Beware of Control Freaks

Beware of control freaks

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to discuss control freaks, why they try to control everything and everyone, and offer advice for control freaks.

First a quick update:

“Sexualization of School-Aged Girls Harms Women of All Ages”
Read the article and quotes I gave to Hollie McKay of about the “Glee” stars Dianna Agron and Lea Michele who posed for the controversial GQ magazine photo shoot dressed as schoolgirls, set in high school, sucking lollipops, with their legs wide open. Read it on my blog.

“Brett Favre – end of a career, end of a marriage?”
Read the transcript of the interview I gave to Russ Morley of 850 WFTL radio about the Brett Favre sex scandal. The married, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has reportedly admitted to propositioning Jenn Sterger via voicemails but denied sending her naked pictures of his genital area via text message. it’s now expected that Sterger is prepared to contradict Favre’s denial that he sent inappropriate pictures to her. Read it on my blog.

Now, let’s talk about control freaks and why they try to control everything and everyone.

When we speak of control freaks we often refer to people who have an obsessive need to dominate or command other people and situations. As I will explain in a moment, there are really two types of control freaks – those who have had a lifelong habit of controlling (stemming from childhood experiences) and those who have adopted a controlling nature in response to stress and life’s present circumstances.

Here are some common characteristics of a control freak:

  • Highly critical
  • Controlling
  • Inflexible
  • Always needs to be right
  • Doesn’t listen
  • Gives orders
  • Tells you what to do and how to live your life
  • Doesn’t really see or hear you
  • Dishes out guilt
  • Often anxious and tends to create anxiety for others
  • Is tense and terse often
  • Seeks to win an argument rather than find a solution
  • Is a perfectionist and expects the same from others
  • Responds harshly to being questioned

Childhood Programming

Most control freaks usually grew up in a chaotic environment of anger, abuse and anxiety, with either a domineering abusive or alcoholic parent or parents. Accordingly, the child would either walk on egg shells, afraid of doing any wrong and triggering the abuse or he or she did her best to try to control the situation to either prevent an outburst by the parent or tried to rescue the parent i.e. tried to control the parent’s drinking. The child may have also experienced deep subconscious guilt falsely believing that he or she was the cause for the parent’s drinking or abusive behavior or, the child may have received guilt and blame from either of the parents. In a situation such as this where there was no order, no safety, security, stability or consistency, the child would do whatever is necessary to maintain order, control and to stay safe. Thus, this survival technique evolved into a belief system and habit that then became part of his or her programming as an adult.

Children of alcoholics often tend to grow up and marry or partner with an alcoholic or abusive man or woman, try to “fix“ or rescue the alcoholic or abusive partner, and overreact to changes and situations over which they have no control. In turn, they can become addicted to obsessing over and trying to control the alcoholic’s behavior. This is indicative of two subconscious motivations:

  1. The continuing desire to rescue the parent (this is part of the identity of the child of the alcoholic parent)
  2. Twisted Love or Negative Love Syndrome – the child automatically believes that whatever he or she experienced is equivalent to love, even if it was harmful or negative, and in turn, seeks out similar emotional and relational dynamics – even though they are not consciously satisfying

One client told me that she awakened to realize “I find myself trying to fix everyone’s issues and I had fooled myself into thinking that I had control over my husband’s drinking.” As we worked together, she identified that as a child she experienced the same emotion and desire – guilt for her father’s drinking and verbal abuse (thinking that there must be something wrong with her and that’s why daddy is unhappy and drinking) and the desire to make him happy, to rescue and change him.

Often a control freak can also appear as a power freak: trying to exert power and dominance over everything and everyone, trying to avoid anxiety all the while creating anxiety. Again, this stems from the fear of trusting and letting go because of the hurt and pain experienced during childhood i.e. the child never learned trust because he or she never felt safe. This also translates into behavior that might be seen as paranoia,  keeping people at a distance and fear of intimacy. Of course, there can be many more emotions and beliefs associated with control freaks who grew up in chaotic environments or in alcoholic or abusive families: anger, desire to hurt others, obsessive-compulsive behavior, obsessive drive for perfection (created by the subconscious belief that “I am not good enough…I must be better…I must be perfect…there is something wrong with me”) and the obsessive desire for approval and “don’t be mad at me.”

Stress Response and loss of control

One time, I was walking along the beach and I noticed that I was annoyed by the people who were walking their dogs on the beach. And although I like animals and grew up with animals, I began to wonder about my response. Yes, it’s against the law for dogs to be on the beach; yes, their owners are blatantly breaking the law; yes, the dogs defecate on the beach and their owners don’t clean it up, and yes, they urinate on the sunbeds; so yes, I can easily argue that I am right but why was I responding this way, with such charged emotion? I asked myself what am I feeling, what do I want? And I realized I was trying to control the situation, the people and even the dogs. Why? I could feel this strong almost uncontrollable urge; ironically, it was the urge to control. From where was the anger and urge to control coming? As I thought more about it, I remembered what I teach: anxiety often stems from a feeling that we are out of control or that our life is out of control. I realized that here I was desperately trying to control this situation (people and dogs) because I felt other areas of my life were beyond my control or simply out of control. I was trying to compensate for the other areas of my life that I felt were lacking or where I felt I was lacking power and control.

Yes, stress can create anxiety, anger and a desperate urge to control; to try and exact and display power where there is none.

One client, George, had called me as he was desperate because he was having panic attacks and feeling anxious even though he had never prior had such an experience in his life. George had just changed jobs and was going through a divorce. He was under extreme stress and felt that his world was falling apart. I explained to George that anxiety is the feeling that our life is out of control, that we have lost control. I asked George to write out a list of the things he could control and the things that he could not control. We then worked together to help him accept what he couldn’t control (helping him to realize that he would be safe and things would eventually come back to order) and take charge and focus on the things he could control.

It was a similar situation for Mary who felt she was losing her friends and family because they were now distancing themselves from her, claiming she had become a control freak and they couldn’t handle it. “What has changed in your life Mary?” I asked. “Everything and I feel like I am losing everything.”

Mary’s children had recently left home and gone off to college. She and her husband had separated as planned (when the children would become adults) and now Mary who had been a fulltime housewife and mother felt her world had crumbled; she felt alone, angry and like a failure.  In turn, feeling that her life was out of control, Mary began to try to control situations and people around her. She was often anxious and would tell her friends how to live their lives, criticizing them and desperately trying to be proven right. For Mary, her response of behaving like a control freak was driven purely by stress and her present life circumstances. Helping Mary to take a new path and identify new goals and values helped her to feel like she was once again, in control of her life.

Read more about the effects of stress in my Success Newsletter from August 2009, “You’re not crazy”.

Here are a few quick tips for control freaks:

  1. Focus on yourself, seek to gain control over your own emotions, response and behaviors
  2. Understand and accept that other people’s consequences are a result of their behavior
  3. Become aware that you are responsible for your life not others (unless they are young children or dependents)
  4. Seek guidance and help to determine and indentify your deeper motivations to control other people and situations
  5. Control anxiety by writing a list of what you can and cannot control and seek to control what you can and accept what you can’t control
  6. Begin to trust others in small steps
  7. Establish boundaries to help you feel safe
  8. Explain to others how you are affected when plans change so that they can give you notice when plans are changing in order to avoid stirring anxiety in you
  9. Seek ways to relax such as gentle exercise and meditation
  10. Seek help to assist you to release repressed emotions, anxiety and disempowering beliefs

You can comment on this newsletter by visiting my blog or directly to this article.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.

Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

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