This is the probably most comprehensive and informative conversation we can have about overcontrol. All credits go to Hope Arnold, a brilliant RO-DBT therapist who specializes in this trait.
We cover everything about over-control— its definition, presentation, origins, and treatment methods. It is very much relevant to highly sensitive people as Overcontrol is often developed out of an innate underlying sensitivity towards perceived threats.
If you find yourself having issues with perfectionism, rigidity, emotional loneliness, and that traditional psychotherapies don’t seem to work for you, this episode may help you
Hope pretty much covered everything there is about this topic!
You can tell how excited I was in the conversation by how many questions I asked. Whether or not you have the tendency, I am sure you can learn a lot from this!
A SHORT TRAILER:
Imi Hi, Hope it is so good to have you on this platform. How are you today?
Hope Thank you so much. I’m great. It’s lovely to be here. Appreciate it.
Imi : So, I came across your work and I just thought, oh my God, I want to speak to her. And then I went on the rabbit hole of trying to find other places that you’ve been, all the talks that you’ve done, and I just felt so amazed by the clarity in your thoughts and how systematic you are in your thinking-
Hope: Thank you.
Imi : Saying that, after I heard another podcast that says you’re leaning on the over-control side, I’m not surprised that it was so organized and systematic.
Hope: Yeah, definitely we think hat most people like… Well, we do think everybody leans one way or another and we have to kind of choose for ourselves. Do we tend to be more controlled and able to inhibit impulses or are we actually struggle with that? And neither one of them is good or bad, it’s just like naturally how we are.
Imi : Absolutely. I mean, well, that’s exactly, hi audience, that’s what we’re going to talk about, which is a tendency that we call over-control. We may talk about it clinically in the sense of its relationship to certain diagnosable disorder, because I have other guests to talk about say, OCPD, but when I speak with you hope, I want you to talk about this tendency itself called over-control, what it looks like, and your conceptualization of it. And I know your background comes from Radically Open DBT, which is something that I’ve been diving into lately, having a lot of interest in and maybe describe it from that angle.
WHAT IS OVERCONTROL?
Hope: Yeah, absolutely. So, what we think is happening in over-control is four areas, and those areas are: High detail focused processing, high impulse control, high threat sensitivity, and low reward sensitivity. So, if it’s okay, I’ll just kind of break down those four-
Imi : Yes please just tell us what is over-control. So, the question is, what is over-control?
Hope: So, a high detailed focused processing is this really cool thing where I can see details quickly, maybe see a book out of alignment or something like that, and then that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem, but when I get emotional about seeing the book out of alignment, then I might go and straighten it if I’m at someone’s house, and that kind of looks a little ew. And so, someone might struggle with that. High impulse control is the ability to actually stop ourselves from doing something. And that could be stopping ourselves from showing an emotion, it could be stopping ourselves from eating some cake, it could be stopping ourselves from doing something like going to a party when we actually need to work. And so, in some ways it can be good or bad.
Imi : Sounds very functional so far-
Hope: It could be.
Imi : So, all the things that school and society and companies wants us to do.
Hope: Yes. Right there, you hit the nail on the head, which is why I think over-control in general hasn’t really been focused on or talked about, is because it has like some very functional societal components to it. And then the last two components kind of go together. So, high threat sensitivity and low reward sensitivity. High threat sensitivity is sort of seeing the thorns and not so much the roses. So, if someone walks into a room, maybe they’re scanning the faces for someone that doesn’t like them. And that can be really tough socially. And low reward sensitivity is kind of like people with over-control aren’t really getting excited about the same kinds of things that the general public is getting excited about. And so, they don’t feel very good a lot. They might actually feel quite sad, depressed, lonely often.
Imi : I’ve got so many questions I want to ask you. One question is, my head isn’t too organized, but one question is, are the traits that you described, are they all a part of the bio innate impairments to this? Or are they traits that doesn’t necessarily come from the biology innate traits?
Hope: So, those four that I just spoke of are specifically the bio temperamental traits. And so, that means that someone with high levels of over-control born with those traits, and then there’s a giant spectrum of people that are having different kinds of traits. So, not everybody obviously has got a high level of bio temperamental over-control, but those that do particularly are well-suited for RO-DBT.
Imi : Right. Because I always think of the people that I work with. So, I specialize with people who are highly sensitive and intense. Many of them are also very gifted. So, they have a very excitable system. I wouldn’t say they have a high threshold for getting enjoyments out of life, although they do get bored easily, but then most of them, I would think including myself, to be honest, definitely have threat sensitivity. And actually, I looked at the research and it goes back to… What’s her name? I don’t know what’s her name, Kagan? To infants research they’ve done ages ago, where Elaine Aron research on high sensitivity, sorry, highly sensitive person construct on, that certain babies are born more sensitive.
