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Control freaks – What should you do?

The term ‘control freak’ is commonly used to refer to someone who tries to control everything around them.  They are often described as bossy, always wanting their own way and micromanaging those around them.  They often lack insight into their behaviour and consider themselves as giving constructive criticism or helping out “because no one else will”.

Signs of a control freak

  • The person insists that you do something their way under the guise they know what is best for you.
  • You experience the person as domineering and often feel suffocated or trapped in their rigidity.
  • Spontaneous actions and initiatives are judged severely by these individuals, and they tend to suppress others by critique.
  • They instil fear by presenting worst case scenarios to you, in an attempt to influence you
  • They show distrust in the abilities of others and may appear arrogant or power hungry.
  • They tend to take over situations and enforce authority even when it is inappropriate or they are not skilled to do so.

Control freaks have developed cognitive distortions of the world that lead them to catastrophise consequences in their mind.  They are terrified of failure, particularly their own and have little confidence in their ability to cope. Their need for an outlet for this fear causes them to influence others. They are afraid to participate so they stand outside and critique.  Common developmental origins include chaotic and unstable childhoods, dysfunctional parents or early abandonment.  This leads the person to feel unsafe and distrust the power of others.

How to diffuse the bombDiffusing the bomb

It can be difficult and unpleasant to deal with a control freak. However, there are certain ways to respond to a control freak constructively. These include:

  • Assert yourself, without being controlling. Be specific and respond to the behaviour that is upsetting you, rather than the person’s character. You can use the formula “When you______, I feel_______because_____. I would like you to______”
  • Focus on a few high-priority issues. Leave the small grievances.
  • Stay calm and avoid getting defensive. Remind yourself that this person’s behaviour is a coping mechanism to anxiety, rather than a personal devaluation of you.
  • Acknowledge when the controlling person is displaying healthy and positive behaviours. For instance, thank them for trusting you with a task. This will facilitate trust and may help the controlling person ease up.

In order to protect your own well-being and self-esteem, it is imperative that you set boundaries with the controlling individual. You could go about this by telling them respectfully that you value their input but want to sort things out on your own. Try to be consistent with your requests. Should they refuse to give in, agree to disagree and do not engage in further discussion on the topic.

If you feel that the controlling behaviour reaches the severity of abuse, you should consider options for leaving the relationship.

If you think you may be a control freak, you can take steps to learn a new way of thinking and relating to others. Learn to be vulnerable in front of others. Completely let go of control in some small way, you could, for example, hand over the responsibility for dinner to your partner.

Start small. Small change leads to bigger change. You could list a hierarchy ranging from things that would be relatively easier to let go of, to situations that you feel you absolutely must control. Slowly work your way up and with time you will see tangible results.

Who is Antonia Roos?

Antonia Gueorguieva Roos, Clinical Psychologist in Garsfontein, Pretoria.

Antonia Gueorguieva Roos, Clinical Psychologist in Garsfontein, Pretoria.

Antonia Gueorguieva Roos, originally from Bulgaria, is a Clinical Psychologist in Garsfontein, Pretoria. From the age of five she trained to become a classical musician and excelled in music performance and composition. Along the way she recognised her compelling interest in the human mind and decided to pursue a higher education in psychology. She completed her degrees at the University of Pretoria (BSocSci; BSocSci Hons) and University of Johannesburg (MA Clin Psych) with distinction. Antonia strives to facilitate healing by continually learning and developing as a person, sharing her knowledge and experience, and treating matters of the heart with the highest level of respect and support.


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