Outfit Post: Confessions of a control freak

There's a long list of things I would like to change about myself. There's my tendency to procrastinate - folding the laundry and cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming and carrying out a myriad of other household tasks. There's my propensity towards driving too fast on the highway. And let's not forget my intolerance towards people that bring more than 15 items to the express check-out line at the supermarket. However, if I had to name what I'd consider my greatest character "challenge,"  I'd say it's my need to feel in control. I go through life the way I drive: gripping the steering wheel until my arms get all scary and veiny and it looks like I'm going to rip the damm wheel off.

Those with issues around control tend to be described by the following attributes: They are dominating, and picky, and highly critical. They are raving perfectionists. They would rather give orders than take them. Someone with control issues finds winning an argument much more fulfilling than finding the right solution, and often makes the people around them anxious, if not alienated. Furthermore, those with control problems often have difficulty trusting others and have a profound fear of having their flaws exposed. Exerting control over our environment is a fundamental human need, but in a certain portion of the population, the mechanism for managing such a need simply doesn't exist. "Control freaks try and control every aspect of the environment," says executive coach Jon Stokes of Stokes & Jolly. "They obsesses. They try to assemble masses of information"

I rationally understand that it's simply not possible for me to always be in control. But more often than not, I find myself struggling to feel like I am. Whether it's insisting on certain seat in a restaurant (usually facing the front entrance, so I can keep tabs on anyone entering and leaving,) or imagining any number of horrific scenarios (so I can work them through in my mind and plan exactly how I'll respond,) my need to feel in control of myself and my circumstances has a significant impact on my life.

For a long time, my need to control was directed at my body. From the foods I put in my mouth to the amount of calories I consumed, I was most definitely in charge and no one - no one - could change that. Studies have shown that many anorexic individuals try to exert control over their bodies through deprivation of food, because they feel very little control over any other aspect of their lives.

But now that I'm solidly in recovery, my control issues squeak out through my shopping habits and wardrobe. I'm constantly in search of the "perfect" piece - the right shade of denim skirt, the sublime touch of a glossy fur, the preppy cut of a slim vintage blazer, the glistening sparkle of a sequined top - and having the perfect wardrobe. It seems I never have the right items to make an outfit look, well, perfect. Nevermind the fact that my closet door is bursting off its hinges. I am convinced that if I keep shopping, and searching, somehow I'll get it right. And if I'm not shopping I'm reorganizing my closet, purging and categorizing and color-coding every item I own. When I feel my life is out of control, this is my self-soothing mechanism. I can't control how often my husband is out of town for work or what my kids do at school,  so I attempt to ease my anxiety by obsessing about shopping, the state of my closet, and dressing "perfectly."

For many women, the search for control is an anxiety management technique of choice. Focusing about what others are doing, compulsively trying make something perfect, or obsessing about appearance are ways through which we create a false sense of security in an unpredictable world. Yesterday, as I was reorganizing and editing and obsessing and categorizing my closet, I wondered if I was the only one who struggled with control issues.  The quest to make everything perfect seems to be something we all deal with at one point or another. Do you think there's a connection between a search for control and perfectionism? Has anyone ever called you a control freak? Do you have to deal with someone who fits the description? How has that affected your relationship?

(Have you entered my giveaway for a gift bag and new bronzing products from The Body Shop? Enter here!)

Lucky Brand jacket; thrfted J Crew chambray shirt; Forever 21 lace top; Gap Outlet jeggings; White Mountain sandals; Charming Charlie rings and bracelets


  1. wow. i feel like you could have written this post about me. i so often struggle for the feeling of control because inside, i often feel like i have no control over anything. im also a perfectionist about so many things that i often end up not getting anything done -- and often dont even bother to start because i know it wont be perfect in the end anyway, so why bother?
    it is something i am working on, but it is amazing to hear someone else put words to what goes on inside my own mind.

  2. Its good that you realize these things now and can work on them...if you ever have children you will see that it is one control battle after another. I had to learn that my realtionship was much better with them if I realeased the reigns a little and did not over run their lives. But it is a day to day walk to learn how to balance this. you are so wise to work on it now....I love the way these colors make your hair the star of this look!!!

