Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a collective term for two distinct long term conditions: Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's disease. There is increasing emphasis on patients taking greater personal control and self-management of this condition, reflecting earlier research into the management of chronic illness. Nurses play a pivotal role in this process, yet how optimal personal control is self-assessed and self-managed in Inflammatory Bowel Disease is poorly understood. OBJECTIVES: This study set out to explore beliefs about personal control and self-management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It focused on the role of physical, psychological and socio-economic factors within the individual's life experience. DESIGN: A qualitative approach was used comprising 24, one-to-one, semi-structured interviews with participants aged 30-40 years. Participants with a histological diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease for at least 12 months were eligible and recruited by gastrointestinal specialist staff from outpatient clinics at a large National Health Service Trust in the United Kingdom. Interviews were transcribed verbatim. Data analysis was informed by existing theories of personal control and used the 'systematic framework analysis' approach. RESULTS: In addition to existing theories of personal control, self-discrepancy theory helped to explain how people viewed the control and self-management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. One main theme emerged from the findings: 'Reconciliation of the self in IBD', this was supported by three sub-themes and eight basic themes. Some participants found that being unable to control and predict the course of their condition was distressing, however for others this limited control was not viewed as a negative outcome. Being able to share control of IBD with specialist health care staff was beneficial, and participants stated that other priorities in life were as equally important to manage and control. A key barrier to ensuring greater personal control and self-management was a lack of knowledge and awareness by non-specialist health care staff, employers and the wider society. CONCLUSIONS: Nurses involved in the care of individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease should support and prepare patients for the discrepancies and uncertainties of living with the condition. Greater training about Inflammatory Bowel Disease is recommended, specifically for non-specialist health care staff and employers.