Have you ever had someone make you feel small or insignificant? When you try to speak, are you silenced? Do you sometimes question your own sense of reality? If so, you may be dealing with a controlling person.
A controlling person is someone who attempts to maintain authority, control, and decision-making power over another individual or situation. Their behavior can include anything from directly telling the person what they can or cannot do to more subtle methods like gaslighting and guilt-tripping. The wants and needs of the victim are usually completely unheard, dismissed, and even disrespected.
Anyone can have controlling behavior and tendencies, and the person does not have to be necessarily a “bad” person. Controlling people can be in all areas of your life. They are your friends, family, co-workers, romantic partner, boss, and even strangers. They are masterminds at manipulation, and you may not even realize you are being controlled.
Why Do People Have Controlling Behavior?
I spoke with Dr. Cynthia Post, a licensed psychologist from Silver Spring, Maryland on the subject and here is what she said, “This is a situation where the person feels out of control. The recipient of the controlling behavior actually ends up experiencing what that individual must have gone through themselves. So, you get to experience what it must have been like for them…they [the controlling person] end up becoming identified with that behavior. That is one way people respond to being controlled is that they identify with that behavior. They’re probably not even recognizing that they are behaving this way, or they may know they are doing it.”
When asked if controlling people usually project this behavior to those closest to them, this is what Dr. Post had to say, “These things tend to happen with people in intimate relationships…we put on our best selves for our acquaintances. Our close people are the ones who gets to see all of us, the ones we trust enough to show those things to.”
Controlling people usually have suffered some sort of abuse or trauma, most likely from early childhood, and are insecure about themselves. They have a deep-rooted fear of the unknown. They do not trust themselves enough to face any challenge or endure any unknown situation. To regain a sense of security and safety, they exercise their will to control in any way they can. It's basically a defense mechanism they have developed over time.
Below are twenty-one signs of a controlling person:
1. They Criticize You All The Time
Controlling people will undermine the things you do and exaggerate your “flaws”. They will take little jabs at you in public or in front of other people. They will oftentimes use sarcasm and make is seem like they were just kidding, then accuse you of being too sensitive when you object to their inappropriate behavior.
2. They Make You Believe Everything is Your Fault
You become the blame for everything, even when they are in the wrong. They will make themselves the victim and make you responsible for things beyond your control. You might hear, “You should have done it like this,” or “I would have done it this way,” during a conversation.
3. They Gaslight You
They will convince you that your sense of reality is false by planting little seeds of uncertainty in your mind. This is a manipulative tactic used to gain control. The constant self-doubt and self-questioning will slowly cause you to question your reality. The term “gaslighting” originated from a 1944 film called, Gaslight, in which a husband systematically brainwashed his wife to the point she believed she was literally going insane. Gaslighting is strategically done so the victim does not realize it is happening to them. The abuser continues to repeatedly disprove any concerns you might have to the point you don’t even recognize the reality of what is happening. They will continue to deny the way “you” remember things, even when evidence is presented to them. When feeling cornered, they will somehow flip the tables on you, and accuse you of starting an argument.
4. They Intimidate You
A controlling person will act superior and try to undermine your reputation by devaluing you. They will interrupt you during a meeting or in the middle of a conversation to voice their own opinion. If you try to speak up, they will overtalk you in a condescending way or may say, “Stop interrupting me. Can I talk?” but will never allow you the same respect in return. A boss may also talk down to you in front of your co-workers and make subtle or inappropriate jokes. They might also hover over you and micromanage you, even going as far to telling you when you can use the bathroom.
5. They Are Moody
They have drastic mood swings. One minute they are spoiling you with gifts, dinner, and praise, and the next, they are acting like a bully. You start to feel anxiety and dread whenever you are around them. You walk on eggshells and catch yourself always apologizing, even for trivial things.
6. They Refuse to Take Blame
We all at times may find it difficult to apologize when we are in the wrong. But a controlling person is “never” wrong and is incapable of admitting fault or giving a sincere apology. Even when the evidence is stacked high against them, they will still blame you for the situation. It could be something as small as distracting them when they make an error.
7. They Lie
Controlling people lie so they can control your reality. They will distort the truth or flat out lie about their behavior so you will second-guess everything. They will start a fight on purpose and accuse you of causing it so you will think twice before bringing up any concerns to them again. Before long, you begin to question your memory and become uncertain of the simplest things.
8. They Stonewall You
A controlling person will shut down a conversation and close themselves off by putting up a “wall”. Instead of facing the issue, they will be completely unresponsive and unavailable to you. They will dismiss you, ignore your text messages, and refuse your phone calls by acting busy. When you try to address the problem, they will ignore you. By doing this, you become “invisible” and never heard. Sometimes the abuser will stonewall you for days on end as a way of punishment so that you will not repeat the “offense” again. This line of abuse will leave you feeling “boxed in” and completely helpless.
9. They Take Charge of the Finances
If you are married or in a relationship with a controlling person, they will insist on handling all the money. They may suggest that they are better at it than you or accuse you of overspending. By controlling all access to the money, they control you.
10. They Don’t Take ‘no’ for an Answer
A controlling person usually will not accept your healthy boundaries. They will try and convince you or pressure you to change your mind.
11. They Will try to Change You
Controlling people will try to shape you to fit their own needs by pressuring you to make changes to your appearance, dress, or even the way you act. They may criticize your weight, even if you are healthy and fit. You start to feel like a “yo-yo” as you constantly go back and forth trying to please them.
