Confessions of a Control Freak

I used to be a perfectionist control freak.  Trying to meticulously organize every single little detail of my life was my way of dealing with stress. I felt if I could keep everything under control, that ball of anxiety that I kept tightly wound up in my chest wouldn’t explode.  This was counterproductive, of course.  The more I tried to control, the more stressed I became.  Even little things had to be just right to keep me happy.  Once, on a service trip, I was upset that a teammate didn’t make the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the way I would’ve done it.  Another time, I was aggravated with someone for not shredding lettuce properly. Don’t judge my crazy.  I’m being honest, here!

One day, as my future husband and I sat chatting with our pre-marital counselor, I had a breakthrough.  (This is the second post I’ve written where I’ve shared advice from pre-marital counseling.  It really was worth the time and money.)

“There are very few have-to’s in life,” the counselor explained, “You’re stressed about a big test, wedding plans, dirty dishes, etc.  What will happen if you don’t do these things?  No one will die.  You will live.  The only real have-to’s in life are the things that, if left undone, will cause someone to die.”  (Scott Latham, forgive me for the paraphrase! I know you said it much more eloquently)

As I chewed on that thought over the next weeks and months and years, things slid into a much healthier perspective.  Before this paradigm shift, if a “to-do” item on my list didn’t get done the right way and right away, I became edgy and stressed until I could check it off.  However, once something was checked off, something else was tagged onto the bottom of the list leaving me constantly stressed and anxious.

Even though I say I used to be a control freak, type A is still there in my DNA.  If I’m not careful, I can get myself worked up into a stressed frenzy and stay there for a long while.  Also, living in a culture not my own can easily amplify stress from a seemingly small thing and create a big ugly thing.   To combat this, when I catch myself worrying, I stop and say “no one is going to die if…(fill in the blank)”

–No one is going to die tonight if we don’t have a perfectly balanced meal including all the major food groups and order pizza instead.

–No one is going to die if I forgot to buy a loaf of bread at the store and the kids have to eat oatmeal instead of toast for breakfast.

–No one is going to die if I don’t fold that pile of laundry and it happens to sit there on the couch for five days.

Those are the little things.  It helps with big things too…

–No one is going to die because I lost the ATM card and we have to go through all kinds of trouble to get a new one.

–No one is going to die if we have to wait 5 more days to buy plane tickets that are on sale now.

–No one is going to die if the landlord doesn’t show up today to replace the busted microwave.

The control freak side of me is arguing right now that this is just a recipe for mediocre disaster, but the not-dying-of-a-stress-induced-heart-attack-at-age-thirty side of me begs to differ.  I’m not saying I should never fold the laundry or do the dishes or try to stay on top of my to-do list.  I’m just saying that these things, if occasionally left undone, should not undo me. 

I think this was Jesus’ point when he said “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26).”  What a breath of fresh air His word brings, breezing a new perspective on today’s problems!

What about you?  What’s the best advice you’ve received about dealing with stress in everyday life?


Photo Credit: A. McCoubrey Photography via Compfight


  1. Danielle March 6, 2014

    Well said! I am a control freak too. My way to deal with stress usually isn’t helpful. I often start freaking out and yelling at my kids or husband. I appreciated your post!

  2. Elizabeth March 6, 2014

    “No one is going to die if . . . ” Brilliant! Love it, and ADOPTING this phrase. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Jennifer March 6, 2014

    My all too real need to control is not reflected in the physical but in the thinking dimension, in making sense, in understanding. There is probably nothing that will stress me more than not understanding, not being able to simply get enough pieces of the puzzle to make sense of something. Maybe for some people peace can come in an ordered physical world, for me it seems to come in an ordered intellectual world. Given that the challenges of my last year centered in many ways round things that I simply could not understand, it is perhaps easy to understand why I did experience such a high level of stress during that time.  The thing that actually helps me personally the most in those situations begins with accepting the reality of how things are, but then in making the choice to simply walk through one more day, trusting God to enable me to walk another step or two, in spite of the reality of how challenging things really are.

  4. Jana March 6, 2014

    I feel like I just read a post about myself! To control my control-freak-perfectionist-type A personality I have adopted a similar motto. In any given situation I ask myself two questions: 1. will this “problem/stress/situation” significantly impact me or my immediate family? 2. Can I make a difference in this situation? If the answer is “No” than I don’t stress. If the answer to question 1 is “yes” and the answer to question 2 is “no”, I run to my Heavenly Father’s arms and let Him handle it. 🙂 It’s a working progress. 🙂

  5. Trisha March 6, 2014

    I can completely relate!  Maybe it’s an accountant thing… I used to get so overwhelmed by my own, internally-created stress that I would just shut down and not be able to respond or do anything in the midst of my self-induced mini-panic attack.  Your reference to a “recipe for mediocre disaster” is spot on and, honestly, perfectionism is what drives me.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “our greatest strength is our greatest weakness.” While I revel in my successes because of my perfectionism, they definitely do come at a cost (unnecessary worry lines at the age of 32!). I constantly struggle with finding the right balance. Glad to know I’m not alone!

  6. Lizzie Talcott March 9, 2014

    This advice is going to top of my the list of how to deal with my intense craving for control!  Part of my struggle lies in the fact that my ability to seemingly control so much pays off so often.  In my work, it’s a good thing because I think things through and have a plan in place for most conceivable possibilities etc.  However, in my personal life this can wreak havoc.  So my psyche gets confused…is this a good thing or a bad thing?  And then I realize that control is just an illusion.

    I’m working on resting in the One who is in control.  Working on trusting Him.  And then it hits me that even my phraseology shows that I want to control my way of dealing with control!! (“I’m working on…”)  So it becomes simply –

    He is in control.

  7. Anna October 25, 2015

    I can understand about the peanut butter & jelly sandwich.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to do those things. 🙂  When I got married I had to learn pretty quickly that even though I like things a certain way, that doesn’t mean that’s not the only way.  It helps now with 3 kids to just let some things go.  Sometimes that means not looking too closely at their closets.  And living in a 3rd world country means letting go even more.

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