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Coexisting with a Control Freak

Okay, now that we’ve talked about ways to identify if you or someone else is a control freak, and how to cope if you come to the unsettling conclusion you are, here is the third in this triad of posts, which is: how do you cope when you’re dealing with someone else who’s a control freak?

Let me start by saying that it’s really not easy if you are a CF to go ahead and deal nicely with someone else who is also a CF. Because CF + CF = Disaster Waiting to Happen if you want to get all mathematical about it. How do I know? Three adult females live in my house and all three of us are certified CFs. Yup. Don’t think there haven’t been some spectacular blow-ups, freak-outs, disagreements, arguments and things like not speaking to each other for a few days. J

But whether you’re a CF dealing with another CF, or you’re blessedly not a control freak (in which case, JEALOUS is what I am) but have to interact with one, there are some very simple coping mechanisms I’ve learned that I’d like to share with you. If nothing else, it’ll make your life a little less drama queen and a little more peaceful.

First, the overarching tip I have for you regarding how to cope with a control freak is this: LET IT GO. (And no, I’m not channeling Disney’s Elsa here, although I have been known to sing that song with my daughter rather frequently…)

It really is as easy as that, assuming you’re able to let it go. If you’re convinced you’re right and the other person is convinced they’re right, what’s going to happen if you both argue your points? An argument, that’s what. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s a painful entrée that comes with an appetizer of pissed off, a side of hurt feelings and potentially a dessert of broken relationship. Whatever you get with the meal, the point is it just becomes an argument and those never make anyone happy. L

Let’s review each of the eight symptoms from my first post <insert link>, only this time with an eye toward you having to deal with someone in your world who exhibits these behaviors. Again, these are just my tips and tricks for how I have learned to work with, around and sometimes through control freaks who may or may not (usually not) be aware that they are.

Ready to roll? I’ll just switch these up so they’re about another person rather than you. J

  1. George often tells you or other people what to do, either directly or obliquely indicating you (or they) are doing it wrong.
  2. Jane goes around behind other people changing or rearranging something they have done (barring her being a parent dealing with a child, of course).

(These two are similar enough to discuss together.)

How to Cope: In the case of George, smile and nod and keep doing it the way you’re doing it. Now, if George has a tendency toward violence then that’s another story altogether that I can’t get into because I’m not trained in situations like that. So for purposes of this and all my examples, we’ll assume the perpetrators aren’t violent folks likely to attack you for not kowtowing to their CF tendencies. So with George, let’s do a for-instance. You’re washing the car and you’re using terry cloth to dry it. George comes flying out of the house yelling that you’re supposed to use the microfiber cloth, not the terry. Smile, nod, say okay and either use the microfiber (because really, what does it matter?) or if you don’t have a microfiber cloth, tell him you will use one if he goes and gets you one.

With respect to Jane, who runs around closing windows after you open them, or rearranging the kitchen utensils in the drawer after you’ve just emptied the dishwasher and put the knives and forks away, let her. It doesn’t hurt you at all, unless she’s also booby-trapping the knives to all stab you next time you open the drawer.

The key with both of these situations is that if what the control freak wants you to do isn’t harmful to you or someone else, then the thing I have learned is to let them feel good about whatever it is they’re ranting about or telling you to do. Now, if their way makes more work for you – e.g. they want you to spend 20 minutes stacking the dishes a certain way before you wash them – then no, you shouldn’t smile, nod and do it, because that’s infringing upon your right to do things efficiently in the way you see fit. It all comes down to picking your battles. Is it worth it to fight with George over what type of cloth you dry the car with? Is it worth it to pick a fight with Jane as her OCD kicks in and she frantically rearranges the silverware because she doesn’t like how you stacked the forks? I can’t answer those questions for you…but those are the types of questions you need to ask yourself before you confront the CF in question.

  • Your pal Pat often makes remarks to you about other people such as, “Man, if Cory would cut his hair” or “if only Cindy would lose weight” or “April should stop wearing baggy shirts.” Worse yet, Pat actually says these things out loud to the object of her criticism.
  • Jerry acts passive-aggressive until you start acting the way he wants (or doing ‘the thing’ the way he wants it done). He’ll say things like, “No, that’s the wrong way to do it.” or “Wow, you’re actually doing it right!” Very often you if haven’t met his expectations, Jerry will stop speaking to you, silently seething inside (or possibly actually becoming angry openly) because he feels you’re an “idiot” or “stupid” or “lazy” or whatever else he might call you.

