The characteristics of a controlling person vary from one individual to the next. In other words, there is no stereotypical controlling person. They are all different. For example, you can have someone who is the life and soul of any party but is a tyrant behind closed doors and you can have someone who hardly ever socializes but is very controlling of his own family. Some are lazy, some spend a lot of time doing things. Some are very agile with their words while others seem to have a limited vocabulary.
Some people get themselves out of a controlling relationship and think, "If ever I meet another person like that, I know to avoid them." But the next controller they meet is sufficiently different that the person's defense system does not notice and before they know what is happening, they have been caught again. So let's have a look at the particular characteristics of a controlling person that let you know that you need to take action.
They can be the the most wonderful person to outsiders but irritable, critical and argumentative at home.
Initially they were caring, attentive and friendly but over time they became cold, distant and demanding.
They often have a very quick temper that is hidden from you at the start of the relationship. This temper can be very frightening.
They lose their temper over little things, or seemingly over nothing at all.
This temper can disappear as quickly as it appeared. You are an emotional mess and they carry on as if nothing at all happened.
They can seem to be jealous. They want to know where you were, who you were with what was said, and so on.
They always have justifications for this jealous behavior. "I care about you, I'm interested in your life, I want to protect you, I was cheated on before..."
They tend to be very critical of others. They have no problem talking badly about anyone, even if they have just been very friendly to the person a few minutes previously.
They often come across as supremely confident. They consider themselves the best. At everything. Even when they have no experience in some field, they act as if they know enough to give opinions on it.
They feel entitled... to whatever they want... at any time.
They do not tolerate criticism, challenges or questioning. If you get angry, they get ten times more angry so that you end up backing down.
They can be very good actors. They present themselves differently to different people, as if they have different identities.
They can make you feel sorry for them in all sorts of ways. They play the victim role very well. They know if they can get you to feel sorry for them, they are well on the way to controlling you. This technique is called the pity play.
They are professional liars. They will even tell lies when it would be better for them to tell the truth.
Things have to be done their way. "It's my way or the highway" kind of thing.
They take and take and take, but give very little. They certainly tell you that they give a lot. And whenever they give, they expect you to give more.
They may know a lot of people (or claim to know a lot of people!) but they have few, if any, real friends. This is one of the reasons they have so much time for you, the new person in their lives.
They can be cruel, callous and calculating. It can be shocking to see what you thought of as a kind, caring person do things that are, at times, horrific.
Now, it's not necessary for each and every one of these characteristics of a controlling person to be present in one individual before you classify them as controlling. But if you can see many of theses traits in your partner or friend or work colleague, then you need to pay attention.
Remember, too, that there are also different types of controlling people. You can read more about the different types of controllers here.
When talking about these particular characteristics of a controlling person I am going to talk in general because it's important that you can see the overall patterns. The words or gestures may differ from one controlling person to another so it's important that you don't get lost in the particular phrases but that you can recognize the bigger picture.
At the start of a relationship, they will typically ask you lots of questions about yourself. They make you feel that they are really interested in you. They are actually gathering information.
Later on, if they think you are holding information back, they will elicit information by saying they feel that you are not including them, you are selfish or they will call you a liar. The natural response is to try and convince them that these things are not true. The way that you do that is, of course, by giving them information. And the more information they have about you, the easier it is for them to control you.
They may even start arguments because they know that people often say things in arguments that they might not otherwise say.
Initially they will say all sorts of nice things to make you feel special and unique. They manage to link all these nice feelings to themselves. So it's not that they are bolstering your self-esteem for the sake of doing that, they are building you up so you feel good around them.
Later on, they start to let you know what they want and what they don’t want. Sometimes this is direct and sometimes it's done indirectly. For example, they tell you a story about an ex or a friend and how that person did something that they didn't like and how upset they were about it. This is an indirect way of telling you how they expect to be treated.
