Control freak

Control freak

In psychology-related slang, control freak is a derogatory term for a person who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done — "a control freak. Scared to let us have differences".[1] The phrase was first used in the late 1960s[2] — an era when great stress was laid on the principle that one "should not get into control battles about making … [a] person do things".[3]



"Control freaks" or "perfectionists"[4] can be seen as defending themselves against inner vulnerabilities, as with the man who was "a dominating control freak because of his mistaken belief that if he wasn't in control, he would re-experience his childhood angst".[5] Such a figure will "cajole, wheedle, pressurise, get 'difficult' all the time, to get his own way. He's always behaving like a puppet-master, tying strings on other people … because he can't bear to be changed himself".[6] Similarly, a woman who 'is not grounded either in her own imagery or her own musculature … finds her identity in power over (sometimes called love of) her body, her family, her friends, her garden … Without that control, she is nobody'.[7] When such a control freak pattern is broken, 'the Controller is left with a terrible feeling of powerlessness … But feeling their pain and fear brings them back to themselves.[8]

Control freaks have been linked to codependents, in the sense that "codependency stems from a deep-rooted fear of abandonment, which leads to an excessive need to control and dominate … to control others because they fear they cannot control themselves".[9] Recovery entails recognising that being "a control freak … kept me in codependency, and pushed people away from me. To grow out of controlling, we learn to be, instead of do".[10]

In terms of personality-type theory, "the Control Freak … is very much a Type A … driven [by a] need to be in control".[11]

In management

In the corporate world, control freaks tend to publicly admonish their inferiors, especially during meetings.[12] More positively, the term can also refer to someone with a limited number of things that they want done a specific way; professor of clinical psychology Les Parrott wrote that "Control Freaks are people who care more than you do about something and won't stop at being pushy to get their way."[13] There may be a fine line here. If a woman "prided herself on being a detail-oriented manager: when she ran a business she liked to know every nook and cranny, to check it was done right … [&] that trait had prompted some colleagues to brand her a 'control freak'",[14] was she so, or merely excelling at her job?

In some cases, the control freak sees their constant intervention as beneficial or even necessary; this can be caused by feelings of superiority, believing that others are incapable of handling matters properly, or the fear that things will go wrong if they do not attend to every detail. Thus in a research context, "a steeper hierarchy just disables the operation because it brings out the control freak … who wants to know exactly how money is being spent, right down to the last pencil".[15]

In other cases, they may simply enjoy the feeling of power it gives them so much that they automatically try to gain control of everything around them.

In history

Wellington v. Napoleon

Wellington as military commander was undoubtedly a micromanager: "His workload was absurdly centralised by modern standards", and the variable quality of his subordinates "reinforced his tendency to trust almost nobody and to do everything for himself, producing the symptoms of what we would now term a control freak".[16] In 1811 he wrote that "I am obliged to be everywhere and if absent from any operation, something goes wrong … success can only be attained by attention to the most minute details".[17]

By contrast, Napoleon with his marshals "allowed them tactical freedom, but directed their strategic movements … allowed his subordinates to make decisions as to formations and other details".[18] Nevertheless, at the Battle of Waterloo, where Wellington "was continually going from place to place giving orders … went to each point of maximum stress and did what was required to win",[19] whereas Napoleon "handed over to Ney the whole conduct of the attack",[20] Wellington's control mania may well be said to have played the decisive role: "He appeared wherever the danger was greatest, heartening the troops and re-arranging the details of their dispositions … [&] was more than justified when he said the following day, 'I don't think it would have been done if I had not been there'".[21]

See also


  1. ^ Kate Cann, Footloose (London 2008) p. 295
  2. ^
  3. ^ Kristin Glaser, in The Radical Therapist (Penguin 1974) p. 246
  4. ^ Michelle N. Lafrance, Women and Depression (2009) p. 89
  5. ^ Art Horn, Face It (2004) p. 53
  6. ^ Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1994) p. 208
  7. ^ Robert Bly and Marion Woodman, The Maiden King (Dorset 1999) p. 141
  8. ^ Patricia Evans, Controlling People (Avon 2002) p. 129 and p. 274
  9. ^ David Stafford & Liz Hodgkinson, Codependency (London 1995) p. 131
  10. ^ Deb M., in Stepping Stones to Recovery from Codependency (1993) p. 61
  11. ^ Andrew Holmes/Dan Wilson, Pains in the Office (2004) p. 56
  12. ^ Andrew Buck — Meeting Behaviors: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
  13. ^ Parrot, Les (2001). The Control Freak. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers. ISBN 0842337938. 
  14. ^ Gillian Tett, Fool's Gold (London 2009) p. 165
  15. ^ Peter Cochrane, Uncommon Sense (2004) p. 70
  16. ^ Richard Holmes, Wellington: The Iron Duke (London 2003) p. 178 and p. 169
  17. ^ Quoted in Michael Glover, Wellington as Military Commander (London 1968) p. 205
  18. ^ Jac Weller, Wellington at Waterloo (London 1967) p. 21
  19. ^ Weller, p. 169
  20. ^ James Marshall-Cornwall, Napoleon as Military Commander (London 1967) p. 278
  21. ^ Glover, p. 204

Further reading

  • E.A. Deuble & A. Bradley, It Has A Name!: How To Keep Control Freaks & Other Unhealthy Narcissists From Ruining Your Life (2010)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • control freak — is a convenient and colourful informal derogatory term for a person who is obsessive about exercising control over others • (Her father…was a twisted control freak and a brutal thug Daily Mail, 2007). Like many such uses it becomes difficult to… …   Modern English usage

  • control freak — control freaks N COUNT (disapproval) If you say that someone is a control freak, you mean that they want to be in control of every situation they find themselves in. [INFORMAL] …   English dictionary

  • control freak — control′ freak n. cvb a person having a strong need for control • Etymology: 1975–80, amer …   From formal English to slang

  • control freak — noun someone with a compulsive desire to exert control over situations and people • Hypernyms: ↑compulsive * * * noun, pl ⋯ freaks [count] informal : a person who has a strong need to control people or how things are done My boss is a real… …   Useful english dictionary

  • control freak — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms control freak : singular control freak plural control freaks informal someone who wants to control every aspect of a situation and will not allow other people to share in making decisions …   English dictionary

  • control freak — con trol ,freak noun count INFORMAL someone who wants to control every aspect of a situation and will not allow other people to share in making decisions …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • control freak — con trol .freak n informal someone who is too concerned about controlling all the details in every situation they are involved in …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • control freak — noun informal a person who feels an obsessive need to exercise control over themselves and others. Derivatives control freakery noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • control freak — noun Date: 1977 a person whose behavior indicates a powerful need to control people or circumstances in everyday matters …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • control freak — a person having a strong need to control his or her surroundings. [1975 80] * * * …   Universalium

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