About Dr Tom:
Thomas L. Murray, Jr., Ph.D., forensic sexologist, international trainer, educator, and couples and sex therapist is a widely sought-after expert in sexuality and intimate relationships.For 20+ years, Murray has worked with everyday folks to embrace their weirdness, shed labels and shame, lean into anxiety, and build better and stronger relationships.Murray’s doctorate is in marriage and family counseling from the University of Florida. Clinically, he combines a pull-no-punches, no-beating-around-the-bush style. This integrated style has helped folks quiet the mind-chatter that interferes with happiness, intimacy, and quality sexual relationships.Dr. Murray has appeared in numerous venues, including the Huffington Post and The Daily Mail, as well as radio, television and podcasts, including the Practice of Being Seen and Shrink Rap Radio. He’s a highly acclaimed presenter at local, regional, and national conferences on various mental health and relationship topics. Dr. Murray has published numerous articles in professional journals and has faculty affiliations with UNC Greensboro, Walden University, and Lindsey Wilson College. He currently teaches at Northwestern University’s Family Institute. –
The Book: https://www.amazon.com/Making-Nice-Naughty-Color-Within-Line-ebook/dp/B0BBDDFKNC
Imi: Hi, Dr. Tom. How would you like to be addressed, actually? Dr. Tom, great?
Dr. Tom: Dr. Tom sounds wonderful. Yes.
Imi: Let’s see, okay. Yeah. All right. So Dr. Tom, thank you so much for coming on. We have been introduced, haven’t we?
Dr. Tom: We have, yes. It was wonderful to have the connection from Pete, who you had interviewed in a prior podcast interview.
Imi: Indeed, we have. Yes. Yes. What a wonderful person. I mean, I assume he was happy with our conversation. But I then looked at your book, which I think is quite recently published. Oh my God, I was so happy because this idea of overcontrol, more and more people are talking about it, and there’s a whole approach being developed on it. And yet it’s still just not talked about enough.
Dr. Tom: Yeah. I’m really impressed by the contribution of Dr. Thomas Lynch who developed the radically open dialectical behavior therapy approach that’s really designed for people who lean in that overcontrolled coping style. And I’m sure we’ll get more into, but as a sex therapist, I immediately began to see how this temperament is showing up in many of the clients who present with sexual and relationship issues.
Imi: Yes. That’s really interesting because then it’s a unique approach, but I don’t see it applied a lot on sex specific issues. So that’s where you come in and offer something very unique.
Dr. Tom: Well, I think for a lot of overcontrolled people, even just talking about sex can be anxiety provoking. And so our sex lives is a very vulnerable part of our identities. And as you may know, people who lean overcontrol tend to fear vulnerability, and so there’s that link.
Imi: Yeah, sex is really just about sex.
Dr. Tom: Rarely. Is that what is you said? I’m sorry.
Imi: Yeah, I probably should say never. Well, let’s dive in. I want to know a bit more about you and then see where this conversation takes us. And I’m sure you would help us a lot with your insights.
Dr. Tom: Yeah, I’d love that.
Imi: So to keep our audience up to speed, I had interviewed other DBT therapist before, so some of our audience might be aware of overcontrol. I also have a page on my website. Sometimes I think the word overcontrol itself can sound a bit judgmental. People think that means they’re very controlling of other people when actually what it means is they’re controlling themselves a bit too tightly. I also had the assumption as I wrote in my own article that it comes actually from a fear of losing control. But from your perspective and in your own words, what is overcontrol?
Dr. Tom: I like the other simplified version of it, having too much self-control that can impede one’s ability to connect with others. So for a lot of people who are overcontrolled, they have this perception that how they show up in the world can have dire effects in their ability to connect with others. And so they want to preserve or to avoid people’s judgment by having this excessive amount of self-control. And in many ways, having self-control is seen as virtues in many societies. People tend to be very disciplined, very productive, et cetera, and that can be viewed as virtues in many cultures. If it’s going to become a problem, it tends to become a problem in people’s intimate and sexual relationships.
Imi: Where else can it cause problems?
