Seeking joy and meaning in a joyless mind and meaningless existence

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Confessions of a Control Freak

Everybody has met control freaks in their life, and they can be a difficult personality type to deal with. My theory of the case is that their behavior is driven by anxiety rather than a need to dominate others or maniacal demands that everything be done their way. Generalized anxiety is an unspecified worry about what might happen and the general unpredictable nature of life. Exerting as much control over your environment – as well as the behavior of others – creates a feeling of security because life seems more predictable with less surprises.

I’m generally not a control freak when it comes to other people’s behavior because it’s impossible to direct others in addition to just being ethically wrong. Sometimes when I want a certain thing or outcome that involves other people, I fret so terribly wondering how to chart the best course to achieve my goal. It’s another reason for my self-isolation. By limiting my life in this way, I can exercise more control on outcomes by not having to deal with the X factor of other people’s behavior. Also, everyone has flaws, and I have more than I can count. But when I meet someone who I might want to spend time with as a friend, I worry that a particular “flaw” might create an uncomfortable situation, especially if the character trait has to do with their interactions with others. But then I miss out on so much by ordering my life this way. The healthier attitude would be to just deal with others on an equal footing, accept that I can’t predict or influence their behavior and be adaptable so that I can enjoy social interaction on its own terms.

I’m rarely a control freak in my work life because I separate that from my personal goals and am pretty good at being adaptable in the workplace (at least since turning 40), but I do try desperately to control every aspect of my personal life. I try to make everything as predictable and calm as possible in a vain effort to leave nothing to chance. I agonize over every little thing and obsessively pursue goals. (The flaw in that is that my goals, the things I value as important and my level of motivation fluctuate so wildly depending on my mood that I rarely actually complete longer-term goals.) I work myself up into an anxious frenzy trying to make everything in my life just so and exhaust myself into unfulfilled unhappiness.

I have actually managed to avoid freaking out too much about what happened to me at the massage appointment the other day, which is frankly a little surprising as I was extremely upset after it happened. I’m now in my 50’s, and I’m trying to make real changes in my life so I might enjoy my existence a little more. I keep reminding myself that none of us can predict how things are going to turn out for us. There’s really nothing better than hoping for the best and being resilient when things go bad. In the past I’ve used my excessive anxiety as a shield in the mistaken belief that I was exerting control:  I was doing something by worrying, and worry would somehow magically protect me from the thing I feared coming true. Conversely and perversely, I believed that if I didn’t worry, the gods of irony would cause the thing to happen as some sort of punishment, the belief locked in by my OCD and the fact that this was a common plot development in stories. I can only really control my attitudes and behavior, so that will have to do for now.