Being termed a “control freak” is not the best experience in life, but it is something worth pondering. Why do people around you feel that you are excessively controlling? Finding what spurs you to be a controlling person is the first step to dealing with it productively. These steps can also be useful in understanding and perhaps helping a controlling person in your life
Step 1: Consider your perfectionist tendencies. Are you a person who needs to get everything “perfect”, “just right”, “complete”? This can be a driving factor in a controlling personality. Perfectionism can be innate, or can develop because high parental or other role model expectations that you sought to live up to when young and still aim to do
Step 2: Consider whether you are patient or impatient. Impatient people are often controlling because they are incapable of waiting for a more considered result, or for the time needed to create a quality result. Combine this with perfectionism and the real controlling personality comes out – an unrealistic expectation of perfect work right now!
Step 3: Think about whether you need to be right – even at a huge cost. This is a central aspect of a controlling personality. It derives from a need for certainty in your life, in an uncertain world. This aspect of a controlling personality will always drive you to override other ideas, options, and suggestions in favor of your own, because you have already convinced yourself that you know best. This railroading upsets other people. They would like to know that you have not only heard what they have to say but are actively considering their points of view and incorporating these into your plans. When you constantly override them, you undermine their ability to be part of your team. You are no longer a leader – you are a tyrant, a dictator who ignores suggestions of teammates and simply wears them down to get your way.
Step 4: Be honest about your ability to commit to people and activities. Do you find yourself avoiding commitments because this feels as if you will be caught up in a web of allegiances to other people, and have to rely on their help to complete projects, or you might have to be there for them when needed? An inability to commit to others (and trust them) and to activities not driven by you is an indicator of a controlling personality.
Step 5: Confront your sense of vulnerability. The need for control stems from a deep-seated motivation to cover up your vulnerabilities. Possibly somewhere in your life, you felt threatened by not meeting standards that someone set for you and you strove hard to meet those standards, possibly at great expense of personal relationships and development. Think about these questions for your professional life:
- What do you feel vulnerable about?
- What fears loom up when you think about delegating responsibilities?
- What worries face you when you think of doing a job to an average rather than complete standard?
- Does order matter a great deal to you?
- What expectations do you hold of other people around you? Are these realistic expectations?
- Are you a source of stress towards others? Do you thrive amid their stress?
- Are you always worried about failure?
- Are you happy with yourself underneath the perfect facade?
Step 6: Consider these questions in your personal life. Just as you wish to control your subordinates, co-workers, and projects at work, your personal relationships are being excessively controlling. Consider:
- Are you plagued by fears that your partner is unfaithful?
- Do you interrogate your partner any time she or he is a few minutes late, talking with someone else, tells you she or he is going to run some errands?
- Do such interrogations end in protests of innocence and tears?
- Do you bully or railroad your partner? Override his or her wishes to succeed whatever it is you wanted to do?
- Do you notice your partner walking on eggshells for fear of angering you?
- Do others call you too possessive or protective of your partner or children? Often, controlling personalities are so concerned that some bad thing will happen that they feel it necessary to shelter and “protect” their families. This results in children who are fearful, timid, and reluctant to take part in activities, ones where practice is needed. They fear that they will not be perfect the first time, and that it will spark a lecture, training sessions, or drills from you.
- Do you often find yourself instructing your kids every step of the way on every little project – even taking over – rather than letting them complete it themselves?
- Do you temper every praise with criticism? “Great tackle, son. You’re going to be a good football player if we can get some of that weight off you.” “You got a B+ on your Calculus exam? That’s good, but you could get an A if you would just apply yourself.” Criticism is your way of reminding them that they still do not reach your standard of perfection. There is a difference between striving for excellence and using criticism to keep a sense of oppression alive.
Step 7: Think about the ways that you can tackle your controlling tendencies. There are positives about some controlling actions (you can direct people to better performances), but mostly, they are negative (you become a petty tyrant, criticizing every tiny detail of their lives). The positives are that you are often someone who pays great attention to detail, you can manage projects independently, and you are relentless in seeking complete results. On the other side, you upset people because you assume they are unfit, you create stress for them by pressuring them constantly. You don’t trust them, and you don’t let their own talents and skills shine through. Consider these ways of approaching your negative controlling tendencies:
- Get professional help with treating the anxiety that drives your controlling behaviors; behavioral therapy can be helpful.
- Respect the anxieties of other people and stop overlaying your anxieties on theirs.
- Start trusting people and start delegating responsibility – a big test of letting go of your need for control!
- Polish your ability to judge people’s skills so you can rely on others to do what you ask of them; equally, don’t ask people to do what they’re not good at doing. Play to their strengths, and your own.
- Help yourself to become well again; nobody else will do this hard work for you
Recognizing your controlling tendencies can help you channel that criticism into helpful suggestions, turn your jealousy and insecurity into an appealing romanticism, and change you from a bully into a leader.
If you cannot recognize controlling aspects of your personality, admit to them and address them. You will find it difficult to sustain relationships because most people will not volunteer to be the “subject” indefinitely.
Inspired by Maluniu, MissJaySouza, Grahamster
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