Dr. Tom: Well, if someone is wanting to have more authentic connections with others, be it within their intimate sexual relationships and beyond, having a willingness to be vulnerable with others, to embrace uncertainty, which is also a major fear of people who are controlled, any dynamic in which those are components, if one doesn’t embrace vulnerability and uncertainty, then it can show up as a challenge.
Imi: Do you think people usually realize they’re facing these challenges? Or do they quite like it how some people with bipolar enjoy their manic states? Is it a bit like that, or do they also struggle and want to change?
Dr. Tom: I think it depends a lot on the context. For example, a lot of overcontrolled people will convince themselves that it’s much better to be single so that they don’t have to confront the relationship difficulties that come about from their overcontrolledness. So for example, if someone is so rigid in their daily routines that they resent any influence that a potential partner might have disrupting that routine, then they may say, “I just would rather be single.” But of course, as humans, we really thrive in community and connection with others. And so that may get us only so far, but I think there is a natural desire to want to be in connection. I think the Dalai Lama even said that anxiety is a product of disconnection, and anxiety tends to be a very familiar emotion of people who lean overcontrolled.
Imi: What an interesting perspective. I mean, can you give our audience some examples of symptoms or signs that someone is struggling with overcontrol?
Dr. Tom: Yeah. So an aloof personality is someone who tends to keep their cards to their chest. They tend to be risk averse, threat sensitive, and rejection sensitive. When they are perhaps excited about something, they tend to hide it or constrict the expression of that excitement. If they are anxious or depressed on the inside the world out there would never know it, they tend to keep a rather neutral face. Some people call that resting bitch face. I don’t know if it’s a familiar term, but [inaudible 00:07:59] this neutral face. Of course, there are two subtypes of overcontrolled, the overly agreeable and the overly disagreeable. And so how those subtypes show up can certainly impact the manifestation of that overcontrolled temperament. So the overly agreeable are the ones who are driven to be liked and the overly disagreeable are the ones who are driven to be right. And how that manifests can certainly be different.
Imi: What makes you interested in this as a subject of your study? And I assume you also specialize in this in your clinical work.
Dr. Tom: Well, my specialization is in sex therapy and couples therapy, so really trying to find more effective ways to support my clients. And when I identify the overcontrolled temperament, a lot of clients would come in with sexual problems, for example, early ejaculation or inability to have an orgasm at all, erectile dysfunction, all of these kind of various symptoms that we typically associate with sexual problems such as low sexual desire. Among my clients seem to have this common theme of overcontrol or sexual perfectionism, which I describe in the book. Briefly, sexual perfectionism is this feeling I have to be sexually perfect or my partner has to be sexually perfect. The third type is I think my partner thinks I have to be sexually perfect, and then the fourth one-
Imi: That makes so much sense.
Dr. Tom: … is a society or a belief that society expects me to be sexually perfect. So you can imagine how that sexual perfectionism can show up in the lives of people who present with sexual problems. And so my interest was it was looking at that connection of what’s fueling the sexual problems of those who show up in my consulting room.
Imi: And so how that affects their behaviors or non-behaviors in bed?
Dr. Tom: Say that again?
Imi: So how will the trait of overcontrol affects them in bed in sex or romantically?
Dr. Tom: So if we look at an example, someone who’s overcontrolled, they might be rather ritualistic in their sexual pattern. And so sex begins to get boring often for their partner because it’s like hitting the play button and it’s the same scene over and over and over again. So if you can imagine being served the exact same dish three times a day over a period of time, you’re just going to be less interested in eating. And so that can be an issue of being ritualistic. If they have this sexual perfectionism, they may actually avoid sexual interactions with their partner because they’re afraid of showing up in imperfect ways.
If they are particularly overly disagreeable, they may be hypercritical of their partner or have very high expectations of what has to happen or be in place in order for sex to occur. And so the rituals may be they may have expectations around cleanliness or environmental standards such as they don’t want to have any sounds happening outside of the bedroom. They may be very concerned that potentially other people might hear them have sex, and so they may avoid sex. So it can show up in a host of ways.
Imi: By the time you fix all these other påidy.
