The Controller Saboteur

The Controller Saboteur

July 21, 2023

#mentalfitnesscoach #coaching #mindfulness #positiveintelligence #stressreduction #reduceburnout #mentalfitnessatwork #mentalfitnessforwellness


Do you know anyone who seems to be pretty comfortable telling others what to do? For example, I know someone who when they are not driving, will always tell the driver exactly where to turn. This person also jumps to organize even the most casual outing according to their ideas about how it works best. Likely this person is afflicted with the Controller Saboteur. All saboteurs come from our own negative thought patterns we develop over time. And they are all based on our innate strengths, and our most deeply felt fears. The Controller saboteur, like all saboteurs, gets power over us using a lie or false promise. Here is the one from the Controller: That we can be safe and happy as long as we control everything in life.

Controller Haiku

I must have control

Everything is as I say

Or else I will fail

The Controller Saboteur: One Man’s Story

As long as Mark could remember, he needed to be in control of what was happening around him. If he wasn’t he felt, frustrated, impatient, and basically anxious that things would be “all screwed up,” He would say to himself, “either I’m in control, or it’s all out of control.” For the longest time, this was the only way Mark knew how to be.

At the beginning of our story, Mark was a successful lawyer who had a reputation for being assertive, confident and ambitious. Mark was blessed with a good sense of humor, obvious to all, and a big heart, that most were not aware of. He had a high need for control and order, and he often imposed his views and standards on others. He believed that he knew what was best, and he expected others to follow his lead almost without question. While outwardly confident, Mark was driven by a fear of failure and a a strong fear of losing control of his life, which he tried to compensate for by being dominant and powerful as often as possible. Mark prided himself on his ability to impact the world around him. Mark’s innate strengths of confidence, energy, will, and ability to pull others along with him, all helped him achieve goals and get rewarded early on in life. In time, he began to over-rely on those strengths to such a degree that “controlling” became his only comfortable strategy. At some point, Mark’s strengths fueled his negative though patterns, creating this internal Controller Saboteur dynamic - completely invisible to Mark.

The Controller: At Work

At work, Mark’s many strengths made him a valuable asset to the firm. He had a vision for the future of his department and beyond, and he was able to motivate others to work hard and achieve their goals. As an attorney, he had a passion for justice and a knack for finding solutions to complex problems. He was a leader who inspired respect and admiration from his peers and clients. He was also charismatic, witty and charming, and he knew how to win people over with his persuasive skills and humor. He even used humor in the courtroom, charming the judges and juries, as he tried to make his opponents look foolish with his clever arguments.

However, Mark also had some negative aspects that made him a difficult person at times. In the office, he was often micromanaging, critical of others, and demanded perfection from his team and peers. He rarely delegated tasks without checking up and didn’t appear to trust others to do their jobs. He had a hard time accepting feedback or admitting his own faults. He was constantly stressed and anxious about meeting deadlines, winning cases and getting it all done. He could be difficult about minor things. His assistant liked to tell co-workers about Mark “being anal” about the formatting of a document and making her redo it three times until it was exactly to his liking. Another time, he lost the firm a client because he refused to compromise on a minor issue and insisted on having his way. Mark could be very impatient with colleagues who did not agree with him. Although Mark was fond of saying, “I don’t get ulcers, I give them!”, his doctor recently had to talk to him about his stress levels and its impact on his wellness, blood pressure and yes, even his stomach.

Work Quotes

At work, Mark sometimes alienated people who could have been his allies or friends, and he missed out on many opportunities for growth and learning. Mark also risked his health and happiness for the sake of control. Let’s listen in on what those who see a full view of Mark’s performance at work have to say about him.

·      Susan, Mark’s manager. “Most of the time, I wish I could clone Mark, we could achieve so much with more of his energy and will; but 15% of the time, I wish I’d never met him. This week, he is my biggest aggravation.”

·      Mark’s HR partner at work, George, “Ironically, with Mark’s clear vision, decisiveness, confidence and conviction, he could be a great leader. If he could only get out of his own way, he could easily make senior partner.”

Like all of us, Mark was a complicated mixture of great qualities that served him well and other not so great qualities that absolutely did not serve him or anyone else.

The Controller: At Home

At home, Mark was a strong, and caring family man. He had a keen sense of responsibility and a desire to provide for his family. He wanted them to have the best of everything, and he worked hard to give them a comfortable and secure life. Although he cared deeply about their well-being and happiness, he did not always express it verbally. He was also generous, loyal and protective, and he would do anything for his family. He once surprised his wife with a trip to Paris for their anniversary, where he booked them a suite at the Ritz and hired a private chef to cook them dinner. He also taught his kids how to play chess, soccer and piano, and cheered them on at their recitals and games.

On the flip side, being so highly affected by the Controller Saboteur, Mark could be somewhat tyrannical at home. He often would dominate family decision making, including meal planning, budgeting, vacation destinations, and parenting. Although loving, Mark’s take charge attitude with his family often caused them to feel suffocated and resentful. He wasn’t always comfortable showing affection or appreciation to them, and he could come off as dismissive of their feelings and opinions. For example, he forced his family to go on a camping trip that none of them wanted to go on and made them follow a schedule of activities that he planned in advance, that no one enjoyed. Famously, he also threw away his son’s favorite stuffed rabbit because he thought it was “time for him to grow up,” and bought him a chess set instead.

