How Much Control Do You Have Over Your Mind?

brain inside a lightbulb

A while back, a post about choosing to be positive came up in my WordPress Reader feed. The blogger mentioned that “our mind is something we do and can have control over.” While they weren’t making reference to mental illness at all, I don’t think control over one’s own mind is quite so cut and dried, particularly when mental illness is in the picture.

I’ve got issues with toxic positivity, but for this post, I’ll skip over that angle and consider the extent to which we do, or do not, have the ability to wrestle our minds into submission.

Thoughts/emotions & metacognition/meta-emotions

Emotions are a response to what’s going on in our environment. They’ll leap up and bite you, whether you want them to or not. Similarly, thoughts can jump up and bite you in the nose. You can try all you want to get control over those emotions and thoughts, but you probably won’t have much luck if you approach them head-on. They simply aren’t interested in being controlled. If you try to suppress them, they’ll get in your face even more.

Meta-emotions are the emotions that saw the initial emotion and decided to join the party. Similarly, metacognition is thinking about your thoughts. This meta territory is more malleable. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s a possibility.

Even less easy is digging down to core beliefs, the foundations that are feeding into those automatic thoughts; that’s what therapy is for. Sometimes a whole buttload of therapy.

What’s different in mental illness

Mental illness appears to arise from a mix of biological (including genetic) and environmental factors. Science still has a ways to go in refining this, but a diathesis-stress view would be that the more biologically vulnerable someone is, the less that’s required environmentally to trigger the onset of illness. Even if biology isn’t the major causative factor, environmental factors can produce functional changes in the brain, as happens with PTSD.

Surprise surprise, mental illness isn’t wave-your-magic-wand controllable. There are medical and psychotherapeutic treatments, but they may only be able to do so much. While someone may have some control over whether they get treatment (as long as the mental health care system isn’t screwing them over), they can’t control whether treatment will be effective.

Control vs. acceptance

I’m a very left-brained kind of person, and quite self-reflective. I like to think, and I like to poke around my inner environment and figure out what it’s doing and why. I’ve gotten to know that environment pretty well, and while I can’t control things, I can often recognize them for what they are.

I like the idea of acceptance as an alternative stance to control. Not as in laying out the welcome mat for the mentally wild and wonky, but letting it do its strut and then walking out of the room of its own accord. Probably part of why I’m pro-acceptance is that I don’t have the mental energy to attempt control, even if it was possible. Trying to control sounds extremely exhausting, and mental illness on its own is enough to deal with.

While messaging that you can/should control your mind is common, that may be, at least in part, because people are trying to sell you things. And really, if controlling the mind was fully doable, why are there still so many of us crazy folk? Wouldn’t someone have found the magic wand by now? Until someone does find it, maybe attempts at control aren’t the most efficient use of resources, and a little acceptance could make things a little easier.

To what extent do you think you have control over your mind, and how much do you try to control it?

53 thoughts on “How Much Control Do You Have Over Your Mind?”

  1. This was a beautiful read. Your blog gives me so many insights and inspire me to just keep on keeping on being the best me I can and ACCEPTING ALL OF ME, discarding none of me, loving the whole of me. Thank you. 🔥❤

  2. I read this the other day but couldn’t think of anything useful to say in a comment. Except that Casper is beautiful. 🙂

    I’m in Cognitive Processing Therapy, I’ve had three sessions, and as I understand it, the process depends on my gaining greater control over my thoughts at key moments when I might be triggered and the thoughts may be about to “snowball” into a full fledged flashback.

    So I must have control over my mind. However, my ADHD is such that I don’t always feel that I do. It should be a challenging and interesting adventure, from here.

    1. My take on the snowballing would be that if you’re able to develop greater awareness of the automatic thoughts and emotions that come up at the beginning stages of flashback-triggering, you’re in a better position to change the way that you respond to them, whereas if you were trying to stop those initial thoughts and emotions from even bubbling up in the first place, you’d probably have a lot less success.

      1. I think that’s in line with the CPT thinking. It would be useless (if not impossible) to say for example: “I need to stop thinking that if a Kid hasn’t cashed their paycheck yet after several months, it is a sign of disrespect.”

        Better to just note that I feel disrespected by their holding onto the paycheck for so long, and recognize that this can eventually lead to “F—k you White Boy!” if the snowballing affect is not arrested.

        But I’m in the very early stages of this. The therapist sure assigns a lot of work, and I tend to get behind and then cram.

  3. No it’s not. Definitely not easy, but more of a mind-f–k. It does appear to be helpful however, and it makes logical sense.

  4. I am convinced that thoughts and anything that appears in your mind can be controlled to an extent. You can’t control what comes in and out of your mind, but you can definitely control what you do with that thought and how you might act upon it. Regardless, this is not to say that doing this is easy. In fact it probably takes time to fully accept doing so.

  5. Fantastic and insightful post! Really hit a chord with me. I too have an issue with toxic positivity. The negative feelings are bubbling away under the surface and will find an exit one way or another! Recognising and accepting the difficult times/feeling we all experience is a healthy place to start.
    I may have to go and get myself a guinea pig now! Just adorable!

  6. Nick Pipitone

    I say run 🏃‍♂️ very far away from anyone who believes they can control their emotions! Lol

    The mind is incredibly complex and even the so-called experts have very little idea how it works. I also believe in the subconscious, and I think we probably run more on that and animal instinct than we’d like to believe.

    This reminds me of the “Serenity Now” Seinfeld episode. At the end, the one character says, “Serenity now, insanity later.”

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