Dr. Tom: That’s right. For a lot of people, of course, not all overcontrolled people are neat and tidy, but this demand for order, right? Again, overcontrolled people tend to fear uncertainty. So they believe that, oh, they have to have order in certain areas of their life and which means that other areas might have disorder. But it’s this insistence that they know exactly how the interaction will play out and what the outcome will be. And that’s not very sexy, because eroticism requires a sense of mystery. And for a lot of people, mystery is a source of anxiety or uncertainty is a source of anxiety, and so they avoid it and they don’t realize that that pursuit of order and predictability drives down desire over time.
Imi: Yeah. I mean, if you take a step back from just talking about the bedroom, why do you think things like adaptability, flexibility, and enjoyment? I mean, it sounds like an obvious question, but not really, because sometimes I talk to clients about play and they go, “What’s play?” I said, “Well, it’s about doing something without obvious productivity.” They say, “No, I haven’t done that for 20 years.” I mean, even myself sometimes I find it hard to do things that doesn’t have an obvious [inaudible 00:14:33] just for the sake of it. What is this for? I also work with a lot of bright people who are pretty impatient and they have big goals like big achievers. And for them doing something that feels pointless is painful. So what’s your idea on this? What do you think?
Dr. Tom: Well, if we apply it to sex, for example, for a lot of overcontrolled people, sex becomes what we call performance based. And that is we’re having sex for a particular outcome. And for many people that might be an orgasm. So we’re insistent that there’s an orgasm or we’re insistent that there’s an erection or we’re insistent that our partner has an orgasm. So it’s very performance-based, very goal-oriented, and it’s hard for them to see the connection between their sexual anxiety and this focus on a particular outcome versus a pleasure based approach to sex, which is we are going to experience each other’s bodies in ways that feel good independent of a particular outcome.
And that playfulness that you just described is certainly relevant. It’s like how do we go with the flow, take advantage of the here and now moment as it relates to our experience of each other? And for people who lean overcontrol that playfulness, which I think is inherent in children, this flexibility going to a playground and one doesn’t care who are the children there. They just jump in and start playing with the children there, and they’re exploring their world, and they’re having fun with each other. There’s not this high expectation of a particular outcome. Although occasionally you’ll see that one child who insists that people play by a set of rules.
In fact, I remember during the fall of 2020 working with a couple, and I had this light bulb moment which really helped to shape this book. I had this light bulb moment that I bet I could predict the quality of a couple’s relationship, a sexual relationship, by asking one question. Are they a be careful parent or are they have fun parent? So when their child is wanting to take a little bit of a risk, jump off of a landing, or how they play on the equipment at the playground is the temptation as a parent like, “Be careful, be careful, you might get hurt. Don’t do that. You might get hurt.” Or is the temptation, “Have fun,” with this sense of, hey, if something happens, we’ll manage it. And so I have found that the people who tend to have the sexual problems tend to lean towards those who are be careful parents, which is really that expression of the overcontrolled temperament.
Imi: What is the percentage of the population you think struggle with this?
Dr. Tom: That’s a really great question. I haven’t yet seen the data on that. And of course, as therapists, we tend to have a skewed view, right? Because it’s…
Dr. Tom: It’s overrepresented. But I imagine certain cultures and societies, even though Thomas Lynch believes that this is a bio temperament, that people were born leaning undercontrolled or overcontrolled. Certainly I think our environment can turn on or amplify, if you will, the overcontrolled temperament, be it the environment as a cultural environment or growing up in a particular family. I certainly lean overcontrolled as most therapists tend to lean overcontrolled. And some people have asked, “Tom, what’s helped you become a successful therapist?” And I will reply, “Because I’ve had 18 years of apprenticeship, also known as childhood.” And there’s a good deal in my childhood that was out of control or very chaotic. And I think for me to navigate that the overcontrolled style was a way to temper some of that chaos.
Imi: Yeah, I hear you. Thank you for being so authentic. I was actually about to ask you that because in your book, which is so good, and so human and authentic and self-disclosing, I was going to ask you about the origin of your own trade, but you’ve answered that. Any more than you could say about that? I mean, so the need to control born out of chaos, but I assume some people also have a… Okay, so it’s obvious when there were lots of chaos and maybe you were parentified, you were pushed to grow up too quickly, you have alcoholic parents, not you, but when people… You develop this as a coping mechanism, but what if you have parents who also overcontrol? Could that be another way or another path?
