This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for mental health treatment. If you are having a mental health emergency, please dial nine-one-one if you’re looking for mental health treatment.
Please visit the resources on our web page. Our website is [00:43:00] www.offtheclockpsych.com. That’s www.off the clock P-S-Y-C-H.com.