Have you ever worked with a micromanaging boss? Someone who looks over your shoulder and has input into every detail of your work without allowing any room for innovation, creativity, or autonomy? Have you ever had a partner who liked to make all plans? Someone who told you what to wear and how to spend your money and monitored your movements throughout the day?
Perhaps you are yourself a person who feels the need to control everything in your life. Regardless, most people have had an experience with a person who is controlling, and it can be a real problem for relationships—both personal and professional.
So, why do people control others and what can be done about it? Read on for some insights into this interesting character trait.
What does it mean to be controlling?
A “controlling” person is someone who tries to control every situation they are in to the extent that it becomes unhealthy. The person might use behaviors such as intimidation, manipulation, and coercion to get what they want, and they tend to put themselves in charge of many things. Rather than trusting others, a controlling person takes on a lot of duties and prefers to do things by themselves instead of working in a team and collaborating with others.
Many people who are controlling will assert dominance over their partner or family members. Some work hard to gain power over groups of people—perhaps at work or even through religious institutions or charity groups. The bottom line is that a controlling person believes they are absolutely essential for success, therefore creating a false sense of superiority within their world.
Why do people feel the need for control?
To be honest, everyone tries to control what happens in their life, and this is completely normal. Research tells us that a desire for control and choice is innate and biologically motivated. Inside our genetic makeup is a desire for control which has been important for our survival over thousands of years. We are born with this basic need to choose and control. However, our perception of control and our preferences for how to exert it are impacted by our personal experiences, social context, and cultural differences related to how choice is valued.
Being a controlling person is not necessarily bad, but it can become a problem when it has a negative impact on others.
In people who develop excessively controlling behaviors, there is usually an underlying reason why they have such a strong need to always be in charge. In many circumstances, people develop a need to control because it helps alleviate anxiety or a strong sense of worry. They feel that when they take a higher level of responsibility they can be assured that things will be done the right way and thus reduce that worry or anxiety.
There are also people who become controlling to assert dominance over others. This is where they can run into some pretty big issues if their methods are manipulative and abusive. It is never ok to intimidate a person into doing what you want, so individuals who seek to control for the purpose of maintaining dominance can be particularly dangerous, especially within intimate relationships.
Signs of a controlling person
It’s not that hard to spot a control freak. You might already be living with one. For those who are unsure, here are a few common things to look out for when it comes to interactions with controlling people.
People who like to control:
- Are often seen correcting other people. They have a belief that their view is the right one and a need to let others know. They will be a “right fighter” and have a very black-and-white view of what is and isn’t correct. This often means that they’re inflexible and believe their way always to be the best without listening to or valuing the thoughts and ideas of others.
- Are very critical of others. Controlling people often judge others based on mistakes they have made and fail to see the positives.
- Are highly opinionated. They have ideas and opinions about everything and believe that their view is the right one.
- Are not collaborative. They don’t work well as part of a team because they micromanage and like to dictate terms, rules, and methods to others.
- Have a hard time admitting when they are wrong. Since controlling people so quickly judge others by their mistakes, they really don’t like making mistakes themselves. They often refuse to accept that they might be wrong about something and find it extraordinarily difficult to apologize.
- Hold onto grudges. Since controlling people are extremely critical of others, they have a hard time letting go if they feel they’ve been wronged.
So, what about a controlling spouse?
Signs your partner is controlling
If you’re wondering whether your partner has control issues, here are some key signs of a controlling spouse:
- They find problems with everything you do.
- They manipulate you to get what they want.
- They make you feel guilty when you don’t do what they want and use tactics such as emotional blackmail.
- They criticize all aspects of your life.
- They try to isolate you from others and get jealous when you pay attention to someone else.
- They don’t allow your involvement in financial decisions and take away your financial independence.
- They don’t listen to or value your opinion.
- They don’t trust you and might spy or look through your phone or computer.
Perhaps most damaging, a controlling spouse can completely destroy your self-esteem and leave you believing that you depend on that person for your own survival. A controlling spouse is not healthy and falls into the definition of an abusive relationship.
Co-dependency in relationships
In many relationships where there is a controlling person, there is often another person who has a need to be controlled, thus creating a co-dependent relationship that isn’t particularly healthy. While sometimes it can be easy to view a controlling partner as “the bad guy,” it’s important to remember that there are also some people who prefer to relinquish all control to another person and be submissive within a relationship.
People who become co-dependent usually grow up in families where power was important and a dominant person exercised power over them. They are used to their needs and feelings being ignored, and they typically have low self-worth. These people essentially become afraid of power and try very hard to please others.
This is why therapy is a great idea for couples who are experiencing difficulties with control. Since both parties play a key role in the dynamic of the relationship, both will need to make some changes to improve it.
How to deal with a controlling spouse
While it’s not possible for you to directly change the behavior of a controlling spouse, there are certain things you can do to help improve the situation.
Talking to your spouse about their behavior is the 1st step. They might not directly acknowledge that there is a problem, but it’s important to begin some open communication to highlight the issues.
Reaching out to a counselor or a therapist is an excellent idea if you believe the relationship can be improved.
You can watch an episode of the Couples Academy Show where they talk in detail about how to handle a controlling spouse or partner.
What to do if you like to control
If you’re a person who likes to be in control and recognizes that this is an issue in your life, congratulations on taking the 1st step towards improvement—acknowledging that there is a problem.
People who like to control aren’t bad people. In fact, they often have some great personality traits that help them to be successful, such as being goal-orientated and driven. A journey of self-reflection can help you understand why you feel a strong need to control and also help you interact with others in a more positive way.
Here is a great video to start you on a journey of understanding and growth.
How to handle a control freak
If you find yourself having to deal with a control freak in your life, there are a few things to remember that can help you along the way. Firstly, it’s important to communicate with the person and let them know how you’re feeling and how their behavior is affecting you. They genuinely might not realize the impact of their actions, so communicating your feelings is important.
Learning to navigate situations with a controlling person can be tricky, but it can become a little easier if you set some boundaries. Speak up and share your opinions when necessary, but don’t get into a situation where you’re questioning every aspect. Pick your battles and be firm.
It’s also important not to argue or debate with the person as this is where things can escalate. Calmly and respectfully state your position and then politely exit the conversation. Over time, the person will learn that you won’t be silenced.
A final thought
As we grow and develop, we are all a reflection of our previous experiences. If you know someone who has an issue with control, it’s likely they have faced some experiences that have shaped them into who they are.
The bottom line is that none of us are perfect. Some of us are needy, some of us are awkward, some of us are quirky, and some of us are controlling. As long as your safety is not at risk, empathy, understanding, and strategic thinking can go a long way towards building positive interactions with others because when it comes to our own responses, we are the ones in control.