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Controlling Your Control Freak

My first post on this new blog was about recognizing the ‘symptoms’ of a control freak. You can apply it to yourself or to others, whichever, but more importantly than deciding if you (or someone else) is truly a control freak is what to do when the answer is yes.

I’ll start out by talking about the things you can do when you realize you are the one with the control issues. First off, let’s face facts: if you are able, ready and willing to not only admit you are a control freak but then to do something about it, you really should congratulate yourself. Why? Because for a control freak to admit they’re wrong – about anything, including their behavior and thoughts – is quite frankly a big freaking deal.

I come at this not from the angle of being a trained psychologist or behaviorist, but from being what I like to call an RCF – Recovering Control Freak. It’s like being a Recovering Alcoholic – your CF tendencies don’t ever truly go away, you just learn how to manage the urge and say no to it.

I believe the easiest way to tackle this is to address each of the eight symptoms I mentioned in the first post and discuss the methods I use for counteracting when I do those things. This is just me sharing what I have a) recognized in myself as Control Freak tendencies, and b) different ways I’ve learned to control my CF. As you read, know that it’s me having a conversation with myself. Your mileage may vary (e.g. you may not have all these symptoms or you may have different ways of dealing with them even if you do).

Let’s dive in. I’ll give you the symptoms and then discuss how I learned to cope with them.

  1. You often find yourself telling other people what to do not because you’re their boss or parent, but because you think they’re not doing ‘the thing’ correctly.
  2. You go behind other people changing or rearranging something they have done because you don’t think they did it correctly (barring you being a parent dealing with a child, of course).

(These two are similar enough to discuss together.)

How to Cope: Realize one very important thing here: you are not the boss of every other person on this planet, any more than the guy next to you is the boss of you and every other person on this planet. Not only that, but there as many methods for doing one thing as there are brains that think about how to do that thing. For example, and yes this is an awfully tiny study, but it proves my point: there are three adult females that live in my home, myself included. Not one of us does our laundry the same way, washes dishes the same way, or cleans house the same way. There isn’t even a common thread that runs through how the three of us tackle these three different things! That doesn’t mean my way’s right and I should be telling my roomies they’re doing it wrong. Nor does it mean either of them have any right to tell me that I’m doing it wrong.

The thing to focus on here when it comes to addressing you yourself being the Control Freak is that when you tell someone else to do Thing A your way rather than whatever way they were/are doing it, you’re disallowing their right to be themselves. In other words, you are denying them their birthright. They are an individual with a right to do things their own way, the right to make mistakes and the right to learn from those mistakes. They have a right to be creative and innovative. They have a right to exist on their own terms just like you do.

How would you feel if you had every single one of your rights taken away from you and you had to do every task you know how to do, in a way that someone else told you was right even if it wasn’t the way you thought was right? That would really suck, wouldn’t it? Okay, so if you don’t want to be treated that way, why do you think it’s okay for you to treat other people that way?

It all comes back to what has come to be called the Golden Rule, no matter what kind of language you use, Biblical or otherwise: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Recognize that you are not superior to everyone else, which is what the whole control freak thing is really about. You think nobody but you knows the right way to do things, ergo you must be the smartest person in the room/on the planet.

I’m waiting for the person who stares at you and then asks, “Who died and made you God?” Because I have been asked that and besides angering me at the time, it also started me down the road of realizing what a jerkface I was being to other people. It’s not easy to admit that…

  • You look at someone and think, “Man, if they’d cut their hair” or “if only she would lose weight” or “she should stop wearing baggy shirts.” Worse yet, you actually say these things out loud to the object of your criticism. You are judging the other person as not being as _______ (fill in the blank) as you are – so in my examples, clean-cut, skinny or pretty.
  • You judge other people as behaving correctly or incorrectly and act passive-aggressive until they start acting the way you want (or doing ‘the thing’ the way you want it done). “No, that’s the wrong way to do it.” or “Wow, she’s actually doing it right!” Very often if a person hasn’t met your expectations of them, you’ll stop speaking to them, silently seething inside (or possibly actually becoming angry openly with them) because they’re an “idiot” or “stupid” or “lazy” or whatever else you might call them.

(These can be addressed together as well.)

How to Cope: There is really only one way to tackle them and it’s by far been the most difficult for me. In fact, I still struggle with this daily. Told you this was like being an alcoholic, or even a drug addict. You don’t just one day stop being either of those things any more than you just stop being someone with control issues. And I believe that at the root of being a control freak is that you are judging other people. In essence, you walking up to Jimmy and telling him he’s mowing the lawn incorrectly because he’s not doing it in a cross-hatch pattern, or he’s not doing the edges of the sidewalk before he does the center, is you saying to him, “You aren’t as smart as I am because you’re not mowing the lawn in the right way, so I will be educating you on how to do it correctly.” You have just judged Jimmy as a) not as smart as you are, b) doing something wrong and c) probably have thrown in a word similar to “stupid” when thinking about him as a result of you feeling he’s mowing incorrectly.

