Psychopaths as Control Freaks
Another common trait of psychopaths is that they are very controlling people in one way or another. They are constantly seeking power or control over others in work or personal contexts and it can be a very annoying and restrictive existence working or living with them. Where does this trait come from?
The underlying root of all this behaviour is the psychopath’s need for control over their own environment and others to compensate for the fundamental chaos and weakness in their own psyche. Out of this comes an extreme need to control and have power over others and this principle is the same regardless of which area of life the psychopath shows up in.
This trait can show up in a number of different ways. It can be the stereotypical control freak boss who is a nightmare to work for and makes everyone’s life a misery. It can also show up in the form of extreme obsessive compulsive tendencies and a general invasiveness and intrusiveness in other people’s privacy.
For sure some psychopaths are better at concealing this control freak tendency than others, with the hedonistic psychopath even appearing initially to the opposite of controlling – carefree and fun loving. But if you observe more closely and dig in deeper you will find this trait expressed in some way in all psychopaths. They like to have power and control over others. Let’s look at some examples.
The Control Freak Nightmare Boss
This is one of the more common manifestations of the controlling psychopath, and one that many people can relate to. As a qualifier here we should add that not all control freak bosses are psychopaths; some people are naturally controlling or have other personality disorders but are not psychopathic. However almost all psychopathic managers will be control freaks.
It is an obvious way they exercise their control over others, whilst hiding behind the excuse that they are just doing their job or following the rules. The way they go about it is what makes working under them a nightmare and they seem oblivious to the fact that there are many managers around who are able to manage others effectively without resorting to ridiculous control freak behaviours.
Here are some of the more common ways control freak psychopathic managers make their worker’s lives a misery. Again these traits may not in themselves indicate a psychopath; see our Checklist for more characteristics to cross reference over time before coming to a conclusion.
- Incessant nitpicking and fault finding.
- Making an issue out of things which don’t need to be an issue. Inflating or pouncing on tiny mistakes and making them into big events.
- Demanding things be done one way only when there is no actual need to force their own routine or methods on everyone else.
- Seeking absolute perfection from employees and setting unattainable standards that no one can reach.
- Not communicating about things they want doing beforehand and then complaining after the fact when it hasn’t been done.
- Their character will turn toxic and poisonous if anyone tries to reason with them and suggest their controlling behaviour is over the top and unnecessary.
These are just some of the ways control freak behaviour can show up in the workplace. Again this behaviour achieves nothing positive and just irritates and demoralizes those working under the psychopath.
Too often upper management allow these types to fester in companies, taking the narrow view that they are “doing a good job”, perhaps in terms of pure numbers. The fact that there are ways to manage effectively without resorting to control freak tactics is too often ignored and companies suffer more intangibly through employee turnover and dissatisfaction in allowing psychopathic managers to stay in positions of power.
Extreme Obsessive Compulsive Tendencies
This has some crossover with what we just mentioned in that the psychopathic manager will often have set routines and procedures they do not like interfering with and expect others to follow to the letter. Everything has to be in a certain place otherwise you will never hear the last of it.
However, OCD tendencies in a person will infect all areas of their life and are common in psychopaths and other people with severe mental problems. They will often seek excessive control over their external environment to compensate for the fact they have no real control over their internal psychological environment.
This includes the stereotypical OCD traits we are all familiar with like ordering things a certain way, having routines which a person cannot deviate from without feeling anxiety, and following certain ritualistic patterns of behaviour over and over again.
Some people for instance even like to organize their days into specific time blocks, even down to five minute segments, to make sure they have a schedule of what to do in each five minute block. This is of course a sign of severe mental issues and is an attempt to control the little bit of their life that is external, since the internal life is in a total mess.
Of course this on it’s own is not a sign of a psychopathic, since many people have OCD traits to a greater or lesser extent. However, an extreme need to control, confronted with often poisonous behaviour if this need to control is ever questioned or confronted, is a red flag regardless and is one trait to look among others on our Checklist page.
