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8 Key Differences Between Setting Boundaries and Needing Control


Reading time:

4 min


Published on:

Tue Nov 07 2023


Last updated:

Wed Nov 08 2023


Written by:

The Personal Development School

Setting clear boundaries and needing control are related concepts, but they’re very different. When we set personal boundaries, we’re setting clear physical, emotional, and mental limits for living a happier, healthier life and ultimately improving our relationships.

Controlling behavior is very different; sometimes, it can look a bit like boundary-setting. But when we set firm boundaries in an effort to control other people, well, that’s just flat-out controlling behavior.

With that in mind, spotting the difference between healthy boundary-setting and the need for control isn’t always easy. Whether you’re trying to understand this difference in yourself or others, here are the top differences to look out for.

Boundaries Vs. Control

1) Healthy boundary-setting arises from a desire to protect your well-being.

Although they look similar, boundary-setting and control are born of very different purposes. When we set boundaries, we’re looking to protect our well-being, define our limits, improve our relationships, and better communicate our needs and values.

With control, we may be trying to manipulate or micromanage people or a situation, even if this is on a subconscious level. A need for control often comes from insecurity, fear, or a desire for power.

2) Boundaries are directed inward, and control is directed outward.

When we set boundaries, we’re thinking about our own needs. What do we need (or not need) from others to be the happiest, healthiest versions of ourselves? What do we need to show up in our relationships in a way that benefits both parties?

Control is different. When we seek control, our energy is directed outward as we focus on how to direct or influence different situations and people.

3) Setting boundaries feels empowering.

When we set boundaries, we feel strong and proud of ourselves. We know we made a decision that will ultimately benefit our lives and relationships long-term.

Seeking control over external factors or people may lead to frustration, as it often involves trying to change things beyond your control.

4) Boundaries are flexible, while control is rigid.

When we set boundaries, those boundaries are somewhat flexible. We’re willing to adapt and allow room for compromise—within reason, of course. Control tends to be very rigid and resistant to change, leading to conflict and strain in relationships.

5) Boundaries are rooted in respect.

When we set boundaries, we’re doing it out of respect for ourselves and others. Setting healthy boundaries is all about understanding what you need and communicating that need in a kind, respectful way to others. When we set boundaries, the people on the other end of that boundary feel respected as well.

Control, on the other hand, can be disrespectful, especially if it infringes on the autonomy and choices of other people.

6) Boundaries and control have different emotional impacts.

The impact of healthy boundary-setting and a need for control will have a very different emotional impact, both on the person setting a boundary or seeking control and the person on the receiving end.

Establishing boundaries can enhance emotional well-being by reducing stress, anxiety, and resentment. The need for control, however, can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, and frustration, as it often involves trying to manage circumstances we have no control over.

7) Control hinders collaboration, while boundaries support it.

Boundaries will support healthy collaboration and cooperation, encouraging clear collaboration and mutual understanding. Say, for example, that you communicate a healthy boundary with a boss—your boss will feel that the two of you have collaborated to reach a healthy, mutual understanding, and you’ll feel the same way. Neither of you will feel unfair resistance or combativeness from the other.

The need for control will typically hinder collaboration and lead to feelings of combativeness and resentment. It will create a power struggle and resistance from others rather than a feeling of collaboration.

8) Setting boundaries builds trust.

Setting boundaries builds trust in relationships by creating an atmosphere of clear and honest communication and mutual respect. When individuals openly express their needs, limits, and expectations, it leads to a shared understanding of each other's boundaries. This clarity reduces the chances of misunderstandings or unintentional violations, promoting trust in the consistency of these interactions. Trust is further strengthened when people see that their boundaries are respected and upheld, demonstrating a commitment to their well-being and values.

Too Much Control Requires Improvement

On the other hand, a relentless need for control can significantly erode trust in relationships and situations. When someone constantly seeks to exert control over others, it sends a message that their desires and preferences take precedence over anyone else's, leading to feelings of disregard and disrespect among those affected.

This can shatter trust as people begin to question whether their opinions, choices, and boundaries are valued or even considered. They may grow increasingly cautious and reluctant to share their thoughts or concerns, fearing that their autonomy and agency will be continually undermined.

If you’re looking to improve your boundaries, you can take The Personal Development School’s course on boundary-setting here. And to bring your attachment style from insecure to secure, check out our All Access Pass.

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