Hope: So, yeah. You know what, the one thing that as you were talking it made me think about is, a lot of times people with over-control are called sensitive, and many times what happens is that they don’t necessarily always relate to that label though.
Imi : No, I’m surprised that you say that. because I thought they would come across as insensitive and very emotionally inhibited and very stoic.
Hope: Yeah. Sometimes what we see is that there’s a public persona and a private persona. So, maybe at home, they are looking extremely emotional potentially, because they’re with their safe people, but in public they might be looking very, very stoic or calm, or like they don’t care about things. And then the sensitivity part of it is that they might relate to what we call that threat sensitivity, but they might not be getting sensitive about other kinds of issues necessarily. They just sort of roll off their back.
Imi : Yeah. What about Interpersonal realm? Because the threat is not just being chased by a tiger. Isn’t it?
Imi : A negative comments or a friend not replying your text can feel like a threat.
Hope: Yes. So, one of the things we see with people that are threats sensitive is they really are looking for the threat in everyday situation. So, maybe you make a funny face at me and I kind of go like, “Oh, she doesn’t like me”, and that might be a threat sensitive response for an over-controlled person. Other people that maybe don’t have that high level of threat sensitivity are kind of like, “Oh, well maybe she’s having a tough morning”, or something like that. They might be giving people the benefit of the doubt more and those kinds of areas. But I think for the threat sensitive person, they may see expressions and they don’t know how to read them or particularly neutral expressions are very, very hard for them-
Imi : Yeah. The Still Face Experiments.
Hope: Yeah, exactly.
Imi : I’ve watched that video for so many times. I used to teach therapists. Whenever I teach a class, I always show that video and I’ve watched it so, so many times and it’s still heartbreaking.
Hope: It is.
Imi : What we’re talking about— go onto YouTube and search Still Face Experiment, and you will see a short clip, but be prepared it can be a bit of a triggering, especially if you have attachment trauma of some sorts. So, I wasn’t thinking we’re going to dive in and talk about threat sensitivity. It is a real point of interest for me. I’m really loving how you’ve constructed, it because people who are over-controlled can often come across as so aloof and dismissive and even cold. But what we’re saying is, no, these are not unfeeling people. Inside they are deeply, but they have chosen or not chosen, but they have got a way of coping that this over-control. But you say that is accurate?
Hope: Yeah. I would say that people that have the high threat sensitivity are interpreting data is very threatening, and then they’re having potentially very negative emotional reactions, or there’s one little point here that I think is worth mentioning, which is sometimes, for people that have high over-control, they may not actually register the emotionality of something until after the fact, an hour, maybe even a day. And then they’re kind of like, “Oh my gosh, that was a really stressful to me. Why didn’t I recognize it at the time”.
Imi : Yeah. Yeah. And therapy helps when we do the back chain analysis one step at a time. I’m not done. By the way, I’ve just started my training in RO-DBT.
Hope: Oh, great.
Imi : Yeah. So, I’m not even there in the chain analysis step yet, but I know of it from normal DBT, normal DBT, whatever we call it now, the Linehan DBT. Anyway, why don’t you tell us what RO-DBT?
Hope: Yeah, So, I’d be happy to. So one of the things Dr. Lynch noticed as he was working actually with Dr. Marsha Linehan, who developed traditional DBT in her clinic is that, there were some people that really weren’t getting better, and he started to be researching why that was. And what he found out is that a lot of these people were being told you’re very dysregulated and you have all these emotions and you’re impulsive. And they’re kind of like, okay. And so, they’re just kinda going with it because, what they figure out is actually the over-control people at first are very polite, and kind of like are trying to understand things and they want help. But what they’re actually not telling you is that they don’t agree with you sometimes at first, but they
Imi : They stress over… Sorry, stress over tolerating. I get it. But I was just thinking, before this work, I think very few people would hear that and think, is that a problem? I’m able to tolerate a huge amount of distress, why is that a problem? But yes, people, research has found that apparently wellness and control lies on the bell curve. So, when you’re under control, it’s not good. And when you’re over-control is not good too. But yes, by and large, our society encourages us to have a degree of self control and is good, but not to the extreme. Sorry I interrupted.
Hope: Yeah, I love what you said. I mean, it would be nice for us to be able to, evolutionarily, it would be really helpful for us, if we’re in a tribe together and hunter gatherer stage, it’d be really nice if you and I go collect apples together and then I don’t eat all the apples overnight or something like that so I can share them with our tribe. We need a certain level of control in order to survive. And so, that’s actually very important-
Imi : But if we are over, over-control, we will never have sex, so that’s not going to work.