Insults, criticisms and put downs. There are no shortage of these things, both in private and in public. They will even talk about your private stuff with others, even in front of you. But you are never, ever allowed to do the same with them. Not even once. If you do, there is hell to pay.
In a relationship with these people, there will be an avalanche of lies coming your way every day. Some of the lies are so big that people cannot imagine that they might be lies.
There may be stories about their past, about how good and successful they are, about the important people they know and things that generally show them up in a good light. There typically won't be stories about their mistakes. Some of these stories may sound like exaggerations, but you are not allowed to question them. The vast majority are lies, distortions or 'half truths'.
If you challenge them on their behavior, they have the ability to twist and distort things in such a way that they end up accusing you of the same type of behavior and you may even end up apologizing to them for it!
Many of them can talk for a long time. They can talk for so long that you end up just nodding and going along with whatever it is they want.
They will criticize your personality, who you are. Instead of saying, "That's a stupid thing to do" they say "You are stupid for doing that." This is very destructive and is an important aspect of how these people change your personality to be they want it to be. They make you feel so bad about who you are that you are willing to change to earn their praise and approval.
They often connect things that have no logical connection. You walk away from an argument confused and unable to remember how the conversation actually went. And you typically didn't get what you wanted either.
Did I mention the lies?!? They can be such good liars that the victim may not work out for years that they have been lied to over and over again.
One of the characteristics of a controlling person is that they can do things that most people cannot do. I am talking specifically about people who control for the sake of controlling, not those who are jealous because they were actually cheated on in the past or someone with an issue like obsessive compulsive disorder.
The people who have relationships based on coercion and domination are those with a personality disorder, psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. Your idea of what a psychopath or a narcissist is may not match how you think about the controlling person in your life. However, it's important that you determine if that person is a psychopath or a narcissist, because if so, the rules are very different. These types are capable of all sorts of things because of the fact that they do not have emotions, or their emotions are very shallow compared to normal.
They want what they want and they want it now. They consider that the end justifies the means. What that implies is that they are prepared to do whatever they want to in order to have their instant gratification. As long as they have what they want, they think they are justified in doing anything to others.
They will lie, cheat, deceive, bilk, swindle and manipulate others for any reason.
They will cheat on their partners, and if they do it once, they have typically done it many times.
They will steal.
They will break your stuff.
They will deliberately lose or destroy your stuff.
They will financially control people, to the point of, for example, giving their partner money to go to get groceries but they will expect to be given the receipt and change. They will often insist on taking care of the finances, claiming to be better at this than their partner.
They can prevent you from getting a job and are capable of getting you fired to keep you financially dependent on them.
Alternatively, they will give up their own job and live off your salary.
They will borrow money and not pay it back.
They have no sense of responsibility. This shows up in many ways. They don't keep their promises. They don't follow the rules. (Hence the term antisocial behavior) They often even defy court orders. They don’t return favors.
They say one thing and they do another. This can be difficult for the victim to recognize because the manipulator will have seemingly good reasons to justify themselves (and the victim is programmed to believe the manipulator).
They keep moving the goalposts. Just when you think you have done well, they expect more. "You have done that, have you? Well, you didn't do it fast enough!"
They will separate you from your friends and family. This is Mind Control 101. You probably won't notice it at first. There are comments about friends and family that change your impression of them and you drift away from them, usually thinking that they are responsible for moving away from you.
They can spend a lot of money and nobody knows where it goes.
They often don’t pay bills, taxes or debts. They often run up a lot of debt and bounce around from one financial crisis to another.
They may have lots of run-ins with the law.
They may take very little care of their own health. They will take no care of your health, unless they are using your illness to control you.
Again, not all these particular characteristics of a controlling person have to be present in one person to label them controlling. Even experiencing a few of these at the hands of a controller can be devastating for the victim.
You can read more about coercive control, toxic families, how to spot a sociopath, signs your partner is controlling, dealing with controlling people, what makes someone a psychopath? and narcissistic abuse recovery.
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