Those who try to control other people are, simply put, neither nice nor respectful. Controlling people are self-centered and immature. They are likely to put the brakes on your leading a fulfilling, independent life if you’re in constant close proximity to them. In order to spare yourself getting too entangled with a controlling personality, or to awaken yourself to the fact that the controlling person is the one with the problem and not you, here are some tried and tested ways to help you recognize a controlling person and respond accordingly.
Consider how you feel around the people in your life before all else.
Do you have any relationships in which you feel suffocated, bossed around, confused or distressed, or just plain fed up with being told what to do a lot of the time (and feeling very guilty that you keep giving in)? Is there someone in your life around whom you feel you have to tiptoe and be super careful to mollify or not anger? Do you know someone who seems to have “buttons” for going off at you at the simplest of things you say or do, often without rhyme or reason? If you feel that any of these situations have a ring of familiarity to them, then you may be dealing with a controlling person.
Controlling people can be male, female, or outside of the gender binary. Controlling relationships can be romantic or platonic. Be just as wary of a jealous friend who hates your significant other as you are of your significant other, especially if your friend is unhappy with his/her romances.
Just because someone has a forceful personality doesn’t make them a controlling personality. The test is: Do they allow you to be yourself, or do they unduly influence your behavior?
Distinguish people with strong boundary issues from controlling people by testing their reactions to other topics. If someone always blows up if they’re touched without warning but doesn’t react in a controlling way if you wear your hair differently or lose weight or gain weight, etc., that is a boundary issue. Other people’s personal choices such as changing religion, dieting, grooming or exercise are boundary issues. Even if you think you’re right and they’re wrong, someone who’s sensitive on any of these subjects is holding a boundary when it’s about what they do with their life and how they’re treated. It’s when they start telling you who you are, what to wear, think, feel and do that they’re being controlling.
Don’t feel too bad if you discover that you are sometimes controlling with other people in your life, especially if you grew up with a controlling parent. On a deep level, whatever you grew up with feels “normal” and it takes work to stop treating others the way you were treated. It’s a big part of recovery to break the pattern in yourself. If you notice it at the time, it helps to back up and apologize to the person whose boundaries you crossed. This can save healthier friendships and relationships in your life.
Look for moodiness.
Moodiness is a key signal of a controlling person. Moody people tend to be mulling over perceived hurts and injustices that have happened to them and seek to remedy their internal pain and improve their situation by controlling others. What better than having someone else run at your beck and call and having another person accepting blame or being afraid when you don’t want to delve deeper into fixing your own source of pain?
Moody people tend to sulk or cast a pall of gloom right in the middle of a moment of happiness.
These people will often throw a hissy fit when inadequate attention is being paid to them and their needs. This is a manipulative way of controlling that can be hard to say no to because the person will often say they are in pain/upset/hurting and the like, trying to make the other person feel bad for them.
Suspect any person who has a temper and uses it often.
Frequent temper outbursts, especially those accompanied by bullying (the coward trying to control others) or threats (easier to shout out dire warnings of potential harm to you than to investigate their own internal source of harm) are a sign of a controlling person. Temper outbursts often happen when you disagree with them (however lightheartedly or kindly) or don’t do exactly what they want you to do (which can be difficult to glean sometimes, as many controlling people expect you to be able to “read their mind”). In their minds, you are challenging their authority over you when you either disagree with them or don’t comply with their wishes.
Coupled with moodiness, the moody temper-throwing person can be a real handful because you never know where you stand with this person. Unfortunately, their inability to handle and work through their anger or resentment can be taken out on you as physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse. Never put up with a person harming you. It is not your fault that they hurt inside. Sadly, it is more likely that someone else in their youth behaved the same way toward them and they’re perpetuating a bad cycle.
Think about how this person reacts to being asked normal questions.
Questions can reveal several things in terms of a controlling person when they respond in a frustrated or condescending way:
As already alluded to, a controlling person thinks that you can read their mind. If you ask basic questions about what to do together, where to go, what they want, etc., they can become easily frustrated because they expected you to have all of their needs thoroughly accounted for and placed ahead in priority over yours. Questions mean a decision still needs to be made, when the controlling person thinks the decision has already been made, all about them and for their convenience.
Controlling people often assume that they understand how you think, even when they actually don’t. They may become frustrated because their constructed image of you is at odds with what you say.
Questions can irritate a controlling person because they would rather be in control of the questioning, not anybody else.
Questions can verify for a controlling type of person that the questioner is in need of guidance and control because they don’t know the answer. This may actually become worse over time because the controller is seeking to have the controlled person second guess his or her own decision-making abilities.
Listen to how they speak to you.
Controlling people may try to control you by making you feel like you’re their “everything.” They may flatter you, even when these compliments are shallow or inaccurate. Often, though, controlling people will turn belittling or cruel at the drop of a hat, especially if they think you’ve done something wrong. If you frequently feel small, embarrassed, humiliated, or sad after this person talks to you, you might be involved with a controlling person.
