Are you a control freak?

May 27, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

In an unpredictable world, control is at a premium.

We try to control our weight, our budgets and our time in an effort to find a comfortable space in which to dwell.

"We all want to predict what's going to happen in our world," says Larry Stouter, a licensed, clinical professional counselor at Catoctin Counseling Center in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md.

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For some, ruling their own domain isn't enough. They need to dominate others' lives as well.

Those with controlling personalities transform a want into a need, says Aldo Pucci, president of National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists in Weirton, W.Va.


If they feel that need will not be met, they may get anxious or angry. In some cases, panic may set in as though they were in a life-or-death situation.

Controllers tend to experience extremes in their emotions and may overreact easily, says Diane Bradshaw, director of counseling at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa.

They also may be perfectionists and obsess about rules, details and schedules - not only their own, but those of others.

Controlling individuals have trouble delegating, and, when they do, they may closely monitor those to whom they have assigned tasks, Bradshaw says.

Dominant individuals need to be right, and, while they hand out criticism easily, they don't take it well.

They may use money, intimidation, fear or physical force to control others, Stouter says.

What's really the issue?

Excessive control over the exterior environment helps mask internal chaos, Stouter says.

"This controlling business serves a function," says Patrick Ricker, a counselor for Employee Assistance Program, offered through Behavioral Health Services of Washington County Health System in Hagerstown.

Often tyrannical individuals fear that if they don't control everything about their environment, whether at work or home, their underlying feelings of inadequacy will be exposed, Bradshaw says.

Controlling people tend to lack trust in other people and may fear abandonment, Ricker says.

"To trust others is to take a risk," Ricker says.

Some controlling individuals simply are self-centered, Ricker says.

What to do

Not until you understand the feelings that motivate you to rule others' lives can you start to change.

Bradshaw recommends keeping a journal, in which you write about the things that cause your fear or anxiety.

"You really have to be honest with yourself," Bradshaw says.

One difficult, though critical, realization to make is that doing your best is good enough.

"It's OK to make a mistake. No one expects you to be perfect, except maybe you," Bradshaw says.

For those whose relationships or jobs have suffered as a result of their behavior, Bradshaw and Stouter recommend therapy to help bring to the surface the personal issues that cause them to have such domineering personalities.

How to approach a controller

Approach the person when he is rested and relaxed, Stouter says. First express the importance of the relationship you share, then explain how his overbearing ways are problematic.

Ricker advises you express your concern or frustration by saying something like this, "The way you're treating me is affecting me in a negative way."

Confronting someone who is controlling can cause her to reflect on her behavior and try to change or it can cause her to become more controlling, Ricker says.

People ready to address the issue face-to-face with someone who is abusive should consult a counselor before doing so, Stouter says.

When the time comes to have the discussion, bring a friend or relative along for support, Ricker says.

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