Control Freaks: Who Are They? And How to Deal With Them

Who are the control freaks?

Jonathan Sloan: “If you find yourself asking people WHAT they are doing more than you ask HOW they are doing, you might be a control freak.”

David Waghalter: “I’ve resolved to stop being such a passive-aggressive control freak. You could probably benefit from doing so as well but whatever.”

Rachel Lichtman: “Don’t call me a ‘control freak.’ I prefer to be called ‘normal person surrounded by people doing it wrong.'”

Knock! Knock!
Who’s there?
Control Freak.
Okay, now you say, “Control Freak who?”


Thomas J. Schumacher, Psy.D., R-CSW (Sanctuary for the Abused) writes:

These are those people who insist on having their way in all interactions with you. They wish to set the agenda and decide what it is you will do and when you will do it. You know who they are – they have a driving need to run the show and call the shots. Lurking within the fabric of the conversation is the clear threat that if you do not accede to their needs and demands, they will be unhappy.

Certainly, it’s natural to want to be in control of your life. But when you have to be in control of the people around you as well, when you literally can’t rest until you get your way … you have a personality disorder. While it’s not a diagnostic category…an exaggerated emphasis on control is part of a cluster of behaviors that can be labeled as compulsive generally characterized by perfectionism, orderliness, workaholic tendencies, an inability to make commitments or to trust others and a fear of having their flaws exposed. Deep down, these people are terrified of being vulnerable.


Karl Albrecht, PhD, Psychology Today, reports there’s a consensus among psychologists that there are two types of control freaks:

  1. One type has a pervading, unconscious fear of loss of control – they get anxious and reactive in situations that are confused or unpredictable. They have a low tolerance for ambiguity.
  2. The other type is motivated by unconscious power needs – they’ve become almost addicted to the feelings of proving themselves, being in charge, and getting their way.

“In other words,” states Albrecht, “some control freaks are driven to control their environments, some are driven to control the people around them, and some crave both.”


Want to know if you’re in a relationship with one? Dr. Judith Orloff, author of the 2011 Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, provides a quiz. Answer the questions below:

• Does this person keep claiming to know what’s best for you?
• Do you typically have to do things his way?
• Is he so domineering you feel suffocated?
• Do you feel like you’re held prisoner to this person’s rigid sense of order?
• Is this relationship no fun because it lacks spontaneity?

If you answer “yes” to 1-2 questions, it’s likely you’re dealing with a controller. Responding “yes” to 3 or more questions suggests that a controller is violating our emotional freedom.


If you are involved with someone like this, Orloff on her website recommends steps that include the following:

  • The secret to success is never try to control a controller.
  • Never make your self-worth dependent on them.
  • Try the caring, direct approach.
  • Set limits.
  • Size up the situation.

“When you mindfully deal with control freaks, you can free yourself from their manipulations,” states Orloff. “Knowing how they operate will let you choose how to interact with them.”

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