Are you constantly redoing things to make sure they’re absolutely perfect? Do you find yourself noticing pictures on walls that are slightly crooked and straightening them, even if it’s in someone else’s home? Do you criticize and find faults with others, but in your mind you’re always right?
All of these behaviors are indicators that you might be a total control freak. Yes, you!
A control freak is someone with a need to control other people, situations, and environments to relieve their anxiety and create a sense of security. They use their perfectionism to cover their insecurities and fears. They’re often critical of themselves as well as others, because few can meet their high expectations.
The #perfectionistproblems series about all the ways perfectionism negatively affects your life continues today with the problem of, you guessed it, being a control freak. Read on, my soul-connected friend, to find out the 4 signs you might be a perfectionist control freak and 1 key strategy to curb your control issues.
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ARE YOU A CONTROL FREAK?
If you suspect that you may have control issues, here are some warning signs:
1. PERFECTIONIST BEHAVIOR
Are you obsessed with having everything in your life be absolutely perfect? Do you demand perfection of others: from your family, friends or the people you work with? Do you bemoan the fact that you have to do everything yourself because no one else will do as good a job as you? If so, watch out! These are signs that your control issues are out of control. As a perfectionist control freak you feel safe, content, and in charge when everything in your life is perfect. It gives you a sense of power, which alleviates your underlying anxieties.
2. CONTROLLING YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Control freaks like to be in charge at all costs. That means having your environments meet your standards: driving a spotless car or having a completely organized work space. Having everything in its place, at all times, provides a measure of safety and control that keeps a control freak’s anxieties in check.
3. CONTROLLING OTHER PEOPLE
Do you find yourself telling your partner what they should wear? Can you not bear being in the passenger seat in your car? Do people tell you that you’re bossy? You might have convinced yourself that you’re doing this for someone else’s good. That other person won’t feel the same. One of the most dangerous things you can do is to try to control another person. You’ll end up losing friends and loved ones.
4. CONTROLLING THE OUTCOME
Do you feel you have to monitor events like a hawk to avoid anything going wrong? That without you the outcome will not turn out the way you want? Control freaks control events, procedure, and time. You have high expectations of yourself and others, but feel that if you don’t manage everything the outcome won’t be guaranteed. And failure is just not an option to a control freak. You have a reputation of perfection to uphold and the only way you can do that is be in charge of everything.
HOW TO CURB YOUR CONTROL ISSUES
As you can see, perfectionism and controlling behavior are closely intertwined. You’ve probably spend a great deal of your life being a perfectionist control freak. It’s your coping mechanism for dealing with uncertainty and insecurity.
If the thought of completely letting go of control freaks you out, know that there’s a different way you can channel those controlling tendencies.
New research from Johns Hopkins University and Wake Forest University compared the effects on mood and wellbeing of two approaches to uncertainty called ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ control.
Primary control is the go-to strategy for control freaks. In this approach you try to beat uncertainty by eliminating it through controlling behavior. But when John Hopkins' professor Erik G. Helzer and his fellow researchers surveyed more than 500 research subjects about how this approach worked out in real life they found it was associated with negative moods and feelings. Shortly put, the inevitable failure of trying to control everything bummed people out.
The study also showed that those who opted for the other strategy - secondary control - were happier and more peaceful. Secondary control is all about exercising control of your expectations and judgement rather than of events. You can't control everything in life but you can control your belief that you should be able to.
Or in the words of professor Helzer: "You don't have control over a lot of situations, at work or elsewhere in your life. But you do have control over your response to it, over the meaning you assign to the event. Sometimes you have to give up on the idea that 'I just want to show that I'm right'. It's important to note that secondary control can be just as active and beneficial a method as primary control.”
The key strategy for dealing with being a control freak is to surrender. Choose secondary control. Instead of manically trying to control your circumstances, surrender to the circumstances - no matter how messy and imperfect they are - and choose the fact that you can control and manage your response and feelings.
Maybe you feel the need to challenge yourself to be bigger and do better in your work and your relationships. That is not a bad thing. But there’s a difference between excellence and perfection.
Perfectionism is about controlling the outcome in order to receive love and acceptance. Excellence, unlike perfectionism, is about lovingly pushing yourself to act, think, relate, and create from the highest part of yourself.
My challenge for you this week is to try to surrender to the moment, to change, to imperfection.
When you do that you allow the seeds of excellence to grow. Surrender is about accepting where you are at in any moment, knowing that you are a work in progress.
Surrendering is scary. There will be days when you want to organize and reorganize your desk instead of facing what’s really bothering you. But those difficult, uncomfortable, and challenging moments pass much quicker when you simply exhale and surrender to whatever is in your heart and soul.