Coping with Controllers

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Coping with Controllers

by Dan Neuharth, PhD

Dr. Dan: I love my husband, but he's a control freak. He gives me "lessons" on the "right" way to load the dishwasher; he forbids me to change the radio or temperature controls when he drives; and he rarely admits he's wrong, even when we both know he is. He can be loving, generous, and endearing, but his obsessive control is making me nuts. If I challenge him, he becomes even more rigid. If I submit, I feel like a pushover. How do I cope?
Jade

Dear Jade: The first thing to remember about controlling people is that their control is driven by their fears and hopes. It's hard not to take it personally when control is directed at you, but it isn't personal. When they're in controlling mode, they're dancing to fears that leave them with less freedom than a marionette although they may not know it. Unfortunately, many controllers try to escape feeling helpless by trying to pull the strings of those around them.

Two questions to ask yourself in any controlling relationship:

1)  Is the control abusive? It is never okay to be physically, sexually, emotionally or verbally abused. You don't have to take it. Seek professional help and, if the abusive pattern continues, get out.

2)  On balance, do I gain or lose more from the relationship? All relationships involve compromises. You wrote that your husband can be both crazy-making and endearing. What's the overall ratio? If, in response to his control, you give up your principles, ideals, goals, and sense of self, that's a tremendous price. If, on the other hand, the relationship offers you more than it costs, find ways to cope.

Some suggestions for dealing with controlling mates, friends, family, clients, and/or co-workers:

Simply observe their control. Take a day and make mental notes of what seems to set them off. The great thing about research is that nothing can go wrong everything that happens is data from which you can learn.

Switch the focus. If someone seems fixated on telling you what you're doing wrong, get them to talk about themselves. Ask how they faced a similar situation. That may be what they want to talk about anyway.

Pick your battles. Decide which relationship issues are most important and insist of them. Then let the others go. Perhaps then you can just let the dishwasher-and-dashboard domination pass with a smile.

Be the person you want to be. Trying to out-control control freaks generally doesn't work; they've had a lot more practice at it than you.

Understand why they control. Compulsive behavior generally is driven by anxiety about what they view as a dangerous, unpredictable world. When you know why they act as they do, you can have compassion for their behavior.

Experiment. Ask your partner to switch roles for five minutes. You be the controller and your partner plays you. Then talk about what the experience was like.

Give time to yourself. In any relationship, you have the right to say, "I'd like some time to consider what you said. Let's talk again tomorrow."

Finally, keep your sense of humor. As humorist Brian Kiley said, "I love being married. I was single for a long time and I got so sick of finishing my own sentences."

Here are some of my favorite books about coping with controllers:

Why Is It Always About You?  Saving Yourself from the Narcissists in Your Life  Sandy Hotchkiss
Controlling People: How to Recognize, Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You  Patricia Evans
Emotional Blackmail 
Susan Forward
The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists  Eleanor Payson
Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man  Scott Wetzler
Loving the Self-Absorbed 
Nina Brown
Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry  Albert Bernstein
I Hate You -- Don't Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality  Jerold Kreisman
Stop Walking on Eggshells  Paul Mason
Lost in the Mirror: An Inside Look at Borderline Personality Disorder  Richard Moskovitz
When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal with Friends Who Betray, Abandon, or Wound You  Jan Yager
People-Reading: How We Control Others, How They Control Us  Ernst Beier
In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People  George Simon
Coping with Difficult People  Robert Bramson
The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern  Nina Brown
How to Break Your Addiction to a Person  Howard Halpern
Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage  Susan Forward
Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
  Lundy Bancroft

Click on links below to read other Ask Dr. Dan Columns:

Coping with Controllers Self-centered People Live Your Dreams Get Out of Your Way 'Uh-Oh' Birthdays Balanced Parenting Choosing to Parent

Back to directory of archived "Ask Dr. Dan" columns

This column is designed for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for psychotherapy or a visit to a mental health professional. If you experience abnormal anxiety, depression, or serious emotional or situational difficulties, please seek professional help immediately

This column originally appeared on ShesGotItTogether.com
 

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If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World
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