Oh, I loved my years as a bed and breakfast innkeeper! It combined a number of my strengths into one fabulous job. I was able to interact with and serve people, making them feel at home satisfied the hostess in me. With my team, cleaning and decorating a quaint home was an outlet for my nesting and decorator passions. My technology bent was exercised periodically. Organizing checklists for employees so we all did our duties consistently fed into my organizing skills. Yes, it was a dream come true.
During a counseling session, my therapist casually mentioned that innkeeping was a great job for a control freak like me. Well, she didn’t actually call me a control freak, but that sure was the understood message. That statement caused me to sit back and take in her words. Me? Control freak? I’d thought of myself more like a conductor! But, I realized I’d become a control freak somewhere along the line. Seems that was part of the reason I was in counseling.
Since then, I’ve learned some of the signs of being a control freak:
• Always wanting the last word
• Answering for others
• Being a chameleon, changing what you believe or who you are to be accepted and liked by others
• Blaming others for how you feel
• Complaining about things you can’t change
• Correcting others a lot, even minor “errors”
• Fear-mongering in an effort to influence others’ behavior
• Insisting your way of doing things is the right way
• Intervening for others to explain their behavior
• Judging and criticizing others regularly
• Needing clear answers or directions
• Not delegating work or projects
• Offering constructive criticism freely
• Poor team player
• Rarely or never admitting when you are wrong
• Trying to change others frequently
Back then, I didn’t ponder why I had become a control freak; I just dove in to change my behavior through awareness. That wasn’t enough, it turns out. To really change my behavior, I had to understand where it was coming from.
Research showed me that some potential causes of being a control freak include:
• a need to rise above others
• being micro-managed or controlled by someone else
• having low self-esteem
• feeling out of control and needing to feel in-control
• past traumatic experiences.
Whew, that’s a lot to take in and process! My control sources were from four of the six on this list. Maybe five. Ok, all six. The biggest ingredient in my control-freak approach to life was fear. I learned that the more turbulent I was inside, the more fearful I was and thus the more I tried to control what’s happening outside.
I was afraid of so many things. A casual observer would never have known. I used humor and my quick wit, posture, and controlling others to camouflage my fear. Most of my fear revolved around interactions with people. Fear of being misunderstood, being fired, not being chosen for the job, losing a friendship or boyfriend, not being accepted or understood by others, and not being accepted and loved for who I was.
It took building my self-esteem one aspect at a time for me to slowly drop or manage the various elements of my fear. Developing a positive mindset was critical. Learning tools to help me manage the various issues in my life that had historically put me into fear and then into being in the driver’s seat was critical, too. The mindset and the tools support my self-esteem.
When I’m tired or sick, sometimes my old ways come back. My self-esteem may sag or I might get scared as my support system drops away — even a bit. That’s when I need to be kind and gentle with myself. Compassion and self-understanding come in valuable during those times, too. Reminding myself that all will be fine helps the fear drop away. With it drops the instinct to control everyone and everything.
An understanding partner who can remind me of these things helps too.
Some practices I’ve put into place that help with my growth are:
• Accepting that confrontation is part of life
• Being direct
• Being vulnerable with others
• Dropping expectations, especially of others
• Embracing the unknown
• Maintaining my self-respect and not altering my core beliefs or values
• Surrounding myself with people who like me and accept me for who I am
• Taking responsibility for my own happiness
• Trusting — myself and the universe
My growth and development haven’t been a smooth linear path. Mine has been more like rickrack with ups and downs, though with an upward trend in the toothed path. Simplifying life. Baby steps. Each success lead to another and slowly I healed much of what I reacted to and my tendency to be a control freak.
The efforts have been worthwhile. Life is much mellower, smoother, and more pleasant since I’ve learned to let go and relax. I’m happier with more self-esteem. And my relationships, personal and professional, improved with every step. It’s good to let the world do its own thing while I do mine.
Here’s a follow-up video on the subject: Control Freak vs Standards