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We all know them. They’re the ones who will stop at nothing to push their own agenda. I was raised by control freaks. They once staged an “intervention” with my brother and his wife after they made the decision to move from the east coast to Colorado. So, it’s probably not a surprise that I, too, became a control freak.

In my opinion, one of the most insidious things a control freak can do is tell others how they should feel. Make no mistake. It does not have to be an overt “You shouldn’t feel that way,” although it’s not unusual for a control freak to say that. But if a person tends to argue with you when you express your feelings, it’s essentially the same thing as saying “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

You’re entitled to feel how you feel. Does that mean you shouldn’t examine your feelings and determine why you feel that way and perhaps how you can change uncomfortable feelings? Of course not. But that’s for you to do, not someone else. That’s because the control freak isn’t concerned about you; they are concerned that your feelings don’t fit into their agenda.

Typically, a control freak spends much of their time trying to control others, as opposed to controlling themselves. A good example of this is when someone objects to your tone of voice or the words you choose to express yourself. Instead of controlling their own reaction to what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, they attempt to control you. They put the burden on you to make them comfortable with how you speak and what you say.

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A control freak will often claim to know “what’s best for you.” Several years ago, I visited a friend in Florida. We had been best buddies in high school, and I really wanted some time to catch up with my long-time friend. Her husband insisted on tagging along. At one point, she and I were lounging in the pool, having loads of fun talking and laughing, when her husband showed up and reminded her that she should be studying for a certification exam she was going to be taking soon. She claimed his admonition was because he would be the one who would have to listen to her whine if she didn’t pass.

Thus, this was a situation where my friend was attempting to control my perception of her control freak husband. And frankly, that wasn’t surprising. My friend is actually one of the most out-of-control control freaks I have ever known. This is a woman I know very well. I recognize all her manipulative tricks and attempts to control perception. I accept it and choose to focus on her good points. In this case, I choose to remain friends with her. In other cases, such as with a boss, for example, you may not have the choice to get away from a control freak. In a situation like that, the best thing to do is accept what is and resist the urge to dwell on how you wish things were different.

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Another strategy for dealing with a control freak is by simply saying “Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.” Of course, it must be said in a genuine — not sarcastic — way. If the controller persists, try adding “I really want to work through this on my own.”

Keep in mind that control freaks are often like bullies — meaning, they typically feel insecure. My own feelings of insecurity that stemmed from being abandoned as a child, raised by alcoholic parents, and dealing with an emotionally unstable father is likely what led to my control freak tendencies. But the result is often that I make myself miserable.

So, I can tell you this: It’s not you, it’s them. Chances are that they’re worried about something, and it’s a worth a try to gently ask about that. There’s nothing wrong with accommodating a control freak to the extent you’re comfortable doing so, but you can also try heading things off at the pass by not throwing curve balls at the control freak in your life. Speaking as a semi-recovering control freak, I can tell you that we like our routines. We like stability and knowing what to expect. Finally, recognize that further escalating the drama probably won’t be productive. Whatever you say or do, do it calmly but not condescendingly.

As I mentioned at the outset, my parents were control freaks. Eventually, the solution for me was to spend less time with them. If you’re the control freak in your family or circle of friends, consider this: You may be doing permanent damage to your relationships. Take it from someone who knows. Letting go of your control freak tendencies will leave you feeling liberated and much more peaceful.

 

 

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