Control Freak, Part One, the Family

Arrogant, self righteous and disrespectful are the words that come to mind when we watch someone in control mode. A trait that is extremely difficult to deal with, the need to control is born from fear. Fear of not being okay, of what people will think, of self doubt. Old childhood stuff, often unresolved rage at controlling or demeaning parents, can result in a need to dominate. Sadly, the fearful and angry child often becomes a controlling adult and perpetuates the cycle of dysfunction. He (or she) may find a spouse who allows him to “run” the family, dominate the marriage and the children, the money and everything else. If you do what he says, his fear is temporarily assuaged. If you do not bend to his control, he becomes increasingly angry, a consequence of his fear of not being in charge.

When confronted, control freaks always have a justification: “It’s better for them if they eat____ (whatever I want them to eat), or wear_________ (what I choose)”. Or, “I was just trying to explain how it should be done” or, “he should do it the right way.” Whatever it is, if it is not done to his specifications, the control freak demeans you by discounting your efforts and showing you “the right way”, his way. Hmmmm.

The controller can always explain away his need to be in charge by telling of his good intentions. He conveniently misses the point that this kind of intrusion and interference is offensive and emotionally abusive. Of course parents of small children need to treat them with age appropriate choices or lack thereof, but your teenager and your spouse are not toddlers. Letting go of control at age appropriate times allows independence and self reliance to develop…then your children won’t be like you, anxious and insecure, attempting to change or control something or someone to make yourself feel better. They may be able to relax and know that they are okay, just the way they are.

Check your motives and your behavior. Why not let your child choose his own clothing? So what if he wears a mismatched outfit? Is what other people think more important than your child’s self esteem? And, Mommy and Daddy Dearest, anyone who lives or works with children will simply think, “what good parents, they let little Joey dress himself today!” If an older child declines to wear a hat or heavy coat because none of his friends do and it is just not cool, so what? No, upper respiratory illnesses are not caused by going out without a hat or coat; they are caused by viruses and bacteria.

One Thanksgiving long ago, one of my friends brought her son with her to dinner in my home. He was sporting a bright blue Mohawk, the latest in his ever changing hair styles. He was kind and polite, taking responsibility for the younger children. His mother never blinked an eye, never apologized for his outrageous hair, simply let him be himself. She had taught him the important qualities of kindness and respect while allowing him to express himself with a harmless hair style. I commend them both. His hair looks normal and conservative now, appropriate for his age and profession.

Perhaps even more damaging than the parent who is overly controlling of his children, is the parent who controls and criticizes the other parent. Children see the relationship their parents have with each other; moreover, they live in the atmosphere provided for them. If you are anxious and angry, refusing to deal with your own issues and blaming others, you inflict this on everyone around you…except when you are pretending in front of people you want to impress (usually everyone except your family).

Children who helplessly watch a parent being humiliated, belittled, trivialized or worse, have great difficulty with future relationships. They develop problems with trust and an underlying sense of “things just not being quite right.”

Instead of bickering, try focusing on the good in your spouse and children. Deal with your own anxiety and stop inflicting it on everyone around you. Make a decision to let go, to trust, to forget about what people will think. Learn a new way to communicate. Stop hovering and controlling. Consider therapy or a workshop to jump start your changes. Don’t wait until you destroy your marriage and do irreversible damage to your children.

You don’t have to control everything, I promise. You can choose happy, accepting and relaxed instead! Even during Mud Season!

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