Identifying a Control Freak (And How to Tell if You ARE the Control Freak)

Control Freak:

/kənˈtrōl frēk/

noun. A person who feels an obsessive need to exercise control over themselves and others and take command of any situation.

Sound familiar? Maybe a little too familiar? Raise your hand if you think this might be you. Control freaks are those who, by nature, do not easily delegate tasks. The need to manage situations, even people, is almost, if not outright, compulsive in nature. It’s something people joke about it, but it is a very real thing and one that isn’t easy to conquer. Because the root of being a control freak is anxiety. It’s a fear of something going wrong that will have catastrophic consequences. The anxiety manifests itself through criticism, micromanagement, judgment, and a certainty that there’s only one right way to do something.

Some of the characteristics of control freaks include:

  1. An attempt to change other people in an effort to “help” them or direct them in ways that will make them each a “better person.”
  2. Unreasonably high expectations of others.
  3. Passive-aggressive behaviors that are designed to “punish” offenders until they surrender to the control freak’s way.
  4. An obsessive need to present oneself in a specific way to make others think higher of them; an inability to demonstrate any flaws or weaknesses.
  5. Information is as necessary as air. A control freak cannot handle being left in the dark on any detail.
  6. Perfectionism in any and all things, without any gray area or room for error.
  7. A compulsion to have things done in a very specific way or pattern.
  8. An assumption that no one can accomplish a task without the control freak’s intervention or input.
  9. A refusal to delegate, or if they do delegate control freaks will usually step back in and end up doing the task themselves.

If you were nodding along, thinking, “Yes, that’s me,” take heart. There are some suggestions coming your way. If you were picturing someone in particular… well, you could leave this article out for them to find, but chances are good it would go over their head. Many control freaks don’t realize they are one.

But if this describes you and you want to do something about it, consider these steps:

  1. Awareness is the first step in overcoming any problem. Recognizing, and moreover, owning, some of these issues will be the first step.
  2. Make notes when you catch yourself being a control freak. What emotions are you feeling? Are you particularly stressed? Ask a friend for brutal honesty and feedback (but be prepared for the critique!).
  3. Instead of focusing on what may (or has) gone wrong, take a deep breath and identify what went right. Focusing on the positive will help soften the critiques of the negatives. But avoid saying “but.” Simply acknowledge the positive and try to leave it at that. Unless the task at hand is life-threatening, ask yourself if the negatives are really worth the fight.
  4. Again, unless you’re dealing with a life-threatening situation, ask yourself this question before you respond or react: “Will the world collapse if this is isn’t done this exact way?” Very few of us could answer yes to that question.

The tendency to be a control freak is one that has deep, strong roots. It’s not an easy battle to overcome, but we all have a choice in how we respond to others and circumstances. Let your next deep breath be the first of many as you relinquish control and trust that the world will keep on spinning.


If you’re a control freak, consider the company you keep from these famous, self-professed control freaks:

  1. Courtney Cox
  2. Stanley Tucci
  3. Kathy Ireland
  4. Drew Barrymore
  5. Keri Russell
  6. Taylor Swift
  7. Victoria Beckham
  8. George Michael
  9. Naomi Campbell


Confessions of a Self-Professed Control Freak

I, Denise Heidel, am a control freak. I wrote this article knowing the reality of this struggle… these characteristics are very real. My family and friends know it as my “shove over and let me drive” mentality. It’s extremely difficult for me to relinquish control. My need for perfection is both unrealistic and unattainable; it’s a daily fight to remember that truth. For those of you who identify as a control freak, I feel your pain. And know how very hard this is to overcome. But it is possible. I haven’t perfected it, but I’m getting better.