Mind of a control freak

I've known many control freaks among consulting clients and spouses of my married friends. As I've been exploring emotional baggage of late, I've realized what drives those people to control others. Briefly, here's the likely dynamics of their inner world that comes out as controlling others.
  • Control freaks are prone to outbursts of their stockpiled negative emotions. They have a lot to keep a lid on.
  • They experience themselves as easily provoked, upset or outraged by others. Their hot buttons seem to get pushed by a gust of wind.
  • Keeping themselves under control is a tenuous affair. Their ability to keep a grip on their emotions is not reliable.
  • Control freaks experience themselves as dangerous to others and their relationships when they lose their grip.
  • They automatically seek to improve their chances maintaining self control, to minimize this danger.
  • They frequently experience others as upsetting them and provoking them by appearing "out of control".
  • What appears as "out of control" to control freaks is merely spontaneous, fun-loving, experimental or exploratory to others.
  • The control freaks urgently react to get others "in control" before the control freaks reach their own flash point.
  • Their need to control others and situations is structured to be relentless, insatiable and insensitive to others.
  • Control freaks have no choice but to act controlling since that alleviates the problem of how dangerous they are.
There is no solution at the level of how controlling they are or how "out of control" others appear to them. Their stockpile of negative emotions drives the entire pattern. Control freaks will only become more tolerant, flexible and accommodating as they resolve how they are feeling about their past history.

For a newer look at this issue, see my Mind of a control freak - redux 8 March 2010


  1. I think this is a bit harsh. I have known my share of control freaks, some of which were not prone to bursts of anger. Rather, these people will disappear completely when they cannot control a situation.

    I think what motivates control freaks is "not making mistakes." For many of them, they feel if they can control their environment and others actions, they will be able to predict what will happen next, thus not make any mistakes. They also tend to be perfectionists in that they have a concept of what is right or wrong with no grey areas. Anything that deviates from this ideal is not "right" and they have trouble being satisfied with things that are not "right." This is why they seem to lack spontaneity.

    Many of the control freaks I know are also pessimists and suffer from depression. They have a difficult time of turning a negative experience into something positive, often because it does not live up to their expectations of perfection. Finally, many of them, when thrown into an ill defined problem, have difficulty coping because they cannot predict what is going to happen, triggering their fight or flight instincts. Many will take flight (quitting or actively sabotaging a project through passive/aggressive actions). I would agree that there is a small group that use the "fight" instincts in these situations, who struggle keeping their anger under control and blame others for their feelings.

  2. Wow Virginia!
    What you've written is loaded with insights into the psychological patterns of control freaks. Perhaps you're like me and find it easier to accept them and let them be as they are by seeing the patterns they're caught up in. With my baggage project, I'm hoping those stuck in those patterns may find exits by seeing the patterns for themselves.

    Thanks for the great comment!

  3. My best friend of 7 years is exactly as you describe in this blog. She knows these behaviours in herself and wants to change them but doesn't know how? :-(

  4. There usually is no solution at the level of self control or controlling others. However, there are lots of solutions at a different level of changing how we see others, what's occurring and our own role in those incidents. By changing lenses (frames of reference, perceptions & attributions, meaning of the facts, etc) we can be transformed without struggling to change our habitual reactions.

    Thanks for adding to this exploration, Alana!