Here’s a bonus tip for you: thinking about, or outright calling someone, any one of the following words, means you are judging them. If you are judging them, it means you believe you are superior to them. Here’s the word list: dumb, stupid, idiot, moron, fat, ridiculous, retarded (that one is an insult to more than just the person you call it). You can yank open a thesaurus to find more of the same, but you get the gist. Whether or not a person’s IQ is on par with yours, higher than yours or lower than yours, is irrelevant because they’re a human being just as much as you are. In fact, telling someone they are not a human being is just plain wrong, even if their behavior is what our society considers atrocious. I could write reams of my own personal learning on this – and will if you ask for it – but for now let’s just leave it with a good quote from a book I’m sure some of you are familiar with:

“Judge not lest ye be judged.”

‘nuff said.

  • You are a perfectionist and expect others to be as well.
  • You get upset when someone tells you something that you didn’t actually know, often pretending you did know it. Because control freaks are also perfectionists, and are obsessed with having to be in charge of everything at all times (“If you want something done right you have to do it yourself” mentality), the fact that a friend or coworker suggests something that inside you know is a good idea is irrelevant because no one should know more than you.

How to Cope: discovering that I was a perfectionist was, believe it or not, quite a shock to me. I have never consciously believed I was perfect, or even capable of being perfect. Yet if you cannot deal with the fact that Lizzie hung a picture on the wall with the right side a millimeter lower than the left side, it’s possible that you have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) but it’s a definite that you are a perfectionist. And when you either redo Lizzie’s work or tell her she screwed up, you’re holding her to your standards. If every single person on Earth tried holding every other person on Earth to their standards, it’d be complete chaos.

Take a step back and understand that holding yourself to standards of “being perfect” is actually being really, really mean to yourself because it is impossible to be perfect. Don’t look so shocked. Even if you hang a picture completely straight, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect to everyone. To you maybe, yes, but maybe Lizzie is six feet tall and you’re five feet tall and she needs the picture higher on the wall than you do. So it may be perfect for you, but not for her!

Like Richard Branson of Virgin says: “Nobody is perfect – and quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to be.”

Be kind to yourself. Stop trying to do the impossible. And be open to the fact that you do not know everything. Because if you did, honey, you’d be God/the Creator/Spirit/Buddha or whatever other mass intelligence you may believe in. And you’re not, clearly, any more than I am!

  • You couch your disapproval of the way a person has done something by offering “constructive criticism.”

How to Cope: Start by being brutally honest with yourself. This is no different than you telling someone they’re doing something wrong, it’s is just a passive-aggressive way to do it (assuming you’re not legitimately dealing with concrit in the fan fiction world – see previous post <insert link> for more on that). Resist the urge to tell people what to do, period. If you want to give them advice based on your own experience, don’t…not unless they ask you for advice.

If you have a shared experience with that person, such as one time you went to the store with them and they forgot their coat and so were freezing cold the whole time you were out, that’s a little different. But still, you don’t want them thinking you think they’re stupid…don’t tell them “Bring your coat” as if they were a young child who needed to be told what to do. Instead, find a way to gently remind them of what happened last time and offer the helpful suggestion in a non-threatening way. “Oh, hey, do you need your coat?” is much less confrontational – and also doesn’t make the other person feel like you believe them to be a) stupid for forgetting the coat the first time, or b) so ditzy that they’ll do the same dumb thing again this time. That way you’re trying to be a helpful friend rather than a know-it-all criticizer.

  • You try to make others behave the way you want them to by making them 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: Also extremely passive-aggressive and just another way to do precisely what I talked about with the seventh one above. The point is to stop believing you have a right to control what other people do and how they do it. If someone is doing something in a way that is truly dangerous to life and limb, then of course you can steer them in the right direction, or yell so they don’t cut off their finger. For example, if Mabel leaves the burner on after she’s done cooking and you have young children in the house, you need to address that to keep the children safe from possibly being burned. You still don’t have to be passive-aggressive, or mean, or demeaning to do so, however. Lording your “superior intellect” (as Khan often did/tried to do in Star Trek) over others like a weapon is no better than you holding a gun to their heads and demanding they do things your way.

You think I’m blowing things out of proportion? Not really. Because especially with the people you live with, if you are holding them hostage to doing everything your way, I’ll bet they’re no happier than if you were holding them hostage with a handgun. I’m being brutal here but only because I know how many years it took to get these concepts through my stubborn head and even now I’m still working on keeping my inner CF reined. A bit of shock therapy is sometimes in order. I know that frequently a verbal smack in the face is the only thing that gets through my thick skull!

I’ll leave you with this quote – and it’s my own words, so there’s nobody to attribute it to but me:

“The only person you have a right to control is yourself.”

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