Dear Donagh.  How do you deal with control freaks?  Dave

Dear Dave,

That must be the briefest question I ever got on this site.  No doubt there’s a story there: one doesn’t ask a question like that without a context, but since you didn’t provide the context I can only give a general reply. 

First, as always, you have to try to gain some clarity about it.  The controlling instinct is over-developed in some people, and this is not to be wondered at: there’s no instinct that is equal in everyone.  And so, the word ‘freak’ may not be a useful word here.  There are words that appear to be descriptive but are actually a condemnation – words that describe and condemn at one stroke.  ‘Freak’ is one of them.  Take a look at any newspaper today and you will find dozens of examples; or listen carefully to a few conversations.  So, for the sake of clarity, drop the word ‘freak’; you will be able to think much more clearly without it.  It’s normal to want to control our lives; it’s not freakish.  The problem is the degree of control a person wants, and the way he or she goes about having it. 

Secondly, I find that people who tend to over-control are often a bit chaotic in some aspect of their own lives.  Their instinct to control is projected: they are not very successful at controlling themselves, so they try to control you instead.  Sometimes they can seem very self-controlled, but take a closer look: they have not projected all of their control instinct, but just some.  (I'm sorry I have to talk in such general terms.)

When people are fearful of risk they look for more control than is appropriate.  Fear is not a quality that any of us would want to be famous for, and so we try to hide it – often unconsciously.  I once heard the most controlled man I ever met say, “We have to live dangerously.”  They tend to be great rationalists, because they are covering their fearful feeling.  So don’t restrict your attention to what your controllers say; notice the way they behave.  Try and see in detail what they are afraid of.  If you can assuage that fear in any way, you are helping them.  But don’t expect quick results: you are up against the unconscious habit of a lifetime. 

You could also resort to a blazing row!  In the course of it you could field-test the points I've been making, and any others that occur to you.  Try out the theory of ‘projection’.  Focus in on their fear.  Tell them you are not willing to be their projection screen.  And the very best of luck to you! 


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