Understanding and Overcoming Controlling Behavior

There are people who naturally feel like they should be in a position of authority and rule over other people. In some cases, it is common for them to behave this way because of anxieties or fears and thinking that things might fall apart when they do not have control over everything. However, this behavior turns to abuse on some occasions. All of us want at least some degree of control over how we live our lives. Unfortunately, this can become harmful and even destructive, especially when someone tries to take over the life of another person.

Key takeaways:

The aim of this article is to explain how one can recognize such a controlling person, why they develop these behaviors and outline practical recommendations on how to manage in these situations.

This article aims to define the signs of a controlling person, examine what causes or brings about this behavior, and offer effective measures to deal with it.

What does it mean to be controlling?

When one person frequently applies an overwhelming degree of control to either situations or people, they are referred to as controlling persons. Even called me a control freak. These people could try to exert control over others by assuming dominance and undertaking all tasks themselves, or through manipulation, intimidation, and fear-based threats. One finds controlling people from all walks of life.

These individuals could be:

  • Close friends
  • Romantic partners
  • Family members
  • Work colleagues
  • Supervisors
  • Acquaintances

Regardless of how close a relationship is, control over other people’s lives does not provide an answer. The key here is to recognize and address one’s own controlling behaviors. You should know this to be able to identify or control your own tendencies and so protect not only the sanity of others but also your mental and emotional health.

The signs of controlling behavior

In controlling behaviors, various aspects ranging from verbal and nonverbal displays can have intense effects in shaping one’s social relations with others. It is important to understand these signs so that one can identify and tackle problems in a relationship.

Here are key indicators of controlling behavior:

  • Dictating decisions. Constantly imposing personal preferences to threaten the autonomy of others.
  • Isolation attempts. Intentionally taking people away from their social circles and support networks.
  • Undermining self-esteem. Using tactics such as actions known to trigger feelings of inferiority or inadequacy.
  • Need for validation. Demonstrating a never-ending hunger for acceptance and approval.
  • Intense jealousy. Reacting negatively to situations perceived as threatening or to interactions with other people.
  • Refusal of differing opinions. Not entertaining ideas that are at odds with their viewpoint.
  • Monitoring activities. Trying to exert control through close monitoring and controlling of daily events.
  • Restricting freedom. Reducing one’s freedom of choice or actions.
  • Aggressive responses. Responding with aggression in the face of opposition.
  • Manipulative conversations. Subtle ways of influencing stories and decisions during conversations.
  • Insistence on having the final say. Needing to have the last word on any decision-making process all the time.

Why do people feel the need to control others?

Controlling behavior arises from different aspects of individual upbringing, which may include authoritarian environments, past traumas, and personal insecurities. As a result of controlling parenting styles, individuals might end up unintentionally replicating these behaviors in their relationships. Insecurities and fears can drive a need for control as a coping mechanism, while poor regulation of emotions might lead to controlling tendencies.

Traumatic experiences, such as those involving loss of control, may lead to controlling behavior as a form of defense mechanism. Furthermore, individuals with low self-esteem, as well as the need for certainty, form part of this complex issue.

Coercive control vs. controlling behavior

Distinguishing between coercive control and controlling behavior is not straightforward, as it needs a very clear understanding of all the dynamics involved. Although they are both ways of controlling, they vary in breadth and gravity.

Here is the comparison of both conditions:

Coercive control

This behavior describes a prolonged and systematic pattern of intimidation and oppression aimed at dominating and intimidating someone. Coercive control involves repeated instances whereby the perpetrator employs different strategies meant for controlling someone completely in matters relating to relationships, finance, work, or household management. The impact of this domestic violence leads to severe, long-lasting, and destructive impacts.

Controlling behavior

In a broader sense, controlling behavior relates to actions and attitudes wherein one person endeavors to dominate or control another individual. This can be shown in different forms, ranging from dictating decisions to eroding self-confidence. Unlike coercive control, controlling behavior may not necessarily be characterized through prolonged and conscious efforts, although it is likely to negatively influence how relationships unfold.

Dealing with a controlling partner

Dealing with a partner with control issues is very delicate and involves being strong and assertive in your convictions.

Here are some steps to navigate this situation:

  • Recognize the signs. Know how to identify indicators of a controlling personality, such as extreme jealousy, continuous criticism, an attempt to isolate you, or dictating your decisions.
  • Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel right about something, go with your intuition. Your feelings are valid, and acceptance is the first step to recovery.
  • Establish boundaries. Make it clear what your limits are and what you expect. State clearly the kind of behavior that you will not tolerate and also identify your needs in the relationship.
  • Seek support. Discuss your experiences with friends, family, or a counselor. The views of friends will be very helpful and offer emotional support as well.
  • Maintain independence. Take care of your own interests, friends, and activities. This helps to maintain an element of independence and reduces dependence on the controlling partner.
  • Communicate effectively. Use 'I' statements to communicate how you feel and describe your experiences instead of placing blame on the other person. Inform them calmly of how their behavior affects you.
  • Safety first. In case the control escalates to threat and violence, then you need to prioritize your security. Get in touch with domestic violence hotlines as well as shelters, and report such incidents to law enforcement agencies.
  • Plan for the future. Think about what you need from this relationship. Evaluate the healthiness of the relationship if controlling behavior does not stop.

Is gaslighting a controlling behavior?

Gaslighting is another form of controlling behavior. Gaslighting means a deliberate attempt to confuse another person and make them doubt their beliefs, memory, or sanity. Gaslighting refers to how the manipulator tries to control behavior by destabilizing the confidence of the victim, thereby rendering them dependent on the manipulator's reality. Emotionally, it is abuse, causing serious trauma to the victim's psychological and emotional state. The importance of identifying and handling gaslighting in relationships can not be overemphasized.

The road to recovery from controlling behavior

If you are struggling with control issues or you know someone who has these issues, the good news is that there are things that can be done to bring about positive change.

Here are seven tips that will help with navigating the path to recovery from controlling behavior:

  1. Self-awareness. Self-reflect and identify where these control issues originate from.
  2. Communication adjustments. One must strive to adopt healthier styles of communication in a bid to become more interactive and open.
  3. Recognize triggers. Determine what triggers, cues, signs or situations and feelings trigger control issues. People need to be aware of these triggers, so as to stop this cycle.
  4. Stress management. Learn how to effectively deal with anxiety or insecurities and the need for control that comes as a result.
  5. Develop empathy. Empathize with others by seeing things from their point of view.
  6. Embrace uncertainty. Recognize that everything in life cannot be controlled. Living with uncertainty is an integral aspect of life and relationships.
  7. Continuous learning. Stay committed to personal growth. Continue learning and growing by reading, attending workshops, and seeking professional help.

If anyone tries controlling you, remember that this doesn’t come from love. It comes from fear. It is not genuine, and it is not loving communication; rather, it is just a form of controlling behavior that is poisonous and harmful. If you find yourself feeling unsafe because of a person’s conduct, it might be time to follow your instinct and leave the relationship without delay. It would be prudent for you to consider getting assistance from either a therapist or support group where you can exit the relationship in a safe and secure manner.


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