  3. I really enjoy reading your posts as I can almost always relate to what you are saying. I, too, was anorexic at one time and now often turn to shopping and organizing as a soul soothing way to control things in my life. That and making sure there are never dirty dishes in my sink!

  4. i love the honesty and candid nature of your posts!! i definitely have had moments where i've gone in search of that "perfect" item for my closet. fortunately also limiting my budget and (having a very frugal husband!) has helped. :)

    cute & little

  5. I've never thought of it this way before, but you're right that I turn to organizing and editing my close/book shelf/desk/everything when I'm stressed and feel like I'm loosing control over other parts of my life. Perfect example--I had been searching for a job for almost a year with no luck, and completely overhauled my room 4 times, just for something I could do!

  6. Oh boy, yeah, I can relate. I have issues with control. I like to be in control of my environment and in control of myself and my feelings. At all times. People often mistake me for being really calm and laid back. Sometimes I am, but most times I'm just busy keeping everything i.e., myself, feelings, reactions, etc, in check, if that makes any sense.

  7. i think i got to the point of being so filled with anxiety about the things i couldn't control, it interfered with my ability to function....so i found that a low dose of an anti-anxiety drug was what i had to "resort" too. i suppose that taking drugs for anxiety could be a whole other subject for a post...because of the stereotypes of "mental illnesses" like OCD, anxiety, etc. thanks for your honesty in posting your struggles, it is encouraging:)

  8. Are you sure you wrote this post? Because I pretty sure I could have written the same thing. When parts of my life start to feel about of control I feel the need to control my immediate environment. For example, my dog has been acting oddly...so at 12:30 last night I had the compulsive need to clean my entire apartment. It's one aspect of my life I can control.

    I think that's one reason why I dress the way I do (and maybe "we" do). My appearance is one thing I can control regardless of how out of control my life/situation/interactions etc etc might be.

    Great thought provoking post!

  9. I used to be a major control freak all through my childhood and into my teen years. It mostly focused itself towards my school work. I had very few friends because all my time was spent perfecting my grades, and my extra curriculars (lacrosse, theater, and class secretary). Then I went to college. Because I had to financially support myself through college by working a part-time job, I found it harder and harder to keep up with my control freak and perfectionist tendencies. I couldn't spend as much time on my school work to get straight As, otherwise my job would suffer and I would be fired and lose my only source of income, and would then have to quit school.

    So I learned to manage a trying my best, but not having to be perfect 100% of the time. I was ok that I graduated with a B+ average instead of an A. I managed to work my way through all of school (my final semester I even had a full time and part time job), and I even had a social life. Since then it's been a lot easier for me to keep these tendencies under control. However, I will admit, when I am feeling extremely stressed or anxious, they tend to flare up a bit, picking fights with my SO because he isn't doing things exactly how I want. Or spending an entire day cleaning and organizing and reorganizing the house. Or yes, even arranging and rearranging my closet. I then have to remind myself that it will be ok, and that even if I am not in control, things will be just fine.

  10. This looks great all pulled together. Great blue shoes!

    I wanted to invite you and your readers to enter my giveaway!

    Stacey Kay
    “Runway Inspiration, Vintage Decoration”
    Goodwill Huntingg: Enter my giveaway!
    Cleveland Free Press: Goodwill Huntingg Shopping Guides
    Fashion Week Cleveland 2011 recap; Black Tie Gala
    My Vintage Handbag Line

  11. I really love the honesty and self-discovery that comes through your posts, Elissa! I think a lot of us out there struggle with control issues (perhaps that's why we do so well with blogs), so we not only can relate to you, but do some self-discovery of our own as a result.

    Btw, I absolutely adore that outfit!

  12. Hi! I'm not even sure where to start. First, I LOVE your hair :) Wish I could pull that off. Second, I found your blog thru IFB and HAD to start following you because you are from TX. YAY! I love meeting fellow Texans. And third, what a great post. I LOVE vintage clothing and have been shopping at thrift stores a LOT lately. Can't wait to see more posts from you. Stop by my blog if you get a chance and say hi!

  13. YES!!!!!!!!!

    - Tessa


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