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The tight grip: Why letting go of control feels so hard (and why it's so powerful)

Updated: May 30

For years, I clung to control over my life like a lifeline, afraid if I wasn't in control, who was? The very idea left me feeling lost and powerless, as if my entire identity depended on maintaining a tight grip on every aspect of my existence. Would letting go mean losing a part of myself? What would happen if I stepped into the unknown without the familiar weight that had defined me for so long. I could see my need for control play out in my daily activities, the tight grip I held on the steering wheel, the clenched jaw, perpetually tight muscles, a refusal to let things go or to allow new ideas into my life – I understand now that these were the symptoms of a fear far deeper than just losing control.


A personal experience: Why is it so hard for me to let go of control?

In a recent yoga class, the truth about my grip on control and my fear of letting go hit me with a visceral force. As my teacher urged me to let go of the rigid grip I held on the pose, a wave of fear crashed over me. My body, accustomed to holding tight, fiercely resisted. It shook uncontrollably, as if fighting against an unseen threat. The physical discomfort was intense, bordering on genuine terror. It felt like a primal instinct, a deep-seated fear of vulnerability was rising to the surface. This fear, this resistance, followed me into Savasana, the final resting pose. There, lying still on my back, I found myself unexpectedly overwhelmed with tears. My body continued to shake, a testament to the profound emotional turmoil that had been unleashed by the simple act of letting go. The experience left me questioning: what was happening? Why did the act of surrendering, of softening, evoke such a powerful, unsettling reaction?


We all crave a sense of control in our lives. It's human nature to want to feel secure, to feel like we have a grasp on the situation. But what happens when that need for control becomes debilitating, a vice that tightens around our hearts and minds, making it impossible to let go? It can hamper our progress in all aspects of our lives and can manifest in many ways: clinging to relationships that no longer serve us, holding onto past hurts and resentments, refusing to embrace change, or constantly striving for perfection. But why do we struggle so much to release our grip?


What is the root cause of the need to control?

The need for control is more than just a mere desire; it stems from a survival instinct and a profound longing for safety, influenced by psychological, emotional, and environmental factors that can include:


Early life experiences: Childhood experiences play a significant role in shaping our need for control. Growing up in a chaotic or unpredictable environment can lead to a heightened need for control as a way to create a sense of safety and stability.


Trauma: Experiencing trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood, can instil a deep-seated need for control. This is because controlling the environment and circumstances is a way to prevent further harm or pain.


Insecurity and low self-esteem: Individuals who struggle with self-esteem and self-worth may feel that they need to control their surroundings to compensate for their internal feelings of inadequacy. Through control, some attempt to portray an idealised version of themselves that they feel will be accepted by others.


Perfectionism: Perfectionists often have a strong need for control to ensure everything meets their high standards. This can be a way to avoid criticism or failure.


Fear of uncertainty: A fear of the unknown and discomfort with uncertainty can drive people to try to control every aspect of their lives. Letting go means embracing unpredictability, which can be deeply unsettling, particularly for those who have experienced trauma previously.


Anxiety and panic attacks: Generalised anxiety and panic attacks can lead to control issues as a coping mechanism. Controlling the environment can help anxious individuals feel more secure and less vulnerable to potential threats and less likely to experience a panic attack.


Intergenerational behaviour patterns: Sometimes, control issues are learned from role models or authority figures who exhibited similar behaviour. This can create a belief that control is necessary for success and safety, or simply that control is the way to live.


Desire for predictability: 

Control helps create predictability in life. For some, knowing what to expect reduces stress and helps them feel more comfortable and prepared.


Understanding these root causes can be the first step toward addressing and overcoming control issues and the fear of letting go, often with the help of therapeutic interventions and mindfulness practices.


Why letting go is so powerful

Letting go, however, is not about surrendering to chaos or accepting defeat (even though it may feel that way to your brain and nervous system). It's about embracing the unknown, trusting in yourself (the biggest one of all), and recognising that life is a constant flow of change. When we let go of the need to control everything, we open ourselves up to:


Greater peace and freedom: We no longer feel weighed down by the burden of constantly trying to manage every aspect of our lives.


Increased resilience: We become more adaptable and flexible in the face of challenges.


Authentic connections: We can build stronger relationships with both ourselves and others, that are based on trust and vulnerability.


Personal growth: We allow ourselves to learn and evolve as we navigate the ebb and flow of life, embracing imperfections both in ourselves and in others.


Letting go of control exercises

Some exercises to include in your day to day life that might help you start letting go of control include mindfulness meditation, journalling, visualisation, gratitude practices, physical activity and many therapeutic practices such as sound therapy!


What happens in our body when we let go of control?

When we release control, or soften, a cascade of physical, emotional and psychological changes occur, shifting our body and mind into a state of receptivity and flow, as our bodies begin to release stored tension and stress. 


