Are you a fabulously successful and popular yet sometimes feel like people aren’t really there for you?
Yes, you. The person with the perfect life that occasionally makes you beam with pride.
Everything’s in place. Everything’s gorgeous, and you have the best curated collection of everything.
Yet something’s missing: Reliable, caring friends!
It’s strange, because although you can be a little prickly, you’re actually the person everyone wants to rub shoulders with:
You have a reputation for solving problems and turning dust to gold like a boss!
But people seem to scatter like cockroaches in the light when you need some support.
Yes, yes, people love to complain about control freaks.
But the truth is, not liking you has nothing to do with it. And it’s not because they’re opportunistic jerks, either (well, maybe some people are opportunistic jerks).
Nope, the reason you often don’t get your needs met is neither of those things.
And the funny thing is, fixing this issue is actually completely in your control!
You love that, don’t you? 😉
The Reason Being a Control Freak is A Connection Crusher
First, I have some bad news.
Ready? I’ll be gentle:
Despite it’s upside, being a control freak might be Emotional Connection Crusher numero uno.
(This post is the first in a series of 5 Connection Crushers I’ll be writing about here on The Connection Crafts).
And that’s pretty crazy, isn’t it?
How can the trait that allows you to hold so much together for so many people actually be the same trait that stands between you and enjoying moments of belonging?
Well, it’s very simple really:
Control freaks actively discourage emotional connection.
It’s usually not their conscious intention.
And they certainly aren’t selfish people. (In fact, control freaks are often the polar opposite of selfish, giving to others until they are totally depleted).
Which is why a lot of control freaks are so damn flabbergasted when they can’t seem to get their own emotional needs met.
And who can blame them, really? They do so much for others.
But the fact is, if we aren’t creating opportunities for emotional connection with the people in our lives, no matter how much we do for them or how awesome we are, they won’t feel close to us.
Have You Ever Done Any of These Things?
- Rushed a friend off the phone to get back to your weekend chore list?
- Declined a last minute invitation to go out in order to finish a task that was anything but an emergency?
- Insisted that your friends or family meet you at a restaurant much more convenient for you than for them? (After all, they aren’t as busy as you are!)
- Declined an invitation to a party or event because you didn’t know what kind of food would be served or weren’t sure who else would be attending?
- Started avoiding a friend or family member who refused to stop complaining about a silly problem and take your good advice?
The 2 Reasons Control Freaks Discourage Emotional Closeness
To reiterate, control freaks aren’t unlikeable people at all. In fact, they’re typically very popular – they are so capable and they hold so much together!
They are often also gifted communicators. They love to tell engaging, detailed stories about how they managed that DIY project or how they plan to tackle their next exciting challenge.
But there are 2 primary reasons being a control freak often means pushing away emotional connections, often quite by accident.
1. They Live and Die by a To-Do-List
Control freaks are slaves to their to-do-lists. They LOVE the feeling of checking off those boxes: tick tick tick. And while getting things does feel amazing, the cost can too-easily become extreme inflexibility.
If you’re a to-do-list junkie, you know that rigidity is a big part of how you get so much done! How else would you fit 9 hours worth of work into 4 if you allowed outside circumstances to pivot you around like a marionette?
But the intoxicating momentum of ticking boxes can mean missing “bids” for your attention, from people all around you. It can mean subtly pushing people away.
And the funny thing is, at first, control freaks may even enjoy being left alone to their tasks. It can be distracting to have to be pretend to be interested in someone else’s story or summon up empathy for someone’s trivial problem.
But sooner or later, most task-masters pop their heads up from their busy lives, either to take a breather or to celebrate their hard-won success. And too often they feel a pinch of pain:
Where did everybody go?
2. They’re Terrified of What Might Happen if They “Go With the Flow”
But lack of time isn’t the only reason control freaks neglect their social lives.
There is another, more hidden reason, too.
Deep down, control freaks are terrified that letting go of control might mean feeling bad – and being helpless to do anything about it.
What if they give their full attention to a friend’s problem and get reminded of something painful from their past (or even their present)?
What if they put their well-being in the hands of another and end up getting burned?
Most control freaks have experience being left helpless at the hands of someone else’s bad (or even abusive) decision making. They often have a very deep fear of surrendering even a tiny bit of control over to someone else, who might let them down or expose them to harm.
Unfortunately, this fear shows up even when control freaks do force themselves away from their security-blanket to-do-lists to spend time with other people:
Control freaks are often guilty of:
- Insisting on controlling the flow of conversation with their own stories or surface-level questioning. They scramble to fill any pauses in conversation in order to ward off surprise topics.
