This is part 2 of a series on Pagan leadership and control freaks, perfectionists, and micromanagers. Read Part 1 here.

Ego Wounds

And that takes us back to the root issues here. It's not bad to be a visionary, to be an abstract thinker. But when you add in ego wounds of poor self esteem, lack of self confidence, or other related issues, what you often get is a perfectionist control freak, or a know-it-all. Or both.

Know-it-alls are often folks who were bullied and they took refuge in their smartness. Their egos engaged in a protective maneuver to try and sustain some self esteem.

Our ego tries hard to make sure we feel good about ourselves and often engages in (less than helpful) coping strategies. Being a know-it-all often stems from the coping strategy of, people like smart people and they don't like people who are wrong. People who are wrong, people who are not perfect, are bad. Therefore, to be good, I must be right all the time. I must be perfect.

When that extends out to leadership, the leader's ego often envelops or annexes the group itself, or the event the leader is organizing, or the ritual they're facilitating. They need the group/ritual/event to be "good." To be "perfect." Otherwise, they feel that they themselves are a failure.

So that urge to micromanage what others are doing, or to pressure people to do more volunteering than they were prepared to offer, or to grab something out of a volunteers and say, "Never mind, I'll do it myself," often goes back to that core issue of feeling worthless. That they are only worth something if the project is perfect. 

I could go on a whole separate rant about how much of this is sourced in capitalism and the pressure to be productive and perfect, and our culture of shame. But for the moment, I'll stick to empathy and transformation.

Admitting It

If you're working with a control freak or know-it-all, hold some empathy for them. They aren't intending to be a crappy leader, they're just acting on autopilot. They probably mean well, they are just stuck in their own bad patterns. And in some cases, they have awesome inspiring visions and may just lack the ability to communicate them or manage volunteers.

If you're the control freak, have some empathy for yourself. Life's hard and we all develop coping strategies, it's just not all of them are great.

The point is, you (if you're the control freak) or the perfectionist leader you're working with must acknowledge the behavior. At some point, being a control freak or know-it-all can become abusive.

If you're trying to help someone to understand that their patterns of perfectionism and micromanaging are harmful to others, your work is cut out for you. Folks engaged in these patterns tend to be pretty stubborn (I know this from experience), and our egos really do back flips to keep us from feeling bad about ourselves, particularly when there are issues of poor self esteem. I've written some articles on offering effective feedback, but it really boils down to, is the person willing and able to hear the feedback or not. Sometimes all you can do is step away until the person starts to see the consequences of their actions.

If you're the one engaged in some of these patterns, you've got a tremendous opportunity. There are a lot of us out there who do this and--with work--we can shift our behavior to focus on the gifts we offer, without the harmful ego back flips.

I'm not going to say it's easy. I fight with my inner control freak all the time. As an artist and designer, there are times when I recognize, yeah, for this project, I can relax the vision and let others take a bigger piece of how it turns out. Other projects I say, for this one, the artistic direction is really important to me and it needs to look just like this. For those projects, I acknowledge I'm going to do a lot more of the work myself, or, I'm going to have to partner with specific people with specific skills to do the work. 

Micromanaging Triggers

One thing I've found as I work to shift my behavior is that I'm extremely sensitive to other control freaks and know-it-alls. When someone tries to micromanage me I absolutely bristle. Partly this is shadow at work, because I feel guilty for what I've done in the past. And partly it's because micro managers tend to resent being micromanaged themselves. It's also because I work so freaking hard to not micromanage people.

My hackles also go up when someone is being a know-it-all and there's no talking to them without them being the one who's "right," I find I often just have to walk away from the conversation. When someone's in that mode where they have to be the alpha, most of the time I just won't even engage with them at all.

There are exceptions to that, usually if I feel ethically compelled to point out that someone's being racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or if they're engaging in behavior that supports rape culture. Other than that, I try to stay out of fights with know-it-alls because I know there's no winning. They'll never admit they're wrong.

The Key Out of Perfectionland: Self Confidence

What's the biggest thing that helped me get past my control freakiness and being a know-t-all? Well, aside from loads and loads of ritual magic, the first one is genuine self confidence and self esteem. When I healed a lot of my ego wounds through a process of personal and spiritual growth, I was way less defensive. I didn't have that need to prove myself or the need for everything to be perfect. I realized there was no such thing as perfection. 

I know I'm smart. And I know a lot of things. And yet, I also know that sometimes I'm wrong. So if I'm wrong, or if I don't know about a topic, I'm more apt to acknowledge I was wrong, or to ask questions about the topic.