Dr. Tom: That’s exactly right. No, no. So every child, when they’re brought into the world, their primary objective is to survive. And one of those ways that they survive, and we typically find this among firstborns, one of the ways that they survive is to identify as much as possible with their primary caregivers. And so if their primary caregivers are generally overcontrolled, then in order to survive that environment, they’re going to have to take on those characteristics as well. And so we find that if there are two children, the first born and the second born, and the first born leans overcontrolled, second born is less overcontrolled or undercontrolled, that can be incredibly anxiety provoking for those parents, right? Because they see that second born is being rebellious and fighting against the cultural norms of the family. And there may be a lot of pushback for that second born, and in many ways-
Imi: They may hold on tightly further to the… Because sibling dynamics often get polarized. The good boy become-
Dr. Tom: That’s exactly it.
Imi: … “even better”. That’s air quote. And then the other one is just a lost cause anyway. They’re allowed to be the wild card.
Dr. Tom: And then the irony is is that even though I’m a second born, my personality is much more of a firstborn. And I think that in part, that’s my own rebelliousness against my family who I perceive as being incredibly under controlled. So even in my rebelliousness, I became more, in some ways, conventional in terms of academic pursuits and success. But also, I like to think of myself as still the rebel.
Imi: Thank you for sharing that about yourself. Now, question, do you think overcontrol looks different in men versus women? Both in terms of the psychology behaviors and your expertise in that.
Dr. Tom: I think there are differences, yet I also think that there are way more within group differences. So there’s certainly a great deal of diversity. Sexually, how women are domesticated as sexual beings certainly is very different than how men are domesticated sexual beings in many cultures. So for example, I find that women are more likely to perceive their… And I’m being very heteronormative in my language, that women are more likely to perceive their partner’s lack of an erection or lack of an orgasm as a reflection of their value as a woman.
Whereas we talk about the orgasm gap in heterosexual relationships that heterosexual women experience fewer orgasms per sexual episode than men do. And I think for men, whether their partner has an orgasm or not is less important to them. But that overly agreeable may show up as not speaking up about one’s sexual needs within their relationship for fear of engaging in conflict. So they just avoid particularly these vulnerable topics to assert that their sexual needs are just as important and valid as their partners.
Imi: I mean, I’m aware the question itself is heteronormative, and inevitably you will be making generalizations. I just want to throw that caveat in there. But because of the way we are socialized, and unfortunately the way society still is, I would assume there might be tendencies that you have spotted.
Dr. Tom: And if we were to talk about men, for example, I find that men are significantly less likely to read books about human sexuality. I will often ask clients, “When’s the last time you’ve read a non-fiction book about sexuality?” And the most common answer is, “Well, never. I’ve never read anything.” And yet, we are sexual beings 24 hours, seven days a week. We’re always sexual beings. And who we are as sexual beings in our teenage years is different than in our 20s, different in our 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and so on. And yet people will spend considerable amounts of time and money on their professional development, their spiritual development, their physical development, and zero on their sexual development. And so for example, it is very common for men to not get an erection when they want one.
Imi: I was going to ask you about that. I want you to talk about ED and the female version of it, which I can never pronounce.
Dr. Tom: So for men, it is just we tend to want to think that the penis is the simple organ that it doesn’t require much of a complex understanding of how arousal and desire works. But of course, that’s certainly not true. And as a consequence, men can think, oh, if I may, dicks should be like dildos, that when you want an erection, you should be able to have one. When in fact, that’s just not how it works. And so if someone that doesn’t have quality sex education and that event occurs where they don’t get an erection when they want to, then they can have incredible anxiety that they won’t be able to get an erection the next time.
Now it’s turned into this anticipatory anxiety that they won’t be able to get an erection. Of course, that releases adrenaline. And what does that do to erectile health? It prevents you from getting an erection. And so when someone learns about how their body works, and also, we have a responsibility to try to understand how our partner’s bodies work, too. And so it’s just not sex education for ours, but it’s also trying to understand how does our partner body work. When we invest in our sexual development, then it helps us to have that psychological flexibility. You mentioned earlier where, oh, I didn’t get an erection this time. That doesn’t mean that it will happen every time thereafter.