This tendency then extends from control over objects and things to control over other people, hence the psychopathic manager types we mentioned above. They need to feel they have control over everything externally since they have no control internally, and this crosses over into personal as well as work life, which we will cover now.
Psychopaths often exert control over people with a relentless barrage of invasive and intrusive questions about their life and past
Invasiveness and Intrusiveness
Another way in which this controlling tendency of the psychopath manifests is in a relentless invasiveneness and intrusiveness to their personality, and a total lack of respect for the privacy and space of others. See our article on psychopaths as invasive and intrusive people.
This will show up as the psychopath asking a relentless barrage of questions about your current or past life, like what you are doing today, where you are going, where you have been, who you were with etc etc.
On the surface this may seem harmless and everyone asks questions and makes small talk, but again you are looking for an invasive aspect and the long term effect of this. Over time living with such a person you may feel you have no privacy left, since they are constantly “in your face” asking questions about every little detail of your life.
You will get the impression they are constantly watching over what you are doing, where you are going, eavesdropping on your phone conversations and so on. Again control is the primary motivation for this. Psychopaths need control over others in all environments not just work, and they can be a nightmare to live with in shared houses for example.
You will also often find they have no respect for the property as well as the space of others, often stealing food or drink out the fridge and bullshitting their way to some excuse about how they’ll replace it. These promises are often not kept.
Again this betrays their lack of ability to organize and plan and they just live moment to moment, happy to treat your stuff as their stuff when it suits and without having the courtesy to ask. Despite the appearance they project, psychopaths are actually a disordered mess inside and this will often leak out in this lack of respect for boundaries and privacy as well as controlling tendencies.
Where Does All This Come From?
We have alluded to the source of this controlling behaviour several times but it bears stating again more clearly. Psychopaths behave in this control freak way because their internal psychological world is a total mess and to compensate for this they need to at least have a sense of control over the little bit they can control – the external world of people and things.
The context of this behaviour can change slightly between psychopaths. Some psychopaths like to control things and routines in the classical OCD way. Others like to control people psychologically through relentless invasiveness and boundary violations and micromanagement. Some do both. But the common denominator in the psychopath is always a desperate need for control and power over others and this along with other common traits is what gives them away.
If you are looking for a technical analysis of the inner world of the psychopath where all this comes from, then Hervey Cleckley’s book The Mask of Sanity is an excellent resource. It details the persona or mask that all psychopaths must project to the outside world to cover up an internal world that is completely disordered, chaotic and devoid of any real emotion or ability to connect with others.
The control freak tendency is an inevitable consequence of this toxic inner world. It is a tacit admission from the psychopath that they can’t seem to control this internal part of their life, so they had better be able to control the external bit, or else they really will go mad. It literally is a way of maintaining some sense of sanity and normalcy.
To challenge a psychopath on this controlling personality is to attempt to pull down this mask and expose the chaotic, disordered inner world Cleckley saw in so many of the psychopaths he dealt with as a psychiatrist. They is why they will respond toxically to any attempt to confront this aspect of their behaviour. You are confronting a large part of what is keeping their act as a normal person afloat.
Once we realize this we can almost look at the psychopath more from a position of pity rather than contempt, for we see they are really pathetic individuals who are constantly on a treadmill of trying to project a facade of normalcy onto the world.
They are constantly teetering on the edge of being exposed at any moment should their control over their outer environment ever slip and so they live in a state of constant fear which non psychopaths should be thankful they don’t have to live in.
The Mask of Sanity, available on Amazon, is a classic text on psychopathy by former psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley, where he goes into great detail about the “mask” that toxic psychopaths wear. Cleckley details how this mask conceals a chaotic inner world devoid of real emotion and empathy and chronically destructive towards the self and others. A “mask” of superficial charm is needed to conceal these traits from others, though eventually and with enough time they will eventually leak out and be spotted.