Are you a control freak?

Being in control can be healthy’but being overbearing can really turn people off. Here’s how to rein in your controlling behaviour

Are you a control freak?

Source: Best Health Magazine, November/December, 2008

If you’re worried about your need to be in control’whether it’s at work or with friends and family’you needn’t be: The positives of this behaviour actually outweigh the negatives. ‘People who feel they are in control achieve more,’ says Jerry Burger, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University who has published extensively on individual differences in the desire for control. ‘They tend to be better at problem solving, are happier and have a more positive sense of self.’

The problem is that life doesn’t always co-operate, and behaviour that you may view as essential to getting things done could be seen by others as pushy, or just plain nagging.

So the trick is to use what you’ve got and make your innate need for control work for you to effect the best outcomes. Steven Stein, a Toronto psychologist, offers a strategy he calls the ‘Four A’s’ to help you work on what can be overbearing behaviours.


You can only change your approach when you are aware of what you are doing and the impact your behaviour is having. ‘Often we don’t know we are being controlling; we think we’re helping,’ says Stein. ‘But if you’ve been called a nag, or you find yourself talking and no one is listening, these are the signs.’


Now that you’ve identified yourself as controlling and realize it’s a behaviour that is getting you into trouble, stop and use a little empathy. ‘Put yourself in the other person’s shoes,’ says Stein. ‘Think about how you are coming across.’

Look for a shared value’something that will put you on the same page as the person whose behaviour you are trying to manage. For example, if you want your teens to pick up after themselves, the shared value may be having an attractive home. This puts the focus on the value, not the behaviour.

Next, lower your expectations and think about an outcome you will be satisfied with. ‘If you want your husband to lose 50 pounds and work out three times a week, nagging isn’t going to make it happen,’ says Stein. ‘Think in terms of small steps and what is feasible. What if he loses 10 pounds or stops eating junk food?’


At this point, you’ve thought it through, you understand where the other person is coming from, and you’ve established a common goal with your partner, friend, child, co-worker’whomever it is you’ve been trying to control. Now it’s time for action: ‘Set the goal and agree on it, but don’t try to enforce the process,’ says Stein. ‘Focus less on the ‘how to’ and more on the outcome.’


Though it can be tough if you’re someone who is used to saving the world, you must accept that you might only get small changes. ‘You may not be able to change the other person,’ says Stein. ‘You might be able to influence them because of the shared values you’ve agreed on. But they will take the initiative.’

So channel your need to manageand start turning negative controlling tendencies into pluses. Embrace who you are to make those behaviours work for you.

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‘ Make stress work for you

This article was originally titled "Are you a control freak?" in the November/December issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.