Imi: What about women? Why does it create sexual… How does it look like? I mean, there is a pressure on men to have an erection at the right time and maintaining it for as long as possible. And then there are all these social rules about orgasm, whose responsibility is it to bring it? You talk about that in your book, but then you wrote like, excuse me, but if those are the rules running through your head, instead of how beautiful the moment is, you just get pumped up with adrenaline, get buried in the details, and lose your heart on, and ejaculate too soon or not at all. So that’s in the men’s side. But the women’s side as well, it’s less visible.
Dr. Tom: So for a lot of women, their major complaint in seeing a sex therapist is low sexual desire.
Imi: Not the contraction on pain.
Dr. Tom: Or that they’ll have pain. There’s painful sex. So that’s a dyspareunia, which is painful sex during intercourse of which vaginismus is one of its manifestations, which is the tightening of the vaginal wall.
Imi: That’s the word I couldn’t pronounce.
Dr. Tom: Yeah.
Imi: Vaginismus, yes.
Dr. Tom: That prevents penetration. But these certainly can be co-occurring. But with the low sexual desire, what I want to highlight for your listeners is that in many cultures, the assumption is that women experience desire in the same way that men do. Where for a lot of men, they have the spontaneous drives to want to have sex that are independent of their environment, at least that’s how they experience it. For women however, if they believe that that is how they should experience desire, and most in part because that’s often how cultures will in insinuate that they should experience desire. And quite frankly, in pornography, that’s often how it’s portrayed that this is sexually aggressiveness, that there’s a sexual receptivity.
But for a lot of women, they do not experience desire in that kind of spontaneous way, but instead in a much more contextual desire or responsive desire. And so for a lot of women, the environment has a lot to say about their sexual readiness. And so if they think that they should have spontaneous desire when in fact, they have contextual desire, they may mislabel their self as having low sexual desire. When actually their lack of interest in sex may not be an indication of a problem. It may actually be an indication of good judgment. That their environment is not suitable for sexual readiness. And so for example, having a spouse or a partner who is ignoring the woman’s needs for emotional connection. Or if there’s chaos in the home or at work or all of these factors can impact one’s interest in sex.
Imi: Because people often assume every problem lies intrapsychically.
Dr. Tom: That’s right.
Imi: But then we realize that lots of things are systemic and you’re actually in a relational dance. Nothing just live inside your body or mind. Interact-
Dr. Tom: Absolutely.
Imi: … with their environment.
Dr. Tom: Absolutely. And how liberating it can be to provide… Most of my time in sex therapies is often sex education. And it can be quite liberating for women and their partners to understand, oh, I experienced desire differently and how I experience it differently is normal for me. My difference is not evidence of a pathology. It’s just a normal expression for me. And that helps to make it less personal and provides an opening for change to occur in the context of their sexual relationship and intimate relationship.
Imi: And on that topic, how does it feel to have a partner who has… Let’s say you are not or your partner is, how can you tell what are the signs? And I guess my next question would be, how do we take care of ourselves and them? How do we empathize when we may feel so rejected by that coldness?
Dr. Tom: Yeah. Of course, I think one of those ways is to have these difficult conversations where you are inviting your partner. You may communicate it as a desire to have a deeper, more fulfilling and meaningful relationship with their partner. And if you are noticing… I had a couple last week where the partner, the wife was saying that she’s never felt like she’s had an emotional connection with her spouse. And one of the things that I didn’t mention yet is at the very far end of the overcontrolled temperament, think of it as a continuum. It’s on a continuum, and the further down you go, the more amplified those tendencies are. We have certain diagnoses that seem to be associated with the overcontrolled temperament such as obsessive compulsive personality disorder, schizoid personality, paranoid personality, anorexia, autism spectrum disorder.
