Control freaks

Sorry I haven’t written for a while but I occasionally get sidetracked by my actual job (or by my life, such as it is).

Last week’s column was about control freaks. This is a phenomenon that occurs when the stress response meets perfectionnism and rigidity.

The stress response is the body’s instinctive way of protecting itself from a threat. This is good. The problem is that we can never be certain that there is no danger left whatsoever.  Without the ability to accept that control is imperfect, we keep trying harder and harder. That’s where perfectionnism and rigidity comes in. Whereas most people can accept that nothing can be controlled absolutely, individuals who think in black or white terms, or those who are overly rigid, insist on it. They try to exert control over circumstances and people around them. They have an especially hard time in situations that can never be controlled completely – such as health or other people’s feelings.

Some examples include agoraphobics who insist that family members stay close by while at the shopping center, obsessive-compulsive individuals who insist that you do not touch certain objects in their homes, worried parents who want their children to be home at a specific time, or managers who insist that certain protocols are followed precisely.

People don’t control to be mean, they usually control to make things right…at least from their perspective.

Here is the original English text of last Tuesday’s column:

Control Freaks (Source: Contrôlants et perfectionnistes. March 3, 2009)

Very few kids say, “When I grow up, I want to be a control freak.” Yet somehow the world keeps getting populated by them. What’s up with that?

Basic human nature and the stress response

One of the reasons we have emotions is that they make us react to things. Anxiety and stress are feelings we get when we sense something is wrong. Small threats, like a quiz in class, make us tense. Large threats, like a bear running at us, make us freak out. Our stress response tells our bodies to act, to do whatever it takes to eliminate the threat. This usually makes us run away when possible, or attack back if we are trapped, or study if we are worried of failure. In other words, when facing any challenge our instincts push us to control whatever threatens us. The more important the threat is, the greater the need to control it.

Imperfect control

Unfortunately most threats cannot be controlled with absolute certainty. There will always remain some risk. This implies that our instinctive desire to avoid bad things must also face the fact that we cannot be sure to always do so.

Control freaks are the type of people who think in all or none terms. They are perfectionists who keep pushing to try to eliminate all doubt or uncertainty. They want nothing bad to happen and want to be absolutely sure of it. This happens regardless of the type of challenge or threat.

The inability to nuance

Because they live in a black and white world, control freaks cannot distinguish between things that are really bad, such as physical harm, and things that are less important, such as not getting their way, or seeing something done differently. They instinctively treat everything like it is life or death. That’s why they can’t let go.

Control freaks: Good and bad

If they know what they are doing, control freaks are great to have around, especially when things really matter. Their anxious need to control outcomes makes our world a better place. In situations that are not so important, however, their insistence on having things their way makes them unpleasant to be around.

Worse still is when they don’t particularly know what they are doing and still need to have things their way. That’s when they make our lives a living hell.

Tagged as , , .

Posted in Anxiety, Stress.

Posted on 10 Mar 2009

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>