Are You an Out-of-Control Control Freak?

Robert Terson

I know a woman whom I’ll call Mary, in her mid-fifties, who is such a Control Freak that it’s destroying just about every aspect of her life—work, marriage, relationships with her grown children, friends, you name it. And she’s fully aware of her problem, but doesn’t seem capable of controlling herself.

Mary was verbally and sexually abused by her father, so we don’t have to dig too deeply to discover why she’s a Control Freak. She needs to be in control of all relationships, all situations, to feel safe; it’s instinctive for her, and old habits are tough to break.

Like so many others like her, Mary suffers from the pernicious malady of perfectionism. If something is going to get done “right,” she must either do it herself, or give explicit instructions to whomever she “entrusts” (there is, of course, a complete lack of trust) to do the job. And as Judy Orloff, M.D., states, people like Mary, especially the extreme cases, “…are rigidly preoccupied with details, rules, lists, and dominating others at the expense of flexibility and openness.”

Mary is also ready at all times to tell all the people in her life what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. She knows best—period—and she’s never reticent about passing along her wisdom. Give her an inch and she’ll suffocate you with detailed instructions up the gazoo!

Her husband is ready to scream when he starts walking up the stairs and Mary asks, “Where are you going?” “To pee, he replies sarcastically, “is that okay?”

Her employees cringe when she steps in, in the middle of a sale and takes over. The rate of turnover in Mary’s gift shop is sky high.

Her daughter Alice avoids her calls at all cost. Alice and her husband have been struggling to get pregnant and Mary is full of instructions about what they should be doing, down to telling her daughter when to initiate sex.

Her son Carl has stopped coming to family dinners; he just can’t take Mom’s interference anymore.

Mary even tries to control her sessions with her therapist, which probably is why she’s had four therapists in the last two years.

Is any of this sounding familiar to you? If so, you better face facts and do something about it before it’s too late. Other than shooting heroin, or being a drunk, there isn’t a more destructive path you could be on. Get yourself a tough-love therapist and start the long, difficult road towards change.

Your happiness, the happiness of all your loved ones, depends on it.

Good luck!

For those of you who must deal with an Out-of-Control Control Freak, Dr. Orloff recommends the following:

“1. The secret to success is never try to control a controller 
Speak up, but don’t tell them what to do. Be healthily assertive rather than controlling. Stay confident and refuse to play the victim. Most important, always take a consistent, targeted approach. Controllers are always looking for a power struggle, so try not to sweat the small stuff. Focus on high-priority issues that you really care about rather than bickering about putting the cap on the toothpaste.

“Never make your self-worth dependent on them. 
Don’t get caught in the trap of always trying to please a narcissist. Also protect your sensitivity. Refrain from confiding your deepest feelings to someone who won’t cherish them.

“2. Try the caring, direct approach 
Use this with good friends or others who’re responsive to feedback. For instance, if someone dominates conversations, sensitively say, “I appreciate your comments but I’d like to express my opinions too.” The person may be unaware that he or she is monopolizing the discussion, and will gladly change.

“3. Set limits
If someone keeps telling you how to deal with something, politely say, “I value your advice, but I really want to work through this myself.” You may need to remind the controller several times, always in a kind, neutral tone. Repetition is key. Don’t expect instant miracles. Since controllers rarely give up easily, be patient. Respectfully reiterating your stance over days or weeks will slowly recondition negative communication patterns and redefine the terms of the relationship. If you reach an impasse, agree to disagree. Then make the subject off limits.

“4. Size up the situation 
If your boss is a controlling perfectionist–and you choose to stay–don’t keep ruminating about what a rotten person he or she is or expect that person to change, Then operate within that reality check. For instance, if your boss instructs you how to complete a project, but you add a few good ideas of your own, realize this may or may not fly. If you non-defensively offer your reasoning about the additions, you’ll be more readily heard. However if your boss responds, “I didn’t say to do this. Please remove it,” you must defer because of the built-in status difference in the relationship. Putting your foot down–trying to control the controller—will only make work more stressful or get you fired.”


Get your free preview of Chapter 1 from Selling Fearlessly.

Check out the 85 reviews for Selling Fearlessly at