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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

LaMont Prospect Explores ‘Control’

Milwaukee psychologist speaks out

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Most of us resent control freaks; at the same time, we usually fear losing control. Milwaukee psychologist LaMont Prospect explores the issue in Control: A Book About People With an Excessive Need to Control Other People or Things and About People Who Allow Themselves to be Controlled by Other People and Things. Prospect earned a Ph.D. in school psychology from Loyola University Chicago and works in that capacity for MPS. Along with an exploration into the psychology of dominance and submission, Prospect makes many interesting statements about education, a system demanding a healthy balance between control and chaos. He critiques malfeasance in charter schools, the pernicious ideology that schools should be run as businesses and the practice of private academies shedding troubled (out of control?) students into public school special-education programs.

How can we recognize when our desire for control becomes excessive or unhealthy?

There is a difference between giving direction, suggestion or advice and saying, “It’s my way or no way.” Let’s take the example of raising children. When children are very young or in their elementary years, they definitely need structure or predictability. They need to know that an adult is going to be relatively consistent. If not, they are likely to grow up feeling insecure or unsure of themselves. Now, as they become older—let’s say the teenage years, there should be a balance between providing structure and flexibility. Kids need to be allowed to make some mistakes. Now the question becomes, when they make a mistake, is it going to become a learning experience or is the child going to be crucified and develop a sense of anger or mistrust? As they get older and become young adults, they have to be allowed even more flexibility and hopefully they will again learn from their mistakes. When a parent becomes and remains too structured or too rigid, especially as children get older, I believe that you will begin to see signs of dysfunction—anger, arguments, withdrawal behavior…

This book is not about prisons, per se. The book is very down to earth and filled with real stories about real people—these are stories that almost anyone can relate to. This book is about relationships—relationships that are more like prisons than anything else. When a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, parent, co-worker, sibling or individual tries to control another person, the end result is usually not a good one. As a result, people can go through life being very unhappy and experience a very low quality of human relationship, whether it is a marriage or whatever.

How can we recognize that we have an unhealthy need to control other people or the environment around us? What are some symptoms?

The more an individual has an excessive need to control other people or things, the more likely it is that the person who is attempting to control others is experiencing a lot of internal chaos or confusion. Now, people who are controlling may or may not be aware of what they are doing. In many cases, they are fully aware but they just don’t give a damn because all they are interested in is themselves and their own personal gain. They could care less about people, including their own loved ones.

One of the ways controlling people compensate or try to correct for this sense of internal chaos is to try to micromanage others. You see this a lot in business situations. For example, a good boss, manager, supervisor or administrator should be able to recognize who their good employees are. The employees who are competent should be left alone to do their jobs. Now, for people who may be having trouble or challenges with their jobs, a good boss should take the time to look at “why” the person is having trouble. Do they just need some kind of support in one area or is it just the result of a bad attitude. If an employee has a bad attitude, one might want to consider if it is the result of some situational or personal crisis or do they really not give a damn about what they are doing… If the person in authority has done everything they can to help the person and things still are not working out, perhaps a change is required.

The problem is, bosses who tend to micromanage everyone—especially the good employees—are doing it because they are trying to compensate for their own inadequacy or incompetence. In essence, they are trying to create a sense of control even though it is a superficial one. As a result, a controlling boss can drive the good employees out of a business and the whole thing goes down the tubes. The exact same thing can happen in relationships. People who experience a lot of internal chaos usually try to compensate by trying to control or micromanage their spouses, their friends, their children, their co-workers or significant others. As a result, the relationships suffer and people go through life with miserable marriages, relationships and ultimately an unhappy and unfulfilled life.

For more on Prospect, visit www.controlbyprospect.com.