On a physical level, the tension we hold in our muscles begins to dissipate, this can manifest through shaking or trembling. These involuntary movements are part of the body's natural way of releasing built-up energy and stress. The shaking is a sign that our nervous system is starting to relax and let go of its hyper-vigilant state.


As we let go, and release tension, our breath deepens, allowing oxygen to flow more freely, nourishing our cells and calming our nervous system. Our heart rate slows, our blood pressure drops, and our body relaxes into a state of ease. Simultaneously, the release of control triggers a release of stress hormones like cortisol, allowing our body to enter a state of parasympathetic dominance, the 'rest and digest' mode. This shift allows our body to heal, repair, and restore itself, fostering a sense of calm and well-being. 


Furthermore, letting go opens the door to a new level of awareness. By relinquishing our grip of control, we become more attuned to our surroundings, our internal sensations, and the subtle cues of our body. You may begin to notice you have a heightened awareness of emotions, feelings, or bodily sensations. These allow you to respond to situations with greater presence and flexibility, rather than reacting from a place of fear or control, now you may be more curious and inviting of these things. 


The function of our nervous system and brain in letting go of control

The nervous system plays a crucial role in enabling us to let go of control by regulating our physiological and psychological responses to perceived threats and challenges. When faced with situations that trigger our fight-or-flight response, the sympathetic nervous system activates, releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare our bodies for action. 


Simultaneously, the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and recovery, is suppressed. This state of heightened arousal and focus can make it difficult to let go of control as we prioritise immediate survival or protection as an in-built function. However, the nervous system also possesses mechanisms that allow us to override these automatic responses and voluntarily relinquish control. 


The prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in higher-level cognitive functions, can inhibit the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. This allows us to engage in mindful practices, such as deep breathing and meditation including sound therapy, which helps regulate our emotional responses and reduce the perceived need for control. 


Additionally, the release of neuro-chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin can further facilitate the process of letting go by promoting trust, empathy, and a sense of connection with others, which can reduce the urge to assert control in certain situations.


The role of sound therapy in letting go of control and to calm the nervous system

Sound therapy and sound meditation play a crucial role in the process of releasing control by using sound waves to calm agitated and fearful nervous systems to invite trust in order to promote safety and the ability to let go and relax. This holistic practice helps shift the nervous system from the hyper-vigilant, stress-induced, fight-or-flight state of the sympathetic nervous system, to a calm, rest-and-digest state of the parasympathetic nervous system. 


The manner in which the sounds are played helps to down regulate brain wave states from fast and active, hyper-vigilant beta waves to slow and calming alpha waves. This shift helps release stored tension and stress, allowing the body to soften and let go of its protective armour. 


For sound therapy to be effective, it is essential to have a nurturing environment and a sense of security so that the body can feel safe to surrender, open and receive the sounds, rather than analyse and resist them. As the body listens to the sounds and lets go of stored trauma and emotions it may experience shaking and tremors, this is a normal release response. This, in turn, can lead to reduced anxiety, increased resilience, and a greater capacity to flow with life's unpredictable currents.


Sound therapy offers a unique path to letting go. Certain sounds and frequencies can induce deep relaxation, calm the nervous system, and help release emotional blockages. Sound baths, for example, create a powerful and immersive experience that can help you detach from your thoughts and connect with your inner peace, while also connecting with the collective energy of other participants in the room, which creates a larger and more powerful calming and loving energy field.


Embrace the journey

Ultimately, letting go is not about relinquishing all control, but rather about recognising when your striving for it becomes detrimental and embracing the freedom that comes with accepting the unknown. Learning to soften gradually is key to overcoming the fear and prevents you from shutting down completely. Allow yourself to experience moments of both softness and rigidity without judgment. Over time, as you build trust in your body’s ability to handle vulnerability, the process will become less terrifying. It's about taking small steps, practicing patience, and celebrating every moment of progress.


By embracing this process, despite the fear it may evoke, you open yourself to profound transformation and a deeper sense of well-being. Releasing control is not about surrendering to chaos, but about embracing the natural flow of life, a flow that is both powerful and ultimately more liberating than any attempt to control it.


Remember, you are not alone. There are resources and support available to help you navigate this process. With time, self-compassion, and the right tools, you can learn to embrace the freedom that comes with letting go.If you’d like to experience a private or book a group sound therapy session you can email us with any questions or book here


If you enjoyed reading this article leave a comment below. The more we share our collective experiences the more we help each other grow and heal. 


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This article was written by Nicole Sultana, she holds a Post Graduate Degree in Spiritual Care, is a Certified Therapeutic Sound Practitioner and a Death Doula. She is the founder of Sound Consciousness, a company who provides wellbeing strategies and therapeutic sound practices to help you reach peak levels of performance whether you are trying to excel in your career, be the best partner you can be, or trying to create the life of your dreams. 

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