As a Personal Life Coach, I encourage people to take charge of their life and yet not do everything by themselves. Their response is typically “I’m a control freak so I have to do everything myself to know that it will be done right!”
Well being a “control freak” is not healthy. Controlling personalities are hyper vigilant and not fun to be around. They send discouraging messages to those around them that they have to do it their way to do it right! If they give you a task, they are literally unable to watch you choose another method to accomplish it.
Controlling people may or may not feel miserable. Some controlling types admit to experiencing anxiety or Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies, which feed the problem. However, they may not want help for this condition. Instead, they may want others to comply with the way they want things done.
Controlling behavior may be genetic or learned. People who have had very controlling parents can react in polarized fashions. They either carry on the traits exactly as their parents, or they rebel against the control and typically act irresponsibly.
Does this sound like you? Most of my clients who were reared by a controlling parent do not have an individualized sense of self. Intuitively, they know that they have been reacting to a very constrictive environment.
How do you change this reaction? No matter what your age, ask yourself how you would like your life to be different? What traits and behaviors are important to your sense of self?
If you have taken on the traits of your parents, decide what behavior you would like to change. Instead of mowing the grass two times a week, it might mean spreading it out to six or seven days between mowing. If you are compelled to do laundry a certain way, it might require rolling up your socks differently than you were taught. The important part is breaking a pattern and re-establishing it your way. You start off small, so that you can change the behaviors in ways that feel “semi” uncomfortable.
Strategize small steps that you can accomplish and live with on a daily basis. You get to decide what is manageable for you. Give yourself plenty of praise for making the personal changes Although you will likely have a tendency to keep it quiet, go ahead and tell someone about your intentions. It will increase the chances of your following through with it on a regular basis.
It is very likely that you may have some unresolved feelings if you learned this behavior from a controlling person in your life. Did you know that when someone is over-controlling, they are typically overcompensating for a sense of insecurity? Their outside behavior may look like arrogance—“do it my way or else”—but the inside behavior is “do it my way so I will feel secure”. It can be helpful to write a letter (that you never send to the controlling person, letting them know how they affected you. It can help to release you psychologically from their control.
If you are controlling because of Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies or clinical anxiety, this will likely need to be addressed through the help of medication. If you know that your sense of control is because your brain will not do it any other way, consider talking to your doctor about medication that will decrease the struggle as you make the needed changes in your life.
What do you do if you act irresponsibly to rebel against an over controlling childhood? Well we will have to save that for another column!