(These can be addressed together as well.)

How to Cope: Pat and Jerry are both very obviously being judgmental. Though unclear what she’s judging, Pat takes issue with Cory’s haircut, thinks Cindy’s overweight and has a problem with April wearing baggy shirts. And Jerry is purposely trying to act like you’re the idiot and he’s the smart one because everything you do is wrong in his eyes. Worse yet, he’s treating you like a dog with the carrot-and-stick method of “correcting your behavior” – until you act the way he thinks is right.

It’s difficult to deal with people who judge others, but guess what? Unless you’re the Dalai Lama I would hazard a guess that EVERYONE JUDGES OTHER PEOPLE. *covers my ears until you stop yelling “I DO NOT!!!” at me*

Look, nobody is more guilty of judging other people than I am. Seriously. People who meet me right now would probably never believe that, but those who’ve known me for a while will be happy to set you straight. The thing is, I never saw what I was thinking or saying as being judgmental. I mean, it literally never occurred to me. And once it finally did, I started realizing that it really doesn’t occur to anyone else either, when they’re doing it.

A few examples might help you understand what constitutes judging other people.

  1. “Now why did that guy park in the handicapped spot? He’s not handicapped!”

You have no way of knowing what the man who just parked in the handicapped spot at the supermarket does or does not have wrong with him. Just because he’s not in a wheelchair or not using a cane or crutches does not mean he’s healthy enough to park in a “regular” spot. By uttering the above, you judged that a) the guy wasn’t handicapped and b) he therefore did something wrong. Sure, you could be right. But unless you actually know the man or overhear him say to his friend that he loves nabbing spots he hasn’t any right parking in, you are making a judgment that could very well be wrong, and shaming for the poor guy if his problem is an embarrassing one not visible to you.

  • “Susie’s never at her desk. Probably hiding out in a stairwell texting her boyfriend all the time.”

While it may be entirely possible that Susie shirks her work in favor of sending a trillion text messages a day to her boyfriend, it’s also possible that Susie’s boss keeps calling her into unscheduled meetings or that she’s always at someone else’s desk because people are always asking her for help or maybe she’s got a health problem and has to pee every five minutes. There could be any number of reasons for Susie’s noticeable absence from her desk but unless you’re her boss, it’s none of your business. If her not being there is actually impacting your job, then go talk to your boss about how you can’t do “the thing” because Susie hasn’t delivered her part to you. Assuming Susie’s guilty of some sin or other just because she’s “never at her desk” is you judging her. Plus don’t forget the old adage that you must never assume, because it makes an ass out of u and me.

  • “I hate my stupid neighbor. He plays his guitar at eight o’clock at night every night like there’s nobody on the other side of the wall from him. He must be deaf not to know how loud that is!”

Let’s start off with this: “hate” is a very, very strong word. Please be careful tossing it around. I would hazard a guess that you find it annoying that your neighbor plays his guitar late in the evening because it’s bothering you in some way for real, such as, you can’t hear your TV or you can’t concentrate on your book or it wakes your baby. These are all very real issues but I am not going to tell you how to deal with an annoying neighbor because I don’t want to get sued if he punches you in the face for confronting him. What I will tell you about Example C is that you’ve made two assumptions based on your judgment of what’s going on: 1) the neighbor is playing is guitar as though nobody’s on the other side of the wall, and 2) the neighbor is either deaf or stupid because the sound is so loud, how could anyone think it’s okay to do it, right?

Possibly. Or maybe not. The fact is, you have no idea why he plays his guitar at that time every night. Maybe he has PTSD and part of his therapy is playing that guitar at the same time every night. Maybe he really is deaf – or at least, hard of hearing – because a bomb exploded next to his head, but he can’t give up his love of the guitar even though he doesn’t hear it anymore. And thinking someone’s stupid is most definitely judging them. This implies you’re superior because you would never do “the thing” which means there’s something inferior and wrong about someone who would.