Hope: Well, we don’t have connection at all. I might not put myself out there and I might not actually find a partner or a friend even, because a lot of people with high over-control or a very lonely people and they’re very sad. If you don’t mind, I’d like to say a little bit more about distress over tolerance.
Imi : Yes, please.
Hope: So, distress over tolerance is usually made up of two things. One is this maladaptive perfectionism, and that means having high standards in almost all areas of our life with this giant fear of failing. So, I want to do everything I can to make sure that I don’t feel and I’m terrified of it, and so I worked myself to the bone. And then the second part of distress over tolerance is unhealthy task for separation. So, basically continuing on a course of action and it’s no longer rewarding or there’s no progress being made. So, maybe I’m in a relationship and I keep trying and trying and trying and trying and trying, and nothing’s getting better and I don’t leave it. And so, that’s a distress over tolerance reaction.
Imi : That’s really interesting, yeah. Yeah. Or you get hit by a car and you don’t really seek medical attention, right?
Hope: Yeah. Absolutely. I actually have two clients right now who have been told by their physicians they are no longer allowed to run because they have stress fracture.
Imi : Oh God. Yeah. Well, I’m still interested in threat sensitivity there. The reason why I wanted to… Are we done introducing RO-DBT by the way?
Hope: Sure, I think so. I mean, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it. You have done a pretty good job.
Imi : Well, I find it interesting. I know the whole constructs is built on putting under control next to over-control, because DBT is designed for people who are dysregulated and under control, and RO-DBT is the opposite. But, I know that threat sensitivity also underlies under control.
Imi : So, it’s an interesting, I want to know, you may not have the answer, but how have people used over-control to deal with threat sensitivity and why it could look the opposite way?
Hope: So, let me say one thing about the threat sensitivity on the under control side. We know, and this may be a little clinical, but I think it’s worth mentioning, things like antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder, they both have a high level of threat sensitivity. And so, that’s why you see that emotional liability, but you also see with them reward sensitivity as well. So, if you’re working potentially with someone that has borderline personality disorder, they may be very happy, excitable one moment, and the next moment they’re actually very sad and upset, and that liability there is a very different. So, an over-controlled person might not be showing the happy side at all potentially. They might just be sort of dysphoric.
Imi : Oh, I get it now. So, that variance, that factor of excitability is really what delineates which way one would go.
Hope: Right. Exactly. Yeah. You’re right. Absolutely. And to be honest, most of us would rather have like some level of excitement and reward in our life, because that’s fun. It’s nice to be able to join with people and have some good experiences, and a lot of our over-control people are really quite miserable.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
Imi : Well, talking until this point, I don’t think we have actually given our audience a sense or a thorough description of what someone with over-control look like. Can we try and paint a picture, or even use a case example that you have to bring it to life, because we’ve mentioned a lot of clinical terms and traits, but I think it would be useful to bring it to life a little bit. Obviously not everyone will be the same. There are many people with different manifestation of the same thing, but can you try and give us maybe a case example of someone that you work with?
Hope: Sure. Let me give some traits or some qualities or characteristics of over-control. Because I think, actually one of the things that tends to happen for people is that, over-control can look very, very different from person to person in which diagnostic, but if we’re just going for like characteristics, they might be rigid and sometimes they might have trouble with being flexible to new situations, being fearful of doing something new, they might prefer order and structure. So, getting a sense of wanting things to be planned out would be maybe an over-controlled person. They may also feel like they don’t really know how to join with people. And we’ve said this characteristic of loneliness, emotional loneliness a lot. They also may tend to find that they feel very strongly about certain beliefs that they have, and that they are maybe at times on wavering about those belief systems, because they think they’re the right thing to do. So, in general, it’s this sense of structure, order, perfectionism, and particularly feeling like wanting everything to be in an alignment or in a certain way.
Imi : Yeah. And how does this make life difficult?
Hope: Sure. Yeah. The thing I think about the most is like, if I’m trying to be perfect all the time, it’s really hard to try and relate to another human being, because first of all, nobody’s perfect and we know that cognitively, but when someone actually stops trying to do perfect actions all the time, they make it really down on themselves or they might fall apart, or they might burn out because they’re trying so, so hard. We see a ton of burnout, people that are workaholics are overworking with over-control. And then the connection. In particular, we might see something that we call task over relationship, where I’m working really, really, really hard, and then I don’t think about how that might affect my spouse or my kiddo.
Imi : I was going to ask how does it hold us back from intimacy? But I think you’ve probably just answered that.
Hope: Yeah. and I also think, and on the other side, so there are people that might be putting their task efforts into building a nice home. It doesn’t always mean work like in the sense of going to work in an office building or something like that. But it might be like I’m burning myself out because I need my home to be ordered and structured and perfect in a certain way, and then I don’t have any time leftover for me. I don’t ever really feel like I can relax.
