Controlling People: Signs of a Controlling Person and How to Deal with Them
Alicia was once free, happy, and prosperous. She regularly met with friends, enjoyed working, and made many decisions on her own until two years in a relationship with Randy. Her boyfriend began to control Alicia. She had no idea what was going on. Controlling people can do that.
Alicia didn’t think her boyfriend was someone with a controlling personality – two years later she is still confused about her boyfriend’s behavior. She tells her friends that Randy controls what she does and how she feels, but they say it’s typical for men to behave that way. She has gone to a counselor. Everyone says to work on her relationship more. Alicia sometimes thinks if she loves Randy more, he will change.
Few people know the signs of a controlling personality. You could even be unaware you’re a controlling person. By the time such behaviors are evident, years of misery pass in the relationship with much verbal or physical abuse. The sooner you can identify the signs of controlling men and women, and how to handle these people or yourself, with the advice I’ll give you in this article, the better you’ll protect yourself from a dangerous man or woman who can potentially create an abusive relationship.
How a Controlling Personality Develops
How we perceive and judge information is the secret to understand controlling behavior. Psychologist Carl Jung discovered that people have four psychological functions:
- Sensing (“It smells nice”, “I need to touch it first”, “Let me see it”)
- Intuiting (“I have a feeling something bad will happen”, “I bet today is going to go wonderfully”, “I sense there’s something special about you”)
- Thinking (“Lets look at the problem logically”, “It doesn’t match the set criteria”, “That happened before”)
- Feeling (“I feel pain”, “I love the energy in this room”, “It feels right”)
The sensate and intuit functions gather and perceive information. The thought and feeling functions evaluate and judge the information. You can see the four psychological functions and their relationships represented below.
You might know these functions through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). All four functions serve an important part of the healthy human personality. The MBTI states that we have predominate functions and rely on other functions to a lesser degree. You rely on the sensate function by trusting your five senses (“I love the taste of this new recipe”), but at the same time you still receive messages from your intuition (“Customers are going to enjoy this new recipe”).
While the healthy person is connected to these four functions, the controlling person is unaware of one or more functions and unaware of one’s dictating behavior. Patricia Evans, author of Controlling People, says a controlling personality begins when one of the four functions are blocked, which leads to poor self-understanding and a blindness to one’s behavior. Once a guy loses a connection with himself, which formed his reality, control is pursued in the exterior world.
Men typically control others when their feeling function is blocked. Males have been told: “don’t feel pain”, “real men don’t cry”, “you’re too sensitive”, “men must stay strong”, and “if you get emotional, you lose”. A young boy cuts his knee and cries to which his father responds, “That doesn’t hurt so stop crying.” Gradually the boy disconnects from himself then ignores his feeling function. The boy’s inner reality is negated by others who tell him his feelings are wrong.
Once a guy loses a connection with himself, which formed his reality, control is pursued in the exterior world.
Disconnection is natural, yet ongoing disconnection is dangerous. It is necessary for a soldier to block his feeling function to get through the blood and brutality of war, but if the temporary blockage becomes permanent, he loses awareness of the feeling function. The soldier returns from war unsure how to feel pain and joy and struggles to empathize with someone in distress. Trauma, culture, and parents are the primary reasons people disconnect.
The four functions are necessary for survival. Without attention to bad-tasting food, a vibe that warns you of a dangerous location, obscure rationale, and another’s feelings, safety is jeopardized. A soldier deeply connected to pain in battle struggles to survive.
When a person permanently disconnects, an identity problem arises. The person’s psyche is violated. Once a person cannot believe his own senses, intuition, thoughts, or feelings, what consistency can be established to form the person’s identity? Identity and control must be established in the only other way possible: by controlling people.
Evan’s terms this a “backwards connection”. If people are not self-aware of inner experiences, they form their identity from the outside-in instead of the inside-out. While healthy people construct their identity from experiences via the four functions, soon-to-be controllers construct themselves by a desired self-image or what others think one should be like. Controllers define another person’s reality. Intergenerational behavior leads them to treat their partners or children the same way they were treated.
The Dark Dangerous Secret of a Controller
Healthy, authentic persons realize authenticity in others. Controllers on the other hand, hate authenticity. Their experiences are unknown so they circumvent others from their experiences.
The controller molds his or her partner or child into the desired person then connects to that fake person. A controlling husband can say he loves his wife, but he really loves the perfect wife constructed in his mind. This is one reason women struggle to address a controlling husband. Victims are so blinded by this pretend love, thinking the person who defines and controls him or her is truly in love.
