The short answer to the question 'what is a controlling person?' is that it is someone who manipulates the thinking, beliefs, perceptions, decision making, behaviors and emotions of others in such a way that they literally create a reality for the victim and expect the victim to live within that reality. This reality is created for the benefit of the controlling person and there is little or no consideration given to the well being of the victim, or victims.
There are people who control others for the sake of controlling others. There is lots written about the reasons people exert control in relationships, anxiety, jealousy, insecurity, low self esteem and so on. I have written more on this idea in the article about whether controlling people can change or not. For the purposes of the rest of this article, I am going to concentrate on those who set out to control others, because this group cause a huge amount of damage and if you are in a relationship with one of them, you really need to know about it because the rules you have to play by and the measures you need to take are outside the normal range. If you try and apply the usual rules of society with these people, things will go badly for you.
These types believe that they are superior to others, they have a huge sense of entitlement and expect to be treated as special. They want the world to be they want it to be and they want is so right now. They don't like to be kept waiting, but they have no problem keeping others waiting.
The usual rules don't apply to them. They have their own rules that they abide by. And they change their rules when it suits them. Of course, they have rules for everyone else, too, and everyone is expected to know what they are!
They will often want to hang around with rich, successful people, believing they are in the same category, it's just that their brilliance hasn't been recognized by the world yet. They may have stories about having met various famous people, too.
These types are never wrong, and they don’t fail. If anything around them goes wrong it is invariably someone else's fault. They have an ability to twist and distort information to put the blame on anyone else except themselves. If they don't achieve some goal or outcome, they will explain that they didn’t actually want that outcome, they had changed their mind some time earlier and were aiming for something else and they will have justifications for this change of mind.
They will take what they want. They will take your time, your energy, your body, your creativity, your money, your heart (and your soul) and even your identity. For these types, the end justifies the means. So whatever they want (remember that entitlement?), they consider themselves justified in doing whatever it takes to have that. This means that they will do things that are illegal, immoral, unethical, cruel and abusive to any degree and will convince you that it's all ok.
They consider themselves the best at what they do. They can be very competitive, wanting to win, be first, be better, be ahead in lots of areas. If you have a story about something, they have a better one, if you achieved something, they achieved more, if you buy something, they had or have a better one.
They believe that because they are superior beings that they should choose, they should make the decisions, and everyone else should be imitating them. This is why, in cults, for example, everyone believes, thinks and behaves the way the leader wants. In abusive relationships, the victims are also following the leader, dressing, eating, acting the way the abuser thinks they should. And it's all for the benefit of the manipulator. It all makes the leader's life more comfortable.
The behaviors of controlling people are all about building compliance. In other words, getting you to do exactly what they want you to do. They are not interested in 'influence' or 'sway' or 'leverage'. They go straight for submission and obedience.
In George Orwell's 1984, a member of the totalitarian regime explains, "… the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation."
Controlling your behavior is best done by controlling everything, your thoughts, your emotions, your perception of yourself and the world and even your perception of your abuser.
When people think of controlling behavior they often think about insults, threats, belittling and so on. Making friends is not high on the list. But making friends is something lots of the manipulators do at the start of a relationship, whether it's an intimate relationship or a cult setting.
If you knew a person was controlling, you would stay well clear. So the manipulator often pretends to be something they are not. If you meet someone who is friendly, caring, interested in you, offering you what you want and need, who makes you feel great about yourself, what's not to like? It's easy to get involved with someone like this. You believe they care about you, respect you and have your best interests at heart. You like them, care about them and may end up falling in love with them. You feel safe with them. And above all, you trust them and you give great importance to their opinions. This is why making friends is often the first tactic used by the controlling person. They are directly controlling your first impressions of them. And it's all a huge lie.
They know that first impressions count. First impressions last. First impressions may be difficult to change. When their overtly controlling behavior kicks in, you end up justifying it away thinking that it's not normal, the relationship is great, this marvelous person is having a bad day, what is happening is out of character or it is temporary and so on.