Imi : Sometimes they might have clocked up lots of stress in their body without realizing.
Hope: Absolutely. We see all kinds of internalization disorder. So, somatic symptoms IBS, or stomach problems, any kind of thing that happens, muscle tension and needing a lot of chiropractic work or massage work or things like that, because there are so tight, or we see a lot of headaches as well or pain.
Imi : Do you think someone who has this tendency, listening up until this point would realize it by now? Or are there particular questions you might ask? In fact, what assessment tool do you use?
Hope: Yeah. I think most of the time what happens, at least in my office, is that, someone that is over-control leaning comes in and I’ll ask them do you have something like, do you feel like it’s important to do things properly or right? And they might go, “Yeah, I do, I think it’s important to do that”. And so, we started asking him those questions and they kind of get that thing like, do you like order and structure? Those kinds of questions. And it starts to formulate for them that that is actually what over-control leaning is. What I think is important to think about is, most people go to therapy and they’re maybe being told that they need to work on their emotions or something like that. But actually what we’re trying to present them with is like, how are they relating to others? This is a super relational therapy. How do I show up to another person?
Imi : Yeah. I’m glad to hear that. It is relational.
Hope: Yeah. And how does my signaling and how does my talking to another person get me my needs met, and does it take into the account the needs of the other person? Because this is a two-way street. It takes two to tango kind of. And do I feel good and close, and am I building intimacy with someone, and how am I doing that, and how do I make a friend? And so, those are the kinds of things that we might be talking about when someone comes in. And a lot of times people are like, “Oh yeah, I want to learn how to do all that stuff”.
Imi : Well, have you heard of the term quiets borderline?
Hope: No, I haven’t. Do you want to share?
Imi : Yeah, it’s not an official clinical diagnosis, but it is something that’s quite anecdotal and people talk about it a lot on online forums and things. I’ve written about it. I do think you can tell, when you work with people with borderline personality disorder, which I’ve done for many years, some people are “quieter”, means they hold things in rather than externalize it. So, they do internalize things and anger and a lots of these things more than externalizing. So, they don’t fit a lot of the so-called classic BPD symptoms or the stereotype of someone being very dramatic and impulsive. And that got me thinking if they may have the trait of being over-controlled, but they still fit the diagnosis beeping BPD. And yeah, that would be how I construct quiet BPD.
Hope: Yeah. It’s hard to say case by case. And definitely I would defer to your clinical judgment about the diagnostics, but I think a lot of times what we do see is that the misdiagnostic criteria is something like who, and where, and when are they showing this dysregulation? And is it happening all the time or is it happening just at home?
Imi : And there’s a concept of leakage. We’re going to talk about that.
Hope: Yes. So, leaking is basically this idea of like, I’ve been holding things in for a long period of time. And here’s the thing, everybody breaks. Everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Navy seal or a teenager, everybody breaks because we all have things that happen to us that are painful or outside of our control. And the more that we try to hold it in, the more our body’s like, hey, no, you need to actually let this out. And so, sometimes what happens is that people that are over-control are trying to hold something in, and then they may leak in ways that they’re not expecting. The example that I always give is like, if you remember, there’s these commercials in the U.S that are for dog adoption agencies, and they’re like “Donate to these dog”, I don’t know, rescue or something like that. And every time I see one, I start crying because I’m like, this sounds bad. And so, I don’t expect to cry at a commercial that just like comes on the TV, but that would be a leak for me.
Hope: And I don’t have a lot of self judgements about that. I care about animals, I think they’re important, but what is the problem for over-controlled people as if they were to cry and then kind of feel shame or feel disconnected or beat themselves up for having a normal emotion about something, even though if it was an unexpected event. And a lot of times we might be, if we’re talking to someone about how do they emotionally express, they might say, “Well five years ago I cried one time at work”, and I would be like, “Oh, okay”, and it might’ve been the worst day of their life. And you kind of think that seems like an appropriate response to whatever was going on for them, but they may have a lot of shame about that and they may not be doing that very often at all.
NATURE AND NURTURE ROOTS
Imi : So, can we run through some of the childhood upbringing starts, may cause these traits or contributes to it? Because obviously it feels on the innate temperaments, but I’m guessing there are also certain later year things.
Hope: Yeah. We can start seeing over-control tendencies as early as age, maybe four or five. And there’s actually some research going on with very, very young shy, timid, risk averse kids out of St. Louis going on right now with Dr. Gilbert there. And one of the things that she’s finding is that these are patterns that are happening based on the biology very, very young. What’s so interesting about the upbringing is that it’s not so tightly wrapped. We can see maybe… So, say maybe an over-controlled person was raised by a parent that was very emotionally dysregulated, they might look at that parent and go like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to be that, that doesn’t feel right to me, that feels too emotional”, or “I don’t like that”.
