One of the things I have noted about many parricide cases is the offending parent is often a control freak—someone who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done. They say, ”If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” They have an opinion about everything; so disagree at your peril. They’ll try to control you by invalidating your emotions if those don’t fit into their rulebook.
Such parents are not merely domineering, but have a pathological desire to control their kids’ behavior to the minutest detail. These people obsessively try to dictate how their kids are supposed to be and feel. Nothing seems to satisfy them; they have an extremely low tolerance for anything which does not meet with their preconceived notions of behavior or performance.
Control freaks are often perfectionists defending themselves against their own inner vulnerabilities. People who feel out of control tend to become controllers. They believe that if they are not in total control, they risk exposing themselves once more to the same angst they felt in childhood. They might have had chaotic upbringings, alcoholic parents, or experienced early abandonment, making it hard to trust or relinquish control to others. Such persons manipulate and pressure others to change so as to avoid having to change themselves, and use power over others to escape or conceal an inner emptiness.
I can empathize because I once had the misfortune of partnering with such a person in a business venture, and this person made my life a living hell for as long as I was associated with him. He has still not forgiven me for breaking loose and believes I should be punished. Long ago I also had a boss who fit the same profile, and in both cases I grew to dread—and even feel exhausted and sick to my stomach—whenever I had to come in contact with them.
For me, the thing I resented most about these individuals is that they invalidated my core values of freedom and independence. Rather than tapping into these instincts as a source of strength, motivation, and performance, they tried to smother them.
In terms of personality-type theory, control freaks are typically the Type A personality, driven by the need to dominate and control. But one of the most surprising things is that control freaks rarely know that they are one. They prefer to think that they are helping people with their “constructive criticism” or taking over a project because “no one else will do it right.”
It’s important to identify if you are dealing with a control freak. I’ve seen several checklists, but one of the best has reduced this inquiry to five simple questions:
• Does this person keep claiming to know what’s best for you?
• Do you typically have to do things his/her way?
• Is he/she so domineering you feel suffocated?
• Do you feel like you’re held prisoner to this person’s rigid sense of order?
• Is this relationship no fun because it lacks spontaneity?
If you answer “yes” to 1-2 questions, it’s likely you’re dealing with a controller. Responding “yes” to 3 or more questions suggests that a controller is violating your emotional freedom.
If you are an adult, you always have the freedom to move on and build a working or personal relationship with someone who recognizes your unique talents and abilities. However, if you have to stay, try these strategies suggested by Dr. Judith Orloff:
1. Never try to control a controller
Speak up, but don’t tell them what to do. Be assertive, not controlling. Stay confident and refuse to play the victim. Most important, always take a consistent, targeted approach. Controllers are always looking for a power struggle, so try not to sweat the small stuff. Focus on high-priority issues that you really care about.
2. Never make your self-worth dependent on them
Don’t get caught in the trap of always trying to please a narcissist. Also protect your sensitivity. Refrain from confiding your deepest feelings to someone who won’t embrace them or—worse yet—use them to control you.
3. Try the caring, direct approach
Use this with good friends or others who’re responsive to feedback. For instance, if someone dominates conversations, say: “I appreciate your comments but I’d like to express my opinions too.” The person may be unaware that he or she is monopolizing the discussion, and will maybe even change.
4. Set limits
If someone keeps telling you how to deal with something, politely say, “I value your advice, but I really want to work through this myself.” You may need to remind the controller several times, always in a kind, neutral tone. Repetition is key. Don’t expect instant miracles. Since controllers rarely give up easily, be patient. Respectfully reiterating your stance over days or weeks will slowly recondition negative communication patterns and redefine the terms of the relationship. If you reach an impasse, agree to disagree. Then make the subject off limits.
5. Size up the situation
If your boss is a controlling perfectionist, don’t keep ruminating about what a rotten person he or she is or expect that person to change. Then operate within that reality check. For instance, if your boss instructs you how to complete a project, but you add a few good ideas of your own, realize these ideas may or may not fly. If you non-defensively offer your reasoning about the additions, you’ll be more readily heard. However if your boss responds, “I didn’t say to do this. Please remove it,” just defer. Putting your foot down—trying to control the controller—will only make work more stressful or get you fired.
If you’re a kid and dealing with a parent from hell, your situation is vastly more complicated and will require superhuman patience before the circumstances change and present a way to get out. But the important thing is to not deal with it alone. Go to an adult who cares—a mentor, pastor, teacher, parent of a friend, etc.—and let them know what you’re dealing with.
If you have no one else to talk to, you can always contact me at email@example.com. I’ll listen. Maybe I can help.
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