Everyone knows a control freak. Or perhaps that person is you! By definition, a control freak is someone who feels compelled to drive situations toward a certain end, taking charge of the details so the outcome somehow meets their needs. Their efforts may be subtle, nudging you to do their bidding by suggestion, or blatant, redoing everything you might’ve already done — the need to control stronger than the probability of being offensive.
The important thing to remember in dealing with control freaks is that it’s not about you, it’s about them. According to Psychology Today, control freaks “need control because without it they fear things would spiral out of control and their lives would fall apart.” The control freak actually feels out of control. Think you might be guilty of this type of behavior (or know someone who is)? See if you exhibit any of the following traits.
1. You do the dishes again after your roommate or partner does them.
Alternately, you rearrange the dishwasher after your partner loads it because disorganization is the bane of your existence. The compulsion to assign a certain place to objects is a trait synonymous with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But having the urge to do this in no way means you have full-blown OCD. According to Yale School of Medicine’s OCD Research Clinic, obsessions and compulsions are common, reported by more than 28 percent of people. An OCD diagnosis is what happens when obsessions and compulsions “cause significant distress or interfere with an individual’s ability to function.”
2. You volunteer for more than you can handle.
Is the reason your hand is always raised when people need help really your desire to do a good deed, or is it actually so you can control the outcome of the situation? Quite often, control freaks heap obligations onto their metaphorical plates because they think they’re the only ones who can (correctly) do what needs to be done. In Scientific American, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendrikson says control freak-ism is an offshoot of anxiety, and though letting someone else be in charge will feel “weird and wrong” at first, understand that your urge to take over (closely related to micromanaging) will likely pass and that you don’t have to do everything yourself for it to get done well.
3. You’re a neat freak.
Does your bedroom look like it’s ready for a photo shoot? Could you eat off your bathroom floor? Control freak-ism and neat freak-ism are kind of like cousins. The compulsions are similar in that both are just ways of trying to control your environment. When the world is spinning off its axis, a neat freak will run for the vacuum cleaner and the control freak will desperately try to make some sort of plan. This kind of behavior can largely be seen as a very human survival tactic, as concluded in a 2010 study.
4. You’re a perfectionist.
Another offshoot of control freak-ism, perfectionism is a compulsion people have to hold themselves and others to standards that can be difficult to attain and maintain. According to an article published by the American Psychological Association, perfectionism, anxiety and depression all play in the same small sandbox. However, not all perfectionists suffer from anxiety or depression. There are two kinds of perfectionists — adaptive and maladaptive. Basically, adaptive perfectionists are those who aim high but can deal when things don’t go their way, while maladaptive perfectionists get legitimately depressed when they fail at something. As long as your perfectionism doesn’t cause you (or others) more pain than pleasure, by all means, have at it.
5. You micromanage.
Again, micromanaging is just another way of trying to control outcomes. Micromanagers have a hard time delegating responsibilities or letting others run the show because they’re convinced no one else could possibly achieve the same end or complete a task as well as they would. Learning to let go holds some health benefits. A 2015 study published by the Journal of Psychological and Personality Science made the distinction between two “control” strategies people tend to use: primary and secondary. Primary control (aka control freak-ism) is the “need to win mastery by striving for goals and asserting one’s will upon circumstances.” Secondary control is “the tendency to achieve mastery over circumstances via sensemaking.” The study showed the latter had a stronger association with life satisfaction, though each has its place in our lives.
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6. Your need to be right is more intense than your need to be fair.
If a control freak doesn’t agree with a more easygoing person about how something should be done, their need to be right can circumvent their need to be fair and consider both sides of the equation. Because control freaks affix their desires to certain outcomes, it can be challenging to get them to see how another outcome might also be for the greater good. In Psychology Today, Judith Orloff, M.D., advises against trying to “control a controller” and to pick your battles with a “caring, direct approach” instead.
7. The unpredictable throws you for a loop.
Control freaks are planners to the nth degree. So what happens when things don’t go according to plan? Control freaks are in the practice of anticipating every possible outcome to a situation. If something happens they couldn’t possibly anticipate, it can rock a control freak to the core. However, science says learning to go with the flow can make you happier. In a recent article published in Quartz, the journalist asked a psychologist how she could make her vacations seem longer. The expert, psychologist Marc Wittmann, advised her against overplanning. He said, “You have this future perspective in your mind, then you are actually not attending to what is happening right now.” This advice applies here too.
8. You tend to be critical.
If others don’t do things the way you do, you really think they’re wrong — and you aren’t afraid to tell them so. This compulsion can be hard enough to navigate as an adult, but if a parent crosses the line from caring to controlling, the children of a control freak can feel the effects for life. A University College London (UCL) study found children of controlling parents are often less happy. “Psychological control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental well-being. Examples of psychological control include not allowing children to make their own decisions, invading their privacy and fostering dependence,” said lead author Dr. Mai Stafford from the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Aging at UCL.
9. You prefer “boring and predictable” to “putting yourself out there.”
By nature, human beings are wild cards. There’s no way to predict the outcome of taking various social risks with them. On a related note, one study, published in Psychological Science, revealed that orderly environments lead people toward tradition and convention, whereas disorderly environments encourage breaking with tradition and convention — and that both settings can alter preferences, choice and behavior. See how it all ties together?
10. You tend to be judgmental.
Because control freaks feel they do everything right, they can have a hard time understanding the behavior of others if it doesn’t align with their standards of behavior or moral code. Rather than empathize, they have a tendency to hold others to their standards and come down on them for falling short. What’s more, control-freak parents can pass this characteristic down to their children. Les Parrott, author of “The Control Freak,” wrote that the children of controlling parents can be awfully hard on themselves and others and are often “overly judgmental of the people around them.” Your best bet is to model examinations of human behavior that avoid absolutes and allow for, well, humanity.
What Do YOU Think?
Based on what you read in this slideshow, do you think you're a control freak? What are some ways to keep yourself from being controlling in a situation? Share in the comments section.
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