Hope: And so, then they may start tamping down their emotional expression and get really quiet or work really hard to get out of that environment. That might be one side. The other side might be what people have termed helicopter parenting, where someone is up in their business all the time, get good grades, do this succeed and dah, dah, dah, dah, and that can create that environment of over-control, also where you got to be perfect all the time. So, it’s not one particular set of parents that bring either side, and there could be a range in the middle there as well, but we do tend to see that they are reacting to something in their environment based on their biology and going kind of like, “That doesn’t work for me”.
Imi : So, there isn’t a typical type that you see again and again?
Hope: No, I would say, at least in my clinic, that’s more of the be perfect kind of message from parents, but I do see enough of the reaction to maybe a dysregulated environment that could create it as well.
Imi : Yeah.I mean, if they have been parentified. If they have there been little grownups from such a young age, you have no choice but to disown the parts of you that’s playful and spontaneous.
Hope: Yeah. When you think, that’s such a great example of how responding to one’s environment enhances that biological tendency. And then if I do have to be the parent or parent my parent, or maybe I’ve lost a parent, there’s nobody to parent, then I can really, really take on that role of the tiny adult.
Imi : Tell us about some of the clinical diagnosis that are associated with being over-controlled.
OCD VS OCPD
Hope: Sure. So, the kind of quintessential one is OCPD. So, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.
Imi : Which is not OCD.
Hope: Yes, thank you for that. We definitely get a lot of people saying like, do you treat OCD? I’m like, not the way that you’re thinking. So, that’s one of the top ones we see. We also see Autism Spectrum Disorders. Particularly for me, I see a lot of females that have been misdiagnosed with all kinds of things that actually have some of autism spectrum. And we see anorexia lot in clinic and Dependent Personality Disorder.
Imi : Really? Dependent too. I didn’t know that.
Hope: That’s actually one of those ones that there’s… We’re trying to understand that one a little bit better, at least in the RO world, because dependency could look over or under controlled, and we actually think it could be either one.
Imi : I’m just thinking how someone might have to really watch themselves in order to preserve the connection with the person they’re dependent on. So, I’m thinking of people that I work with who have this traits, and they are actually over-controlled, although they have this regulations, but it’s because they are so afraid of losing the attachment, they will absolutely bite their tongue and sits on their hands. So, they won’t say anything wrong in order to not off the other part person.
Imi : That actually makes sense.
Hope: Yeah. I think with what we see, a lot of time misdiagnostic with BPD is actually DPD, Dependent Personality, because I do see some of my Dependent Personality disorder clients that self-harm quite regularly, when someone that has the dependency part, they really… So, let me actually talk a little bit about Attachment and RO because actually-
Imi : Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was going to ask you about RO.
Hope: Perfect timing. One of the things that we see is, it’s not fear of abandonment, but fear of attachment. And for us, it’s once I’m attached, I am terrified to lose that person. But it might take me a long time to attach if I’m an over-controlled high biology person. And when I started-
Imi : So, are they anxious avoidant? I just wan to pose the question.
Hope: Yes, avoidant. And the reason we would say avoidant is not because they don’t feel the anxiety, they might feel an anxious, but they’re acting avoidant.
Imi : Because we’re just throwing out these jargons. But I think a lot of you might be familiar with attachment styles, and this is not. Research article online that I’ve written or there will be plenty of resources online about the different styles, namely, they’re different names to them, isn’t it? Ambivalence, anxious, resistant, but broadly it’s basically anxious, avoidance, and disorganized, and obviously secure too. So, four kinds of attachment types. So, we won’t go into details about what they are, but we excitedly discussing people who have over-controlled, do they tend to have avoidant personality attachment style? That’s what I thought. But more and more I’m wondering. Well, but then yes, in terms of behavior, they are avoidance, but what they’re feeling is in anxiety. So, isn’t everyone just deep down anxious anyway?
Hope: Wasn’t that a great question? So, I guess what we would say is, at least for us, the way to conceptualize it in RO is because the behaviors so avoidant, I don’t leave, I don’t do anything that would maybe disrupt the relationship if I am already attached, and I don’t want to lose it. And at the same time, it’s not that the avoidant person isn’t feeling anything. I don’t think, I think they feel actually a quite a bit, they just maybe are acting in ways that are very kind of aloof or distant or not understandable to others. And they’re like, why are they just not saying, ‘Hey, I like you, I want to be with you, let’s work this out”. And sometimes what happens for people that have high levels of control is that if they aren’t getting what they want, they will walk away and abandon a relationship rather than fight.
Imi : Yeah. So, we classified that as avoidant attachment.
Hope: Correct. Yeah. Yeah.
Imi : Why do you think people who tend to be avoidant have been neglected in the literature, in the media, and even within mental health?
