Police Psychology | Control Freaks!
In police psychology, we know how to pick them out. “It’s my way or the highway!” they cleverly say, as if those words were ever original thoughts. Or, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” more originality. Maybe they just offer “constructive criticism” or offer to help you change to make yourself happier, by mentioning something over and over again. “You shouldn’t have dessert my dear, you look like you’ve put on a little weight,” they tell you so innocently. “Next time we’ll do it your way, this time let’s do it right,” all mantras of their type. Then there’s the “worst case scenario,” a fear mongers way of controlling your every word. Yep, you can hear them by their language, see them by their actions, and sense them by their demeanor. They are the CONTROL FREAKS!!
We have let them in our neighborhoods as they riddle our masses with their controlling ideas. We have let them in our organizations as they wreak havoc on the boardroom and make a fun group into a high school student government arguing about Robert’s Rules of Order. And, many of us, have let them in our home as they work to criticize our every attempt at reaching our own conclusions by controlling our brains. The “control freak” knows no boundaries on letting loose emotions so that we want to just shut them up anyway we can. They make us desperate for air as they waterboard our sensibilities, our preference for logic and reason. We either step in line with their desires or suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism, threats and become bumbling idiots in their micromanaged world. Fear the control freak, but understand you must treat them as an active shooter in your place of work. Let me explain that one….
The Many Colors of the Control Freak
There are some that are just perfectionists. Of course, no one reaches perfection outside themselves, but they try. They want everything done to the minutest detail. And done the way they had envisioned it being done, of course, since no one can read their mind, no one has a way of telling what they are thinking. Sometimes they avoid that by giving their opinion of what you should do upfront. Sometimes they lie in wait to criticize the first sign it is going bad and would rather have to rescue the project or let it fail so they can prove they were right. Sometimes the control freak is an insecure person, sometimes a bully or a mean girl grown up, sometimes a narcissist, sometimes an attention seeker, and sometimes the product of a home in disarray from alcohol or divorce or inadequate parents. “Control freakism” ( I made that up, don’t google) is a symptom of a problem, not the problem.
So, does that change the idea that they exist to make you miserable? Hardly. But it does change the idea that in some way you are going to change the control freak’s behavior. You can only change their perception. Control freaks have one thing in common, they are uncomfortable with a lack of control. They have a strong desire to make decisions and keep their life under their own controls and if that means controlling through negatives, they will do that. So, whether you are working with a control freak, are a control freak, or know a control freak, the key is making them perceive that their life is under control even when they are driving you crazy. Fortunately police psychology has an answer for you!
Experiment with What May Work
I worked with a female patient who came in saying her boss was a real control freak and was driving the entire office crazy. Everyone was handling him by rebelling and she said she even was joining the resistance. She was going to stage a coup soon, a total office upheaval. They had gone over his head and that got them nowhere except a “learn to get along with him or I will transfer you out,” from her boss’ boss. They had talked to him and that got them nowhere; they even tried joking him out of it and she said he clamped down even more. He would also make snide remarks about people behind their backs and that just drove the office crazy. She had all kinds of theories as to why he was the way he was, which all amounted to nothing. I told her to try an experiment and comment about how you admire that “he has everything under control in his life.” His first response to her was “I feel like my life is totally out of control, people don’t like me, no one makes a decision, and my boss is on me all the time about overtime.” We kept the comments up about him being in control, and how everything was running smoothly, and she even asked about how he made decisions so well. He responded by letting her be independent with her decisions and letting loose his being a control freak with her. He was still a total jerk to everyone else, but her he treated differently. She even got permission for overtime more frequently. I’ve since redone this experiment with other patients many times with the same result.
It is not going to be written in any book, but giving advice with a control freak means experimentation. Aggression definitely doesn’t work and Assertion is not much more effective. We have all learned that straight advice about handling a bully (young control freak) assertively gets kids beat up. Go back to the lab and start giving advice about experimental technique to people. We have to try something different until we get the desired effect. After all, Viagra was originally a hypertensive drug and a drug for angina. Experimentation in practice often leads to side effects which are desirable. In the case of Viagra, experimenting with the drug for Angina led to one of the most popular drugs in the world for sexual dysfunction.
Three Simple Steps of Dealing with a Control Freak
As with an active shooter, the principle is RUN, HIDE, FIGHT, in that order.
- Run – Get as far away from them as you can. Control Freaks don’t willingly change and you should back away from a relationship or any kind of situation where you will be in regular contact with them. You will be much happier if you never are in touch with them again. But you can’t always do that so….
- Hide – If it is a boss, find another part of the company to work in. There are many ways to hide from a control freak if you are creative. Just keep your head down and expect shots to be going over your head. You have to stop worrying about the other people who are taking the hits from the control freak, and worry only about staying out of the fire yourself. Hiding from a control freak means going against your instinct to save others and worrying only about yourself. Do the best hiding you can to keep yourself out of the bitter spewing of the control freaks words.
- Fight – Let’s face it, we all wish we could stop a control freak and our strongest instinct is to fight everything they are saying. That unfortunately works for very few people. I am always telling people to act intelligently, which often times is against your instinct. Experiment with a lot of different approaches, mark them down, and work at it until you find some way to ease their micromanagement. It might be complimenting them about their control, it may be joking them out of it. It might be lovingly calling them a control freak and make it into a good thing. “I wish I could learn to distribute work like you.” It may be focusing the contact with them on their social life. Come up with any number of scenarios that do not include directly confronting them and being assertive or aggressive when they are controlling.
Blog Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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