A few weeks back, I was playing a round of golf with 3 ladies. After the round, I learned from one woman, that the other gal in her cart was a control freak. After 9 holes, she was nearly in tears. I let her tell me the complete story over a glass of wine, and offered a few tips and insights to more positively, and compassionately interact with this person in the future, without loss of any hair or sanity!

There’s a number of driving factors behind the behavior of the control freak. Without meeting a particular person, I cannot say for sure what specifically might be their motives. But given their behaviors, there are certain predictable states of consciousness which drive such a consuming need for control.

First of all, the control freak is SUPER insecure. This level of insecurity goes back to instability within the home as a small child. People who were supposed to be trustworthy and reliable, weren’t. To create a sense of stability, the child learned to attempt to control others behaviors so he/she could feel some certainty in the environment. Understanding they have that history of emotional abuse or neglect, is a chance for us to have some compassion for the compulsion that controls them.

This deep insecurity causes the control freak to be plagued by many fears. Let’s look at some of these, and see how we can help them if they fall into the compulsion trap.

Fear of the unknown. We all can attest to experiencing this uncertainty! The control freak builds security by over planning and over involvement with activities to ensure they get to control or command events, interactions and outcomes. If you’re working on a project with someone like this, being clear with your communications and commitments, and WHAT THE OUTCOME LOOKS LIKE, will help calm them down. Remember their reality is that people cannot be trusted. Don’t take it personally; take time to assure them you’ve got it covered, and follow through.

Fear of the future. This is similar to the previous fear. It arises from the little voice inside, “If I don’t know what is going to happen, I’ll disappear.” Or, “If I cannot see the future, with me in it, I don’t exist.” Annihilation is not fun! That level of fear, generates a clutchiness as intense as the grip of an acrophobiac on a roller coaster! Again, any verbal assurances you can articulate will calm them down.

Fear of people finding out they are not in control. To deal with their insecurity, control freaks derive self esteem from being seen as “competent” and “in-charge.” If you are a confident person, and they sense your inner power, they can be shaken. In their perspective, to not have power is to not be in control. If they sense another has power, it triggers their fear they’ll lose control. It’s not from you pushing your power or will upon them, but because they fear you’ll see through their facade. This can cause them to almost proactively attack you, which again, arises due to that deep seated fear of survival.

What to do?

Here’s a few tips I offered my friend the next time she has to golf with this person or get along with another control freak.

1. When they give you unsolicited advice, don’t take it personally, as if you’re stupid or incompetent. This is about them, not you. Their lack of self worth requires them to speak with authority to “create” value to you. They need to prove they are worthy to you. Acknowledge the contribution - you don’t have to obey or do it! Or politely thank them for considering you. They just need your acknowledgement, not your follow through per se.

2. If you are in a position of power or leadership, then state in advance what is going to happen. I once had a client in town visiting. Back then, I did not know she was so insecure. As I was showing her around, she’d ask me about every 10 minutes what we were going to do, where we were going, etc., etc. I must admit I wanted to kick her out of the car as she was so obnoxious. But in hindsight, she felt so out of control, with me driving, that she was compelled to know what was going to happen to calm herself down.
So, with my golf friend, I suggested when she got in the cart to drive, she just speaks out loud what she was going to do, like reciting the agenda to a blind person, so the control freak could relax knowing that she knew how to drive a golf cart and would get them to the next tee box!

3. Compliment a capacity of theirs - and be authentic. Everyone has a skill set or a talent. Shift their focus to those attributes. If they can feel good about that one area, they might be able to release their insecurity about their need to control you.

4. If they want to be the boss of you, e.g., telling you how to drive the golf cart, stop and define an agreement. We’re taught to be polite and when stepped upon or bossed around by someone, out of shock of the rudeness and audacity, we often don’t speak up. Then we enter that ubiquitous Neverland of “silence is consent” which only breeds negativity and resentment!

Stop what you’re doing, face them and define the agreement, before the control freak gains confidence to further press their will upon you. For the case with my golf friend, if I was driving the cart, I would stop and turn to the control freak and say, “Here’s the deal. If you drive the cart, I will not give you instructions. You’re a competent, adult woman. You don’t need my input. Likewise, today, I am driving the cart. I am a competent, adult woman, who’s been driving for decades. You can rest assured I’ll drive us safely and efficiently today. I don’t need your instructions. Thank you.“

Just because they try to control you doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to stop everything and set a new agreement. Their control is due to their worry that you don’t know what to do. It’s irrational. It’s coming from their deep terror and insecurity, not from their rational mind. So you must engage their rational mind to put a clamp on their reptilian fight or flight reactions. They might be a little embarrassed, but that is good as it activates their rational mind to turn their “control” upon themselves.

In summary, control freaks deserve some compassion, and for us to proactively define healthy, positive boundaries with them so they don’t have to worry they’ll need to control us. The truth is they cannot trust themselves, their higher guidance or others. So, in order to survive, they resort to excess control to relieve their anxiety and fear that they are not in control.

By implementing a few of these consciousness tips, you might find they actually like you a lot more, because you’re providing what they so wanted but could never have growing up - a person with clear, defined boundaries, who respects them enough to tell them what they are.