Dealing With Control Freaks

Jan 05

Dealing With Control Freaks

Posted by Max Fischer on

by Thomas J. Schumacher, Psy.D., R-CSW
More About Thomas...

Most all of you have had to contend with control freaks. These are those people who insist on having their way in all interactions with you. They wish to set the agenda and decide what it is you will do and when you will do it. You know who they are – they have a driving need to run the show and call the shots. Lurking within the fabric of the conversation is the clear threat that if you do not accede to their needs and demands, they will be unhappy.
Certainly, it’s natural to want to be in control of your life. But when you have to be in control of the people around you as well, when you literally can’t rest until you get your way … you have a personality disorder. While it’s not a diagnostic category found in the DSM IV (the therapist’s bible for diagnostic purposes) an exaggerated emphasis on control is part of a cluster of behaviors that can be labeled as compulsive generally characterized by perfectionism, orderliness, workaholic tendencies, an inability to make commitments or to trust others and a fear of having their flaws exposed. Deep down, these people are terrified of being vulnerable. They believe they can protect themselves by staying in control of every aspect of their lives, including their relationships. Control freaks take the need and urge to control to new heights, causing others stress so they can maintain a sense of order. These people are riddled with anxiety, fear, insecurity, and anger. They’re very critical of themselves their lover and their friends, but underneath that perfect outfit and great body is a mountain of unhappiness. Let’s look at what makes control freaks tick, what makes you want to explode, and some ways to deal with them.

The Psychological Dynamics That Fuel a Control Freak

The need to control is almost always fueled by anxiety – though control freaks seldom recognize their fears. At work, they may worry about failure. In relationships, they may worry about not having their needs met. To keep this anxiety from overwhelming them, they try to control the people or things around them. They have a hard time with negotiation and compromise and they can’t stand imperfection. Needless to say, they are difficult to live with, work with and/or socialize with.

Bottom Line: In the process of being controlling, their actions say, “You’re incompetent” and “I can’t trust you.” (this is why you hate them). Remember, the essential need of a control freak is to defend against anxiety. Although it may not be apparent to you when they are making their demands, these individuals are attempting to cope with fairly substantial levels of their own anxiety. The control freak is usually fighting off a deep-seated sense of their own helplessness and impotence. By becoming proficient at trying to control other people, they are warding off their own fear of being out of control and helpless. Controlling is an anxiety management tool.

Unfortunately for you, the control freak has a lot at stake in prevailing. While trying to hold a conversation and engage them in some way, their emotional stakes involve their own identity and sense of well-being. Being in control gives them the temporary illusion and sense of calmness. When they feel they are prevailing, you can just about sense the tension oozing out of them. The control freak is very frightened. Part of their strategy is to induce that fear in you with the subtle or not so subtle threat of loss. Since the emotional stakes are so high for them, they need to assert themselves with you to not feel so helpless. To relinquish control is tantamount to being victimized and overwhelmed. When a control freak cannot control, they go through a series of rapid phases. First they become angry and agitated, then they become panicky and apprehensive, then they become agitated and threatening, and then they lapse into depression and despair.

Repetition Compulsion

Control freaks are also caught in the grip of a repetition compulsion. They repeat the same pattern again and again in their attempt to master their anxiety and cope with the trauma they feel. Characteristically, the repetition compulsion takes on a life of its own. Rather than feel calmer and therefore have a diminished need to be controlling, their behavior locks them into the same pattern in an insatiable way. Successes at controlling do not register on their internal scoreboard. They have to fight off the same threat again and again with increasing rigidity and intransigence.

Two Types of Control Freaks

Type 1 Control Freaks: The Type 1 control freak is strictly attempting to cope with their anxiety in a self absorbed way. They just want to feel better and are not even very aware of you. You will notice and hear their agitation and tentativeness. They usually do not make much eye contact when they are talking to you.

Type 2 Control Freaks: The Type 2 control freak is also trying to manage their anxiety but they are very aware of you as opposed to the Type 1 control freak. The Type 2 needs to diminish you to feel better. Their mood rises as they push you down. They do not just want to prevail; they also need to believe that they have defeated you. They need you to feel helpless so they will not feel helpless. Their belief is that someone must feel helpless in any interchange and they desperately do not want it to be them. The Type 1 needs control. The Type 2 needs to control you.

Some Coping Strategies

1) Stay as calm as you can. Control freaks tend to generate a lot of tension in those around them. Try to maintain a comfortable distance so that you can remain centered while you speak with them. Try to focus on your breathing. As they get more agitated and demanding, just breath slowly and deeply. If you stay calm and focused, this often has the effect of relaxing them as well. If you get agitated you have joined the battle on their terms.