12. They Isolate You
A controlling person will demand your attention all the time and will isolate you from your family and friends as a method of their control. They want you all to themselves so they can maintain control. Sometimes their demand for attention is not voiced but expressed through eye glares or rigid body language.
13. They Cause You to Lose Your Sense of Self
As the abuser methodically continues to gaslight you over a long period of time, you begin to lose your self-confidence and start to become a different person, a shadow of your former self. Your whole sense of being and reality become that of the abuser.
14. Words Versus Actions
A controlling person will continuously talk about their concern for you, but their actions will not reflect their words.
15. Love and Flattery
An abuser will tear you down, build you back up, and tear you right back down again. This abusive pattern becomes reality for the victim (you) and their constant praise is used to build you back up to convince you that the abuser cannot be all that bad.
A controlling person will constantly confuse you. As a result, you become desperate for clarity. As this abusive cycle continues, the abuser’s power increases over you.
A controlling person will project their actions on their victim. For example, if the abuser is a cheater and a liar, they will accuse you of being the same. You will constantly feel the need to defend yourself for things you have not done.
18. They Will Accuse You of Being Crazy
The abuser already knows his victim is searching for clarity and questioning their sanity. They will use this to their advantage and call you “crazy” knowing you will believe it. They will also tell other people you are crazy so when you seek out their help, they will not believe you.
19. They Keep Record
They keep a record of things you did wrong so they can make it seem like you are the problem, and not them. This takes away your self-worth and self-esteem which is what the abuser wants so they can gain more control.
20. They like drama
If you have good news to share such as you received a promotion, a controlling person will change the subject and make the conversation all about them to regain your attention. They will also sabotage your relationships with others by spreading false information about you through gossip.
21. They Make Threats to Harm Themselves
In extreme cases, a controlling person will go as far to make threats to harm themselves. I have personally experienced this myself. They will threaten suicide or will even physically cause harm to themselves in front of you. The whole point of this is to make you feel guilty or responsible for their wrong behavior. Please know, this is a scare tactic and a way to control you. You are never responsible for someone wanting to take their own life. That decision belongs to them. In this situation it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible for the individual in question.
How to Deal With a Controlling Person
How do you deal with a controlling person? Dr Post explains, “Make it clear (to the person) that this type of behavior is not welcome and sometimes this may require some kind of mental health intervention. Explain that their behavior makes you uncomfortable and that when it happens, you need some type of agreement that they are willing and able to stop this behavior such as, ‘I need your commitment to working with me on this. If I am telling you that this makes me uncomfortable, I need to know you are committed to working with me.’ You need them to know you need them to care, and they need to respond.” Dr. Post further explained that if the person is not willing to change their behavior, then your best option is to leave the relationship.
Some Other Things You can Do
· Communicate Using "I" Statements – If you decide you want to save your relationship with a controlling person, let them know how their behavior affects you. Most likely, as mentioned earlier, the controlling person is not aware of how they are hurting you. However, when you do, it is important to communicate with the use of ‘I’ statements such as, “I feel like you do not trust me when I am out with my friends”. This not only gives you back your own power to have control over yourself, but it makes the controlling person feel less defensive.
· Set Healthy Boundaries – Set healthy boundaries for yourself with the controlling person such as, “I do not like it when you FaceTime me when I am out. I feel as though you don’t trust me. I respect my privacy and I need you to do the same”. See how the person responds and if they are unwilling to respect your boundaries, let them know you will not be accepting any future calls when you are out. If you feel the person is unwilling to change no matter what you do, or the relationship is turning abusive or violent, it may be time to leave.
· Never Argue With Them – Controlling people are good at taking over a conversation and usually will refuse to accept any responsibility in their behavior. Never battle with them because they will turn the tables on you to gain control. Remember, they are very good at manipulation, and you do not want to be pulled down to their level. Firmly state your case and politely end the conversation if you feel this is happening.
Where to Get Help
Remember, when someone attempts to control you, it is never coming from a place of love, but from a place of fear. The abuser is suffering and may not be aware of his or her behavior. However, it is equally important to know that manipulation and controlling behavior are toxic and never lead to a healthy, open, and honest relationship.
If you feel you are in a controlling relationship that is mentally, emotionally, or physically unsafe, trust your gut and safely leave the situation. Below are some places you can contact for help.
National Domestic Violence Hotline. They are available 24 hours a day and can be reached by phone at 800-799-7233.
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. They prevent suicide and provide free and confidential support 24/7.
Pathways to Safety International provides legal advocacy and professional counseling.
Dr. Cynthia Post focuses on guiding patients to understand the underlying causes of whatever is troubling them. Her phone number is 301-587-7551.
Isabella Boston is a multi-talented writer and the founder of Bella’s Attic Studio. She has several years of experience in content writing, copywriting, and social media strategies. Isabella is a survivor of domestic abuse, both physical and mental, and is dedicated to spreading awareness on the topic.
[i] Lamothe, C. (2019, November 22). Controlling people: 12 signs to watch for. Healthline. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health/controlling-people#blaming-you [ii] Lebow, H. I. (2021, June 10). Are you in a controlling relationship? here's how to know. Psych Central. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/signs-controlling-partner-relationship#signs-of-a-controlling-partner [iii] WebMD. (n.d.). Controlling behavior: 7 signs to look for. WebMD. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-controlling-behavior