Controlling behavior can come from just about anyone in your life. It could be your boss, a family member, a friend, or even your partner. Controlling people are all around.
We most commonly hear about controlling husbands and controlling relationships. Although controlling behavior can feel extra traumatic in romantic relationships, any person in your life can control you in a harmful way. And they can be a man or a woman.
It is a mark of courage to recognize the signs of controlling behavior and controlling people. Even more so, it’s an act of bravery to respond appropriately.
What is Controlling Behavior?
Controlling behavior is when one person expects, compels, or requires others to cater to their own needs — even at others’ expense. The controlling person targets an individual and dominates them in an unhealthy, self-serving manner.
Who Falls Victim to Controlling People?
Controlling people often prey upon those they’re closest to, taking advantage of others’ introversion, submissive tendencies, or simple good faith.
Being manipulated, used, or controlled by another person can lead to a number of harmful effects. Some may be so subtle, that you don’t realize until you’re cemented into a toxic, controlling relationship with your friend, coworker, or partner.
Controlling people tend to prey on the kindest folks they can find.
Other effects are all-consuming, and can even lead to shame for ‘allowing’ yourself to be controlled. Remember it is not at all your fault. Controlling people tend to prey on the kindest folks they can find.
If you’re being controlled by another person, you may experience any of the following:
Subtle Signs of Controlling Behavior
Remember to be cautious when you see even small signs of controlling behavior. A controlling husband, wife, partner, or friend may try to maintain plausible deniability, so that it’s easier to gaslight you that they aren’t mistreating you.
Some of the subtler signs of control can be:
If it happened once, it was probably for a reason, and the person will probably want to use you again.
When these more subtle signs become constant, and repetitive, or form a pattern, then it is high time to take action — either by speaking up, setting boundaries, distancing yourself through techniques like grey rocking, or exiting the relationship.
What Causes People to be Controlling?
There are various reasons why some people try to control others, and sometimes these are difficult to figure out.
Some potential causes of controlling behavior are: low self-esteem; being micromanaged or controlled by someone else; traumatic past experiences; a need to feel in-control; or a need to feel ‘above’ someone else.
None of these have to do with you, the victim of inappropriate control. But if you want to preserve a relationship with a controlling person, consider whether they might be able to work on any of the above influences.
Common Ways People Control Others:
No one controlling relationship is worse than the other – they are all equally bad!
“Control and manipulation are not love; the outcome is a life of imprisonment ultimately leading to deep-rooted feelings of resentment.” ― Ken Poirot
Some controlling behaviors can be recognized easily while others take time to manifest. When the following examples below become repetitive and form into a habit – it has become a controlling relationship.
Psychological manipulation is a broad spectrum of mental and emotional abuse, and its damaging effects can be long lasting.
Emotional abuse consists of words or actions used to degrade, isolate, or control you in a relationship. This form of abuse can often first be mistaken as caring or concern, but is based on manipulation. Abusers tend to justify their actions by being extra nice after an episode, or even by blaming you instead. They make it easy to question whether you’re overreacting. If you do not feel properly loved or safe, your gut is probably right. Below are some specific examples of emotional abuse that might sound familiar.
Psychological manipulation can show as one or many of (but not limited to) the following:
Patterns of Emotional Abuse
Often, the person being controlled will turn a blind eye or not acknowledge controlling behaviors. That’s understandable. But in the case of physical abuse, the control may have started without your realizing it – as the other person just crossing a number of subtle fine lines.
It’s not always as obvious as punches and bruises. Getting beaten up is not the only form of physical abuse, even though it is the most common. Physical control can also look like restrictions on travel, the clothes you wear, or who you see.
The controlling person in your life may start by asking where you’re going, then by restricting where and when you leave the house. Eventually you find yourself physically isolated and in fear of violence should you decide to meet up with a friend or just go for a walk.
You may be threatened or coerced into sex, or they may gaslight you into thinking it was your idea, even though you don’t want it. These are examples of controlling behavior using physical abuse – or even just the threat of it – as a weapon.
Controlling husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, and partners can all be physically controlling and abusive. Both men and women can commit this behavior.
Financial abuse can come from two directions.
First, a controlling person may find ways to cut off your autonomy so you become financially dependent on them; they might ask you to change jobs or even leave work. This ensures that everything you do with a financial implication, goes through them.
The second, alternative manifestation is equally restrictive. They might focus all financial responsibilities on you where you are the only one contributing to the couple’s or family’s finances.
In both situations, it can become almost impossible for you to leave the relationship due to the financial burdens in your name.
What Can I Do?
Don’t blame yourself.
While it may be tempting, don’t try to find reasons behind the abuse. Arguing with the abuser is unlikely to break the pattern.
If it’s possible, leave the relationship or limit your time with the abuser as much as possible. Once you’ve done this, allow yourself time to recover and heal.
If you feel you are in immediate danger call 911. If you do not feel you are in immediate danger, but still need emergency help, reach out to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.
Remember, despite what your abuser wants you to think, you are not alone.
Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
Registered Addiction Specialist
Certified EMDR Trauma therapy
Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Addiction Specialist