You know them. They hover over you, making sure you complete every detail in the manner they prefer, they interrupt you, they raise their voice and frequently blame and complain that things aren’t up to their standards. You are irritated. Insulted. You secretly wish they would go away for a while … or even exit your space permanently.
Well the good news is, help is on the way – keep reading! The challenge is … the more the Control Freak alters your life for the worse, the more likely it is that you must seek to understand them – and yourself – on a new level.
What Causes Control Issues?
On some level, we all desire control over our lives. We come into this world wanting to get our own way and have our goals met. But if we grow up in an environment where safety is our primary goal because we experienced lack of safety (emotionally, mentally, physically, financially) and excess of chaos – then one way our child mind can get what it wants is to control everything and everyone around it. The child takes on the power pattern of a Controller, dominating the environment to feel safe, loved and generally okay.
As the child grows into an adult, they live off the fear that they are not enough and will never be enough. The child takes on the belief that the earth and its inhabitants cannot be trusted and that the universe is not safe. The Controller power pattern in the adult will not only dominate conversations by interrupting, talking over others and insisting on the last word, but it will also control by offering up passive aggressive silent treatment, running away from conflict and showing up late for meetings. The Controller can be both aggressive and passive-aggressive in the same day, and often plays both sides well to reach its goal, which is to be safe and to protect against perceived betrayal of all sorts, including criticism.
What Heightens the Need for Control?
The Controller comes out when it’s important for us to be right about something that we care about. After turning vegan, I noticed family and friends’ eating habits and started commenting on their unhealthy food choices. “You shouldn’t be eating that,” was a comment I thought of as loving. After all, I could be saving their life from a heart attack due to cholesterol and high blood pressure! But after sharing this with a friend, I realized that my demands were not coming from love, but a fear that I developed when my dad died. By sixteen, my dad was a heavy smoker. When I’d come to visit my parents as a young adult, I’d remind my dad occasionally to cut down on his smoking. Years later, when he died at the age of sixty- nine from liver cancer, I thought I could have done more to stop his early death. I created a belief that if I let people be who they are, they will leave me. This belief escalated the Controller in me.
How do we Work with our Own Control Issues? How do we Work with our Own Control Issues?
Step 1: Being aware of our own Controller within and the strong desire to create an environment where we are safe and feel worthy and loved is the first step to dissolving our habitual Control Freak thoughts and actions. Without awareness, there is no hope of change.
Step 2: Once awareness sets in, make daily choices to stop insulating yourself with the need to be right and the need to have things always go your way. Become comfortable with feeling discomfort.
In The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer speaks to the tendency for people to constantly protect themselves. He notes that,
“This tendency exists because you truly have no control, and that is not comfortable to you. But if you really want to break through, you have to be willing to just watch the fear without protecting yourself from it… You are now standing face-to-face with the root of the psyche.” He goes on to explain that, “People feel their very existence is at stake, and they will fight and argue until they get control back. This is all because we have attempted to build solidity where there is none. Now we have to fight to keep it together… If you continue to cling to what you built, you will have to continually and perpetually defend yourself.”
Step 3: Commit to dissolving defensiveness. Defensiveness is a sure sign of Controller energy. Having to defend opinions and defend who we are is exhausting and depletes us of energy. To remove yourself from this, remain open to the fear, including the thoughts and emotions moving through you; avoid closing your heart and getting stuck in a prison of your own making; simply allow the fear to be felt as an ocean wave that arrives and then dissipates.
How do we build Connection with the Controller in Others?
Here are three things you can do to lessen the power struggle between you and others who exhibit Controller tendencies:
1. Observe defensiveness and the need to be right in other people and yourself. Ask yourself, “Is it more important to be right, or is it more important to create harmony and understanding?” If someone is adamant that they are right, can you learn to let them have their opinion unless it is damaging others? Can you learn to sit quiet in your wisdom until a better time presents itself to share your ideas instead of defending your ideas or need to be right?
2. Become a movie watcher. If life were a movie, and you watched the Controller in the movie play their role without your direct resistance, what would happen? Would your life fall apart? Would something catastrophic happen? Learn to be detached from personalities, and you will be far more influential, balanced and fulfilled.
3. Give the Controller in you and others what they really need. Tune into your inner Control Freak and ask, what is it that I need to feel safe and loved and good enough? Listen to the inner child and give her/him what is needed from your adult self. You will soon find that you are less irritated by the Controllers in your environment since you are filled up with what you need. You may even find yourself having deep conversations with the very Controllers who annoyed you that reveal what they require to feel safe and loved – and it isn’t more micromanaging, pointing fingers or passive aggressive behaviour. As you understand human nature in you and others, your entire world and ability to influence your environment and the people in it will shift.