Professor Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions., Campaigner for Neurodiversity, Medic, Knowledge Translator, researcher

Originally published as part of The Neurodiversity 101 LinkedIn Newsletter.

Neurodiversity 101: Are you a ‘control freak’?

Is the balance between control and flexibility a neurodivergent paradox?

I love to know what I am doing when. At the same time I don’t like being constrained. I quite like some change and new challenges… but want to be in control of the changes that are happening!

I am a list maker. I make endless lists ( and lists of lists) to try to be in control of what needs to be done. I have to remind myself that I have to /and need to delegate. I need to be flexibly in control!!

I don’t particularly like the word ‘freak’ but interestingly one translation of the word is “brave man, warrior,” Scottish freik, from Middle English freke “a bold man, a warrior”.

What is the potential downside of being a ‘control freak’?

  • Stress and anxiety: We can experience higher levels of stress and anxiety because we feel that we need to micromanage every detail of our life. This can be emotionally exhausting. It is also difficult when things happen outside our locus of control… but they will.
  • Difficulty delegating: Control freaks struggle to delegate tasks and it can lead to burnout and strained relationships.
  • Perfectionism: Control freaks tend to set unrealistically high standards for themselves and others. This perfectionism (read another newsletter on this) can lead to dissatisfaction and disappointment when things don’t meet their exacting expectations.
  • Micro-management: It can lead to micro-managing situations, projects, and people. This can be frustrating for those around them and can hinder collaboration and productivity.
  • Conflict in relationships: People may find it challenging to connect with or work alongside control freaks, leading to conflict and isolation.
  • Limiting creativity and innovation: The need for control can stifle creativity and innovation as you may resist new approaches, limiting personal and professional growth.
  • Difficulty adapting to change: Control freaks don’t like unexpected changes or uncertainties. You may become more anxious when situations are not within your control.
  • Time-consuming: It is harder being ‘in the moment’ because you constantly are thinking of what is next planning ahead …
  • Missed opportunities: You might avoid new experiences or challenges that could lead to personal and professional growth because of fear of letting go.

Why do we want to control our lives?

  • When we have been bruised by the outside world we try to protect what happens to us. Trauma in our lives can cause us to want to control our surroundings.
  • When we are not certain about what is happening and when then being in control offers one way of mitigating the potential challenges that may be presented to you.
  • By controlling our routines ( and the environment), we can reduce sensory overload and emotional distress. This creates a more stable world.

Change can disrupt established coping mechanisms, leading to discomfort and for some meltdowns. Therefore, the desire for control can serve as a protective mechanism to maintain emotional well-being.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”― Nelson Mandela

BUT….if we try to create control around us this may mean we have less surprises and can limit ourselves.I think we can sometimes lose something of our ebullience when we try to over-control our lives.

Risk taking comes with benefits too but we need to be prepared that it may not always work out.I have written about needing to learn to failbefore and the need to fail to learn. It is a delicate balancing act.

What is your locus of control ?

Locus of control has been conceptualised as “the extent to which people believe that the rewards they receive in life can be controlled by their own personal actions” (Q. Wang, Bowling, & Eschleman, 2010, p. 761).It’s a psychological concept that helps understand how we perceive the causes of their successes and failures.

Locus of control can be impacted by other factors too such as your self‐ esteem and emotional stability.

There are two main types of loci of control:

  1. Internal Locus of Control: Individuals with an internal locus of control believe that they have a significant influence over the outcomes in their lives. They attribute their successes and failures to their own actions, decisions, and efforts. People with an internal locus of control tend to be more self-reliant and proactive.
  2. External Locus of Control: Conversely, individuals with an external locus of control believe that external factors, such as luck, fate, other people, or circumstances beyond their control, determine the outcomes in their lives. They often see themselves as more passive in the face of events and may feel that they have limited influence over their destiny. There is some evidence that adults with ADHD have a higher rates of external locus of control. This may be related to early educational experiences when impulsivity has led to consequences and then others have tried to control your actions and behaviours.When things go wrong for you do you blame yourself or others?

What can you do?

I love the Stoics…and Epictetus said:

“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”

I like the concept of Wabi-Sabi.Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese philosophy that values simplicity, impermanence, and what is important to grasp… imperfection. It is derived from Buddhist and Taoist philosophies.Wabi-sabi reminds us that in our quest for perfection we often overlook that imperfection and uncertainty is really good for us as well.

Wabi-Sabi embraces the transience of life and not trying to take control of everything can help us to value each moment, knowing that impermanence is part of the natural order. It may help us to realise we cannot control everything around us.It teaches us to appreciate the irregularities and asymmetry of life. It encourages us to see the beauty in the unusual and unexpected in a world that often values uniformity (or neurotypical expectations.)

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Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. - Nelson Mandela

Creating balance

1. Embrace flexibility:

Create structured routines that provide a sense of control over your daily life but build in some flex in your day so you have the ability to allow some room for unexpected changes. I was putting in 20 minute meetings and 40 minute meetings with 10/20 minute gaps and I stopped this… I realise I need to do this again. Rigidity with flexibility.

2. Prioritise and simplify:

Think about what truly matters. Prioritise essential tasks, you can exert your control where it’s most needed and reduce overwhelm. If you are not sure what is really important discuss it with others.

3. Ask for help:

Before you can delegate you need to practice asking for help in small ways.Maybe Wabi-sabi helps us to accept our spiky profiles and learn that life actually controls us a lot of the time!

4. Delegate effectively:

Recognise that you don’t have to control every aspect of a task or project. Learn to delegate responsibilities to others who can help and try to accept that it won’t always go the way you want it to.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.Maya Angelou


Blog Author

I am Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions a tech-for-good company that delivers thought provoking consultancy and neuroinclusive guidance and training. We have developed cutting edge web-based screening tools that have helped 10s of 1000s of people. We strive to deliver person-centered solutions relating to neurodiversity and wellbeing.

I am a mixed bag of experiences and skills, an odd ball… and have 25+ years of working in the field of neurodiversity.

I am a medical doctor, Professor, and have a Ph.D. in the field of neurodiversity; parent and grandparent to neurodivergent wonderful kids and am neurodivergent myself.

Theo Smith and I wrote the UK award-winning book Neurodiversity at Work Drive Innovation, Performance, and Productivity with a Neurodiverse Workforce. My 10th book came out called Neurodiversity and Education in March this year. Excitingly, Theo and I have another book coming out next year!



Rucklidge J, Brown D, Crawford S, Kaplan B. Attributional styles and psychosocial functioning of adults with ADHD: practice issues and gender differences. J Atten Disord. 2007 Feb;10(3):288-98. doi: 10.1177/1087054706289942. PMID: 17242424.

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