Sunday, 21 June 2015

Managing a Control Freak

Everyone needs a sense of control. If our personal control is removed, or we sense it being eroded, we feel more vulnerable, less inclined to take risks, less trusting and more inadequate. But what do we know about the type of person who feels the need to impose their will on others? Who is this so-called control freak, who seems to want to micro-manage every aspect of our own and other peoples lives? And how exactly should we manage a person who seems intent on managing us?

Some people freely describe themselves as “a bit of a control freak”, in much the same way as they might describe themselves as “a bit of a perfectionist.” In fact the two issues are very closely related because people who feel a need to control also tend to be perfectionists. Control, in this sense, is about influence and power, which if removed exposes emotions of emptiness, powerlessness, and anxiety.

Control seekers tend to have more than perfectionism in common. They were often brought up as children in unruly environments of low or inconsistent parental control or parental absence, where nurturing was low priority and daily routines were sometimes unpredictable. In these situations children develop anxieties. There may be few opportunities for adults to soothe these anxieties so they begin to reach out in ways that begin to control and stabilize their own environments.

As adults the same need to control is now a form of self-protection. Lacking control is now perceived as increasing the risk of exposing inner weaknesses and increasing anxiety. In order to prevent these threats controls on people and surroundings are imposed. For example, objects must be organized in certain ways for maximum efficiency and effectiveness, and they must be put back in a particular place once used. They may be reluctant delegators on the basis that jobs will only be done correctly if they do it themselves.  Control issues are as common, perhaps more so, in their personal lives as they monitor costs, maintain a fastidiously clean home, and freely dispense advice as to how others should live their lives. It is also fairly common to find that controllers have relationships or partnerships with people of low self-esteem or victim mentalities.

If these qualities remind you just a little of obsessive-compulsive disorder, you are pretty close to the mark. Rigid preoccupation with rules, lack of flexibility, lists of must-and-must-not-do’s are all symptoms. So extreme cases of control could tip into the OCD classification.

So, while we might sympathize with the possible anxieties informing the development of control behavior, we also need to protect ourselves from its onslaught. After all, here is a person who could hold a master-class in emotional defences and domination. They often have an opinion and an answer for everything.

From what we know there is little point in trying to control a controller. The only exception to this might be in a case where you have formal authority over the person and they are required to comply. This has limits of course and the person in charge is unlikely to feel the control issues from a subordinate in the first place.

It’s important to remain assertive and choose the issues you will expend energy on. Control freaks spread their issues widely, so unless you really want to get caught up in every dispute about putting pens back, scraps of paper on the floor, or coffee stains it’s best not to view everything as a battle that must be won.

Control freaks tend to niggle and pester and it can be quite irritating. If you can, try to acknowledge the opinions and advice of the person but make it equally clear that this is something you are doing in your way. It’s a lot more difficult if the controller is your boss and you may have to make a decision about how much of this you can ultimately put up with.

Lastly, look to yourself. It’s a common thing for people who feel out of control to begin exerting control. You may find you are micromanaging things and people around you in ways that help to empower you but actually begin to disempower others.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Memories and Anxieties

Everyone has memories they’d like to forget and most people have memories they cherish, look back on fondly or that make them laugh. It may seem odd to talk about our ‘relationship’ with personal memories but the connection between memories, and our emotional reactions to them, appears to influence our levels of anxiety.

We all have different way of regulating our emotions and the way our emotional memories affect us is shaped by our personalities our gender and the strategies we use to regulate our emotions. We know, for example, that people who score highly on neuroticism tend to focus on negative emotions when they are under stress. If this continues, they are also more likely to develop anxiety-related problems and possibly become ill with depression.

Some studies have begun to look at the strategies people use to regulate emotions when they recall positive or negative memories. For example, some people may exaggerate or focus mainly on the negatives while others are inclined towards putting a more positive spin on unpleasant memories – a process referred to as reappraisal. In 2012, Ekaterina Denkova and colleagues of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published results of their study in the journal Emotion. They found that who used reappraisal when recalling negative memories were more likely to recall positive aspects. Men who attempted to suppress negative emotions were as likely to recall positive as negative memories. Where women were concerned, suppression of negative memories was significantly associated with lower moods afterwards.

More recently, Nicole Llewellyn and colleagues established that use of reappraisal is associated with less social anxiety and less anxiety in general than those who avoid expressing their emotions.

Even so, it is generally recognized that over-optimism can have its problems. For example, it may incline people to believe they are unlikely to contract illnesses or diseases if they don’t take suitable cautionary measures. Similarly, there are many times when keeping a lid on emotions is appropriate as a short-term strategy.

Asking someone to adapt or change their personality is a pretty tall order but learning and practicing strategies to regulate emotions is something most of us are capable of.

Ekaterina Denkova, Sanda Dolcos, Florin Dolcos. Reliving emotional personal memories: Affective biases linked to personality and sex-related differences. Emotion, 2012.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2013, May 13). To suppress or to explore? Emotional strategy may influence anxiety. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 5, 2013, from­ /releases/2013/05/130513083314.htm