The Role of Overcontrol in Anxiety Disorders: Exploring Radically Open Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

Anxiety disorders are widespread, affecting millions of lives globally. Several therapeutic approaches have been developed to tackle this issue over the years. One such approach is Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT), which offers a unique perspective on anxiety disorders by treating them as “overcontrolled” conditions and targeting maladaptive coping strategies that stem from overcontrol.

Understanding Overcontrol in the Context of Anxiety Disorders

Overcontrol is the excessive regulation of emotions, thoughts, and behaviours to fit social norms. This tendency takes on an extreme form in individuals with anxiety disorders, leading to rigid thinking patterns, inflexible emotional responses, and heightened sensitivity to perceived threats or rejection. Through the lens of RO DBT, overcontrol contributes to anxiety and perpetuates it by maintaining an individual’s maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Key aspects of an overcontrolled personality include perfectionism, risk aversion, focusing too much on problems and their solutions rather than broadening perspectives, and a relentless need for structure. These traits hinder adaptability within changing environments or circumstances and make it difficult for individuals to accept uncertainties – both essential for resilience.

The Theory Behind RO DBT

Dr. Thomas R. Lynch developed Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy as a treatment approach specifically designed for patients with psychological issues related to overcontrolled personality traits. It arose from traditional dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), initially targeting individuals displaying under-controlled behaviours like impulsivity and emotional dysregulation.

RO DBT suggests that overcontrol emerges from genetic predisposition and early environmental influences, such as strict parenting styles or experiences prioritizing performance over a personal connection. This background cultivates a strong need for control in response to perceived threats to one’s safety or self-image, manifesting as anxiety disorders and other maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Core Principles of RO DBT: Flexibility, Openness, and Social Connection

RO DBT centers on core principles to address essential overcontrol aspects – flexibility, openness, and social connection. The primary focus is cultivating emotional expressivity, self-enquiry, receptiveness to feedback, and social connectedness. These skills are taught using a combination of individual therapy sessions, skills training classes, and telephone consultations.

  1. Emotional Expressivity: Anxiety disorder sufferers often suppress their emotions due to the fear of judgment or rejection. RO DBT encourages patients to recognize and openly acknowledge their feelings without experiencing guilt or shame. This process helps develop emotional awareness and reduces anxiety intensity.
  2. Self-Enquiry: Overcontrolled individuals tend to hold rigid beliefs about themselves and the world around them. Self-enquiry involves critically examining these beliefs by questioning their validity and exploring alternative perspectives. This practice promotes cognitive flexibility, reducing the negative effects of rigid thinking patterns on anxiety levels.
  3. Receptiveness to Feedback: Fear of criticism might prevent individuals from seeking feedback or accepting suggestions for improvement from others. In RO DBT, patients are encouraged to be receptive to feedback for personal growth and development.
  4. Social Connectedness: Overcontrolled people may struggle with establishing meaningful connections due to fear of rejection or vulnerability in relationships. Social connectedness fosters genuine relationships through empathy-building exercises, reciprocal disclosure (sharing personal information), trust-building activities, and collaborative problem-solving strategies.

Examining the Effectiveness of RO DBT in Treating Anxiety Disorders

Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of RO DBT in alleviating symptoms related to overcontrol – such as perfectionism, risk aversion, and clear focus on problems – that exacerbate anxiety disorders:

  1. A randomized controlled trial by Lynch et al. (2019) found significant improvements in anxiety symptoms and social functioning after 30 weeks of RO DBT treatment.
  2. In another study by Szenta et al. (2018), participants with comorbid anxiety and personality disorders who received RO DBT exhibited reduced symptoms and improved quality of life compared to those receiving standard psychological treatment.


Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy offers an innovative theoretical framework for understanding and treating overcontrol, contributing to a fresh perspective on managing anxiety disorders. By addressing underlying issues related to emotional suppression, rigid thinking, fear of feedback, and social disconnection, RO DBT can help individuals with anxiety disorders lead more flexible, open, and fulfilling lives. As research further explores its potential benefits, it is poised to become an essential tool in mental health care.

In summary, adopting an “overcontrolled” perspective on anxiety disorders through RO DBT allows us to understand better the challenges faced by those suffering from this condition. By promoting flexibility, openness, and social connection through skill development and targeted therapy sessions, RO DBT has proven effective in reducing anxiety symptoms and improving overall well-being for individuals struggling with overcontrol-related issues. As we further research this approach’s potential benefits, it promises to be invaluable in addressing various mental health concerns stemming from overcontrolled behaviours.

Ready to Make Change Happen?

Discover Life-Changing Opportunities!

Approved Mental Health Provider

Approved Mental Health Provider