The Overcontroller is a coping mode designed to create as much distance as possible from feelings of vulnerability, through cultivating a sense of being ‘on top’ or ‘in control’.
In circumstances where the Overcontroller is present you may distance yourself from your feelings and needs through a number of processes, including perfectionism, obsessional rituals, rumination/over-analysing, superstitious thinking and a focus on rules and regulations at the expense of health, happiness and relationships.
In childhood you may have learned to submit to the expectations of others through striving for perfection and working hard, in the hope that this will lead to approval/acceptance. This is a survival strategy that was necessary at that time.
As an adult, this mode can lead to numerous problems. The Overcontroller functions as a ‘tight rein’ or self-generated ‘overprotective parent’, designed to keep oneself in check, whilst eliminating emotions and needs that may evoke criticism or shame. The Overcontroller acts as a ‘Scrooge’, denying basic needs, pleasure or fun in order to reduce the risk of activating self-punishing and self-critical thinking. The Overcontroller advocates for a minimalist lifestyle of self-discipline. Basic human needs such as sleep, eating and rest are dismissed as ‘dead-time’ or a sign of self-indulgence, with relaxation strictly only allowable after all duties have been completed.
The Overcontroller is never satisfied – the striving nature of the Overcontroller means that the goal posts keep changing, and nothing you achieve is ever quite enough. The Overcontroller achieves its goals through several interchangeable targets, such as school grades/work, exercise/athleticism, restrictive eating/weight/shape.
The Overcontroller mode can relate to feelings of exhaustion. This mode can also result in relational problems, as relationships are often not prioritised.
Authored by: Sally Skewes and Dr Susan Simpson
The Overcontroller mode is often seen in eating disorders and a schema therapy expert in the treatment of eating disorders, Dr Susan Simpson is presenting specialised workshops in this area in 2019 (“Schema Therapy for Eating Disorders” 2-Day Workshop, in both Melbourne and Perth) and wrote the following article for The Schema Therapy Bulletin on working with the Overcontroller mode as a therapist: Schema Mode Therapy – Working with the Overcontroller Mode (which the above post draws on).
The Secure Nest Team