Friday, August 2, 2013

Handling control freaks

(Timesnews religion column 8/2/13)
No one likes to be manipulated or pushed around.  Control freaks can make you feel like you are stuck in a game of cat & mouse, and you’re the one who likes cheese.  When controlling people bulldoze over us, rarely do we see positive results --rarer still, do we see controlling people who reform on their own.  

Maybe when you get “your back up” you retaliate against your control freak -- behind their back.  Or, when you come home from work you whine to your spouses about the unreasonable, dominating manager/co-worker.  Or, you commiserate with others, rehashing horror-stories of the crazed control freak who ruins every get-together.  Or worse yet, you lie awake at night, wanting to sabotage your irksome control freak.  But you realize sooner or later, passive-aggressive approaches can’t create healthy changes.

It’s easy to assume that most control freaks are simply self-centered bullies who want the world to revolve around them.  We assume that the control freak is a coldhearted dictator who enjoys watching the rest of us dance on the end of our marionette-strings.  It’s not easy to want to take the time to understand why certain people have controlling tendencies.  We’d rather not deal with their rage when they don’t get their way -- so, sadly, we settle for walking on eggshells.  

When we are confronted by a control freak, we could feel overwhelmed, and out frustration we can quickly lose our patience.  Typically, the result is either fight or flight.  But what if there was a better way to face controlling personalities?  

Once I was entangled in a deep conflict with a controlling person and I felt helpless.  The more helpless I felt, the less effective my responses were.  A very wise, capable person was brought into the situation to facilitate resolution to our strife.  He soon noticed that a lot of people were overlooking the controlling person’s poor behavior; some were sympathetic saying, “Oh he can’t help it, that’s just the way he is because of his childhood.”  When the wise man observed what was going on, he said, “Your past explains you -- it doesn’t excuse you.”

So, without excusing or denying the damaging behavior of a control freak, here are some proactive steps we can take to be peacemakers.  These steps are basically rooted in two primary principles:  Stay in control of yourself and seek to understand the other person.  

Whether we are dealing with a micromanager or a tyrant, we still need to maintain self-control.  The only person you can really ever control is yourself, and Biblically that is a source of true strength,  “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32 ESV)  Remember, the Bible is filled with instructions on how to relate to people, even difficult people.  Jesus says we are to avoid being judgmental and first get the log out of our own eye before we can inist other people change (See Matt 7:1-5).  

An important, but overlooked insight into the mind of the control freak is that often times they think they are being helpful.  We’ve all been to the playground and have seen an older sibling take a younger sibling under their wing, cautiously protecting them, showing them the ropes.  Extrapolate that -- the controlling person may see their role as the protector, since perhaps they were hurt once, they “have to be” in such tight control to prevent you from being hurt.

Also, we mistakenly believe control freaks know how we perceive them, and that they realize the damage they are doing.  Shockingly, most often, they don’t recognize any of the problems they are creating.  They believe they are “holding it all together” and that everyone else appreciates their sacrifices.

After seeking a better understanding, we should always be loving.  Being loving, isn’t turning a blind-eye to the situation, love shines light in the darkness.  We think the “kind” loving thing to do is to remain silent to avoid hurting the controlling person's feelings.  Actually, not addressing the situation is unkind; it perpetually leaves the controlling person at odds with others.  Communicating the truth, lovingly, is a big part of being mature-believers in Jesus, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV)   

While controlling people may belittle us, embarrass us or cause us to have self-doubts, mostly they rob us of our peace.  But as believers we can have hope in all situations, Jesus said,  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV). As you actively seek peace, hold to the promise Moses offers Joshua on the threshold of the Promised land, as Joshua faced fierce nations who were certainly intimidating, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV)

We don’t have to approve of their unhealthy behavior to be able to empathize with a controlling person.  Try to discover what is driving their need to be in total control.  The typical control freak is a more than likely a very anxious individual. Their “command presence” is really a front, masking their deep insecurities.  They may have had an extended period of their life where they lost their “say” in many important decisions.  They were possibly betrayed and as a result they have deep trust issues.  Since controlling people probably operate out of fear -- the fear that if they don’t seize control, worse things are going to happen, one of the best ways to defuse the fears of a control freak is to overload them with information.  Telling them ahead of time what your plans are, keeping them up to date, then following through on your commitments will help “soothe the savage beast” within the control freak.  May you find the compassion to lovingly address life’s many control freaks, and may God grant you peace.  

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