December 15, 2011

How To Deal With A Control Freak

Judith Orloff MD

As a psychiatrist, I have observed that relationships can be one of the major sources of exhaustion for my patients. In “Emotional Freedom” I discuss how to deal with different kinds of draining people to avoid getting fatigued, sick, or burned out. One of these is the control freak.

It’s important to identify if you are dealing with a control freak then develop healthy strategies to communicate. These people obsessively try to dictate how you’re supposed to be and feel. They have an opinion about everything; disagree at your peril. They’ll control you by invalidating your emotions if those don’t fit into their rulebook. Controllers often start sentences with, “You know what you need?”…then proceed to tell you. They’ll sling shots like, “That guy is out of your league” or” I’ll have dinner with you if you promise to be happy.” People with low self-esteem who see themselves as “victims” attract controllers. Whether spouting unsolicited advice on how you can lose weight or using anger to put you in your place, their comments can range from irritating to abusive. What’s most infuriating about these people is that they usually don’t see themselves as controlling--only right.

Control freaks are often perfectionists. They may feel, ”If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” Personally, I can relate to this attitude, though I’m getting better at delegating. Controllers are also controlling with themselves. They may fanatically count carbs, become clean freaks or workaholics. Conventional psychiatry classifies extreme cases as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder--people are rigidly preoccupied with details, rules, lists, and dominating others at the expense of flexibility and openness.


• Does this person keep claiming to know what’s best for you?
• Do you typically have to do things his way?
• Is he so domineering you feel suffocated?
• Do you feel like you’re held prisoner to this person’s rigid sense of order?
• Is this relationship no fun because it lacks spontaneity?

If you answer “yes” to 1-2 questions, it’s likely you’re dealing with a controller. Responding “yes” to 3 or more questions suggests that a controller is violating our emotional freedom.

Use the following methods from “Emotional Freedom” to deal with controllers

Emotional Action Step. Pick Your Battles and Assert Your Needs

1. The secret to success is never try to control a controller
Speak up, but don’t tell them what to do. Be healthily assertive rather than controlling. Stay confident and refuse to play the victim. Most important, always take a consistent, targeted approach. Controllers are always looking for a power struggle, so try not to sweat the small stuff. Focus on high-priority issues that you really care about rather than bickering about putting the cap on the toothpaste.

Never make your self-worth dependent on them.
Don’t get caught in the trap of always trying to please a narcissist. Also protect your sensitivity. Refrain from confiding your deepest feelings to someone who won’t cherish them.

2. Try the caring, direct approach
Use this with good friends or others who’re responsive to feedback. For instance, if someone dominates conversations, sensitively say, “I appreciate your comments but I’d like to express my opinions too.” The person may be unaware that he or she is monopolizing the discussion, and will gladly change.

3. Set limits
If someone keeps telling you how to deal with something, politely say, “I value your advice, but I really want to work through this myself.” You may need to remind the controller several times, always in a kind, neutral tone. Repetition is key. Don’t expect instant miracles. Since controllers rarely give up easily, be patient. Respectfully reiterating your stance over days or weeks will slowly recondition negative communication patterns and redefine the terms of the relationship. If you reach an impasse, agree to disagree. Then make the subject off limits.

4. Size up the situation
If your boss is a controlling perfectionist--and you choose to stay--don’t keep ruminating about what a rotten person he or she is or expect that person to change, Then operate within that reality check. For instance, if your boss instructs you how to complete a project, but you add a few good ideas of your own, realize this may or may not fly. If you non-defensively offer your reasoning about the additions, you’ll be more readily heard. However if your boss responds, “I didn’t say to do this. Please remove it,” you must defer because of the built-in status difference in the relationship. Putting your foot down--trying to control the controller---will only make work more stressful or get you fired.

People who feel out of control tend to become controllers. Deep down, they’re afraid of falling apart, so they micromanage to bind anxiety. They might have had chaotic childhoods, alcoholic parents, or experienced early abandonment, making it hard to trust or relinquish control to others, or to a higher power. Some controllers have a machismo drive to be top dog in both business and personal matters--a mask for their feelings of inadequacy and lack of inner power. To assert territorial prowess, they may get right up in your face when they talk. Even if you take a few steps away, they’ll inch forward again into your space.

When you mindfully deal with control freaks, you can free yourself from their manipulations. Knowing how they operate will let you choose how to interact with them.

Judith Orloff MD, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and intuition expert, is author of the New York Times Bestseller Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2011) Her other bestsellers are Positive Energy, Intuitive Healing, and Second Sight. Dr. Orloff synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition and energy medicine. She passionately believes that the future of medicine involves integrating all this wisdom to achieve emotional freedom and total wellness.

Please check out “Dr. Orloff’s Living Room Series” to find out more about the special method Dr. Orloff recommends to remember your dreams and other topics to build the power within. Stop by anytime.

PURCHASE paperback book, Whose Stuff Is This? Finding Freedom from the Thoughts, Feelings,and Energy of Those Around You at The e-book version is now available for Kindle, iPhone, iPad, and other digital reading devices.


  1. Hi Judith,
    My God, as I am reading this post I noticed several people in my life that fit this description.

    At least I have some more ammunition for dealing with them.

    Take care...

  2. My boyfriend is a control freak. I'm a licensed counselor, and to be's a real challenge!

  3. Thank you for sharing this great post, Yvonne. I watched both videos: they're enlightening and helpful. I will definitely get this book.

  4. Thank you all for commenting. This type of person is very difficult to deal with and it takes a lot of self-love and boundaries for an empath to be in this kind of relationship.

  5. I have a control freak mother and my fathers wife is as well. Little chance of me getting away from either one of them as a child. I have learned to speak up though. Although, I appreciate that there are tough things to get through for them I have learned to tell them being a victim of them has caused me problems and I have learned to not press my issues on every human around me. I speak up and tell them to call me when they feel they want to show me respect and not a moment before hand. When they do I tell them how happy I am to talk with them and how have they been. Like nothing happened and we start over. Every single time. Eventually they talk about the weather and whats new and how things are in general. Not... how did I spend my paycheck, how to speak, how to think, how to clean, how to drive, how to live. Oh and of course that I ruined Christmas...again...

    You do not help these people by engaging them in negativity and giving into them EVER. They will stop or at least bother someone else. In the meantime you can have a great relationship with them by calling the shots and offer love without anger much like you would a child. Example: "Thats not a very nice way to speak to someone". "How would you feel if someone spoke to you that way?" Then end it. Walk away and when they come back to you and they ALWAYS do WITHOUT FAIL. You love them without nagging on the last event and when the next one happens do it all again.

    There is my advice from a childhood with two control freak females and an alcoholic sexually abusive step-father. Don't hate the Sinner hate the sin. Good luck to you all.;)

    1. You are definitely on the right path and taking proper action with your parents by showing them unconditional love without allowing them to control your life. I truly wish more people were as strong as you and would do the same.

  6. I am mostly able to handle a control freak on a good day, but have discovered that they continue to think of you as a lesser person who needs to be schooled in their "right" way of thinking. It's as if they know to back off in a specific situation, but will do the same thing again for another scenario. They will keep trying to "guide" you toward how they think, even if you know it won't fit your needs at the time. Of course, these tactics in the article can minimize the level of control a control freak will try to have over you, but I feel it does get to a point where you have to weigh the costs and benefits and ask yourself if you really want to, and can, do this for the rest of your life.

    1. I absolutely could not allow myself to stay in a relationship with a control freak. I would rather live alone and struggle financially than to live with someone who is emotionally abusive. You can't put a price tag on your personal self-worth.