How to Deal With Controlling People
Bossy, Manipulative People Can Drive You Crazy
I grew up with a very controlling father, mother and older brother. After that upbringing, I escaped and moved out on my own at 18, but I managed to marry way too young, and ended up with a paranoid, picky, unpleasant, petty, bully of a control freak who tried to erase me as a person, yelling and complaining at me and demeaning my accomplishments regularly. Yet, he was perfectly happy to let me work to support the family while he played video games for years. I stayed in the relationship, went to marriage counseling, stayed for the kids, and am finally extricated from that situation after 26 years.
Only as I've gotten older have I gained perspective on my life, and the pattern of controlling relationships in it. I read a bunch of books on the topic of controlling people, and am recommending some of the best here in this lens. It really does help to read several different books, as you can see the issue from various points of view. I wish I'd read these self-help books earlier in my life.
I always thought that it was me. I thought that if I just tried harder to please my husband, there would be peace. Now I realize that a main part of his controlling personality is that he couldn't be pleased. That's a big part of where he got his ability to control. It wasn't all me. I am a smart, insightful person. I am resilient, have good intuition, and have positive interpersonal skills.
Read some of the books you find here if you have a controlling person in your life. The earlier you recognize what's going on, the sooner you can decide how to handle it. These books will help you recognize the dynamics in such a relationship, as well as give you strategies to use.
Read on to find out how to recognize controlling behaviors, reasons you may be easy to control, and action steps to take to deal with a controlling relationship. There are also Youtubes and links to blogs and articles that may help you deal with controlling people.
Photo from @Morguefile.com
You can find controllers at home, at work, in friendships, and in many places.
Recognizing controlling behaviors is the first step in dealing with the problems caused by controllers. A controlling person will try to make you think that you cause the problems in your relationship. You find controllers in many places, and some of us, because we're nice, tend to attract controlling people. Maybe you had controlling parents. There are controlling lovers, partners, and spouses. Sometimes, a friend tries to control you. Then, there are controlling people at work, who try to exert undo power on all those in a department or company. No matter where you encounter a controlling person, it can be quite trying.
Photo from @Morguefile.com
This kind of behavior sets the stage for all kinds of abuse. - author Patricia Evans
How Do Controlling People Keep You Under their Thumb?
Not all controlling people are alike. However, many of them use similar tactics. Here are some common ones:
As soon as you start doing or saying something a controller dislikes, the manipulator will raise his or her voice or start complaining that you are being terrible, ungrateful, awful, or wrong in some way. Perhaps the controller will give a certain menacing, or disappointed, or hurt look. In other words, as soon as you start to assert yourself, the person will do something unpleasant. You, in an attempt to keep the peace and avoid conflict and unpleasantness, will likely fold, and comply to the controller's wishes.
Controllers may tell you what you think. They may also tell you what you feel. When you say you want something, they tell you that you really don't want it. When you tell them how you feel, they tell you you don't really feel that way. Most likely, a controller will never ask what you feel about anything. If you are asked what your opinion is, you will likely be cut off or interrupted by the controller, who will proceed to tell you what emotions and thoughts you are having. Perhaps, the controller will completely disregard your assertions, and talk right over you, saying what he or she thinks and feels. Or, they might "listen", and then completely disregard you.
Some controllers induce guilt. Some do it on purpose, and others do it unconsciously, but both do it in order to keep you in line with their purposes. They may use the silent treatment as soon as you assert your own wishes or needs. They may tell you that you are doing something just to make them feel bad. They might tell you you are being selfish, just because you are doing something that is in your own best interest. A controller knows exactly which buttons work to keep you going in the direction they want.
A controller won't make a lot of sense, but will insist that they are being logical, and you are being unreasonable. You might feel confused after being with a controller, and second guess yourself all the time. That's just the way a controller likes it.
"To put it bluntly, manipulators do not care about your feelings. They are out to serve one purpose: to advance their own interests and goals, frequently at your expense. If you benefit from a manipulative relationship, it is merely accidental."
- Harriet Braiker, author of "Who's Pulling Your Strings?"