For example: Cassie is Maya’s best source of feeling good about herself and she likes bossing Cassie around. So, Maya often tells Cassie that she is a good friend but never agrees to call her her best friend even though Cassie often refers to Maya as her BFF. In this way, Maya holds out the possibility but never confirms it, putting her in control.
A controlling person may put you down or make you feel stupid in order to get you to think that you need them. For example, Jake tells his girlfriend Sujata that she’s overweight and could never get another boyfriend. He says she’s lucky he goes out with her. This is controlling and abusive behavior, and you never need to put up with it.
Controlling people often demean or criticize others as a means of building themselves up and appearing superior and in control. In fact, a controlling person is easy to spot from the constant monologue about how rotten, stupid, evil, ridiculous, annoying, etc. everyone else is (presumably they’re never any of these things).
Be wary of any person who seems incapable of understanding or accepting the word “no.
” This person will tend to insist until they wear you down and make you give in, changing your firm no to a weak yes, and leaving you feeling guilt-ridden and ashamed of yourself. Remember that it’s your right to make decisions, including ones that are in the negative and that refuse to do what this person asks.
A common type of control that happens in romantic relationships is pressure to have sex.
Consider what happens when you want to be yourself or do your own thing.
Do you often find yourself altering your own personality, plans or views to fit someone else’s, even if you are usually a strong person? If so, you might be dealing with a controlling person. Here are some warning signs:
Does the person ignore, underplay or override your own experience or expressions of your own feelings? Controllers attempt to define your reality. If you say you’re tired and the person says you’re not, that’s a good sign they are a controlling person. If you say you’re upset and the other person ignores it, they may be controlling.
Do you often find yourself expected to change your plans for this person? Let’s say you have your day all planned out, and then you receive a phone call from a friend, and you tell them your plans. The person wants to join in with your plans, with the exception that your time doesn’t work well for them, or maybe that isn’t the place they want to go. The next thing that you know, your plans have totally changed. You end up seeing a movie that you didn’t care to see, at a time that you didn’t really care to go.
Review how this person sees difficult situations, mutual decision-making or issues of responsibility.
It is in these areas that you can truly spot the controlling person at full throttle. Unlike a highly opinionated person (who can be a pain in their own right but isn’t seeking to control, just air their own opinions loudly), a controlling person lacks the ability to tolerate or accept differences between the two of you. Indeed, a controlling person is always seeking ways to change some part of your core traits or personality, reshaping you as part of their feeble attempt to control the world around them. While it could be said that relationships are not democracies, neither are they dictatorships. It’s important to seek a balance you’re comfortable with within any relationship and the ability to compromise, tolerate, be flexible and give and take both ways is essential to healthy relationships.
Most people who are controlling always throw in the argument the words, “you are the problem”, or “you have a problem.” Nothing is ever their fault.
Controlling people often have difficulty dealing with problems objectively and will manipulate the conversation to blame others when their own mistakes are pointed out. When this happens, end the discussion without allowing the controlling person to successfully shift their blame to you and/or credit away from you or others.
If you really love this person, the “bind” they’ve got you in can be even more difficult to both see and escape from because your love keeps trying to excuse their behavior.
Look at what happens around your other relationships.
When the controlling person is around your friends and supporters, watch out. The controlling person will often try to cause trouble between you and your friends, spreading rumors, attempting to create divisions (divide and conquer) and will even tell lies (exaggerations to be kinder) about you to them or about them to you, to try to break your attachment to them.
The ultimate aim is to isolate you from others so that they can have you all to themselves, inside the reality they’re trying to weave for you. Stay alert; any attempt to remove or downgrade your friends or supporters from your life is a red flag.
Controlling people are often unreasonably jealous. This is more than just not liking it if another person makes eyes at you. A controlling person will often act like they own you and have the right to determine who you spend time with, what you do, where you go, and when you come home. This is not cute or a sign of their affection for you: it’s controlling.
Check out this person’s own personal friendships.
Controlling people often do not have close friends, and rarely are friends with others who are more attractive, intelligent, or well-liked than themselves. They tend to be jealous of popular, successful people, and will criticize those held in high-regard by others. A lack of close friends may be one additional sign of their inability to tolerate others and their need to control relationships tightly.
Relationships and friendships are not built on who is in control. They are mutual interactions based on shared give and take and always seeking balance.
Watch for abuse of administrative or social power, including when there are shared rights.
A controlling person tends to keep up social and legal connections through any means necessary, including threats of litigation, divorce, manipulating marriage, roommate tenancy contracts, shared cell phone plans, misuse of shared credit and similar contracts. Even in social networks, one may block and unblock a person rather than delete the connection, as another attempt to control a difficult or failed relationship. This is because controlling, abusive people are desperate for power.
Suspect excessive generosity from a controlling personality as an attempt to impress and control you. By seeming to give you lots of things, so that you always feel like you’re benefiting in some way, you end up feeling as if you owe them something, perhaps even long term. They then use that obligation you feel towards them to control you.