And the words that the wife was using to describe her husband and the husband’s words to describe himself made me think, I’m wondering if this person is on the autism spectrum. And so that we just began this conversation around that possibility and tap into the couple’s values around greater intimacy within the relationship. And when I use the word intimacy, I’m not talking about sex, but this feeling of connection between them. And so an aspect of my book that I tap into is also acceptance and commitment therapy and this emphasis on value. So what are the shared values with the couple? And so if you can amplify those values for the couple, then that helps the couple get a focus to where they want to take their relationship.
Imi: Sounds very rational. I mean, what I’m aware is with people with overcontrol, which often overlaps with avoidant attachment, the more you push, the more they seem to go away. And so the more needy you are the more detached they seem to be.
Dr. Tom: I think there’s some indication that that might… That’s true, that kind of avoiding, and in part because of the vulnerability that’s expressed to actually say to someone, “I need you in my life,” runs counter to the overcontrolled person’s pursuit of self-sufficiency. For a lot of overcontrolled people, they really avoid situations where there’s some dependency on someone else. And so that avoid and detachment I have not yet seen someone explore that empirically, but it certainly makes clinical sense.
Imi: I hear you. So thank you. I mean, there’s been lots of information already, but I want to squeeze both out of our conversation. You mentioned threat sensitivity earlier, which underlies the overcontrolled temperament. I want to hear more about that and what we can do about it.
Dr. Tom: Well, the overcontrolled person tends to be very hypervigilant to situations that they fear would kick them out of the community or in RODBT language they use the word tribe. That they don’t want to do anything that might get them kicked out because that obviously is the epitome of vulnerability. And so certainly they don’t want to do that. Ironically, that often means that they believe they have to show up in perfect ways with the assumption that if I’m perfect, I won’t be kicked out, that no one would criticize me, no one would judge me, no one would reject me.
And so they think, oh, I have to show up perfectly. Of course, what happens though is that in social psychology, there’s this concept of the Pratfall effect, which is an observation that we tend to find people who show up flawed, we tend to find them more endearing. So the more perfect someone is, the less of a connection we might feel with them and convincing someone that, oh, if I share my flaws, if I share my vulnerabilities, I’ll actually be more liked. That can be very difficult for the overcontrolled person to wrap their brain around.
Imi: Yeah, it is counterintuitive for them.
Dr. Tom: Yeah.
Imi: So what can people do with threat sensitivity, do you think? What can they tell themselves apart from what you’ve just suggested? Other things they can do? How do we feel safe and focus less on the… I mean, you mentioned something in your book about how do we worry less about the worst thing that can happen? Personally, I find thinking about the worst thing that can happen very helpful. No, it’s just like it’s a stoic approach, isn’t it?
Dr. Tom: That’s right.
Imi: Negative visualization where I personally find to be the most helpful for me. What are your thoughts on all of that and what kind of strategies have you seen?
Dr. Tom: I love stoicism. I am particularly drawn to that philosophy. Pema Chödrön, a buddhist nun, wrote that when we lean into anxiety, we discover new parts of ourselves. And so one of the takeaways I hope my readers have with Making Nice with Naughty is that they can use anxiety as a doorway for more authenticity. And so for a lot of overcontrolled people, they get close to something that feels anxious and they pull away. They have bought into the myth that comfortable is the epitome of success, is if I’m comfortable, then that’s ideal. Instead for me, it’s that when I confront something that’s anxiety provoking, if I can lean into it, pursue that thing that I’m afraid of, then out of my own values, then it’s my values that are guiding my behavior versus my anxiety that’s guiding my behavior.
And then the pursuit of comfort as the evolutionary biologist have reiterated it, is that if that single-celled organism at the beginning of time swimming in that protozoic soup was perfectly comfortable, evolution would never have happened. And so how do we lean into the anxiety in order to discover new parts of ourselves? And I think that that’s an important takeaway for a lot of people who are overcontrolled. By the way, in one of my chapters, I talk about trauma, and this becomes particularly relevant when people have had a traumatic histories and then avoid sex with their partner who has nothing to do with that traumatic history.
That that avoidance, every time you want to avoid something that is anxiety-inducing, they’re actually feeding that anxiety, making that anxiety stronger. So your question about, well, what’s the worst thing that could happen, is one way of pursuing that anxiety-provoking thing with the anticipation or expectation that either A, the worst thing is unlikely to happen, or B, if the worst thing were to happen, you could still navigate it.