Mark had a boatload of wonderful strengths as a husband and father, such as his work ethic, confidence, courage, leadership, vision, passion, responsibility, charisma, wit, charm, generosity, loyalty and protectiveness. However, the Controller Saboteur caused him a lot of pain and problems in his personal life. As a result, he also hurt the people he cared about the most, who felt unloved, unvalued and unhappy due to his behavior.

This pain he was causing others was somewhat invisible to Mark. And the pain he was causing himself was mostly unnoticed too. What awareness he did have that his “ways” caused problems, were easily explained away, he was able to tell himself, he could be difficult, but that was ok because he was also so successful that it all balanced out. "I know I'm a lot to take, but I'm worth it!"

At home, Mark’s controlling ways have grown and become more irritating and difficult to deal with. Mark’s wife, Kathy has felt the pain of Mark’s controlling more deeply over time. After 15 years of trying to accommodate his need for control, Kathy is about to blow her stack. The kids are also feeling the tension as well both between their parents and between them and their dad.

Family Quotes

·      Kathy to her therapist: “I need a partner, someone who listens to my thoughts, feelings and ideas, and I need to stop having to walk on eggshells to keep Mark feeling in control of our lives. It’s exhausting.”

·      Their son, Paul, to his mom and sister: “Dad loves us, but how can I get him to back off putting pressure on me about school, he is just making life hard for me, and it will only get worse. I'm glad he works so much, so I don’t have to see him every day.”

·      Paul’s sister, Shannon to Paul: “I can only deal with Dad in small doses, I’m glad I will be off at college soon and won’t have to deal with him so often.”

And then, What?

But then, things started to change. Mark’s chickens had been circling for a long time, but then they all came home to roost, and they hit his awareness all at once. After a lifetime of his controlling ways, suddenly, within a few weeks, several things happened all at once to change Mark’s trajectory.

·      First, his wife had enough of his “issues” and told him she wanted to separate, and while she was willing to participate with him in marriage counseling, she was pessimistic about whether their marriage would continue. (Turns out he hadn’t been hearing her for years…whoops!)

·      Next, his boss, Susan, got tired of the downside of Mark’s leadership. She got news of losing key staff on Mark’s team complaining of micromanagement, right after hearing about the client loss Mark caused. She told Mark, that something had to change…soon.

·      And finally, a few days later, his doctor got much more dramatic with Mark, saying that his blood pressure was MUCH too high, and he needed to make changes to his work habits and level of stress, as well as key lifestyle changes if he wanted to preserve his health.

Mark realized that he could lose everything that mattered to him, and that he needed to find a different way to live. He thought it was ironic that all of his efforts at controlling his life and the people around him were with the goal of having a thriving career, a happy family and good health, but his control addiction seemed to be delivering the exact opposite. The good news is that Mark did find a way to reclaim the strengths he had, while stopping the stressful impact of his negative thought pattern, his Controller saboteur, that had caused so much harm.

Fast Forward 3 months:

The hardest moment for Mark was talking openly with vulnerability to his family and then to his work team, about the fact that he was working on something important, changing his approach to achieve better health and results. He said he was finding ways to “let go of controlling everything” and they should let him know when they saw him making progress and when they didn’t. Although this was incredibly hard for him, revealing himself in this way was also a great relief. The entire weight of the department, the firm, and the family was not on his shoulders, he could be a partner, father, and colleague, not a dictator. How could this level of change happen?

Spoiler Alert: Mark saw a Ted Talk about Positive Intelligence and embarked on a Positive Intelligence Bootcamp. While the Controller Saboteur is a lifetime companion for Mark, he was able to turn down the volume on Controller impact from a 10 all the way down to 4, just a few weeks after his 6-Week Bootcamp Program. The changes that his staff, colleagues, and family saw in Mark were clear and meaningful. And the difference to his health and contentment was life changing for him.

Like all of us, Mark will continue to be a mixture of things. But Mark found a way to stop listening to that Controller voice quite so often as he used to, and now when it does take over and highjack him, it is a brief period, and he is able to recover quickly. He can then apologize to his family or colleagues caught in the crossfire, and go back to being the newly improved, calm and resilient Mark.


Final Words..

Whew, some story!! Do you know anyone that reminds you of Mark? It is likely someone in your life: family, work, friends, has a bit of Mark’s Controller Saboteur tendency, maybe not as exaggerated as Mark’s. Or maybe you see a little of Mark in yourself?

Are you curious about what your Saboteur Assessment profile can tell you?

Take your free Saboteur Assessment hereSaboteurs | Positive Intelligence. You will see what level of impact 0-10 you have for Controller as well as the other 8 accomplice saboteurs. Then contact me: [email protected]. I offer one free coaching session to help you understand your results. There is absolutely no obligation attached, this is work I love to do. So, seriously, write me, we will have fun, and you will get some tips that can make your life better.

Next edition, I will tell the story of the Hyper-Achiever Saboteur, this is a tricky devil that is all too common in modern, corporate settings. Meanwhile, please add your thoughts or comments about Mark’s story. Thanks for reading!

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