How to identify controlling behaviour and what to do about it

Redi Tlhabi speaks to Dr Helgo Schomer each week and this week spoke to listeners about the divisive ‘demon’ that lays dormant in some and lives actively in others.

What is a control freak?

Control freaks are understood to be people who attempt to direct the seemingly ‘correct’ course of everything in their lives, and often in the lives of their loved ones.

How is it different from perfectionism? These were some of the questions posed on the show.

Certainly, Dr. Schomer says, there is nothing wrong with aiming for a high standard, or making life as good as possible. However:

If the perfectionism affects other people’s lives and makes their lives a misery, then you are tending to abandon the glory of perfectionism – which is usually impossible with humans who are organic creatures – and you’re going towards the creature that is called the control freak.

Psychologist and Behavioural Health Consultant, Dr Helgo Schomer

5 reasons why some people are control freaks:

According to Dr Schomer there is always a root cause to this disposition and it is often a defense mechanism for our own vulnerabilities and anxieties. For example:

  • Having lost a sense of control at some point in one’s life.
  • A need to feel superior or to prove something.
  • The urge to resist control from others.
  • A fear of abandonment.
  • Issues with one's self- esteem.

How to deal with control freaks

Because control is about being in a position of power, Dr Schomer suggests that it is important to ensure that your relationships are filled with constructive discussions, rather than criticism or fights.

If you feel like you’re being held a prisoner in another person’s rigid sense of order and being then something is wrong.

Psychologist and Behavioural Health Consultant, Dr Helgo Schomer

How control freaks can change

Carol in Fourways called in to share her story. For many years she went to therapy and struggled to get others to understand the discomfort of living with someone who is so controlling. After many sessions one of her therapists told her that she is "just as controlling as her partner".

Carol admitted to not being ready to hear this reality at the time, saying: “It took many years for me to understand what she meant”. Dr Schomer reflected on her relationship as an emotional ‘tug of war’, reiterating the need to recognize one’s role in the power struggles of control freaks.

The doctor tells us that self-awareness is the first step to changing for the better, even for those who are ‘not quite freakish yet’. He says that most of the time the structure of control brings comforting feelings such as achievement and belonging.

We have those inner demons. It is unrealistic to think those demons will just vanish. We have to learn to cage them and not to feed them, and then we can go forward.

Psychologist and Behavioural Health Consultant, Dr Helgo Schomer

Listen here for personal stories you may relate to:

Psychologist Dr Schomer is a Behavioural Health Consultant that joins Redi each Tuesday at 11:30.


This article first appeared on 702 : How to identify controlling behaviour and what to do about it


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