Everyone knows one. At some point in your life, whether it be a parent, teacher, friend, or partner, you will inevitably encounter this person. They are also the people you least want to surround yourself with because, simply put: they make life difficult.
Being around a control freak is to be in a state of constant vigilance, frustration, and stress. The following tips outline their issues, how they operate, and how to best handle them.
Why Do They Behave This Way?
Being a control freak stems from a lack of control in a person’s life. They seek to re-establish that control by foisting themselves on others. In a rather strange twist, they believe: “Well, I can’t control my life, but I can feel more in control by controlling yours.”
Controlling other people makes them feel better about themselves, and eases their anxieties.
While you may never understand the combination of events that caused a particular person to become a control freak, you can determine several things about what drives them to continue to be this way.
There are three things that make up a control freak:
1. Lack Of Confidence
The need to control others often stems from a deep-seated lack of self-confidence. The individual doing the controlling feels that they are not good enough and must assert themselves by dominating others in an aggressive show of strength. In this area, you will find two types of control freaks: The Bully, and the Manipulator.
For some people, this is quite literally, aggressive, antagonistic behavior, i.e., your typical schoolyard bully.
In adults, this person is a loud, overbearing braggart, who snaps at people to intimidate them into doing what they want. If you try and argue with them, they will just get louder, and wear you down to the point where you just want the situation to end, so you cave and let them have their way.
This behavior is more often seen in men, than women, because men are socialized to use more aggressive methods to assert their wants and needs. This behavior is also more typical where the power dynamic is disparate; for example: a boss-employee, teacher-student, or in law enforcement.
The stakes are high for the person being bullied and they comply so as not to lose their jobs, get in trouble, or risk their grades. The control freaks in this situation know full well that they can get away with it, and that because they are in a position of power, they will face few, if any consequences.
These bullies don’t have to be hulking giants; they just have to be louder, and appear more threatening than the person they are trying to cajole.
In other instances, control freak behavior manifests in more insidious ways, through manipulation and passive-aggression aimed at wearing you down, tricking you into agreeing, or making you feel bad for not complying.
This second type of control freak can actually be worse, because at least with the bully, you know what you’re in for and can avoid triggering a blow up, or remove yourself quickly when one occurs. The manipulative control freak manages to get you to do what they want through the use of emotional bullying. They lack the confidence and physical presence to pull off intimidation tactics, so they get to you by making you feel guilty or unreasonable when you refuse their requests.
This is often a coworker or friend, a parent, and more commonly, (although, not always) a woman. While there still may be a difference in power dynamics, the situations are usually not as dire as with a bully.
Manipulators rarely yell, but they make you feel terrible about saying no. They chip away at you by making you feel selfish or unreasonable for putting your needs ahead of their own. It’s often only well after the fact that you realize exactly what happened, and feel resentful and angry.
2. Trust Issues
Control freaks are micro-managers. They don’t trust people to do anything better than they can do it themselves. They hover over you at every turn, pointing out how they would do it better while constantly criticizing you.
They are often perfectionists and expect everyone around them to fall in line. This makes just being around them exhausting. If you have ever been around a person who makes you feel like there is nothing you can do right, and you feel bad about yourself no matter how hard you try, you have been around a control freak.
3. Superiority Complex
In order to maintain control, control freaks have to appear like they know what they’re doing, or what they’re talking about. This means the need to keep up appearances.
This is the bully manager who believes that, having been there for many years, they don’t need to learn about the new processes or systems to help their employees, because their way is better. This is the manipulative coworker who tells people how to do their jobs, or sabotages peers in order to look good to the boss.
What’s really going on here? Change threatens their control, so they dig their heels in, and try to save face at all costs. If that means you’re a casualty, or a means to an end, so be it.
So how do you deal with control freaks? If you can’t avoid them, there are a few ways to minimize their damage:
If you’re dealing with a bullying type of control freak in a family/friend situation, leave. There is no obligation for you to stay and have to endure verbal abuse. No amount of turkey, sad-faced grandma, holiday guilt, or years of friendship, should induce you to put up with that behavior. Every time this person raises their voice or tries to bait you into an altercation, remove yourself from the situation. If they are unwilling to change, make that removal permanent.
If it is a work situation, it can be trickier. If the bully is your boss, report their behavior to Human Resources (if such a department exists). It may feel like you’re giving into them, but start to look for another job; after all, while HR may step in or document the situation, it could be a long time before that person is removed or you can transfer to a different department.
If you’re dealing with a manipulator, like a coworker or friend, just keep reiterating your needs and saying no. Practice saying no every morning in a mirror if you must, but say it. No is your weapon in fighting off their underhanded tactics and asserting yourself.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. As much as it may pain you to do so, let them have their little wins. If it’s something that doesn’t really matter that much, you are probably better off relinquishing your control and letting them have it. Save your assertive “no” for those times when you have a strong preference to do something on your terms. Otherwise, you risk a never-ending argument.
Don’t take their controlling behavior personally; it is a character flaw of theirs that can have one of many different causes. It does not reflect on you, your character, or your abilities; chances are they are like this with everybody. It is not a personal attack on you, but rather a coping mechanism they employ; albeit a rather testing one.
Don’t fight them or try to change them – this will only lead to an escalation as they seek to assert their dominance over you. Instead, save your own sanity by accepting the situation and either leaving, as suggested above, or detaching yourself emotionally from their incessant orders, demands, and criticisms.
Make suggestions and add your individual flair, but be prepared for them to be rejected outright. Take a gentle approach and ask them what they think of your ideas rather than just implementing them without any consultation (which they would consider an aggressive attempt to undermine them). This way you can stroke their ego and make them feel like they have control, while still playing an active, rather than passive, role in the situation.
The best tip I can offer is, above all, try and remain calm. Allowing yourself to get upset just adds kindling to their fire. When you respond calmly, you limit their power over you. Part of being a control freak is about getting a reaction; they enjoy the feeling of power and being in control. If they aren’t able to bully or manipulate you, they can no longer control you and they will move on to another target.
It’s time for you to take back control, from the control freak.