Oops. I did it again. The words shot out of my mouth before I could stop them. My need to micromanage my 15-year-old son took over the rational part of me that knows trying to control him doesn't work.
"Mom, I can handle it!" John shot back at me. My reminder to put his lunch in his backpack, meet with his teacher after school, and take a coat was met with annoyance.
I've attempted many times to remind, nudge, suggest, motivate, direct … okay, control my husband and three kids. I've tried to affect the outcome of nearly every circumstance, and secretly wanted to control the entire universe. I know that some of you reading this article are "Mistresses of the Universe" just like me.
While I think my crown fits quite nicely most of the time, when I try to dominate the people I love or work with, arranging their schedules and managing everything, I wind up exhausted. I usually feel frustrated and resentful too, because I'm working harder than everyone else.
For you nearly perfect women who don't struggle with control issues, I want to give you a glimpse into the inner life of a Mistress of the Universe. It might help you to understand us and extricate yourselves from our clutches should you happen to run into one of us. For those of you who are Mistresses of the Universe, I'm going to share some things you can do to diminish your fundamental need to manage others.
Mistresses of the Universe (you know who you are) feel compelled to be in charge of everyone and everything. You take responsibility for making sure things go smoothly and are done properly. When you see a job that needs to be done, you usually do it yourself rather than risk it being done less perfectly by someone else.
Mistresses of the Universe say things like "I feel so stressed out all the time. Everyone expects me to do everything. If I don't take care of things, they don't get done." Or "I'm just trying to help." "Let me show you how to do that." "How many times have I told you…?" "Why are you wearing that tie with those pants?" "Don't you think it would be better if you…?" "I just want you to be happy!"
A Mistress of the Universe feels stressed out when her toddler is wearing mismatched socks. She feels enormous concern when she comes home at night to discover that the father of her children has put them to bed in their clothes without a bath. She gets very nervous when she assigns a project to an employee because she wonders if it will be completed on time and done well.
Why do we feel so responsible for everything? Why do we want to control everyone?
In general, women tend to feel more pain associated with their relationships, so some of us use control as a means of avoiding that pain. We try to manage other people and circumstances so we won't feel hurt, nervous, stressed, disappointed or worried.
Dr. Michael Kragt, a licensed psychologist at Grace Counseling in Denver, says that women who were abused as children or who grew up in repressed homes may try to control in order to protect themselves from being hurt again. It's a means of overcompensating for the lack of control they experienced as kids.
Sometimes women mistakenly believe they can get more of what they want by controlling. They believe that no one else will take care of them the way they need to be cared for if they aren't in control of everything. Some perfectionists just want others to comply with their high standards, usually to avoid feeling pain.
"We all want control in some areas, Dr. Kragt says. "But control creates problems when we can't separate what is trivial from what is truly important," he warns. "If control issues and structure take precedence over relationships, then they become problems."
Kragt adds that men feel emasculated when women try to control them. When we try to guilt them with criticism and correction, manipulate them with our hurt feelings, or use our children in power plays to get something we need from them, men feel like failures. When they feel like failures they either lash out in anger or withdraw. Women feel ignored, rejected and disconnected when their men withdraw, but men won't attempt emotional intimacy when they're made to feel incompetent. It's just too risky.
Even our kids can feel hurt by our control, says Kragt. "The difference between controlling and setting appropriate boundaries for kids lies in the answers to two questions: Do your kids get to have unstructured time to be goofy, playful kids? Do you allow them to have their own likes and dislikes?"
Not allowing someone else to make decisions they're perfectly capable of making is controlling. Expecting others to like what you like and do things the same way you do is controlling. Criticizing with the intent of provoking shame in others in order to get what you want is controlling.
If you are a Mistress of the Universe who wants to take off your crown, try the following suggestions:
- Practice good self-care. Getting plenty of rest, scheduling play time and pursuing your own interests will help you feel more satisfied with your life overall and less dissatisfied with those around you.
- Be honest and direct when you present a request or offer an opinion to someone else. Be aware that you might try to control surface issues when there is something deeper that should be dealt with.
- Encourage and praise your husband, children, friends and employees. Encouragement will draw them toward you, whereas criticism will push them away.
- Trust others with the successful outcome of the tasks for which they are responsible. Hovering over them and checking their work is demotivating. Discern between what is important and what is trivial before deciding whether or not to get involved. Trust others to make good decisions, even when you aren't sure they're on the right track.
- Share your frustrations and concerns with a trusted friend or pastor. If your painful feelings persist, talk to a professional counselor.
- Most important, learn to trust God and give Him ultimate control over the people and circumstances in your life. That trust will increase the more time you spend with Him and study the Bible. When your relationship with God is in place, the need to control others will lessen.
When I took off my crown and gave up my title of Mistress of the Universe, I didn't lose power. I gained it. And I gained more self-respect and dignity. My ability to positively influence my husband and others has increased, while my level of frustration has decreased. God has done some amazing things in my life. He has met needs that I thought would never be taken care of when I gave Him control, and I know He will do the same for you.