- Giving unsolicited advice in place of empathizing – this helps control freaks maintain the comforting false belief that bad things can always be prevented and corrected.
- Letting their thoughts drift back to their sacred to-do-lists and abruptly ending conversations to get back to them.
Control freaks don’t mean to snuff out fledgling emotional connections. They do it reflexively and for self-preservation.
But there is a way to get more comfortable with the uncertainty that emotional connections require.
The Control Freaks Guide to Risking Emotional Connections
Do you recognize yourself in this post? Most of us have at least some of these tendencies. Letting go of control is scary.
That’s why it’s not advisable to make any abrupt changes (not that you’d be able to stomach them!).
Instead, here are some simple, gradual steps you can take to nourish your emotional connections.
These steps will feel scary at first because they will be competing with your sense of safety (which you get from being hyper-vigilant).
Your instinct may be to scoff when thinking about letting go of your security blanket – after all, it has served you very well up to now in many ways.
But if you get to the point where you are fed up with feeling disconnected from others in your life, these steps will remain here for you to work through gradually.
You have my support!
1. Recognize that Empathizing is Your Biggest Challenge
Empathizing is one of the hardest things for a control freak to do. And it’s not because they aren’t good people.
Rather, empathizing requires something of control freaks that they fear more than anything else – completely letting go.
Empathizing for a control freak means temporarily abandoning a world of order and progress (and the safety it provides) to meet someone else in their (possibly chaotic) world, trying it on for size.
In advance, you can’t know what it will be like. You just have to jump in and have faith that you can handle however it feels.
This is serious business for someone who’s become a professional in managing emotions through the devices of control and avoidance.
But without empathizing, you can’t control how often you enjoy emotional connections with other people – you can only wait for connections to sporadically happen. You’re beholden to others – something I know you really hate!
If you learn to get comfortable with empathy (slowly), you’ll be able to take control over of your relationships and feel more fulfilled than ever before. Counterintuitive, I know!
2. Make Empathizing a To-Do-List Item
Make a commitment to yourself to tackle this. Since you love structure and order, if you make a promise to systematically improve your relationships, you’re more likely to have success.
Don’t try to build Rome in a day, but make a regular and structured effort to follow other people into their emotional spaces as a way of practicing empathy:
- Don’t rush that friend off the phone.
- Accept that last minute invitation at that venue with the unknown menu.
- Listen to your cousin complain for 10 minutes about the same problem she’s been complaining about for the past 3 years.
Set aside time to simply talk to other people, anyone, with no agenda other than to find out what it’s like to be them.
3. Start Small
Start by slotting small chunks of time to people who don’t make you feel uncomfortable.
This might mean acquaintances or even colleagues instead of family members or friends, at least in the beginning.
Sometimes, empathizing with someone close to us can feel particularly scary because their choices impact us.
For example, imagine trying to empathize deeply with a friend contemplating a divorce. You love her and you don’t want to see her world turn upside down, so resisting the urge to jam a bunch of warnings and advice down her throat might feel downright impossible.
Instead, call up a distant relative or take a colleague out to coffee for a relaxed chat.
Another idea is to try taking empathy baby-steps on internet message boards.
4. Choose Wisely
Since many control freaks have a history of being burned by others (often from childhood), it’s very important not to expose yourself to anyone who might be reckless or manipulative.
Avoid people who don’t respect reasonable boundaries.
If you decide to give someone a piece of your attention and time, it is important that they don’t try to connive you into giving more than you are comfortable giving.
Choose to be emotionally available to people you respect and trust!
5. Don’t Forget to Take Your Turn!
The 4 steps above deal with being emotionally present for others as a way to strengthen relationships. Practicing these steps with good-hearted, trustworthy people will undoubtably result in more love and emotional support.
That said, it is imperative that you also practice actively seeking support and emotional closeness for yourself as well.
More than anything else, these steps are all about learning to put your emotional well-being in the hands of others and feel comfortable doing so.
Find people you can trust. Open up to them. Confide your struggles and your fears.
Stop Crushing Your Emotional Connections with Control and Avoidance
Having everything under control can be and feel great. Who wouldn’t want to be on top of everything in life?
But control means inflexibility. And inflexibility means not having the ability to really be there for others, nourishing emotional connections with them.
Sure, you might coincidentally bond with a friend over a shared interest or a cool project. But if you don’t make a point of being emotionally flexible for others, you won’t be building strong emotional bonds that you can count on when you need them.
If you’re tired of feeling alone and unsupported, make a promise to yourself to get comfortable with letting go of control from time to time.
You’ll be amazed at the love and joy that can blossom in the least expected places.