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Maladaptive Overcontrol: Illustrated (Plus Free Handwriting Font Downloads)

Blue background with a title in black that reads, "Traits of someone struggling with maladaptive overcontrol." There are pink ovals all over the image with traits written in them: detail-focused, restrained, perfectionist, disciplined, structured, prepared, dutiful, reserved, conscientious, and cautious. Scattered around the pink ovals are yellow and orange stars and dots. At the bottom of the image are credits that read, "Lynch, 2018. RO-DBT manual. Visually translated by Lindsay Braman."

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An intentionally messy visual about the opposite: maladaptive over-control (sometimes called maladaptive perfectionism). We all love doing things well. “Getting it right” earns us praise and minimizes negative consequences. But what if our existence becomes more and more wrapped up in getting *everything* right?

Culturally, we tend to praise high levels of self-control. In fact, a lot of the language we use around mental illness reveals our cultural assumption that only people who are more impulsive and emotionally unrestrained suffer from mental illness. The reality is that many, many individuals on the opposite end of the spectrum suffer, often in silence, and deserve to be seen, have their experience validated, and be given access to informed, appropriate care.

Traditionally, we haven’t had a lot of resources to help people who struggled with overcontrol. In a culture that places a lot of blame on individuals’ lack of control, people suffering the negative effects of a hyper-controlled way of being in the world have mostly been overlooked by the mental health community. RO-DBT is a therapy model that works on the theory that it is overcontrol, not a lack of self-control, that contributes to some clusters of mental health symptoms (including those that form diagnoses like restrictive eating disorders, compulsive behaviors, obsessive thinking, and others).

Good mental health means flexibility and spontaneity. A person who, by biology or upbringing, is unable to be flexible is unable to thrive.

Yellow background with a handrawn person who has long gold hair, is wearing a black shirt with a white collar, and has an uncertain look on their face. The title of the image reads, "Traits of struggling with maladaptive over control." 1. Low receptivity to change and hyper vigilant self-protectiveness. May avoid uncertainty and only engage in situations where the outcome s predictable. 2. High need for structure and order. This may look like: rigid planning, compulsive "fixing," rule-following, and rehearsing potentially unpredictable experiences. 3. Difficulty identifying and expressing emotion. May have received feedback from others that their facial expressions often don't match context or current feeling. 4. Low social connectedness and low levels of intimacy. May experience extreme envy or struggle to feel  empathy for other people. Source: T Lynch, 2018. RO-DBT manual. Visually translated by Lindsay Braman.

Because individuals with overcontrol are less impulsive, more likely to continue working through intense mental health symptoms, and less likely to require the intervention of emergency health or the criminal justice system, few resources have been developed to support the recovery of these individuals.

Thomas Lynch developed a therapy model designed to treat issues of overcontrol called Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (RO-DBT.) RO-DBT is an adaptation and reformulation of the DBT model, which is a leading treatment for people who struggle with under-control. Radically open DBT seeks to help individuals with the opposite, what Lynch calls maladaptive overcontrol.

Women, especially in the west (and often, especially for people in marginalized groups), are expected to sacrifice our emotions, needs, and desires in order to appear poised, self controlled, and cool headed. In so many ways, that’s not a bad thing: Being driven and detail oriented can help us get ahead at school or work, and being able to stay present to difficult conversations can foster intimacy in relationships. But we don’t talk often about the dark extremes that can happen when these traits become all-consuming. Many highly controlled individuals may struggle with eating disorders, compulsive behaviors, or chronic depression all while maintaining the external appearance that they are thriving. Because the very traits that contribute to these individuals’ pain are traits so praised in our culture, it’s normal to feel confused, dismissive of one’s own experience, or somehow not-right. Maladaptive Overcontrol is a phrase that validates and sums up so much of this tension: some control is good, but when it causes distress and relational isolation, it may be time to access some resources to get help.

NOTE: Instagram is not therapy, and these images are for educational use only. Please don’t diagnose yourself from anything you read online. Maladaptive Overcontrol is not a disorder recognized in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, but may be a helpful category for some people in order to understand their experience, grow, and feel validated in accessing resources for recovery.

PDF downloads of the maladaptive over control resource.

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Maladaptive overcontrol is characterized by these four things:

1. People who have low receptivity to change and who are hyper-vigilantly self-protective. These individuals are avoidant of uncertainty and prefer to place themselves in situations where an outcome can be predicted.

2. People with maladaptive overcontrol have a high need for structure and order. This may look like: rigid planning, compulsive “fixing,” rule-following, and practicing or rehearsing potentially unpredictable experiences.

3. Those who struggle with maladaptive control may have difficulty identifying and expressing emotion. Often, they may have received feedback from others that their facial expressions are sometimes mismatched to a particular context or present emotion.

4. Often, people with maladaptive overcontrol have low social connectedness and low levels of intimacy. They may experience extreme envy, be seen by others as “aloof,” and struggle with feeling empathy for others.

Some traits of someone struggling with maladaptive overcontrol include:

1. Detail-focused
2. Perfectionist
3. Restrained
4. Cautious
5. Disciplined
6. Conscientious
7. Structured
8. Prepared
9. Reserved
10. Dutiful

Free Fonts

“Winnicott” & “Winnicott Looped”

Handdrawn fonts by Lindsay Braman for download

A download of this font includes a zip file of two different typefaces: Winnicott regular and Winnicott Looped. The only difference is that the looped version of this font includes the “O” characters with a looped style that is currently in style.

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IMPORTANT: This font is available with two different licenses.
Free for personal use: the free for personal use version of this font is, for now, free to download. You may use it on personal documents, educational projects, and not-for-profit media.
License for commercial use: when you pay for the license for commercial use, you’re also sporting the creation of more art, fonts, and mental health resources. The commercially licensed version of this font is okay to use for all uses, including commercial graphic design, for-profit documents or media, etc.

I believe the capacity for play (and sometimes a bit of mischief) are essential to mental health. When we can play, we can be flexible. And when we can be flexible, we can more easily adapt to challenges that come to us internally and externally. This font is inspired by my own appreciation for play and how that can be interpreted in the blocky lines, loops, and curves of this irreverent font.

This font is perfect for headers and looks great layered with a sharp drop shadow. It’s a cross between a hand-drawn font and a sans serif type, while maintaining some print qualities.

This is an ALL CAPS font. There are no lowercase letters but, for ease-of-use, the uppercase letters have been duplicated so they will show up when lowercase letters are typed.

Or get All-Access as a $5/mo Patron

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Through Patreon, you can get instant access to download all printable PDFs, licensing for professional use, and early releases- all while supporting the creation of more resources.