Accept the true nature of this person.
Trust your gut feelings and try to be honest with yourself. If you see these symptoms in another person and you’re feeling rotten around them, it’s time to face up to removing them from your life or dealing with them differently. And be kind to yourself. This isn’t the time for berating yourself for being stupid enough to fall for a controlling person’s antics; a controlling relationship can creep up on you unawares, cloaked in an initial interest in you and a seeming care for you which turns from all sweetness and roses into manipulative knife-twisting once the controller realizes you’re “caught.”
The stronger a person that you are, the harder a controlling person will work to tear you down. It’s like an ego trip for them. In other words, this is a backhanded compliment to you, that you are actually a strong and caring person targeted by a conniving individual who aspires to have your traits but hasn’t got the courage.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to others you trust for your emotional needs. This will allow you to gain a more healthy perspective about your life, as well as force you to seek out your own individuality and independence away from this person. Do not provide an explanation to this person for your need for these changes. That will only invoke more attempts at control since they will know what you’re up to and their manipulations will prevail. Just make the changes.
Be prepared to have to set limits, to firmly make and uphold your point.
Expect the controlling person to try to pressure or guilt you into doing what they want. They may try to use manipulation, such as “Surely, you’d have to agree with…, or “If you love me, you’ll do…” Or, they may try to use blunt force, such as “If you leave, then…”, “You need to…”, etc. When you hear these sorts of words, don’t yield your boundaries.
Be firm and make clear, direct statements, such as “I will not tolerate you monitoring my internet use. If we are going to stay together I need my privacy.”
Don’t be surprised by bad reactions to your removing yourself from their sphere of control. When controlling personalities sense loss of control, they may psychologically induce physical problems such as back or stomach pain, headache, grief/tears, fainting or hives. This is simply a way of gaining control of the situation again by grasping for the attention, sympathy and concern of others. By all means drop them off at the doctor’s if you’re concerned (a good way of sussing out their hypochondriac tendencies) but don’t fall for it as a means to staying to do their bidding.
Controlling people are very manipulative, whatever the reason behind their need to control. They will not like it when you try to stand up for yourself about something that is important to you. Always try to stay calm in conflicted conversations and do not lose your cool. Keep in mind that they probably will because you are challenging their control. End conversations immediately –– if they start to get verbally violent –– either by leaving or saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.
Don’t expect to fix them.
You know that this person has controlling needs but you don’t need to turn them into an accomplice in “fix the controller”. Not only can you never “fix” another person unless they’re willing to change, explaining yourself will only bring about more manipulation. Remember at all times that the problem of control is theirs and not yours. Choose to work on your own behavior and issues, but don’t assume that you can “change” the controlling person — you can’t.
Be trustworthy (fair and honest) but keep your views closed away from this fact twisting, web spinning manipulator.
The controller often wants to obligate you to volunteer personal information or to answer to questions on minor issues that seem to be fishing for your bad experiences, weaknesses or failings. This information is likely to be used to persuade or play mind games with you at a later date (they have a very long memory for information discovered on such fishing expeditions).
If someone you’ve just met is already probing for intimate or highly personal information, be suspicious. They may be a controlling person.
Decide to distance yourself.
When possible, avoid this person that you believe to be attempting to control you. You may even decide to cut them out of your life, but this can be impossible if they’re family, a loved one or a work colleague. Some coping approaches include:
Keeping all interactions short and sweet.
Avoid mingling, fusing and confusing individual rights and choices, or unreasonably fostering their tendency to exert control over you. This person wants to finesse or direct your decisions away from your own desires for educational, lifestyle, career objectives, etc. By not accepting and appreciating your points of view unless you agree completely, they deny your personhood. Turn this around by simply stating that you appreciate their input but that this is how things are going to be for you. Go ahead and do or be the things that represent you.
Have compassionate detachment.
While it is important to be compassionate, it is also important to be detached and to let go of this person’s attitudes, issues and problems. They’re not yours and you don’t need to (and don’t deserve to) shoulder their burden. It is the role of every human being to learn how to make our better sides shine forth and excusing someone’s controlling behavior because they’ve had a rough life or whatever else simply continues enabling what is essentially very bad behavior that is hurting them as much as it is hurting you. Through compassionate detachment, you can care about them as a person without involving your own emotions and staying entangled in their web.
When you are compassionately detached, you care about the person, but you recognize that their behavior is wrong and you cannot condone it. You do not support their behavior or allow it to continue in your life. For example, if your friend is trying to control who else you are friends with, you can tell her, “I value you a lot, but I can’t be friends with someone who tries to keep me from having anyone else in my life. If you are able to be more free and open with me, we can continue to be friends. If you continue in this way, we can’t be friends anymore.”
This is not something you can learn overnight and you will fail a lot trying to learn it. However, you will also learn it with practice and the more you practice detachment, the more you will discover freedom and will learn how to let others be without seeking to rescue, save or prop them up. Although it’s not easy, it’s easier than being an emotional slave to someone else all your life.