• While being a control freak is not a personality disorder in itself, many personality disorders are characterized by controlling tendencies.
  • Those with borderline personality disorder tend to exhibit control over their environment by creating and exacerbating disruptive circumstances; thereby influencing others behaving in a certain manner to decrease the affected individual’s reactions.
  • Narcissistic individuals control their own perceptions in an effort to cut themselves off from others and circumvent any hurt or disappointment that might result from those relationships.
  • Those with paranoid personality disorder also control their own perceptions by allowing a severe distrust to develop for other people; this, in turn, also controls their environment in that other people begin to value their opinions less and less.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personalities exercise control over his or her anxiety; instead of being held captive by their anxieties, they release them through their compulsions.
  • Control plays a huge role in the case of most personality disorders, as the individual learns to cope with their disorder by exercising control in one way or another.

When one is hurt by the world itself—often represented initially as our parents, or caretaking environment—it is a natural human reaction to try to control it. Being a control freak is not considered to be a personality disorder; however, contemporary psychodynamic theory and practice sees DMS-V personality disorders as being environmental as opposed to purely psychiatric (biological, physiological) conditions. In that sense, a personality disorder is designed defensively to control the environment, and in a social sense, other people are the environment. That quality itself is a central ingredient in the person we might call a control freak.

Each personality disorder could, under a particular lens, match up with someone’s controlling tendencies. We can take a look at how might that control manifest in/as various major personality disorders:

Borderline: Environmental Control

The individual with borderline personality will control the environment by creating constant disruption, perceiving it (you, me, whomever) in one instance as all good and the next as all bad. Distortions in experience of self and others puts the control in the hands of the borderline condition and person, and as a particular relationship continues, the borderline disordered person is more than capable of controlling others largely because those others are attempting to decrease the reactions of said borderline. This can look—and be—very control freakish.

Narcissistic: Perception Control

The narcissistic person controls his or her perceptions and experiences of self and other by cutting themselves off from relating to others (through an inability to empathize) and thereby limits the value of others… thereby not exposing her or himself to hurt or disappointment. By limiting the value of others, through self-focus/absorption, the narcissist limits her or his investment in others and so controls the impact of the inevitable abandonment and rejection, which the narcissist tends to repeat.

Paranoid: Environmental and Perception Control

Symptoms of paranoid personality disorder include chronic, pervasive distrust of other people; suspicion of being deceived or exploited by others, including friends, family, and partners; angry outbursts in response to deception; and cold, secretive, or jealous behavior. This controls not only one’s perception of others, it “controls” the environment (other people) by having them take the perceptions of the paranoid person less seriously—which can create a vicious cycle where the paranoid person is indeed treated with less respect and perhaps even more animosity or even apathy.

Obsessive-Compulsive: Anxiety Control

The obsessive-compulsive personality is characterized by a preoccupation with orderliness, perfection, and control of relationships. The individual controls her or his anxiety by shifting it into her or his thinking (obsessive) and then acting it out (compulsion). In this way, anxiety bypasses awareness and is played-out in behavior.

In each case, control is a factor—a symptom—but not the disorder itself. The personality disorder can be seen as an attempt at controlling the environment. When whatever factors are accounted for (social/interpersonal/actual), it very well may be the case that a personality disorder is the remnant of coping mechanisms one needed to survive one’s early development. Control is often a central part of that attempt: as it is an attempt to control what feels like an out-of-control and unsafe world.

*Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D., is a Clinical/Community Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. He is also the author of Irrelationship and Relationship Sanity.*

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