To a certain degree, everyone will try to control the events of their lives as much as they can. After all, isn’t that what making a decision is? One of the benefits of being single is that you don’t have to take into consideration anyone else for a majority of the decisions you make.
What to do and where to go on a Friday night? What to wear? What to eat? All of these answers will be up to you, and it can feel very liberating. However, when someone else is routinely making these decisions for you, it can have the complete opposite effect and feel very imprisoning.
When a person tries to control elements of another person’s life, typically a significant other, it can be very damaging and is an example of abuse. One of the difficult parts of controlling relationships is that they can seem fairly normal at first. When a person makes a suggestion or correction, they may actually be helpful.
However, when these corrections start coming very frequently, and this significant other, friend, or supervisor starts to question and debate every decision and action you make, then they are exhibiting signs of being a controlling person.
What Does It Mean To Be Controlling?
In order for a person to be labeled as “controlling,” they typically will try to control situations to such an extent that it’s unhealthy or try to control the actions of other people.
A person may try to seize control of a situation by placing themselves in charge and by attempting to do everything themselves. They may try to control others through manipulation, coercion, threats, or intimidation. It may be difficult to see someone as controlling as many people have “take charge” and “type A” personalities. Just because someone is a natural leader type does not necessarily mean they are controlling.
These are some examples of the behaviors that a controlling person may engage in:
- Demanding to know what and where a person is at all times
- Monitoring devices, social media, messaging apps, or email accounts
- Acting in a jealous manner and constantly accusing their partner of cheating
- Dictating when someone may go to school, work, or leave the house
- Telling someone what to eat, drink or wear
- Preventing someone from seeing their friends or family members
- Controlling someone’s finances and preventing them from accessing their money
- Preventing someone from getting medical care or mental health support
- Using insults to break down a person’s confidence and self-esteem
- Intentionally humiliating someone in a public way or online
- Threatening to hurt themselves or other people if they do not get what they want
Some of these behaviors may begin to appear slowly over time which can make them very difficult to detect, or they may suddenly appear once the couple has created a strong connection and bond. While most of these examples are most commonly found in romantic relationships, they can occur in platonic friendships, family relationships, and even workplace relationships.
Why Do People Act So Controlling?
People will try their very best to surround themselves with good people in their lives. So how is it that people they enjoy, like, or even love can end up trying to control them? After all, if they weren’t good people then they wouldn’t have the chance to get close enough to control someone.
Just because they have tendencies does not necessarily mean they are bad people. They just may be suffering from:
- Insecurity. Controlling behavior is very often a result of fears or insecurities on the part of the controlling person, despite the image of strength and confidence that they may project.
- High functioning anxiety. What may appear on the outside to be an absolute master class of organizational, preparedness, and leadership skills could actually be the symptoms of high functioning anxiety. This person that often plans their day down to the minute may seem extremely well put together, but they may be using control as a coping mechanism to create safety for their own spiraling worries and fears. Being in charge allows them to exude more control over the little details and will serve their anxiety well.
- Low self-esteem. A controlling person may be suffering from serious issues with their self-esteem. They may have been abandoned as a child or could have experienced some sort of long-lasting trauma. As a result of their lower self-esteem, they may struggle to believe that anyone can truly care about them, and so they try to control or buy love from others.
- Personality disorders. Even in people that don’t have issues with self-image or past traumas, the tendency to be controlling in one aspect of life could be an example of them subconsciously compensating for a lack of control in another. In more extreme cases of controlling behavior, the person may be suffering from a personality disorder.
- Narcissistic personality disorder. This mental health condition can cause an extreme need for admiration and a sense of superiority while also a tendency to severely lack empathy.
- Borderline personality disorder. People with this disorder are hypersensitive to rejection and abandonment and may use controlling behaviors in order to avoid experiencing them. Roughly 1.6% of the general population has a borderline personality disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: A person with this disorder will have an intense urge to control their environment as much as possible due to intense fears of contamination or profoundly negative consequences.
- Learned behavior. Abusive partners most often have learned their behavior from other people. They may have grown up in an abusive household or learned from their caregivers that it’s right to exert power over others.
How To Deal With a Controlling Person
There is no single solution that will fit all scenarios of dealing with a controlling person. There are so many important factors that will dictate the nature of a relationship and therefore alter the best way to handle the situation. With that being said, there are a few ways to help deal with someone that has control issues:
- Communication. If your goal is to preserve and improve the relationship that you have with a controlling person, let them know exactly how their behavior affects you. It’s possible that they are completely unaware of how you are feeling or that they are overly controlling at all. It’s essential to communicate by explaining how you feel by using “I” statements in order to avoid seeming too accusatory. Blaming the other person for the problems is not a very effective way to communicate. In addition, offering an alternative course of action that could replace the controlling behavior is a good way to keep the conversation healthy. For example, if your partner is constantly making plans without asking you beforehand, then have them send you a calendar invitation instead. By offering up a healthy alternative, it will help the person to know what is acceptable for them to do and not confuse them or have them questioning all their behaviors.
- Set boundaries. There may be times when a controlling person has very good opinions or helpful advice. Saying “no” to whatever they suggest is not the right way to handle it, nor is constantly agreeing with them just to keep the peace. If the controlling person makes a demand, then you should ask yourself what it is that you want to do. When a person is constantly dealing with someone that’s highly controlling, they tend to lose touch with their internal cues and silence their internal voice in order to just go along with it. Ask yourself what you want and then assertively and confidently state it and say “no” when you do not agree to something.
- Don’t engage in debates. Make your choice and be firm about it. Don’t waste time or energy trying to change the mind of the controlling person. This tends to be viewed as a power struggle and turns into a battle over “who is right,” and it may turn ugly. Politely agree to disagree with them and then end the conversation.
Having an overly controlling person in your life can be a very frustrating thing to deal with, especially if they are someone that you love very much. It’s important to remember that they may not know how you feel and can be unaware of their tendency to take control so communication is very important to help improve the situation.
When it comes to controlling people, they themselves can sometimes be victims too. They could be suffering from the intense symptoms of personality disorders or previous traumas that have created their desire to control as much as they can.
If you are in a relationship with someone and they can be overly controlling then it’s important to try to talk to them about it. If this is a person that you love and want to stay in the relationship, then it may be wise to consider couples counseling to help guide the process.