Imi: Good point. Yes. Thank you. I think that was helpful. Two pathways, whichever you pick and equivalent to your temperament and what works for you. I think as a final point, I want us to talk a little bit about the strength of having overcontrol as a trait. Because I really don’t want people to walk away feeling like, oh, this is such a bad thing.
Dr. Tom: Or I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. For me-
Imi: So how you guess to where you are in your career.
Dr. Tom: That’s exactly right. I think if I were to imagine the alternative such as being undercontrolled, there’s a lot about the undercontrolled temperament that I admire. I admire their playfulness. I admire their emotive expression. I admire their ability to have fun without pre-conditions. For a lot of overcontrolled people, they might use alcohol or other substances in order to feel like, oh, I need to have the substance in order to sing karaoke or get on the dance floor. Where under controlled people, they just get out there, they’re enjoying life.
Imi: They [inaudible 00:45:11] too, they just don’t think so much and plan so much.
Dr. Tom: That’s exactly right. So there’s a lot about the undercontrolled that I admire, but what I struggle with is what I perceive as the chaos surrounding their life. So for me, I’ll never be undercontrolled. I think I say in the book, there’s not enough therapy or medication in the world that would make me undercontrolled, and that’s not what I endeavor. But what I realize is that I can learn to turn down the volume on my overcontrolledness so that I can experience relationships more meaningfully. And so yeah, absolutely that my overcontrolled temperament, the ability to plan, the ability to persevere, the following rules and expectations, finding relief and knowing exactly what to do. I mean, when I think of my doctoral coursework of getting through that program, anyone who goes to graduate school has to lean overcontrolled in order to successfully matriculate.
So again, if I were in a place to decide on who’s going to build a bridge or a building, I certainly would want an overcontrolled person who’s building that bridge and/or building. What happens for a lot of overcontrolled people though is that they want to apply what works in the world out there to their intimate relationships. And they think, oh, it works out there, well, it must work in here. I’m thinking of another couple where one of the partners is a physician and gets very agitated if their partner doesn’t consult them on medical facts, right? Because this person believes, why wouldn’t they want to consult me? I’m the authority on medical information. And of course, having that point of view is very alienating to their partner. It creates this one down position that their partner has to take.
And so it can become a problem within their sexual and intimate relationships, which is, to get back to the title of the book, Making Nice with Naughty, naughty is about breaking the rules. It’s breaking free, really breaking free from the confines of the rules. And so making nice with it is certainly a play on Christmas, but really it’s really, how do I befriend this naughtiness, this explorer mindset, the mystery mindset? All of these pieces that you talked about earlier around playfulness that we may have been told as overcontrolled people is the root of our problems.
That you have to color within the lines or you’ll be judged. You have to get all A’s, or you’ll be judged. All of this kind of the messages that can happen for people. By making nice with naughty, we then open ourselves up to having fun, to be able to relax, to grab life more spontaneously, and to find meaning and fulfillment in the moment rather than believe that, oh, meaning and fulfillment is only possible if I follow a recipe and get the final product to be exactly as the picture shows, or I’m told that it must be… So breaking free of that is hopefully the ultimate takeaway for the readers.
Imi: Thank you so, so, so much. Yeah, you shared a lot of good insights about the traits of overcontrol and how it applies to the bedroom. And I think people need to get your book because in there it’s a really easy read. I love your style of writing. It’s so authentic. Is there any last thing you would like to say to our audience if they suspect themselves or their partner might be struggling with this apart from getting your book?
Dr. Tom: Well, certainly if they want kind of a more personal connection with me, they can certainly visit me at my website drtommurray.com, or follow me on social media at DrTomMurray for Instagram and therealdrtommurray on TikTok. I’ve put out short videos that speak to the overcontrolled temperament that I hope that your listeners will resonate with.
Imi: Thank you so much. So yeah, I hope many people get to hear this and then get your book and get more insights on this topic, which we just don’t talk about enough.
Dr. Tom: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a real pleasure.
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.