Victims are so blinded by this pretend love, thinking the person who defines and controls him or her is truly in love.
Controlling and abusive relationships are common in marriages because one spouse does not fit “Prince Charming” or “Princess”. It is impossible anyway for these personas to be realized.
In our example, Randy creates a backwards connection by connecting to the fake Alicia. She has senses, intuition, thoughts, and feelings Randy ignores because her experiences fail to match up to the idealized princess. This leaves Alicia feeling confused, invalidated, and ignored.
The ideal image knows what the controller wants, feels, and thinks. Controllers assume “one mind” with their victims. If the controlled person fails to behave congruently with the ideal image by mind-reading the controller, the person is often ignored, abused, argued against, or told what to be, say, and feel in an attempt to negate authenticity and mold into the unattainable image.
Victims like a woman who try to be the perfect wife based on the abuse received from her controlling husband cannot consistently be the idealized image. Moments of genuineness always show – they are who the person really is after all.
Controllers do not see their behavior for what it is, however. Most are completely dumbfounded as to why they control others. If you are a controller, you will not know why you behave hurtfully towards one or two victims of your controlling behavior while most people see you as a beautiful, nice, caring person. Pleas for help can easily go ignored for the behavior is deceptive.
Controllers assume ‘one mind’ with their victims.
Blame blinds controllers. Rapists, murderers, and others convicted of assault say it was the victim’s fault because the victims showed authenticity that stirred the perpetrator to eliminate. Controllers never take responsibility for their behavior and instead accuse their victims who “deserved it”. Battered wives are blamed, beaten-down, and belittled by abusive husbands who believe their spouses are responsible for their rage. Criminals can sit in their prison cell and still blindly conclude their victims are the reason one is imprisoned.
2 Major Signs of Controlling People
The best sign to identify a controlling man or woman is to see if the person assumes one mind. I would assume one mind with you if I became angry over you not knowing what I wanted.
One-mindedness is a warning sign of a controlling person because the ideal image knows what the controlling person wants, thinks, and feels. The moment this perfect understanding is brought back to reality with a question, rage can form. If Alicia asks Randy, “When will you be back?” “Why do you treat me like this?” and “Why can’t I satisfy you?”, he could show controlling behavior like avoiding, arguing, or abusing her.
A second major warning sign of a controlling person is they define you. I would define you by telling you what you think and feel.
A controlling person defines victims based on the ideal image. Authenticity is neglected. What a victim really feels and thinks is replaced by the controlling person’s definition. The definition forms a fantasy, trying to pull the victim back into the perfect persona. You can see this in the following situations in which Alicia is defined by Randy:
Other Signs of Controllers?
Most additional signs of controlling people are derived from the major two warning signs of one-mindedness and defining others:
- Intense jealousy is a sign that shows when the victim displays interest in others, meaning the ideal image is not focused on the controller
- The controller belittles the victim, attempting to destroy any authenticity
- The controller says he or she will change after an episode of rage, but no change results
- The controller blames one’s anger on others
- The controller isolates the victim
- Lavishes the victim with gifts in aim of making the person entirely dependent
- Close-mindedness shows the person lives in the fantasy world
- Alicia says, “I want to order chicken teriyaki.” Randy replies, “Don’t get it because you won’t like chicken teriyaki.”
- Alicia says, “I’m trying.” Randy replies, “You’re not trying!”
- Alicia says, “Please don’t treat me that way.” Randy replies, “You always try to blame me for what happens to you! It’s your own bloody fault you get treated that way!”
- Alicia says, “I’m feeling sad.” Randy replies, “Stop trying to manipulate me.”
- Alicia says, “I want to work again.” Randy replies, “You don’t know what you want.”
Randy defines Alicia. He destroys her authenticity by molding her into his idealized image.
Most of the responses defining Alicia are paradoxical. Controllers create the exact opposite of what they try to achieve:
- They try to get close by barking orders, but their controlling behavior creates distance
- They try to show power by belittling others, but their controlling behavior shows inferiority
- They try to show wisdom and intelligence by disproving a victim’s point of view, but their controlling behavior shows incomprehension and shallowness
- They think their perception is clear, but it is unclear
Intimacy is a paradoxical outcome avoided. The controller attempts to fulfill a need of closeness with the victim, yet true closeness is never achieved when the connection is with an inauthentic person. You cannot be intimate with a controller. Intimacy requires two persons to understand their feelings and connect with each for who they really are. Controllers cannot get intimate because they lack one or more of the four operational functions.
