Confessions of a Reformed Control Freak

Control freak words

“Take charge of your life!  Control your destiny!  Manifest your desires!”  We are constantly urged to plan our destinies – but, even more importantly, we are advised to control all the actions associated with ultimately achieving our goals.

Many believe that control of self and surroundings is the secret to “success.”  In other words, successful people don’t leave fate to chance – they “take the bull by the horns.”

But this well-meaning advice is challenging in a world that is chaotic, hectic, and constantly changing.  To cope, many of us try to control that which is uncontrollable.

Is it any wonder that so many of us have become stressed out control freaks?

The Control Freak’s Obsessive Need to Control EVERYTHING

While we may be able to influence events and circumstances, we must ultimately face the fact that we humans simply can’t control it all.  But it often takes a long time to realize this basic truth about human potential and limitations.

In an effort toward full self-disclosure, I admit it:  I am a reformed control freak.  Although I shudder when I think about it, like many other control freaks, this is just a small sampling of the ways in which I used to try to control everything:

  • For relaxation, I scheduled in periods of planned spontaneity…in other words, I couldn’t be spontaneous unless I planned for it.  (Ugh.)
  • I rationalized my controlling behaviors as the result of being someone who cares a lot…perhaps too much.
  • I was the poster child for “paralysis by analysis”…and spent countless hours planning my schedule hour-by-hour.  (Ironically, I could never quite grasp why my days tended to rarely go as I had anticipated – in which case, I tried to control even more.)
  • I worried about what the future would hold…and arrogantly believed that I could assuage those fears by trying to control not only myself, but also everything around me.

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?

Control freaks often say that we don’t try to control other people, but the results of our controlling behaviors prove otherwise.  Control freaks are much more prone to micromanage due to a refusal to fully recognize the talents, skills, and abilities of the people around them.

After all, delegation is impossible when you are trying to control everything.

There seems to be one universal blind spot shared by all degrees of control freaks:  although we don’t want others to control us, we forget that others also don’t like it when we try to control them.

In addition, most control freaks are perfectionists.  Both believe that things must be done right (according to our own exacting standards).  Anything less than perfection is unacceptable…and often perceived as an abject failure.

While doing something perfectly is a noble goal, it is also unachievable.  There is always something that could have been done better – which is a good thing because that helps us to learn and move forward.

However, to the perfectionist control freak, it “makes sense” to give up or avoid taking the necessary actions if there is any chance that the result will be anything less than perfect.  Procrastination is the close cousin of perfectionism.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Feeling Good About Letting Go of the Need to Control

The gnawing fear predicating much of the control freak’s behaviors is an often unwarranted lack of belief in our ability to effectively respond to the unexpected.

To a control freak, surprises are never a good thing.  In fact, we try to mitigate this fear by attempting to compulsively control everything around us so that we are never “surprised!”

What we forget is that those unforeseen situations, events, opportunities, or obstacles are an unalterable part of being alive.  In fact, it’s the serendipity and surprises that keep life interesting and exciting.

The stories of our lives are shaped by the unexpected.  Whether the surprises are immediately positive or initially negative, they change our perceptions and alter the trajectory of our lives.

However, I’m not going to lie:  letting go of the security blanket of compulsive control wasn’t easy.  It required a major paradigm shift in how I viewed both the world and my role within it.

What precipitated my recovery?  My tidy little world was turned upside down when my mother passed over 28 years ago after a 17-month battle with cancer.  In navigating the five stages of grief both prior to and after her passing, my ultimate acceptance required three important realizations that shattered my belief that I could (and should) control everything.  I realized that:

  1. The majority of things in life are outside of our control – the only things that we can control are our actions right now and our reactions to whatever happens.
  2. Despite what we might think, we’re never given more to handle than what we can handle – and if it’s particularly difficult, it is an incredible opportunity to grow.
  3. There are no guarantees in life – so it’s foolish to waste even a minute by not being fully present and mindful.

Of course, recovery from being a control freak doesn’t happen overnight.  But I now have a new understanding of a simple paradox:  by letting go of trying to control everything, I not only accomplish more, but also (and more importantly) enjoy the process.

Even better, I am confident about my ability to move forward no matter what “surprises” may occur.

Yes, I still plan.  Yes, I still analyze.  And, yes, I still have control mechanisms in place to make sure that I am on course.  But instead of the compulsive need to control controlling me, I now harness it as a tool to move forward in my life.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s