I Can't recommend This One Highly Enough! - Controlling people can just hang it up after you read this book.
This author and therapist writes so clearly. She cuts through all that emotional, weird confusion, and lays things out so you get it. You really, really get it, and you won't be tasty bait for any more controlling people, because you'll recognize their tactics. I can't recommend this highly enough!
Arm Yourself Against the Wolves - Uncloak Controlling Behaviors
Read the reviews on this one. Uncloak that sneaky, expert manipulator. If you know something's not right, and you always wind up doing what you don't want to do, and you feel confused by a relationship, this book can help. It clearly identifies the tactics used by controllers, and clearly gives you practical actions to use in self defense.
A Classic About How to Deal with Controlling People
This one explains what's going on. You'll recognize what's happening in your own relationship with a controlling person. Many people recommend this book as a top pick.
All About Controlling People...
If You Had Controlling Parents...
If you did grow up with controlling parents, you must read the first book listed here called "If You Had controlling Parents." It has had a profoundly positive effect on me and my understanding of family dynamics as I grew up. It gives strategies for claiming your own place in the world, and is highly encouraging!
Controlling behavior and emotional abuse can come from a variety of relationships.
Reasons You May Be Easy To Manipulate and Control - Why Are You a Target?
It's OK. It happens to the best of us. Literally. It is usually the nicest people, those who are TOO nice, who end up being controlled and manipulated.
You have to know how and why controlling people find you an easy target. Here are some of the main reasons:
- You don't want conflict. You will go to great lengths to make sure that it doesn't happen. Unfortunately, all a manipulator has to do is start making conflict unless you comply with his or her wishes.
- You are a people pleaser. You perceive your identity and self-worth as being able to make everybody else happy. The controller just expresses displeasure, and you fold, bowing to his or her desires.
- You care about keeping the relationship more than your controller does. The controlling person knows this. Therefore, the controller takes advantage of you, secure in thinking you will never leave.
- You give your controller the benefit of the doubt. You won't believe that the manipulator is being selfish and that he or she does not care about your well-being. You think that he or she is just misguided in being so difficult to live with. You likely think you can change the controlling person by explaining to him or her how their behavior affects you. Guess what? You are wrong, wrong, wrong. (See the Harriet Braiker quote above.)
Why Don't you Just Leave?
Just "Pick yourself Up By Your Bootstraps."
If you haven't been there, you might not understand why we put up with a controlling relationship for way too long. There are lots of reasons why. In my case, I stayed because by the time I matured, wised up, and recognized the situation for what it was, I already had three children. There was no physical abuse, and only "minor" abuse of drugs and alcohol, so I felt that I didn't have a "right" to break my wedding vows and break up my family, just because I was miserable.
My husband was happy. My kids were happy. I had been raised to believe that my feelings did not count. I was raised to believe that it was "selfish" to want anything for myself. On top of that, my Christian belief system highlighted the self sacrificial example of Jesus, and the sanctity of marriage. Always put others first and yourself last.
My Dad had yelled a lot and been selfish and awful because he didn't know how to handle his emotions, so when my husband did that, it felt like what I was used to. My parents had actively taught us that feelings don't matter. Add it all up, and you get me: a confused person trying to do the right thing, and being walked on.
I was actively suppressing my feelings a lot. Whenever I asserted myself, my ex bullied me verbally. Yes, I tried all kinds of things to stand up to him, and he was an expert at being intolerable as soon as I did. We had been to counseling several times. The strategy that had some measure of "success" was to avoid him and just do my own thing, becoming successful professionally and personally in my own right.
I planned to leave when my kids were old enough and out of the house, and that's what I did. It was difficult to keep myself there. I had to struggle not to leave. I can only hope that it was helpful to my children. Some who have not come from a family background that made them susceptible to a controlling relationship will no doubt think the whole thing is easier than it actually is. Unfortunately, that's too simplistic. When you are in it, you are likely to be confused by the manipulation of the controller. Or, as in my case, you may stay to keep the family intact in an attempt to do what's best for the kids.
