Why Are Some People So Controlling?

Why Are Some People So Controlling?

A young man sat in my office today and pondered his father’s unhealthy behavior.  He said his dad would go on daily rants over the smallest infractions. When not having angry outbursts, he is just generally irascible (teens: that means cranky) to his wife and kids. He is clean to a fault (being clean is good; to a fault, not good). The inability of others to meet his high expectations was the source of many of his rantings. He’s so stingy with money, it makes everyone in the family shake from fear (again, conservative with money, good; stingy, bad). “He’s so controlling!” the young man finally cried out, exasperated.

To his credit, my teenage client saw the flaws in his elder and he vowed to me that he would not follow in dad’s crabby, quick-tempered footsteps. Good plan.  Only time will tell if this lesson takes root in the young man. And time is on his side. He’ll soon be out of the house and on his own, and he’ll get the chance to see if he can be a better man than dear ole’ dad, at least in the mood category.

So why are some people so controlling? Born that way? Freak accident? Bad luck? Bad karma? Bad juju? Bad parenting? All good guesses.

In the diagnostic model of treatment, we’d look for traits that fit one of the personality disorders. More than likely dad’s traits would fit the diagnosis of OCPD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), OCPD is a disorder that shows a pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control. Not to be confused with the well known OCD, which is Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder and is an anxiety disorder, (e.g., obsessive thoughts or images that occur repeatedly, or compulsive behaviors like excessive hand washing or checking rituals), and not a personality disorder.

Let’s take a look at the traits for OCPD from the DSM-5 and while we’re doing that—why don’t you  think of someone you know who might have these traits. This just might just help you understand him/her better.

Overview: “Preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four of more of the following:” (summarized)

1) Preoccupied with details, rules, lists, etc. to the extend that the point of the activity is lost (I’ve had clients that made and distributed spreadsheet files for vacations, then executed every item down to minute detail)

2) Perfectionism that interferes with task completion (similar to above)

3) Workaholism that excludes leisure activities and friendships (some have few friends)

4) Inflexible about morals, ethics, or values (and are the first to offer their opinions!)

5) Unable to discard worthless or worn-out objects (hoarding)

6) Cannot delegate unless you submit to exactly their way of doing things (very bossy)

7) Cheap! Money should be hoarded for future catastrophes (related to 5)

8) Are rigid and stubborn (getting the picture?)

And so we can see how the teen’s dad measures up. Of course, it’s impossible to make a judgment call second hand, but even if the son exaggerated by, let’s say, 50%, I think dad still has a good shot of having traits of this condition.

A few additional comments summarized from the National Institutes of Health (Nih.gov) website:

1)      OCPD occurs more frequently in men, but women don’t get off the hook either, as it can affect men and women both

2)       It tends to occur in families, so genes may play a role

3)      These high achievers can become very upset if their plans are disrupted (lose control) and they may withdraw emotionally if they cannot control the situation

4)      It is difficult for them to show affection

5)      The strain on their interpersonal relationships leads to anger

6)      They tend to be pessimistic or depressed

7)      Medication may be able to treat underlying anxiety and depression and talk therapy is beneficial (I have talked some men out of it, if they have more moderate symptoms)

The abuse this father engenders upon his family is emotional abuse. But what about a more dramatic version of controlling behavior? Men who physically abuse their wives and girlfriends.

If you are interested in this topic, a very good summer read is the book: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft, which I understand is required reading at a number of domestic violence shelters in the country. Lundy coordinated the first program for domestic violence in the U.S., and he gives insider info about the traits of the abusers, tells how to recognize if you are in an abusive relationship, explains how it is all about control, and shares what to do if a loved one is trapped in one of these extremely unhealthy relationships (hint: don’t try to rescue her and replace his control with your own!).

Moving back to the diagnosis, to assume these perps suffer from OCPD alone is too simple. Lundy is not a mental health professional per se, so he doesn’t offer up a diagnosis. But my educated guess is that these guys have extreme OCPD and narcissism that is actually closer to psychopathy than anything else (For more on psychopaths, see my March 5 and July 7, 2014 posts *)

So do you see that the word “control” has come to have a very negative connotation in our culture? And that’s regardless of whether the control is emotional or physical.

And this word control is not to be confused with leadership. Some will argue that leaders are controlling when in reality they are leading. Or that leaders are domineering when said leaders would really prefer that you step up to the plate.

So as long as we know who we’re talking about and what traits are the negative ones, we should now have a clear understanding of what controlling behavior is.

So don’t go there, son. Love your wife. Surrender to your mate. Don’t dominate the family. Don’t rant over every little thing. Matter of fact, don’t rant at all. Kind and gentle talking works oh so much better. Be generous with your time, your love, and yes, your money. Be flexible to a fault, not clean to a fault. Toss out old clothes! Take vacations and that’s sans spreadsheets. Be a role model to the next generation. And then maybe I won’t have to see your kids in my office 15-20 years down the road.

Sanity now!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>