Home » You say 'controlling,' I say 'organized'

You say 'controlling,' I say 'organized'

Control freak. Accusation or confession? It can be used interchangeably. Where did the term “control freak†come from? It was probably coined when someone who couldn’t put two words together before they had three cups of coffee in the morning came face-to-face with a Type A efficiency guru and started name-calling.

Control freak. It sounds like a bad thing. But wait. Control freaks are often very organized. They get things done. Planning a trip? Find a control freak. Need someone to run a benefit auction for the school? Get a control freak.

On many levels we are a society that wants to know who’s boss. In fact, our language has plenty of phrases that speak to that desire: take the reins, man the helm, lead the field.

A control freak is someone who would really rather do it themselves than take the time to explain it to you and then watch, with itchy fingers, while you bungle the job.

Of course, CFs don’t really want to do everything themselves, they just want it done the right way, and the best way for that to happen is for them to do it themselves: “In the time it takes me to explain this to you it could be done already.†Ever heard that before when you thought you were quite capable of managing some seemingly simple task?

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Does it really matter if the dishes aren’t all stacked in the dishwasher facing in the same direction (toward the center), plates on one side, bowls on the other, in descending order of size? Of course, it does! It may not be a matter of life or death, but the implications are still huge. It’s efficient, time-saving and green. It uses the machine to its capacity (you can fit more in), the dishes get cleaner and when it comes time to empty it, it’s easier.

Now, there are two kinds of control freaks. There are the ones who would stand over your shoulder as you pile the dishes in the machine pointing out how you could do it better; and then there is the CF who, having tired of trying to teach you, lets you do it your own way and when you leave the room, goes back and restacks it properly. Which kind are you? Or, which kind do you live with?

Some people are spatially challenged, others can tell at a glance how this square will fit well with that rectangle. How many couples have gone to battle over packing the car for the family vacation? Problems arise when you have one control freak with a Marine sergeant’s mindset and another soldier who wants to stage a coup. For harmony to reign, to get the car packed correctly and for the family to leave on time, only one person can be in charge. You can only have one king of the realm, one captain of the ship.

Control freaks in go-mode are not warm and fuzzy. They don’t want to spend a lot of time stroking and massaging your ego so you’ll feel good about the task at hand. They would much rather assign you a job they are convinced you can’t mess up: “Why don’t you make the kids some lunch while I organize the car? But don’t put too much mayonnaise on the bread and don’t forget the napkins and … never mind, I’ll do it myself, in a minute.â€

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It used to be that being “in control†was one of the highest compliments. Being in control of a situation is something we demand of our presidents, four-star generals, astronauts, police officers and kindergarten teachers.

Being in control of one’s emotions, by the way, is also a good thing. In our uber-confessional society, many people have lost sight of that. Jerry Springer, Judge Judy and even Oprah have opened a floodgate of emoting; it’s group therapy for the masses with all the attendant screaming, sobbing hysterics that go along with it. Watch an hour or two of daytime television sometime and being in control seems like a really good thing.

This is not to say that all control freaks want to run the show (or the world) all the time. Most would be grateful if they could take a break and not have to be in charge day and night, but that would require someone else, as competent as they are, to step in. You wouldn’t hand the reins over to just anyone.

And conversely, why wouldn’t you want a control freak of your very own? Imagine, someone who knows exactly how the table should be set and will direct you to do it. Someone wants that job, let them have it. All you have to do is follow orders with a smile. What’s so hard about that?

Tara Kelly, copy editor at The Lakeville Journal, is an avid follower of social trends. She may be reached by e-mail at tarak@lakevillejournal.com

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