Control seekers tend to have more than perfectionism in common. They were often brought up as children in unruly environments of low or inconsistent parental control or parental absence, where nurturing was low priority and daily routines were sometimes unpredictable. In these situations children develop anxieties. There may be few opportunities for adults to soothe these anxieties so they begin to reach out in ways that begin to control and stabilize their own environments.
As adults the same need to control is now a form of self-protection. Lacking control is now perceived as increasing the risk of exposing inner weaknesses and increasing anxiety. In order to prevent these threats controls on people and surroundings are imposed. For example, objects must be organized in certain ways for maximum efficiency and effectiveness, and they must be put back in a particular place once used. They may be reluctant delegators on the basis that jobs will only be done correctly if they do it themselves.
Control issues are as common, perhaps more so, in their personal lives as they monitor costs, maintain a fastidiously clean home, and freely dispense advice as to how others should live their lives. It is also fairly common to find that controllers have relationships or partnerships with people of low self-esteem or victim mentalities.
If these qualities remind you just a little of obsessive-compulsive disorder, you are pretty close to the mark. Rigid preoccupation with rules, lack of flexibility, lists of must-and-must-not-do’s are all symptoms. So extreme cases of control could tip into the OCD classification.
So, while we might sympathize with the possible anxieties informing the development of control behavior, we also need to protect ourselves from its onslaught. After all, here is a person who could hold a master-class in emotional defences and domination. They often have an opinion and an answer for everything.
From what we know there is little point in trying to control a controller. The only exception to this might be in a case where you have formal authority over the person and they are required to comply. This has limits of course and the person in charge is unlikely to feel the control issues from a subordinate in the first place.
It’s important to remain assertive and choose the issues you will expend energy on. Control freaks spread their issues widely, so unless you really want to get caught up in every dispute about putting pens back, scraps of paper on the floor, or coffee stains it’s best not to view everything as a battle that must be won.
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