2) Speak very slowly. Again the normal tendency is to gear up and speak rapidly when dealing with a control freak. This will only draw you into the emotional turmoil and you will quickly be personalizing what is occurring.

3) Be very patient. Control freaks need to feel heard. In fact, they do not have that much to say. They have a lot to say if you engage them in a power struggle. If you just listen carefully and ask good questions that indicate that you have heard them, then they will quickly resolve whatever the issue is and calmly move on.

4) Pay attention to your induced reactions. What is this person trying to emotionally induce in you? Notice how you feel when speaking with them. It will give you important clues as to how to deal with them more effectively and appropriately.

5) Initially, let them control the agenda. But you control the pacing. If you stay calm and speak slowly, you will be in command of the pacing of the conversation.

6) Treat them with kindness. Within most control freaks is a good measure of paranoia. They are ready to get angry and defend against what they perceive is a controlling hostile world. If you treat them with respect and kindness, their paranoia cannot take root. You will jam them up.

7) Make demands on them-- especially when dealing with the type 2 control freak. Ask them to send you something or do something for you. By asking something of them, you will be indicating that you are not intimidated or diminished by their behavior patterns.

8) Remember an old but poignant Maxim: “Those who demand the most often give the least.”

Keep in mind that control freaks are not trying to hurt you – they’re trying to protect themselves. Remind yourself that their behavior toward you isn’t personal; the compulsion was there before they met you, and it will be their forever unless they get help. Understand that they are skilled manipulators, artful and intimidating, rehearsed debaters and excellent at distorting reality.

In order to not feel degraded, humiliated and have your sense of self and self worth assaulted, you need to avoid being bulldozed by a controlling lover, boss or friend. When you are caught up in a truly destructive/controlling attachment, the best response may be to walk out. You have to understand that whatever you do will have a limited effect. These people are angry and afraid to let go of you. Hence, it is your job to let go of them, protect yourself in the process… and grow.

Replies for this Forum Topic

So does that mean we can b friends?

Fair enough. Godspeed.

What have I done wrong? Show me.. The ONLY people I ever said anything negative to were people that said stuff to me. I came on here and was harassed by the regulars on this board from day one for being a passionate fan... just because it was a game to them. I've been accused of anything you can imagine.. being gay.. a stalker.. you name it.. all because people are tying to CONTROL other people..

Then everyone piled on because I looked like the bad guy because I was the minority. The worst thing I ever did was to criticize the other Strokes besides Julian for hurting the band. But so what? I never made it personal with other people unless it was a joek or they were harassing me...

If I ever insulted anyone that wasn't insulting me on accident I apologize. I will gladly apologize. But you have to look at it from my perspective. When you have people attacking you constantly and using aliases to attack you constantly it makes you a little deranged... and that is why those people do it. They know eventually they will get to you.. and all because they want to control the conversation. That's how they justify it. I believe in live and let live. People say negative shit aobut Julian all the time.. I don't try to control it hough.. I just counter by saying positive stuff. I think the reason people fight stuff so much is when they know you are right.. that's why I never really gave a crap what people said about Julian or anything I cared about.

Hey, hypocrite, you've acted like a know-it-all sociopath on this board for months, dismissing other peoples' opinions and spouting baseless nonsense, so I'd be a little more careful about placing blame and making yourself out to be some sort of martyr. Look in the mirror. Take some stock in your situation. Good luck.

I don't understand why people so angry and hostile though. I guess because they have been targeted before too. It's an endless ccyle. They are taught to be that way. They don't think what it's liek to be other people either.

I try to look at life like their is reincarnation and someday I will live that persons life. I think that's how life works. It's the only fair way to make things and that way you experience ever situation if life. So if you hurt or judge someone else you are really hurting or judging yourself.

my man Max, im here with ya i know how you feel ppl cant stand the flavors of life everyone wants one flavor cuz its safe n thats no fun.

lol...flavors, im watching a cooking show .

I don't think people understand what it is like being so different.. it doesn't matter if you are a [b][u]good[/u][/b] person or a bad person.. I have never hurt anyone and never would. I have never even REALLY attacked anyone on here even after all I have been through for trying to enjoy one of the few things in life I really care about.

If you are different kind of person, because the way society works, you are automatically TREATED like a bad person.

Then you become [b][u]lonely[/u][/b] and [b][u]alone[/u][/b] and it gets even worse. And then you draw the attention of the bullys because you are different and are targeted instead of others.. instead of the really [b][u]bad people[/u][/b].