In gaining self confidence, I've also worked on my issues of transference and projection. There are tons of places where I projected my own issues onto someone and made assumptions for their intention. Maybe they said something and I assumed they thought I was stupid. Instead, I'm able to approach with benefit of the doubt because I have less to prove. 

This also helps me when I'm dealing with one of those consummate know-it-alls because if they're all torqued up on a particular topic and there's no backing down, I don't need to prove my intelligence by taking them down and being "right." I can let it go because I know that sometimes you just have to back off of feeding the trolls.

I try to do this from a place of confidence, not from arrogance, and there's the core difference.

I struggle with anxiety, and when my anxiety is bad, those old fears of "I suck and everyone hates me" rise up. And those fears link arms with "Nobody will like me unless my work is perfect, unless I'm the smartest." However, I know that that's inside of me. I know what that feels like in my gut. And now, I can take a breath, relieve just enough of the anxiety and give myself a pause, instead of reacting from that place. 

The Key: Discernment

Again, as an artist, there are times when the vision is really important to me. In those moments, it's not about perfection so much as artistic integrity, and for those projects, I either do most of the work myself, or I am clear with the folks on my team that the artistic vision is important so that they can decide how much energy to invest, and we can work together on how they fit into the project.

When I'm decorating a ritual space at a festival, I typically ask for some concrete help at the beginning and end but it's not something where I can easily explain what I want. I ask people to help me unload the bins of ritual supplies and unpack them (it's shiny fragile stuff wrapped in shiny fabric and on my own that would take forever) and then I place things where I want them. I don't really know where I want them til I get there and see the space, so it's hard to communicate what I want it to look like to someone else. Then as we go along, I can ask people to put silver votive candle holders over on that altar and red ones on the other altar, or start putting tealights into the votive holders, and lighting the tealights. 

Other times, like when I'm planning an event or a ritual, it's a lot easier for me to lay out a vision but make space for people to do things in their own way. I have consistently found that when people put a ritual concept into their own heartfelt words, it always has more emotional and spiritual impact than if they tried to use my words, or tried to perform something in a way I outlined and made them memorize.

That positive reinforcement helps me every time I veer into micromanaging. I can sit there for a moment and think, is this something where someone really needs my creative guidance or facilitation feedback? Or, is this something that they will make more powerful by making it their own?

I find the question that really helps is,  "Is it really important that they do this my way?" and "Why?" I have to ask that and really sit with it sometimes.

I still suck at breaking a vision down into discrete, easy-to-communicate concrete tasks for volunteers. But, knowing this, I sometimes can think through things ahead of time so I can offer people discrete tasks, like "Put all the candles into the votive holders, and perk up the candle wick so it's easier to light." That one's pretty concrete. I also can specifically work to find someone who is good at working with the volunteers to help be the bridge for me. 

What also helped me get out of the bad cycle of being a control freak was that I had two things happening around the same time. The first was my awareness that I was doing something really harmful, as a leader, and reflecting on that.

The other was that I was part of a spiritual community that focused on personal and spiritual growth and made a safe space for me to talk about my issues. This community and process also worked specifically to help build up my sense of self worth by loving me and accepting me right where I was at. By feeling better about myself just because I was loved by these people, that gave me the space and courage to look deeper into my shadows and face them.

I was able to better separate "I did some harmful things" from "I'm a wholly bad person."

Not everyone out there's going to have access to a community like that. Sometimes our family can fulfill that role of love and acceptance, or our friends or a coven or group we're part of. Sometimes not. Sometimes people can find that through group therapy or other support groups, or from getting help from pastoral counseling. There are lots of ways to learn to love yourself, and that's just one piece of the alchemy of personal transformation.

Therapy's also helpful for this process as well, since therapists specialize in helping people to reframe poor coping mechanisms. I have found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helpful in work related to my anxiety and poor self esteem. 

The core essence, though, is:

  1. Acknowledge you're doing the thing
  2. Find the motivation to firmly decide to shift the pattern
  3. Do the work to make it happen

Because I believe in the power of words and the power of magic in personal transformation, I'll leave you with this. If you're struggling with your own patterns of being a perfectionist control freak micromanager know-it-all, I believe in you. I love you and I know you have the power and the strength to love yourself, to shift your patterns. Just because you acted one way in the past doesn't mean that has to bind you going forward. You can use your magic to transform yourself, to shift your consciousness. Blessings to you in your work!