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"Allowing our "controller saboteur" to overuse and apply to situations that instead demand listening, patience, and empathy can often place our relationships in a precarious place. "

In my last article I talked about the neural pathways present in all human minds that lead to negative thoughts and emotions- referred to as “the saboteurs”. The same 10 saboteurs are present in everyone, but based on personalities and life experiences, which saboteurs are most prominent in an individual vary from person to person. The three saboteurs that I most frequently encounter when dealing with doctors, other than the Judge, which is the ring leader for everyone, are the Hyper-achiever, the Controller, and the Stickler. In the prior article I focused on how the Hyper-achiever saboteur shows up in the minds of physicians. In this article I review how the Controller operates.

Those with a strong Controller saboteur are often confident, decisive, and persistent. They are individuals who enjoy a challenge, and also like to test others. They can see the possibilities available and are able to activate themselves and those around them to take action. Think about the ER doc running a code. She exemplifies this description to a T! As such, these are all wonderful strengths to have, and it is truly necessary for most physicians to harbor these attributes in order to be effective in their delivery of patient care. Our very long and arduous training process, tends to “weed out” those individuals who do not possess these traits, and serves to sharpen them to near perfection in those who remain. What is wrong with this? Absolutely nothing. These are strengths that we all want to keep and harness. The key, however, is knowing how and when to use them.

The Controller Saboteur generates thoughts such as, “I am either in control, or out of it.”; If I work hard enough I should be able to control the situation, so it all goes my way.”; or, “Others need me to take control.” In situations where we would best be served by listening, being patient, and considering the thoughts and feelings of others, the Controller saboteur leads us to believe that we should take control of the situation in order to “fix it” or “guarantee” the outcome. The problems here are several. First, is the idea of “being in control”. No one is ever truly in control. We even have difficulty in controlling our own reactions, how can we believe that we can control people or circumstances around us? We can’t. Second, in our attempt to control situations and outcomes, we become tunnel-visioned. We are less receptive to the ideas and options presented by others, and we force them into doing what the Controller saboteur is saying “should be” done. This usually leads to feelings of resentment by those being controlled, and can lead to strained relationships. We end up missing many opportunities for growth and collaboration. Finally, when the Controller saboteur feels like it is “losing control” it generates a great deal of stress and anxiety within the individual, which then causes them to try even harder to establish control, and leads to a never ending cycle.

As a veteran ER doc, but also a wife and mother of four, I can personally attest to the havoc the Controller saboteur can create in our lives. There is a saying my husband (also a physician), often uses with me, “You can either tell me what I need to do or how I need to do it, but not both.” You can imagine why he may have come up with this. I firmly believe that this Controller saboteur is the cause of so many physician marriages ending in divorce. I, fortunately, have learned to identify when my Controller saboteur is triggered, and have gained the skills and techniques necessary to recover when this occurs. This has not only been extremely useful in maintaining a more peaceful family life, but it has also impacted my ability to be a more effective leader. I am now much better equipped to listen to the contributions others make, allowing them to grow into their own, and benefitting from the power of collaboration. Is this always perfect? Of course not! It’s a work in progress like all else in life, but the journey has become much more rewarding and enjoyable for me and those whose lives I impact.

Do you often hear the voice of the Controller saboteur in your mind? Is it causing conflict in your relationships at work and at home? Schedule a free Life-Balance and Mental Fitness Coaching call with me at www.calendly.com/marpe.

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Cecilia Cruz MD, MPH, CPCC, ACC

ER doc, Life-Balance and Mental Fitness Coach, Mom

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