Look, I’m not here to be Judge Judy and tell you who’s right and who’s wrong in any given dispute. What I’m here to tell you is that you have no idea what’s really going on in other people’s lives no matter how well you think you know them. I just watched an episode of Dateline in which a woman’s lifelong best friend had no idea her husband had been abusing her for their entire thirty-year marriage. Obviously her BFF didn’t know her as well as she thought she did. BE KIND, because an hour of a guitar annoying you may make all the difference to the man on the other side of the wall who’s trying to decide whether or not to take his own life. Yes, I’m being deadly serious, but life is serious. One wrong word or reaction or even thought from you can have terrible consequences to another living creature.

Soap box being shoved aside, the way to cope with judgmental people is to either ignore what they say when they make snide comments about others, or – if you feel safe doing so – call them on their crap (nicely, not like a jerkface). If we head back up to our examples with Pat and Jerry, you could respond to Pat with, “Maybe Cindy has an eating disorder” or to Jerry by simply ignoring his comments. The trick with these sorts of situations is not to feed the monster…in other words, don’t join in and gossip or agree with Pat about Cindy being fat and how it must mean she eats too much, or don’t just get pissed off at Jerry and start throwing things at him because in both cases you’re stooping to their level and in Cindy’s case, hurting her feelings if she overhears or word gets back to her about the comments.

My own personal quote/mantra:

<WP QUOTE>Love one another…not hurt. That is key. If others won’t do it, sometimes you just have to rise above and be the one who will.<WP QUOTE>

  • Krista is a perfectionist and expects you to be as well (things must be “just-so” in her world).
  • Daria gets upset when you tell her something that she didn’t actually know, often pretending she did know it.

How to Cope: These are both really tough, especially if you’re actually living with Krista or Daria. Or, heaven forbid, both. The key trick I learned to handle both the Kristas and Darias in life is to smile, nod and let them do “the thing” that they’re giving you grief about, or let them tell you they already knew “the thing” you told them and leave it at that. After all, if someone thinks they’re the only one who can do it right, let them do it! And if someone wants to claim they’re a Know-It-All, let them. Neither hurts you in any way (unless, of course, the thing Krista wants you to do will, say, burn your face off…)

Example 1: Krista makes fun of your bed because you didn’t tuck the top sheet in at the foot of the bed, nor did you fold the corners under the mattress just-so. She either tells you to redo it, to which you reply, “Nah, I like it the way it is” or she just comes in and redoes it herself. Either way, let it happen because unless you have a serious fear about your bed sheet being tucked under the mattress, what’s the harm? When you go to bed, yank it out again!

Example 2: You’re having a conversation with Daria about a television show you both love, and you tell her that the star of the show just got married yesterday (because you read it on TMZ). Daria’s madly in love with that star and is royally pissed off that she didn’t know this all-important thing about him, so she becomes hostile toward you and snaps, “I know that!” and then proceeds to stay in a bad mood all night. Fact 1: It’s not your fault that she’s hung up on the actor. Fact 2: It’s not your fault she didn’t know he got married yesterday. Fact 3: It’s not your fault she hates not knowing everything about the guy. In this case, I’ve learned to act like nothing’s wrong and move along. Even if you’re aware of why she’s acting the way she’s acting, unless you want to be a blockhead by calling her out and making fun of her the only remedy is for Daria to come to terms with what happened and simmer down.

One thing you need to know about each and every example I give you in these blog posts is that the situations are actually ones that I either witnessed, experienced firsthand or was told about by someone trustworthy. The names have been changed, of course, but the situations have actually happened. So I’m not being theoretical, folks, I’m being real.

Good grief, this is a long post. Which makes sense because it isn’t easy coping with control freaks in your life! There are only two more symptoms to get to, so let’s do it!

  • Randy couches his disapproval of the way you done something by offering you “constructive criticism.”

How to Cope: While I have a plethora of examples I could use from having participated in the world of writing fan fiction for many, many years, I will instead focus on a non-writing example that I think really helps convey the point here. Example: You got all excited about a new paint color called labradoodleberry purple and decided to paint the exterior of your house that color and add pink shutters because you’re an avant-garde kinda person. Your neighbor, Randy, actually has no problem with the color, but the entire time you and your brother are painting the house he stands at the fence and offers what he couches as “constructive criticism” about how you tape around the windows, or how you use rollers or what size brushes you use. Things like, “Well, you know, if you used a yard stick that tape would be more straight than it is,” or “It’s a lot easier to paint the door frame with a foam brush than a bristle one.” Whatever it is Randy says, it’s pretty clear he thinks you’re doing it wrong and that his way’s better, but if you call him on it his crap, he’ll go, “Hey, I was just offering concrit!” (Not that most people say that outside of the writing world, but it has happened.)