Hope: That’s a great question. I think-
Imi : Or what we call it Cluster C personality disorders, which are the dependent, avoidance, paranoid and OCPD. They just don’t get as much attention compared to say antisocial or borderline. I mean, borderline is clearly very talked about wherever you go, for better or for worse.
Hope: Yeah. I think that the reason that they don’t is because they aren’t big dramatic disorders. They are quiet, people are suffering in silence, they aren’t being disruptive. Like we were talking about earlier, sometimes society really values the traits of over-control, and so they aren’t getting the attention because they’re not being screamed for attention. They’re kind of like being quiet about it. And yet they’re suffering so significantly that it’s really tough for them. But we are seeing more and more and more people that are having chronic depression, chronic anxiety that aren’t presenting loud dramatic ways.
Imi : Absolutely. Absolutely. Speaking of that, I have a question. What does it look like when your clients who are over-control gets angry or if they get some angry at all?
Hope: Sure. I can give you, I guess, a verbal example.
Imi : Even though they are angry, or they have a headache?
Hope: So, without going too much into personality, the big five personality traits, there’s this spectrum-
Hope: Well, there’s one called agreeableness versus disagreeableness.
Imi : But… Sorry, before you… I’m excited.
Hope: That’s okay.
Imi : Are there correlation between over-control and say conscientiousness, because I would imagine it to be related to conscientiousness and neuroticism. So, I had to back that up.
Hope: I have to be honest, I actually don’t know the answer to that. I would imagine there would be, but I can’t speak to it.
Imi : Yeah. I actually did a Google scholar search earlier today. I think there were one paper on eating disorder that associates it with neuroticism and low level and openness.
Hope: Yeah, I would definitely think the neuroticism for sure. I don’t actually know. So, you probably actually know more about that than I do about it.
Imi : No, I just did a five minute…
Hope: I don’t know. The one that I do know is that we see this agreeable/disagreeable personality trait, and you can be either agreeable, which would be more of the dependent thing, versus the disagreeable, which would be more of the CPD issue.
THE TWO SUBTYPES
Imi : Is that the two subtypes of people who are over-control?
Hope: Yeah. So, we have that overly disagreeable, overly agreeable. And so, a lot of times the overly agreeable clients, the ones that are really valuing relationship and really wanting things to go well in harmony and things like that, they actually usually don’t register anger very well. They might say words like, “Oh, I’m so annoyed at that person”, or, “That was really annoying”, but they won’t say “I’m irritated” or “I’m angry”. So, really watching their language. We might actually be helping those clients be like, “I’m mad at you”, we might actually really want to teach them that emotional language and conveying that to whoever they’re talking to.
Hope: For a disagreeable, they know that they’re angry a lot. So, they may be dominating or saying “I’m pissed off”, or “I just want to kill that person”. And they may not actually mean it in like real terms, like they’re not actually going to go harm somebody, but maybe they do, is what we were trying to actually get them to do on the disagreeable side, is use language that’s more varied, and actually understand that probably what’s underneath that is hurt, sadness, something that’s going on there. That’s not just anger. I don’t know if that answers the question, but I hope it does.
Imi : So, final few questions, because I think we have talked a lot about the traits, but it’s almost time we come to give people some hope and direction to go with that. Talk a little bit about treatments and a solution out. Another negative question though, why doesn’t CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy work for the over-control typically? Or does it work?
Hope: I don’t think it works for high levels of over-control as well as RO-DBT, and the reason being that a lot of our over-controlling clients are really quite good at doing evidence for an evidence against a particular thought. They do that in their head already. They already kind of go like, “Well, is this true? Or is that not true? Or things like that. What RO-DBT does that I think is amazing is it talks about social signaling. And basically what a social signal is, is anything that another person can see me do in front of them. And so, I have to be actually in the presence of someone or frankly on Zoom or something like that in order to see someone’s signaling. And texting is not a social signal by the way, because that’s just like an email. It’s not something that we can read inflection or voice tone or things from.
Hope: And so, what our RO does is it looks at how is it that I’m conveying myself that might be interrupting me having strong, connected relationships? And so, if I tell my kiddo, “You gotta get straight A’s”, “You gotta play ball really well”, “Yeah, nothing’s a problem, everything’s great, dah dah dah dah, everything’s wonderful”, both sides of agreeable, disagreeable side of this different examples, it’s going to convey something that may not be what I hope it will convey.
Hope: So, if I’m telling my kid “Do the best, do the best, do the best”, and they hear like, “Nothing’s ever good enough”, actually what I may be trying to convey is something like, “I believe in you and I trust you”, but I need to say, I believe in you, I trust you. Or on the other side, like “Everything’s okay dah dah dah”, I might actually be trying to mean something like, “You know I think things will work out, I understand that you’re trying really hard”, and it’s getting them to use the actual language that they need to use in order to convey their message, not just canned things that they always say,
HOW DO WE LOWER OUR THREAT SENSITIVITY?
