Types of Self Control

Self-control, in its simplest form, means restraint on oneself, be it in actions, words, or behaviour. This restraint is essentially applied by a person unto himself to prevent him from performing acts of a derogatory or disrupting nature. Ensuring a control over one’s actions can be done in many ways, namely, physical, mental, or emotional.

Thus, there are several types of self-control, which can be used in different circumstances. Every circumstance would necessitate a different form of self-control depending upon the dimensions of the situation.

The moment the term ‘control’ is used, it implies physicality and the existence of a second or third person who applied the control. A question often arises – How can a person apply control on himself? Can a person act in a punitive way and cause harm to himself? The answers are varied in the fact that, yes, a person can apply control or can simply control (stop) himself physically by not performing some actions. In a very simple way, a person who has abusive or aggressive tendencies can control himself by staying away from the venue where such tendencies may be exhibited. For example, in a road accident, the driver has two options – he can simply drive away or get involved in a physical fight due to road rage. Driving away is keeping himself physically away from a fight and therefore, he has applied self-control.

Self-control often takes on a cerebral characteristic as it can be demonstrated as mental control. When self-control is exercised in the realm of the mind, mental discipline comes into effect. While dieting, mental self-control is very effective, as the mind has to keep repeating the fact that the body must control the intake of food. However, mental self-control does not work in isolation, as at times it is coupled with physical control. In the example of dieting, though the mind says ‘No’, the hands and mouth may still reach out for the fattening foods! In these cases, the mental restraint has to be extremely strong so that it can overcome the physical movements.

Emotions are feelings that escape very easily. Control can be exercised over these emotions as well although the restraint needs to be applied only to negative emotions. Positive sentiments do much good to mankind and hence should not be suppressed (unless they hurt someone else’s sentiments). For example, enthusiasm over examination results is a positive sentiment for the person who has done well but may negatively affect a friend who has fared poorly. Hence, it may be prudent to control the show of emotions until a better time when the friend is unlikely to feel depressed. Emotional self-control arises when a person reins in their feelings and does not express them. The sentiments are controlled within. Most times, emotions roll out quickly without waiting for the brain to react and thus it becomes extremely difficult to apply self-control on emotions. Rarely are children (and adults) able to manifest such self-control. A high level of maturity is required to ‘think before acting’.

The types of self-control enumerated above are all inter-linked as the mental, physical and emotional work in tandem. Every form of self-control is like a triangle with three key angles. This can be illustrated through some examples:

  1. A robber did not murder his victim when the victim saw him. Here, ‘not murdering’ is physical self-control; his mind guiding him away from the murderous act is ‘mental self-control’; and not demonstrating his frustration is ‘emotional self-control’.
  2. A child did not retaliate when her friend hit her. When questioned about it, she replied, “My mind told me not to do it”. This retort clearly indicates the link between mind and action, thereby establishing the fact that mental self-control can facilitate physical control.
  3. Excessive emotions can make a person weak and controlling these emotions can aid mental self-control and discipline. Curtailing emotions within oneself sends a message to the brain to think logically and not emotionally – thereby applying some amount of control and will over the mind as well. Hence, though there are different forms of self-control, they can be used independently or interdependently.