Barbara Killinger, Ph.D.

Barbara Killinger Ph.D.

The Workaholics

Workaholism and Control

Why workaholics are called "control freaks," and how control affects their lives

Posted Jun 14, 2013

Workaholism and Control

Controlling behavior is typically used by ambitious workaholics in order to achieve the power and influence that bring the much coveted recognition, prestige and wealth that they so ardently crave. The combination of denial, control and power, the “Big Three” as I call them, is also why workaholics who become emotionally crippled and out-of-touch with their Feeling function thereafter remain unconscious of the negative aspects and misuse of control.

Or, they justify their actions and decisions by their use of the defense mechanisms that are described in the previous blog, “Workaholism and Control.” In both cases, workaholics lack the insight necessary to save them from progressing further along the downward spiral that the Breakdown Syndrome that this addiction typically follows.


As the preoccupation with work becomes more obsessive, and short-term, pragmatic goals are compulsively sought to ease rising anxiety, workaholics develop a number of self-serving narcissistic traits that give them a false sense of security and lead to entitlement issues and viewing themselves as “special,” above the rules and regulations that society deems acceptable.

Blatant controlling behavior is not hard to miss.  Based on their own view of reality, workaholics insist on their own way, have to prove themselves “right,” and tell others what they should do or say. They may order, badger, attack, get historical, scold, and become irritable and hostile if things don’t go the way they want. Controlling workaholics can become vindictive and punish the individual or persons being addressed, especially if they decide that they are no longer useful to them in furthering their own proposed actions or views.

Passive-aggressive forms of controlling such as avoidance, procrastination, distracting, changing the subject, selective listening or tuning out, withdrawing or walking away may be more subtle and less obvious, but nevertheless such behaviors can be equally destructive. All are tactics that allow workaholics to avoid their own personal responsibility, and to refuse to acknowledge the expertise of others, a co-operative dynamic that might ultimately lead to the sharing of power.

Some workaholics in the early stages of the breakdown may occasionally be aware of their fear of failure, some intermittent bouts of chronic fatigue, as well as their fear of discovery, paranoia and some guilt. However, once the Loss of the right-brain Feeling function occurs, guilt transforms into unconscious shame. Consequently, there is little insight when things go wrong because the problems connected to overachievement create an anxious confusion that clouds judgment. Workaholics also fail to recognize the profound personality and character changes that take place once feeling information and feedback no longer register or inform their left-brain obsessive Thinking decision-making function.

As levels of paranoia increase, secrecy and privacy concerns become very important for workaholics who are often labeled as “control freaks.”  Consequently, although they insist they champion transparency in their business, political and governmental dealings, they keep tight control over what is made available, either to their colleagues or to the public. The lack of transparency has become a huge problem as a result. No one knows the real picture, or who can be held accountable. Controlling workaholics surround themselves with a small group of enablers, or refuse to consult at all.

Controlling behavior accelerates when too many things in the workaholic’s life seem to be slowly falling apart. Marital strife, problematic children, disgruntled employees, challenging peers, coupled with poor judgment, frequent errors, and an inability to concentrate for long increase their level of anxiety. The defense mechanisms that have supported their denial break down, and reality threatens to surface to consciousness.

The obsession with work that fueled their drive has turned against them. Losing control means losing power. The shame of that particular failure is unforgivable. They could lose all their credibility in the workplace. If the business that workaholics have worked so hard to create fails, they could lose all the trappings of power that money and success bring. Immobilized by fear and out-of-control at times, they lose confidence and become needy. Pushing themselves only makes it worse because their restless energy gives way to an overwhelming fatigue and sometimes paralysis. Their efforts to control everybody and everything no longer seem to work.

Because workaholics have an external frame-of-reference, they depend on others’ approval for self-identification. Therefore, they are especially vulnerable when faced with any opposition, disapproval, or rejection. When setbacks or business failures do occur that cast doubt about their proficiency and public persona, many suffer severe depression, debilitating anxiety attacks, or a nervous breakdown.

These idealistic perfectionists have lost sight of who they are, separate from what they do, of what they have become. Their authentic whole Self has tragically disappeared.


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 Copyright 2013    Dr. Barbara Killinger