Tips: The Dark Side of Self Control

Self-control can restrict emotional experiences. One of the reasons why people high in self-control resist temptations is that they experience less tempting desires. But this might also mean that these people have less intense emotional experiences; that is, they respond to situations in more neutral ways. For example, high self-control might prevent employees from fully enjoying positive career outcomes, such as promotions, raises, and outstanding performance appraisals. For example, a very successful CEO who had to make a lot of sacrifices in her life in order to pave her way to the top might feel that she has missed out on many pleasures when she gets older and reflects on her life as a whole.

Self-control can lead to increased workload. People tend to rely on others with high self-control, and this might make the latter feel burdened. For example, an employee who is very good at exerting self-control might be overloaded by her colleagues’ requests to undertake tasks and responsibilities, as they all know that she will manage to reliably meet all demands.

Self-control isn’t always for everyone. For some people, exerting self-control can feel alienating — as if they are required to suppress their true selves. This is the case, for instance, for individuals who rely more on feelings than on reason when making decisions. These individuals are less satisfied with decisions to exert self-control. For example, a young employee who makes decisions mostly based on feelings might not be that satisfied with herself, even if she has managed to exert self-control and succeeded in a difficult task that granted her a promotion. This person might feel alienated from herself for putting so much emphasis on work at the expense of other needs and desires, such as spending time with friends and family.

Self-control can lead to bias. Lay people and policy makers often see complex social problems as primarily self-control problems. However, this emphasis on self-control might obscure the social, economic, or political sources of these problems. This one-sided emphasis on self-control, reflects an ideology that puts the blame for wrong doing entirely on the individual and neglects the impact of broader societal factors.

Thus, major social issues are transformed into mere self-care issues. The same discrimination can happen at work when a boss blames an employee for missing an unrealistic deadline. Self-control is an important tactic for reaching one’s goals. However, instead of treating self-control as the sole determinant of happiness and success, we need to view it in the broader context of the self in a more holistic way. Besides exerting self-control, accepting our weaknesses and limitations is also important.

Psychologists call this “self-compassion”. Self-compassion does not lead to laziness and abandonment. In contrast, it helps people improve themselves by knowing themselves better and setting more realistic goals.

Therefore, instead of always being harsh on ourselves and pushing our limits, sometimes being kind with ourselves might be a better way to reach our goals in a self-congruent way!!