It's funny that you would question me when I tell you I have a disability that makes me different and everyone attacks me for being different. I never liked to tell people about it because when you do people treat you differently (in a different but equally bad way) many times and just act like you aren't a real person. But everyone hates me on here so I feel like I have no choice.

:lol: oooooh kaaaay! i guess so then? But really, that is not one bit funny!!!! ;)

Yes, I absolutely do. Go look it up and then look At my posting behavior. lol It should be obvious.

:twisted: YOU DO NOT HAVE Asperger syndrome!!!!! do you? i don't think so...

I'm not defending bullies.. I am condemning them.. I have been the victim of bullying myself. I guess it's because I have Asperger syndrome and am different people see me as an easy target and can't stand when someone is different.

FINE! i wuz...

:lol:, man. This board isn't a substitute for therapy, or friendship, or a good ass-kicking, one or more of which you clearly need. Go see Youth in Revolt and grow a mustache...or something.

[size=200]OH! poooooor bully!
the shaaame they must endure when they bring someone to their knees [i]or even worse![/i]
i dont have anysympathy for a bully! [i]YOU KNOW WHY?[/i] because if a bully was really a victim of such, [b]theyd know[/b] the pain and embarrasment it causes and [b]would never[/b] do that to someone else. so you know what?

Dealing with Bullies and How Not to be One
Carol E. Watkins, M.D.

What is a bully? It is someone who takes advantage of another individual that he or she perceives as more vulnerable. The goal is to gain control over the victim or over the bully’s social group. This type of behavior occurs in all ages and in all social groups. Most adults, if they think about it, have experienced bullying too.

Bullying behavior harms both the victim and the perpetrator. If a child experiences chronic intimidation, he or she may learn to expect this from others. He may develop a pattern of compliance with the unfair demands of those he perceives as stronger. He may become anxious or depressed. Finally, he may identify with the bully and become a bully himself.

The bully is also harmed. If he or she is allowed to continue the behavior, it becomes habitual. He becomes more likely to surround himself with friends who condone and promote aggressive behavior. He may not develop a mature sense of justice. If he intimidates others to cover up his own insecurities, his own anxiety may increase.

When a child or adolescent is mean to another, it is important to look for patterns and motivations. Bullies are often different from children who fight indiscriminately. Children who are fighters may simply do so as a result of impulsivity or misreading of social cues. A fighter is often unpopular with his peers. He tends use fighting to settle a dispute and will fight anyone, whether or not adults are watching. He tends not to chose a particular victim.

On the other hand, a bully often surrounds himself with a group of peers. He consciously picks weaker, more vulnerable victims, and repeatedly bothers the same people. He tends to do his bullying when authorities are not around. The bullying is not to settle a clear dispute. Instead, the motive is to gain control over others. He may enjoy watching the victim’s reaction.

There are a number of reasons that a child or adolescent becomes a bully. He or she may need to cover his own feelings of inadequacy. He may lack good adult role models. If he sees parents bullying him or each other, he may regard this type of behavior as simply the way one should act. Other children fall in with a peer group that uses bullying. They may learn it from these friends. In some cases, the behavior improves when the child is separated from that peer group, and makes new friends.

Which children are most likely to be the victims of a bully? Children who are isolated, physically or socially; children who are perceived as different; sensitive children; those with poor social skills; and sometimes children who are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sometimes parents may not know if their child is being bullied. Some children are intimidated into secrecy. They may also keep quiet because they feel shameful that they have allowed this to happen. They may fear that the parents will either criticize them or that the parents will intervene in a way that will make everything worse. What are the signs that your child is the victim of a bully? One may see non-specific signs of school distress: These might include falling grades, physical complaints on school days, and lack of interest in school work or sports. More specific signs would be unexplained injuries or torn clothes, missing belongings or money, or repeated requests for more money. If someone is taking your child’s lunch, he or she may come home hungry even though he took an adequate lunch to school.

You need to know how to get your child talking about his concerns. It is best to broach the subject at a calm neutral time. Ask general questions about whether something is bothering your child. Get as detailed a narrative as possible. Avoid interrupting or judging. Try to stay calm and do not make outraged statements while your child is telling his tale. Avoid offering premature solutions. You may not get the entire story on the first telling. Be patient and bring up the topic again later. Finally, if you feel that something is going on and suspect that your child is withholding information, call his or her teacher.

