SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim explains why some people are control freaks and how to handle someone who is controlling you.
I love the way you make understanding people’s behavior simple, because there is a lot of behavior I cannot understand. I have a relative who is such a control freak she can’t even come to a family gathering unless it’s going to be her way. She bosses everyone else around and tells you exactly what she thinks about everything, even your life and family. She has no filter and no qualms about speaking her truth, and it honestly drives me nuts. How can we get her to stop being so controlling and obnoxious? How do I deal with such a control freak when her behavior is making me crazy?
I have explained before that we all — every person on the planet — battles a fear of failure (insecurity about our value) and a fear of loss (insecure or unsafe in the world) to some degree every day. We all have both fears, but we are all a little more dominant in one or the other.
The control freak you are describing is a fear-of-loss dominant person. I know this by her bad behavior. People who feel unsafe in the world need control to make them feel safer. They also tend to be opinionated and feel the need to share their opinions because this also makes them feel safer. In her mind, all of this controlling, opinionated behavior is actually an attempt to be helpful. She means no harm and is trying to create an environment that would be best for everyone. She is trying to help, but I understand why it doesn’t feel that way.
When a fear-of-loss dominant control freak gives unsolicited advice, suggestions, or correction to a fear-of-failure dominant person, it comes across as criticism, insult and control. Fear-of-failure dominant people get very triggered by those things because they add to their already debilitating fear of not being good enough. We (I am a fear-of-failure dominant person, too) often feel attacked, insulted and controlled when these people try to help us. This can feel very annoying.
The trick is understanding this isn’t about you at all. They aren’t seeing you as less valuable or wrong at all. They are controlling because they don’t trust people, the world or life to keep them safe. They think they are only safe if they control it all.
You might try allowing them control as much as possible with things you don’t care about, and then set loving boundaries on the things you do care about. You could also decide to let them be annoying and controlling and just not let it bother you. Stop being annoyed and just be at peace with what is, allowing them to be who they are until it crosses a boundary you can’t live with.
When a control freak is crossing your boundaries or making you feel disrespected or controlled, here is a good procedure for confronting the issue:
1. Find a private opportunity to talk to them
Don't embarrass them in front of anyone else. Ask if they have a few minutes and are free to chat.
2. Ask them about the situation that bothered you
Ask what they thought and felt about it. Give them a chance to express all their ideas and opinions first. If you don’t do this, they will have trouble listening to you. Letting them have the floor first and asking lots of questions will make them feel valued and cared about. They will begin to feel safer with you, which lays a great foundation for a difficult conversation.
After you have spent some time listening and honoring their right to think and feel the way they do, you should ask some permission questions to create a safe space for you to speak your truth.
3. Ask permission questions
Examples of permission questions are:
- Would you be willing to let me share with you some of my thoughts and feelings about that situation?
- Would you be open to giving me a full 5 minutes to explain my feelings and not interrupt or stop me until I am done?
- Do you know that I love and care about you and only want us to have a good relationship?
4. Honor their answer
If they say no they aren’t able to give you that, say “OK, I respect that” and walk away. This shouldn’t happen because you earned this reciprocation by listening to them. If they say yes and are ready to listen, use the following rules to make sure you handle this right.
5. Use “I” statements
It's important to use "I" statements and make sure to only talk about your own perspective, feelings, ideas, concerns, observations, opinions and thoughts. When you talk about your feelings, opinions and experiences, no one can really argue with you. You have the right to see the world the way you see it and feel what you feel. But if you start using “you” statements, it starts to feel like an attack and makes the other person feel defensive.
Try statements like:
- “When we have these family parties I get a little anxious about expressing what I want to do. I feel like my needs aren’t taken into consideration, and I often feel a little bit controlled or criticized for my ideas. I know these are my issues and I am working on them, but I just wondered, moving forward, if you would be willing to let me be in charge of this part or make sure my ideas are also taken into account?
- "Would you be willing to include me in the plans next time this happens?”
- “Would you be willing to be careful of the ways your behavior might make me or others feel controlled and bossed around?”
6. Focus more on future behavior than on past behavior
If you keep talking about how they behaved in the past, they are just going to get defensive and frustrated because they cannot change or fix the past. If you focus only on their future behavior, this is something they can control. Ask them next time this happens, if they would be willing to handle it differently. I demonstrated this in the example above.
Practice in your head a few times before you have the conversation in real life. Practice to find the perfect permission question and the perfect things you will ask for moving forward.
If this person does get offended by your feedback, that is not your problem. Your job is to speak your truth in the most loving and respectful way you can. How they process the information is none of your business. If they get offended and choose to be mean back, remember nothing this person says or does affects your value and however it goes, it will be the perfect classroom for all involved.
Fear-of-loss dominant people can be scary to talk to because they are fearless, strong, opinionated and often aggressive. For a fear-of-failure dominant person who is already scared of being insulted, wrong or judged, this is really scary. But you can be bulletproof and strong if you trust in your infinite value and perfect journey.
You can do this.
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