Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


7 Signs of a Control Freak

Control freaks often struggle to recognize their need for control.

Source: StockLite/Shutterstock

Many people who enter my therapy office with depression, anxiety, and stress-related issues have one thing in common: They spend a lot of time focusing on things they can’t control.

They worry about what other people think, or they waste time trying to convince their partners to change. They're busy, but they don't feel effective, and that’s because they’re putting their energy into the wrong places. Rather than controlling their emotions, they’re always trying to control the environment — and the people in it.

Here are seven telltale signs that you invest too much time, mental energy, and physical effort into things you have no control over:

1. You aren’t a good team player.

Joining a team means you have to give up some control. After all, you can’t orchestrate everything that happens when you are only responsible for 10 percent of the outcome. Many control freaks prefer to be a lone wolf, so when they must be part of a team, they quickly try to dictate everyone’s behavior.

2. You believe you are 100 percent responsible for your success.

Control freaks believe that, with enough effort and skill, they can accomplish anything. They don’t believe in timing or luck. They often say things like, “Failure isn’t an option,” and they're overly critical of themselves when things don’t go as planned.

3. You invest a lot of time into trying to convince other people to change.

Most control freaks believe they know what is best for everyone, and try to convince other people to do things differently. Whether they lecture, become aggressive, or manipulate things behind the scenes, the goal is to make other people act a certain way.

4. You have trouble maintaining meaningful relationships.

No one ever says, “You know what I like about her? She’s a control freak.” Control freaks repel people with demands and unsolicited advice. Consequently, they struggle to maintain healthy personal and professional relationships.

5. You spend a lot of energy trying to prevent bad things from happening.

Rather than prepare themselves for the storm, control freaks try to prevent the storm from coming — even when they can’t. They waste time and energy hoping bad things won’t happen because they doubt their ability to deal with hardship.

6. You don’t delegate.

A control freak firmly believes if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself. They refuse to delegate tasks because they’re convinced that doing so will ultimately require more of their time since they’ll have to fix whatever mistakes someone else makes. If they do delegate, they insist on micromanaging every step of the way.

7. You lack compassion for people who make mistakes.

Since control freaks believe success stems solely from talent and effort, they lack compassion for those who struggle. They view mistakes as signs of laziness or stupidity, and they think everyone should succeed, regardless of their circumstances.

How to Give Up a Bit of That Control

Control freaks experience consequences ranging from constant irritability to uncontrollable anger. In addition to wreaking havoc on your mental health, being a control freak also wastes time and energy, both of which are finite resources.

To build mental strength, practice controlling your emotions, rather than controlling everything around you. Build confidence in your ability to deal with discomfort — and practice accepting that not everything will go as planned.

With a concerted effort, you can regain control over yourself. And that can help you gain the inner peace you've been attempting to achieve by trying to control your environment.

Want to know how to give up the bad habits that rob you of mental strength? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.

More from Amy Morin
More from Psychology Today