So what to do? First, don’t call him on it. Engaging a know-it-all or a control freak will get you nowhere except into a disagreement of varying intensities. Control freaks are often like bullies in that no matter what you say or do, it won’t be correct. You’ll always be wrong, they’ll always be right. I’ve seen some people go so far as to say things that are so obviously incorrect it’s laughable, but they’re more interested in being contrary to what you’re saying than they are in being right. The point is that if someone offers you unsolicited advice of any kind, whether it’s on something you’ve written or something else that you’re doing, it’s up to you whether or not you want to listen and further up to you whether or not to incorporate said advice.

My rule of thumb: Don’t offer advice to anyone who doesn’t ask for it, and don’t listen to so-called “constructive criticism” if the person is clearly just being unpleasant toward you for whatever reason. Now, if you actually asked for them to tell you what works and what doesn’t from their perspective, you have an obligation to listen. If you don’t want to hear someone else’s opinion, don’t ask for it!

An interesting aside here is a very strange phenomenon that happens in the fan fiction world. Often people will ask for constructive criticism, or feedback, on the story they wrote and then they and their friends will go ballistic on you because you didn’t give them a glowing hearts-flowers-kittens-unicorns-rainbows response. So many people these days think they should always be praised for anything they do that if you even so much as hint that there’s something they could work on, they will rip your face off. In my experience it’s best to just keep your mouth shut. J

  • Lou tries to make you behave the way he wants you to by making you afraid of behaving any other way. And parents are guilty of this, too, though (hopefully) it’s to protect their kids from doing something dangerous.

How to Cope: Think the situation through for yourself. You’re an intelligent person. You can figure out whether or not what Lou is saying to you is true, overblown, or completely false, and then react accordingly.

Example 1: You open the front door to leave for work and Lou yells, “CLOSE THE DOOR! CAT!!!” You look down and Fluffy is about to make a break for freedom from between your feet…and when Fluffy escapes, he tends to get hit by cars.

Example 2: You open the front door to leave for work and Lou yells, “CLOSE THE DOOR! CAT!!!” You look down and all around and discover that Fluffy is twenty feet away lying on the dining room table washing his face, meaning he’s nowhere near you or the open door.

Example 3: You open the front door to leave for work and Lou yells, “CLOSE THE DOOR! CAT!!!” You look down and all around and Fluffy is nowhere to be seen. You look out at the driveway and there sits Fluffy hear the street because he got out an hour earlier when Lou took the trash out.

In Example 1, Lou is justified in yelling for you to close the door, because Fluffy is right between your legs about to get out. Now, you’ll want to be careful not to slam Fluffy in the door as you shut it, but there’s a good reason for Lou to use fear to get you to shut the door. In the second example, Lou is most likely overreacting, unless he has personally witnessed Fluffy go from zero to sixty and make a break for it all the way from the dining room in the short time you’ll have the door open. In this case, Lou’s using a very real fear – yours about Fluffy getting outside – to make himself feel or sound superior or more intelligent than you are. Basically, he’s intimating that you’re stupid for not paying attention (although he really has no way of knowing whether you were or weren’t!). And finally in Example 3, it’s quite possible Lou’s looking to blame you for Fluffy’s escape, when in reality the cat got out when he opened the door.

How do you deal? Well, it’s a difficult thing as all CF situations are, but if Lou’s just being a Drama Queen then say, “Thanks” and go to work. Or if he let Fluffy out, you probably do need to get him back in but what’ll it gain you to start a fight with Lou about how you couldn’t possibly have let Fluffy out because he’s sitting primly in the driveway, not making a break out the door at that exact moment? Nothing but a fight. In the end, you’ll notice a lot of my ways of coping with control freaks are about avoiding picking fights, getting into arguments or unpleasantness in general. Why, because I hate confrontation? Yes, absolutely, that is one reason.

But the other reason is that I’ve learned to evaluate each situation and ask myself the question “Is it worth the consequences?” If you feel it’s worth it, then you can do whatever you want in any given situation, free will being what it is. But I’ve found life to be far more zen, far less complicated and definitely far less hazardous to my health to let the control freak “get away with it,” because very rarely is it worth it to call them on what they’re doing. And even rarer still is the likelihood that you’ll actually come out on top.

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