How can you help your child deal with the bullying? First, help teach him to avoid being an easy target. Start with posture, voice and eye contact. These can communicate a lot about whether you are vulnerable. Practice with a mirror or even videotape. Tell your child to avoid isolated places where no one can see or hear him. He should learn to be vigilant for suspicious individuals or for trouble brewing. If bullying starts, he might be able to deflect it with humor or by changing the subject. He should run over a list of positive attributes in his mind. This reminds him that he is worthy of something better than bullying behavior. Teach your child not to obey the commands of the bully. Often it is better to run away than to comply. The parent may help the child make more positive friends. If he or she sticks around with a group, he is less likely to be a target. Finally, if the child sticks up for other children he sees being bullied, people may get the idea that he is not someone who tolerates bullies.

The child must learn to discriminate the difference between social bullying and more dangerous physically threatening situations. If he is in an isolated place and truly feels physically threatened, he should give the bully the item he demands. However, if someone is demanding that he get into the car of a stranger, he should resist with as much force as possible. Once he gets away, he should notify a responsible adult as soon as possible.

Some children benefit from a good martial arts class. It is important to select an instructor who talks about alternatives to physical violence and who teaches children how to get out of dangerous situations with the least amount of physical contact. Children who stick with these lessons rarely use their skills in aggressive ways. The discipline often raises their self esteem which makes them less likely to become a target.

What if your child is unable or unwilling to take these measures (or if the measures are ineffective?) The parent should privately contact the teacher or guidance counselor. Describe the problem and your concerns. Follow up regularly to make sure that any plan is followed consistently and to make sure that the system is being followed. Sometimes if the bullying is chronic or severe, the parents and teacher may have to take decisive action. They may ask the bully to apologize, verbally or in writing. They may insist that the bully stay a certain distance from the victim. The teacher may make an effort to seat or group the child with more supportive peers.

These guidelines may need to be modified according to the child’s age or the intensity of the bullying. In general the older the child, the more the parent acts as a coach and the less the parent or teacher intervene directly. However, when there are actual physical or sexual actions, direct adult intervention may be justified at any age.

What if your child is the bully? A child can be a bully for a variety of reasons. Not all bullies are the product of a violent or neglectful home. If your child continually bullies others, he too experiences psychological harm. Patterns of aggression and intimidation can become ingrained. The longer they persist, the more difficult they are to expunge. Find out as much as you can about the problem. Is your child the leader or just one of the group of followers? If your child is a follower, talk to him about the situation. If his behavior persists, you may need to keep him away from the leader or even the entire group. Supervise your child more closely when he plays. You may need to insist that he play where you or another parent can see him. If the bullying occurs on the way to or from school, he should be driven or should go directly to school or home. If he is an adolescent, you may need to put the brakes on certain unsupervised activities.

If your child is the leader in bullying activities, you need to find out as much as you can about the extent and nature of his or her activities. Protect your child by seeing that his victim is protected. If necessary, restrict your child from going near his victim. Cooperate with teachers and other parents in monitoring your child’s activities. Make sure that they know that you are responsible and want to be involved. Ask them to report back to you if your child resumes any form of intimidation. Talk to your child about alternatives to violent or socially intimidating behavior. Make sure that he or she understands the personal impact that the bullying can have on the victim. Make sure that your child apologizes and makes meaningful reparations. If material objects have been stolen or destroyed, your child must pay for them. If he or she cannot do so, you should pay and then insist that he or she work off the payments over time. Finally, you and your child should try to understand why he has the need to intimidate others. You should start an ongoing dialogue. In some cases, your child may have so much anger, impulsivity or depression that you cannot handle it alone. In this case, you should seek professional advice.

The Serial Bully: Signs & Symptoms
A reader expressed to me the fact that they felt that their treatment on Pink Truth and some communications they received from Tracy Coenen were akin to cyber bullying.

If you aren’t familiar with cyber bullying, you need to educate yourself so that in case you are a victim you know what the signs are and how to deal with these personalities.

There is a great site that outlines some of the characteristics of bullying.

Behaviour of the Serial Bully

In the list describing the serial bully, I found that a few of the characteristics described some of the things I’ve seen on Pink Truth:

is a control freak and has a compulsive need to control everyone and everything you say, do, think and believe;
displays a compulsive need to criticise whilst simultaneously refusing to value, praise and acknowledge others, their achievements, or their existence
undermines and destroys anyone who the bully perceives to be an adversary, a potential threat, or who can see through the bully’s mask
is adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise collate incriminating information about them
There are four types of serial bullies described on the site. I’ll take a look at one in particular in my next post.

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