Imi : Wow. How can people learn… So, we talked about threat sensitivity a lot in the beginning of our conversation, are there things people can do to down regulate the threat system?
Hope: So, what we teach them is a number of skills that help them get into what we call their social safety system. So, feeling safe, calm, and relaxed. Most people enjoy feeling those things, and threat system is anxious or irritated. So, if I’m feeling anxious or irritated, and I start to notice that, one of the things we might tell them to do is things like move their face. We know that their face is related to some as their nervous system, and when they move their face, they can actually activate their social safety system. One of the big ones we teach us like eyebrow wag. So, moving eyebrows up and down, not all the time, but just kind of to get ourselves into-
Imi : Can you tell our audience what an eyebrow wag is?
Hope: Yeah. So it’s like moving my eyebrows up, not scrunched together in the center, but up and down and up and down. You’re great. You’re doing it great. And the reason that we do that is because we know those the facial muscles are innervated, which then sends signals to the rest of our body that says, “Hey, everything’s great. We’re all chill here”.
Imi : We can’t do that if we have too much Botox then.
Hope: That’s correct. Yeah. That’s actually a thing that we talk a lot about with our clients is, especially if they have migraines issues, like make sure you know where you’re getting your Botox. And yeah, so, we want their eyebrows to move. We also tell them slowing their breath, six breaths a minute. When we actually slow our breath down significantly, it helps us. We don’t want to go too low because we’ll pass out. We don’t want to go so low, but under five, but five to six breaths a minute actually slows our nervous system down. And other things that we can do is similar to touch related things like weighted blankets, and animals, and hugging people that we love. Things like that that actually feel safe and calm. We really, really encourage those kinds of tools. And then we call them social safety activations. There’s also a meditation that we use specifically to activate our social safety system. And actually on my website, you can download it for free.
Imi : Wonderful.
Hope: Yeah. And it’s designed to turn on that social safety system. I think a lot of people use it either when they’re anxious or irritated or before social events so that they can feel like they can socialize well. And one of the cool things about that meditation is that the research actually shows that it can give you about 20 minutes to four hours of social safety activation at a time, which is great. If you have to go to a party and you’re trying to make friends, it might be nice to feel pretty calm.
Imi : Yeah. A lot of clients are very much into getting some skills or tricks they can do, which I understand, and things like RO-DBT offers that a lot, but I always tell them, and although it’s harder to believe in something that is intangible and hard to describe, but really I think it’s the corrective experience with the therapist that counts, rather than a loss of the tricks and skills that you can do yourself. I think anyway, it’s that it’s a corrective healing relationship with a counselor or therapist, and also the modeling of openness that really helps.
Hope: Definitely. I agree with the modeling. And one of the things that happens a lot in RO-DBT individuals sessions is we’re role-playing social signals, how do you want to show up to another person? And the therapist is actually helping them figure out how they want to signal, because at times they’re not always sure. And when we do a new behavior, we need feedback from kind of a trusted advisor or friend to show them what they’re doing.
Imi : Yeah. So, coming to what’s the end, after a few more questions, what would you say to our audience, let’s say some of them is like, “Oh my God, I totally identify with having over-control issue”, what would be a few things or maybe a message that you can say to them now?
Hope: Sure. I would say, first of all you’re not alone. And we’re so glad that you identify as over-control, because identification that this might be the primary problem can lead you to get the right help. So, there’s a whole therapy design for you and finding an RO-DBT therapist is kind of actually is easiest, going to radicallyopen.net, which is the international organization that provides the training. And so, go and look and see if there’s one in your area. And if not, more and more and more people are getting trained. And so, I think that those numbers will continue to go up in your area. And we know that it’s being translated into different languages: Spanish, Portuguese, we just got contacted by a group in China to start looking at that as well. And so, we’re hopeful that that grows. So, it’s being translated into all these different languages and so yeah, that would be the first part.
OUR PERSONAL EXPDRIENCES WITH OVERCONTROL
Imi : Well, thank you Hope for giving us hope.
Hope: Yeah. I thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed my time with you.
Imi : I really love your energy and enthusiasm and how much you know about your topic. You’re clearly passionate about this. I have a pretty personal question towards the end, what got you interested in this? Is there a personal connection? Is it yourself or someone that you close to the struggle with this?
Hope: Yeah. So, two things that happened for me, one, I was working in a clinic that did traditional DBT and I was finding that so many clients were not getting better with traditional DBT. And so, I was like, there has got to be something else. And so, when I heard about RO, and actually my mentor was like, “Go, go, go, let’s go get you involved in this”.So, that was the first thing. And particularly one client, she kept saying like, “I am not what you are saying I am” with traditional DBT.
