Understanding the Control Freak

Most people would agree that a sense of control is necessary for good emotional and physical health. But when people use control to dominate everything around them they have crossed the boundary into over-control. The key is being smart enough to know when to use your control and when not to, or how much control to tolerate from others.  Your over-controlling creates stress in others and makes them feel that they have no control at all.

The human infant is possibly the most helpless of all the infants in the animal kingdom. However, we soon learn to cry or smile to get our needs met. In a normal family situation that is how it is supposed to work. Without a responsive parent-figure, we may come to believe that our cries are meaningless, that we are helpless. With an overly-responsive parent, we learn as infants that every whim can be met with “I’ll cry and I’ll get it.” Either is a flimsy foundation for adult life. We generally fall into one of two temptations: We either give up and give in to a life of passivity, or we end up overcompensating by becoming full-blown Control Freaks.

The previous paragraph is theory. In reality, even the best (most nurturing, caring, and empowering) parents might not prevent over-controlling tendencies from emerging. And even the worse (neglectful, emotionally absent) parents do not always create Control Freaks or helpless and hopeless children. How many times have we heard it said that children have three “ages?” When we are young we think our parents are all-wise super heroes. When we are teenagers we believe our parents know nothing and can do nothing. When we are adults with children of our own we realize that our parents know more than we ever gave them credit for.

We cannot blame nor can we give credit for all of our behavior to our parents. We might try to blame others for the way we act, but it’s not really their fault. As adults we must “man-up” and shoulder our own responsibilities. Still, it might help some to realize why they (or we) act that way.


Deep in the soul of every Control Freak is an ample supply of anxiety, a seemingly endless stream that continually fuels the fear of being out of control. Control Freaks can’t relax because they feel at risk of being criticized or shamed for making an error. To feel safe, they feel that they have to be superhuman twenty-four hours a day. They have to master every situation, from the bedroom to the boardroom. The strain of constantly trying to keep from failing pushed them more and more into trying to control everything and everybody.

If you are a self-confessed Control Freak, you know just what I mean. Though few people around you suspect it, you’re well aware of the worry and distress that too often plague your days. On the one hand, you must live up to the impossible self-image you have created for yourself (strong, competent, etc.), but on the other hand, you deeply doubt your ability to do it. Anxiety is the result. And you know how anxiety fuels your desire to create a world that runs just the way you want it to. You know how it causes you to compulsively control not only your environment but also the people in in. You count on their compliance. You get frustrated when their needs and feelings interfere with your own. The result is more anxiety, and that fuels more unhealthy attempts to control it. You long to relax. To let down your guard. To be who your really are without fear of failure or rejection.
— The Control Freak” by Dr. Les Parrott

And if you are dealing with a Control Freak in your life, you have no idea how powerful their anxiety is. You have no idea how vulnerable and unsafe they feel, but you have experienced the drastic measures they resort to in order to alleviate that anxiety.

“It is hard for a free fish to understand the behavior of a hooked fish.”

Anxiety is not all bad. Without it there would be no growth, no progress. Anxiety provides motivation to act. In moderation, anxiety is a completely benevolent gift from God to prevent us from being totally complacent vegetables. But because of their anxiety, Control Freaks don’t know when and where to stop.

I realize that I said in the last article that I will give you some ideas on dealing with the Control Freaks in your life, and I realize that I have not gotten to that in this article. I promise…Dr. Parrot’s book does give some insightful ideas in what he calls, “Taming the Control Freaks Around You,” and I promise that I am going to get to that…hopefully next week.