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ADHD, Control Freak, Or Both?

ADHD, Control Freak, Or Both?  Just don't touch my stapler!In my ongoing quest to develop a more healthy self-identity, I’ve recently revisited the idea that I’m a control freak.  I’ve been called, and referred to myself as a control freak for as long as I can remember.

I often justified this label with psychological arguments such as:  I was adopted at four months old, an event over which I had no control but which shaped my life in profound ways, therefore I had to compensate for this early experience of being out of control.  The theory seemed sound enough, based on research for my book Adoption Reunions.

There seemed to be other reasons from my past that I might be controlling, however, not long ago, I had an Aha! moment that brought my ADHD into the picture.  I had to re-think this whole control freak issue, including the fact that I’d never actually looked up what the term actually meant.

Control freak: who, me?!

My insight was sparked by the memory of an office position I’d held many years ago.  Unbeknownst to me, my colleagues had dubbed me a control freak.  My designation as such was revealed at a day-long staff training. My co-workers and I had been sitting around a table, enjoying a break from the presentations, when a joke was made about me and my desk.

“Whatever you do,” said Sharon*, “don’t touch the stapler on Zoë’s desk.”  Robust – and knowing – laughter followed (from everyone but me).  I felt deeply embarrassed and queried the person who’d made the remark.  Turns out, I had a reputation for not wanting people to move or leave things on my desk.

With that, and many more experiences, I came to accept that I was a “control freak.”

Accepted it, that is, until recently.

Control freak or ADHD?

Since my ADHD diagnosis, I’ve been conducting a forensic and ongoing scrutiny into how my mind and emotions work (or don’t).

“Let’s face it: with ADHD, I have enough trouble controlling my own behavior. “

I’ve become aware of:

– how easily I lose objects
– how different my organization is from other people, and therefore how important it is for everyone to leave things where I’VE chosen to put them
– how little it takes for me to get disoriented or distracted
– how important small routines are in keeping me on task
– how necessary order and organization are for me to be efficient and productive

…it’s no wonder I don’t want someone moving my stapler from its usual position.  In remembering this anecdote from my past, I realize how to this day I still try to keep the items I regularly use in my work in more or less the same places.  I can reach almost unconsciously for my stapler, while keeping my mind focused on the next step in my work.  This is helpful in managing my ADHD, and in keeping me on track.

AND – I’ve decided I’m not as much of a control freak as I thought.  There’s a good reason why I need things to be where I’ve placed them.

I’m not controlling, you’re outta control!

I’ve also decided that it’s ok to have boundaries and to expect others to ask to use or take my things.  It’s also ok for me to be bugged about people leaving stuff on my desk out of carelessness (dirty mugs, etc.) and that it’s their lack of consideration, not my control freak tendencies that is at play.

I have enough trouble controlling my OWN behavior

And I finally looked up  “control freak” to see what it actually meant.  I’m still not 100% sure, but from what I’ve read, I don’t qualify. According to a Psychology Today article, and several others, being controlling pertains more to the desire to control the behavior of others than it is an attempt to keep control over your own environment.  It’s true, I don’t want anyone to mess with my desk; but I hardly think that’s pathologically “controlling.”  The research I’ve done so far suggests that being domineering, telling others how to live their lives, etc., is more in line with a control freak’s behavior.

Let’s face it:  with ADHD, I have enough trouble controlling my own behavior.  I sincerely doubt I’ll ever have enough energy left over to try to control someone else’s.  Just don’t move my damn stapler!

*Not her real name

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ADHD, Control Freak, Or Both?

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2011). ADHD, Control Freak, Or Both?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 5 Dec 2011
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