It is essential for many of us to read a clear author's expert analysis of this type of relationship. Books can be a guiding light of clarity that help us see the smoke and mirrors for what they are. Everyone's story is different, yet there are commonalities that are important to understand and address. If it were as easy as "picking yourself up by your bootstraps," I would have been gone from the marriage years and years earlier. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are. There are emotional, societal, economic, and religious aspects to "just leaving" that need to be taken into consideration.
Working on Yourself...
These books help someone who doesn't want to be taken advantage of by a controlling person anymore.
So, How DO You Deal With Controlling People? - Action Steps to Foil Controllers...
- Read and learn all you can about the dynamics of controlling relationships. Once you understand what's happening, you can see it coming, and stop it or avoid it.
- Be willing to incur some unpleasantness in the name of saving yourself. Do what is in your own best interest anyway, even though your controller will be upset. Don't go along to get along. Conflict is absolutely necessary, and may save you.
- Say no, and calmly stick with your decision.
- Name the behavior that your controller is doing. If he or she is giving you the silent treatment because you want to go somewhere with a friend, then say it out loud. "You are giving me the silent treatment because you don't want me to spend time with my friend." Naming the behavior at least gets it out in the open, and it becomes less of a covert thing.
- Accept the fact that the controlling person wants his or her way at your expense. The person does not care about your best interests. This is hard to accept, but it is the truth. Stop denying it.
- Leave if you have to. Be willing to leave the relationship or the job or the friendship if the controller does not stop the negative, manipulative behaviors after you have changed your behaviors.
- Figure out what you want, and assertively go after it. You have a right to be yourself and determine your own path.
Do You Have a Schema That's Not Helping You?
Something Else to Think About...
If you seem to attract controllers, you may find it helpful to look into schema therapy. A schema is a set of beliefs that automatically runs in the background throughout your life. A schema is a belief like, "My feelings aren't important," or "I must be perfect, " or something like that.
A schema or two that's not examined and addressed can be very destructive in your life. It can allow controllers to have their way with you, almost unchallenged. Below, find some links for more about schemas.
More About Schemas
- What is a Schema?
An easy to understand definition of schemas. Great as a starting point to understand what we're talking about here.
- Common Unhelpful Schemas
Recognize yourself here? Here is a list and brief explanation of many maladaptive schemas that do NOT help you in your life. Look at the "subjugation" schema, number 12 on the list. Hmmmm...
Stopping Bullies and Control Freaks at Work...
Often, people with a need to control become bullies at work. Get these books to help stop this phenomenon and bring out the best in your workplace dynamics.
Blogs and Articles About How to Deal with Controlling People
- Light's Blog- About Toxic and Non-Toxic People
Light's Blog explores toxic relationships. There are a ton of great articles about all kinds of controlling people as well as the personality disorders they may have, and how to deal with them. Educational resources on the topic are included.
- Dr. Phil's pointers If You're in a Controlling Relationship
A bullet pointed list of things to do if you're in a controlling relationship. This is for the person being controlled.
- How to Deal with Controlling People
Scroll down past the advertisement at the top, and you'll find an excellent article on how to deal with controlling people.
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dealing with Controlling People
If you have issues at work, this article is especially relevant.
- How to deal with Impossible People, by Deepak Chopra
Learn about several types of controlling behaviors and how to handle them with this article by Deepak Chopra on Oprah's website.
Controlling behavior is a type of emotional abuse.
Overcoming Emotional Abuse...
Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder - Some Controllers May Have This...
This is different from OCD, which is characterized by ritualistic behavior. OCPD is a need to be right, a rigidity in thinking, and a desire to control. My ex could be a poster child for obsessive compulsive personality disorder. When I came across this description of the disorder, I was amazed that there was a name for it. Not all controlling people can be described by OCPD, but some can be.
Emotional Vampires - People with personality disorders hurt others.
The metaphor works well. People with personality disorders are emotional vampires who will suck you dry if you don't know better. This book is your valise of garlic, mirrors, and mostly sunlight to recognize emotional vampires and render them harmless.