At some point during someone’s life, they have probably found themselves dealing with a controlling person. Sometimes, these people exist in the professional realm. Others exist much closer to home. It might seem like no matter what one does, they can’t get out of this person’s controlling clutches unscathed. It’s difficult to know how to deal with a controlling person.
While the emotions we feel in these situations are legit, there are some constructive and helpful ways to keep the peace when learning how to deal with a controlling person. Knowing how to deal with a controlling person can help us keep your peace of mind.
What Is Control?
Power isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A strong sense of self-empowerment balanced with empowering others can be positive and helpful. However, the thirst for power can be unhealthy and lead to control issues. Control comes in many forms. Most of us try to exert control in certain areas of our lives. Yet, a truly controlling person will not recognize the need to scale back and keep their controlling habits in moderation. In fact, unmediated control is a characteristic present in several types of Cluster B personality disorders.
- Those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) will attempt to meet their own needs (especially the need to feel special) by exploiting and controlling others. The people closest to them (spouses, children, siblings, parents, and other close family members and friends) are often isolated by the narcissist. This gives the narcissist the perception of control over people and situations. They will often try to control people’s perceptions of them and get them to think that they are good. This is especially when they’re trying to label someone else as bad.
- Individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) also display controlling behaviors. They often try to live vicariously through others. This is part of the BPD pull-in-then-push-away cycle of behaviors. They long for affection. But when that attention becomes undesirable or out of their control, the person will back away. They might even actively destroy that relationship.
- Finally, those with anankastic personality disorder (APD), otherwise known as obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, struggle with anxiety. This anxiety results from the perception that things are outside of their control. They tend to polarize everything as good or bad with no room in-between. They tend to be emotionally stiff and feel more out-of-control the more they try to exert control.
Symptoms of Control
Signs of control should be obvious. Yet, they are often masked by a charming or intellectualized surface personality. Some of the most common red flags to look out for when figuring out how to deal with a controlling person might be:
- One-mindedness (in which that person becomes angry with another person without the other person knowing why);
- Seeking to define who other people are or what they like or dislike;
- Labeling others as only good or bad;
- The tendency to order people around or try to force people to do things for them;
- Continuously trying to intellectually undermine opposing viewpoints. They do this although their controlling behaviors expose their lacking comprehension;
- Controlling persons assume their perceptions are clear when they are actually confusing;
- They become jealous when a loved one shows interest in another person (even if it is clearly not romantic interest);
- Using demeaning language to belittle others;
- Repeatedly promises to change but does not do so;
- Placing blame for their anger on others;
- Isolating their target so that no one else will try to step in and help that person;
- Attempts to win a person’s affections by buying them gifts. Then, they use those gifts as emotional ammunition to control their victim;
- An all-around heightened sense of self-importance and lack of true sympathy or empathy for others.
These signs differ with each controlling person and between various situations. A truly controlling person will exhibit several controlling traits over time. Also, their methods might sometimes shift as they seek to gain more control or feel out-of-control.
Causes of Control
How does a controlling personality develop? There is speculation in the scientific community that, when one obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (thinking, feeling, sensing, or intuiting) is blocked, a person will not be fully conscious of their own thoughts and behaviors and how these affect the people around them. An often-cited example of this is the controlling behaviors in men who have been socially conditioned to not express (or even think about) their feelings. However, women can also exhibit controlling behaviors.
Those who have experienced any sort of trauma (including abuse or PTSD from time served in the armed forces), who have been victimized by controlling parents, or who grew up in a culture of control tend to be the most at-risk for becoming controlling adults.
Other Issues Related to Control
Controlling people almost universally seem to never truly feel close to others. This is due to the notion that they see others in an opportunistic way. A person who develops any type of attachment to a controller is, in that controller’s mind, a chance to fulfill their own needs for recognition and advancement.
Once that person has fulfilled these needs or is viewed as unable to fill them, the controller will generally try to burn that bridge.
Control Treatment Options
One may be wondering how to deal with a controlling person when it seems like it doesn’t matter what you one does.
- The first thing we can do on our own is to establish and maintain a positive and accurate self-perception. With this in mind, we need to pinpoint when the controller is exhibiting one-mindedness. Then, we should let them know they’re overstepping our psychological boundary. Then, tactfully stand up for ourselves and/or deflect any verbal attacks.
- If the cycle of controlling behavior continues, it is okay for us to leave that relationship, even if the controller is a parent or sibling.
- If necessary, we can reach out to various community resources. This includes community mental health centers and non-profits that work with victims of abuse. Abuse is not just physical; it is emotional, and controlling behaviors can certainly be abusive.
- A therapist with license can help us and will likely employ a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help us re-frame our own thoughts and behaviors.
Controlling People in Popular Media
One of the most well-known controlling personalities in pop culture is Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s novel (and the film adaptation) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
She spends every day working with patients in a mental health facility. However, Nurse Ratched does not recognize her own controlling behaviors. She belittles the men on the ward and even tries to mentally control the doctor she works underneath. Over time, she loses control over the men and becomes more out-of-control herself.
If one believes that they are being targets of a controlling person, one should remember that it is okay to peacefully stand up for oneself. If worse comes to worse, they need to remove themselves from the situation and seek help as necessary.
One cannot control that person. But we can lead by example by showing our own self-control and self-worth. This will not be easy, but it is our best shot at learning how to deal with a controlling person.