At the start of the relationship, there are lots of rewards. You are made to feel great. Compliments, gifts, interesting conversations, promises of good times ahead, realizing that you have met someone who has similar interests and who understands you, all make you feel incredible. The future is very bright.
Then the love and care that you are receiving switches to being conditional. The controlling person doesn’t like this or that. They want you to do certain things and not do others. In order to keep up the good times, you comply. After all, they are just small things and it's relatively easy for you to do. But over time, these small things add up and you end up doing more and more to please this person.
As time passes, there are less and less nice times and more and more stressful moments. Now the overtly controlling behavior starts to appear. But initially you don't recognize it as overtly controlling. You are just trying to keep your head above water, you are trying to keep your partner (or the group and the leader) happy, trying not to upset them, walking on eggshells all the time.
Now the threats, the ridiculing, insults, withholding, belittling and demands are raining down. Instead of doing things to get rewards, you spend your time trying to avoid punishments. At this point your perception of the world, your self esteem and your ability to think are so distorted it's almost impossible to recognize that you are in an abusive relationship. You are living in a reality where it seems that 'this is the way the world works'. It may take months or even years for a person to figure out that they need to leave the relationship.
Obviously in a family situation, the sequence of events is slightly different because there is none of the love-bombing at the start of the relationship. A child born to a controlling parent is introduced into an environment where the control and abuse is ever present. The child, not knowing any different, considers the abuse and control as normal, 'that's the way things are.'
The child is kept dependent, not allowed to make decisions, nor express their wants and needs and they only get to explore the world under the guidance of the controlling parent. The child grows up in a particular reality created by the controlling parent with distorted perceptions, a distorted sense of self and a distorted understanding of what parents, family life and relationships are all about. These distortions typically lead to problems in later life, including but not limited to, getting caught in abusive relationships as an adult.
If a controlling person is born into a family, then as soon as they start to interact with volition in the family, the manipulation, deceit and lies begin. This can be as early as 2 or 3 years of age. (These children are labeled as having conduct disorder, and in particular exhibit callous and unemotional traits.)
They become the focal point of the family, taking up attention, time and resources. The manipulative child makes themselves the center of attention, doing what they like and when they like. The child is often impossible to manage. No amount of punishments seem to faze such a child. They just do not care about being punished. It's more important to them that they are not bound by the rules. In fact, later in life such children often claim that they were abused as children, eliciting pity from the listeners.
These children terrorize their siblings. They often exhibit cruelty to animals and set fires, too. They may exhibit extreme jealousy of their siblings, destroy their toys, physically attack them, lie about their siblings, falsely blame them for problems and get them into trouble and generally make their siblings lives miserable.
The type of people I am talking about here are those who control because they want to dominate and manipulate others. These people have no conscience and no empathy. This allows them to treat others in any manner without feeling bad about it at all. These are people with personality disorders, the psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists.
They also have a huge sense of entitlement, which means they consider themselves superior to others and they believe they should have what they want, when they want it and how they want it. They expect special treatment from those around them. They want to be considered the best, they believe people should aspire to be not just like them, but should be them.
There are important things about such people that have a profound influence on how you need to think about them and, more importantly, that affect how you manage a relationship with them.
They have no emotions (or very, very shallow emotions)
They have zero empathy for others
They are professional liars
They do not change (apart form getting better at the manipulation and control over time!)
They change people's personalities (to be more submissive and subservient)
They know exactly what they are doing (yes, they are that cold, callous and calculating!)
You cannot negotiate with them. They lie, cheat and change their mind constantly.
Although it can be difficult, it's vitally important to recognize these people because dealing with someone like this is considerably more complicated than dealing with a person who is controlling because they really were cheated on in the past (and not just lying about it) or someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder. These situations are worlds apart.
You can read more about abusive wives, a test for controlling boyfriends, stages of an abusive relationship, dealing with a toxic family and leaving a controlling husband, and recovering from a narcissistic relationship.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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