Imi : That’s really powerful.
Hope: And I had to listen and I had to go, okay, well then, what is she? I feel like as a clinician, I need to be ethical about listening to what my client is saying and finding a therapy that would work.
Imi : And the system is failing them for not providing this. I do think most psychotherapists probably get towards helping people structure things and gain more awareness and self insights, which people who over-control already do quite well and a lot.
Hope: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And the second part of this is that, I think, my dad has passed away since this time, but I’m pretty sure he had OCPD. And when I started to learn about over-control, I thought, oh my goodness, this would have been so helpful for me to know when I was 16, so, I could have related to him in a different way. And I have no way to go back and ask him at this point does this fit for you? But it seems like it might.
Imi : This is so strange, because my father has the same.
Hope: Oh, well, yeah.
Imi : Probably all my life. And it’s to be fair, as a child is quite difficult to live with someone with OCPD tendencies. Well, obviously he’s extremely responsible, so he’s not a bad person and not a bad father in that way. But when things get out of line, when I made a mistake, Oh God, the rage that comes! I can tell now he couldn’t help it. But as a child, you can feel really punished and I internalized a lot of that shame.
Hope: Yeah. For me, I think the thing that happened was, “Do better, be perfect”. And that’s why we talk about this lean of over-control and what it taught you. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll go one way or another if you have a parent that has this. But for me, it was so incredibly helpful to go like, there’s a name for this thing and now I have it. And I kind of have been like, “Oh, well I took on this trait and maybe not that one”. And I don’t know that I have a generally high or a low reward. I think my reward is actually quite high.
Imi : Thank you for sharing that side of things with me. I really appreciate it.
Hope: Yeah. Absolutely.
Imi : Is there anything you want to add?
Hope: No, I feel great. I really appreciate your time and letting me share this and this path and avenue, and I’m just so excited when people hear this and then they kind of go like, “This is me”. And if something doesn’t particularly fit about what we talked about here, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be helped from RO. So, I think the thing to tell some of my over-control leaning people that might be listening is like, hey, if not everything fits, go get an assessment. Make sure you didn’t get stuck in the details here.
Imi : Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I will say to people like if you are working with someone that you have a good relationship with, you don’t want to go and find another therapist, maybe you can bring this up to your therapist or just tell them what you’ve read and see if that would be useful. Because I don’t want people to despair and think, “Oh no, I’m in the wrong therapy”, because, as I said earlier, if you’re in good humanistic relational therapy, that itself, that’s a lot already. Just having a therapeutic relationship is good healing. And there are many different approaches to this, not just RO-DBT, but it’s certainly useful. Oh my God, this is such a good episode, I can’t wait to air it.
Hope: I’m so glad.
Imi : Well, congratulations on your book. Congratulations. Please definitely give me a ping, I will definitely buy your book.
Hope: Thank you. Hopefully next summer is our target.
Imi : Wow, I already want a book like that because there’s a lack of it. But after speaking with you, I’m sure it will be great.
Hope: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Imi : There is such clarity. Your brain, it’s like this well-organized medicine cabinets. Whatever question I asked you, you pull out the right thing and I’m so impressed with that. It makes you a wonderful podcast guest.
Hope: Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate that feedback. That’s wonderful. And I’ve enjoyed my time with you too. It was so easy to just talk to you.
Imi : I did my a revision.
Hope: You did. I was like really impressed by your questions. I got them and I was like wow.
Imi : Well, I’ve started my training last week, so I was like bingeing the PowerPoints.
Hope: Yeah, there’s a lot to go through which are wonderful.
Imi : All right. Well hopefully I will meet you again in the RO community if I can get fully trained.
Hope: Yeah, absolutely.
Imi : Who knows? Because I probably need some supervision or some sessions or something perhaps that sort of thing.
Hope: I’d love to do that and, or hook you up with someone that you’d like.
Imi : Oh, thank you so much.
Hope: Have a great rest of your evening.
Trigger Warning: This episode may cover sensitive topics including but not limited to suicide, abuse, violence, severe mental illnesses, relationship challenges, sex, drugs, alcohol addiction, psychedelics, and the use of plant medicines. You are advised to refrain from watching or listening to the YouTube Channel or Podcast if you are likely to be offended or adversely impacted by any of these topics.
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Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive and international experience in mental health and psychotherapy. Her books Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity and The Gift of Intensity are available worldwide and in multiple languages. Imi has two Master’s degrees; one in Mental Health and one in Buddhist Studies. She works holistically, combining psychological insights with Eastern and Western philosophies such as Buddhism and Stoicism.