If you control someone, seeing theses signs is usually enough to make you see firsthand the false reality you live in and what you need to bring yourself back into an authentic world. Some recovering controllers see the severity of their behavior and cannot kill it so they respect their victims by ending a relationship to seek healing.
How to Deal with a Controlling Person
Now you can recognize and understand a controlling person – maybe you even identified some characteristics in yourself – I’ll share with you the secrets to manage a person who tries to control you.
The first step to deal with a controlling person is to believe no one knows exactly how you feel and think. Victims of abuse can have their self-esteem pummeled heavily into the ground that they believe abusers more than themselves. Someone cannot define you – not even a psychologist. It is vital you acknowledge and believe your self-understanding over what a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, father or mother, manager or employee tells you.
The second step to deal with a controller uses the one-mindedness warning sign. Identify when the person trespasses your “psychic boundary”. Similar to the first step, detect trespasses by seeing what someone does when they attempt to define you. While the first step is an acknowledgment and belief before controlling behavior surfaces, this second step reinforces the first step the moment someone controls you.
Though you are a victim of someone’s hurtful behavior, you are responsible for your response.
The third step is to speak up to controlling people. You cannot shatter the idealized image placed on you until you speak up to face the problem. Though you are a victim of someone’s hurtful behavior, you are responsible for your response.
The fourth step uses the “What?” technique taught by Evans who says victims fall into the false reality controllers create by arguing with them. Most people respond to controllers by trying to contradict the nonsense such as: “I do love chicken teriyaki!” “Far out, I try so hard!” “I am sad… You don’t know how I feel!” Here is a sample dialog between Randy and Alicia who sticks to her habits by arguing with Randy, which is ineffective:
“I want to work again,” says Alicia.
“You don’t know what you want,” replies Randy.
“I do want to work again. I have a desire to pursue my photography career.”
“You don’t really like photography! Keep doing what you’re doing now.”
“No! I’ve been looking at some photography magazines and I really want to do it!”
“Where are those magazines? GIVE THEM TO ME SO I CAN TEAR THE DAMN THINGS UP YOU F***** B****!”
Do not argue with a person who defines you. Evans recommends you do not even validate what they say through argument. You instead ask, “What?” or variations of it repeatedly. Other responses Alicia and you can use that do not validate a controller’s remarks are, “Cut it out”, “Quit that”, and “What are you doing?” Here is a sample dialog between Randy and Alicia who uses variations recommended by Evans:
“I want to work again,” says Alicia.
“You don’t know what you want,” replies Randy.
“You don’t know what you want.”
(For the first time Randy realizes something is going on.) “Cut it out. You heard me. You don’t want to work again.”
A word of warning using this fourth step: do not use it on a dangerous person. It is too threatening to use on someone who can potentially go into rage. Protect yourself, protect your children. Be careful when you deal with a controller because they fight to keep their reality alive. A cut to their reality is perceived as death.
No controlling person is going to change their behavior through one conversation. The above dialog between Alicia and Randy is the start of healing. Controllers need to see for themselves the backward connections they have created with others.
Leaving a Controlling Relationship
If you decide to leave a controller, their fake reality weakens. They may not change, but many do realize what their behavior did to themselves and the lives of their victims.
Be careful when you deal with a controller because they fight to keep their reality alive.
There are shelters that help sufferers of abuse should you leave a controlling spouse. Other options you can consider is to stay with family and friends and contact the police. Do something about the problem for the safety and happiness of yourself and your children.
Children in controlling relationships need help otherwise they are at risk of dictating others later in life. The moment a child’s fundamental needs remain unfilled, the child escapes to a fake world where those needs are met.
Psychotherapists say a common object in which a child obtains these needs is from a toy like a teddy bear. The bear is spoken to as an idealized person, always listening, always knowing, always understanding the child. The teddy is defined by the child and is one mind with the child. Later in the life the toy is projected onto others who get controlled by the person.
The intergenerational transmission of control cycles again unless it is stopped. Now is the time to deal with controlling people to take control of what is controlling you.
If you suspect someone is in a controlling relationship, possibly the greatest gift you can give them right now is an understanding and freedom from controllers by telling the person about this article. Share this article by email, post it on Facebook, or tweet it.
(To discover more on one-mindedness, checkout chapter three of my Communication Secrets of Powerful People program, which reveals this communication barrier many people use. You can learn more about the program that can help you better communicate in your relationships here. If you want to become whole again and connect with suppressed parts of yourself so you can easily connect with people, my other program Big Talk: Effortlessly Talk to Win Friends with the Real You is a breakthrough solution you can discover here.)
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy persons build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/