Being a control freak isn’t all bad. Indeed, if you’re a control freak, you’re probably super competent and super efficient. You have high standards. You’re a go-getter. You get things done right the first time.

Plus, when things are spiraling, a little extra control can be healthy coping. If you’ve lost your job, strict structure and discipline around finding another one is good. If your child is seriously ill, knowing every inch of her medical chart is a natural reaction. For me, after core-shaking disasters like Hurricane Katrina or Sandy Hook, I find myself getting strict about exercise. It took me awhile to make the connection, but I realized that when the world makes me feel small and helpless, I cope by literally trying to be strong.

But of course, there’s a dark side to control. Complete control can never be achieved, so you can never relax. Relaxation, including sleep, feels unproductive or weak, which leaves you exhausted. No one else can reach your standards, which leaves you lonely. And when forced to collaborate, without quite meaning to, you use a collection of sharp, pointy tools—criticism, judgment, and micromanaging—to keep your anxiety at bay.


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