We all know at least one control-freak in our lives. Chances are, they don’t see themselves as controlling, even though this itself often repels others from trying to empathise with them. The reality, though, is that learning to work with them is less a consequence of unending patience, and more a result of understanding where they’re coming from.
It’s often said that some people are just inherently more domineering than others—that they just can’t help it, and that it’s just the way they are. While it’s true that certain personalities are more inclined towards being controlling than others, it’s also true that a lot of the time, the urge to exert control over others and over the environment stems, paradoxically, from a sense of internal chaos.
Most of the time, controlling behaviour occurs as a kind of pushback against a more deep-seated fear; the more deep-seated the fear, the greater the sense of internal chaos it tends to evoke. Hence, the more they try to compensate for it—in this case, by trying to control the things and people around them as much as possible.
Exactly which fear drives this excessive need for greater control would differ from person to person. Identifying this underlying motive is critical in devising an appropriate strategy to communicate and engage with them. With that in mind, here are three common fears that might be driving someone towards being excessively controlling.
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Insecurities are nothing new. Everyone feels insecure about something; the only difference is that some people deal with it in healthy ways while others don’t. Controlling people, unfortunately, tend to fall into the latter group. More often than not, they’re deeply insecure about not being “good enough”, for whatever reason.
Consequently, they end up feeling like they have something to prove, not just to themselves, but to others as well. This is what makes them turn again and again to power-play; insecurity pushes them to “prove” that they’re capable, relevant, and so on. It ultimately manifests itself in the form of controlling behaviour.
One of the most infuriating characteristics of control freaks is their refusal to adapt to new situations, methods, and perspectives. Because of this, they may come across as particularly narrow-minded.
The reality is that they’re not necessarily narrow-minded so much as afraid of dealing with feeling out of control, which is a necessary part of the process of adapting to anything new.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is always daunting, but for the control freak, it can be especially terrifying; they’re often unwilling to take the risk of dealing with the sheer unpredictability of change.
As a result, in an effort to make everything predictable and “knowable”, they resort to trying to control everyone and everything as much as possible.
It’s not uncommon for controlling people to also be perfectionists. Both behaviours tend to be the result of an especially intense fear of failure; exerting as much control as possible over their environment often seems to them like the perfect way to manage that fear.
While it might not seem like such a bad thing, it can be quite damaging in a lot of different ways.
Studies have shown, for instance, that perfectionists are much highly susceptible to depression and anxiety,. In workplace settings, people who are both control freaks and perfectionists can be a nightmare to work with or for; they are often relentlessly negative, distrustful, and highly unreceptive towards feedback.
When amplified by self-doubt and insecurity, it creates an excessively failure-avoidant approach to work and life. Ironically, though, this is exactly what limits their success.