This is not an attractive sight. And it wreaks havoc on your relationships.
Recognize it. You may be a bit (or a lot) tyrannical. If you clicked on this headline, you either have a sneaky suspicion—or a profound certainty—that you are perhaps (probably?) guilty of attempting to control as much as possible.
You despise it when someone else takes charge (naturally—they are too sluggish and do things incorrectly). Change causes worry, surprises are unpleasant, being late makes you impatient, and when things do not go according to (your) plan, enough it to say that you are dissatisfied. Someone loads the dishwasher or does the laundry incorrectly? Hopefully, their ears are closed, since a torrent of under-the-breath profanity is going to be spouted in their honor. Are you able to relate?
How to tell if you’re a control freak
Most likely, you are already aware. However, if you’ve never embarrassingly taken over a situation and no one has ever pleaded with you to stop instructing them what to do, here are a few obvious indications.
- You’re a perfectionist who doesn’t trust anyone else to meet your high standards (and you don’t want anyone else to do that).
- You want to know who, what, when, where, and why an activity or event is taking place.
- You plan too much and get angry when things don’t go as planned.
- Is there a single correct way to do something? That’s what you do.
- You get angry when other people mess up your plan, or do things in a way you don’t like.
- You like to be in charge. That way, there won’t be as many mistakes.
- You have a hard time letting people do what they want. Instead, you keep an eye on everything.
- You’re too hard on yourself and others.
Why we turn into control freaks
“Controlling habits are frequently motivated by worry and fear,” Sharon Martin, LCSW, writes for Psychology Today. “When circumstances feel out of control, it’s natural to desire control in order to feel secure (or happy or pleased).” It might be a result of growing up with an erratic parent who made the house feel dangerous or out of control—or it can be acquired behavior from an overly strict, worried main caregiver. It is inextricably tied to perfectionism—that illness that leads you to want predictability, avoid risk, hold others to demanding standards, and attempt only things you are certain will succeed at.
The problem is that we cannot truly manage other people or situations—much less accomplish anything “exactly.” (Sigh.) Striking for control “[doesn’t] help us feel better in the long run,” Martin explained. “In reality, dominating habits frequently wreak havoc on our relationships, leaving us angry and worried.”
Any control freak who has gone through a significant life transition with a spouse (a move, a career shift, or the birth of a child) understands that snapping at them (“Why are you doing it that way?”) does not exactly result in domestic peace. Not only can controlling conduct lead to mental and physical stress, but it also has the potential to harm your most essential relationships.
How to stop being a control freak?
There are a few straightforward strategies you may use to shift your dominating perspective. Taking them to heart will not be simple, but with time and effort, they can assist you in reining in your worst inclinations.
Confront your fear: Consider the following: What will happen if I am unable to control this situation? Recognize that you may be “catastrophizing” or preoccupied with the worst-case scenario, which may be rather improbable.
Evaluate the effectiveness of your control efforts: Tony Robbins advocates infusing the habit with truth and self-awareness by questioning, “Are my attempts at control making a difference?” If they are functional and do not have a detrimental influence on your relationships, they are acceptable. You may wish to proceed. Otherwise, that is your cue to pause.
Recognize that perfectionism impedes your progress: Rather from being the panacea your subconscious mind expects it to be, perfectionism really works against you. While everything you write may be error-free, how many times have you reviewed it? (I generally have at least six.) How long did you agonize about the word selection? How many times have you avoided beginning (or completing) a project, attempting a new hobby, or taking a risk on a person out of fear that it, or they, will not “measure up”? Attempting to achieve perfection takes time and restricts your growth and learning opportunities.
Investigate the source of the problem: Are you aware of what motivated you to be so domineering? If not, conduct some self-reflective effort to ascertain why not. It may be counselling, meditation, or journaling about your childhood or other formative experiences—anything that helps you gain a better understanding of the concerns that fuel the need for control. Are the fears and circumstances that motivated you to acquire the habit still present? (Often, they occurred years ago, but the behavior endures.)
Recognize that you are not always correct: It’s time to surrender (at least some of) your ego. Yes, you are really skilled at what you do. Your systems and meticulous attention to detail are outstanding. Additionally—and we get that this is a difficult pill to swallow—the way other people do things is equally valid. Regardless matter how bad your technique is in 26 ways, they have a right to accomplish the same thing differently. (And, let’s face it, their ways are occasionally superior.)
Take note of the price: When has your need for control resulted in the loss of something valuable? (Be truthful.) Consider moments when your need for control has come at a significant cost—in terms of friendships lost, connections compromised, and chances squandered.
Recognize that you cannot control everything (and choose a mantra): Recognize and accept that there are circumstances beyond your control (including people). Select a mantra to chant when you’re nervous and tempted to intervene. Psychology Today recommends implementing one or more of the following strategies: “I have no control over anything but myself. My method is not the only method. I shall respect the decisions of others.”
Experiment with relinquishing control in a tiny area: Choose a little area of your life over which you will relinquish control (and stick to it). Perhaps someone else selects the restaurant, purchases for and prepares dinner, or organizes your family’s next adventure. Throughout the procedure, remind yourself that you are a guest in the experience and avoid the need to remark or meddle. Begin with little objects and progress to larger ones.
You might be a little (or a lot) controlling. If you clicked on this headline, you have either a sneaking suspicion—or a profound certitude—that you are possibly (probably) guilty of trying to control the shit out of everything you can.