Control, while necessary in certain facets of life such as management or organization, can become a destructive force when misused in interpersonal relationships. Controlling behaviour can be both obvious and subtle, making it sometimes difficult to recognize, especially when deeply entrenched in the dynamics of a relationship. Recognizing and addressing controlling tendencies is vital to ensuring the health and happiness of both individuals involved.
1. What is Controlling Behaviour?
At its core, controlling behaviour is any action or pattern aimed at dictating the actions, emotions, or decisions of another individual, denying them autonomy and freedom. It’s a tactic used by one person to gain power over another.
2. Overt Signs of Control
The more noticeable forms of controlling behaviour include:
Demands and Commands: Instead of asking, the controlling person may frequently order their partner or friend around, expecting immediate compliance.
Isolation: They may try to cut you off from family, friends, or activities that you enjoy, claiming they are ‘protecting’ you or justifying it as being ‘for your own good.’
Threats and Intimidation: Using threats, whether direct or veiled, to get their way. This can include threats of harm, ending the relationship, or revealing embarrassing information.
Monitoring and Surveillance: Constantly checking on the whereabouts, messages, social media activity, or calls of the other person.
3. The Subtler Shades of Control
Subtle control can be more challenging to identify because it often masquerades as concern, love, or being ‘for your own good.’
Guilt Tripping: Using emotions as weapons, controllers might say things designed to make the other person feel guilty or responsible for the controller’s feelings.
Gaslighting: A sophisticated form of manipulation where the controller causes the victim to doubt their memories, perception, or reality.
‘Jokes’ that Undermine: Making belittling comments or jokes at the expense of the other person, and then brushing them off as ‘just teasing’ if confronted.
Conditional Love: Their affection and approval seem contingent on the other person’s behaviour, often causing the victim to constantly strive for their controller’s validation.
Financial Control: This can include withholding money, not allowing the other person to work, or making them entirely financially dependent.
4. The Impact of Controlling Behaviour
Being on the receiving end of controlling behaviour can be devastating:
Diminished Self-worth: Over time, the controlled individual can begin to see themselves through the eyes of the controller, leading to decreased self-esteem and self-worth.
Isolation: As a result of the controller’s actions or out of sheer exhaustion from constantly explaining or defending a relationship, individuals may distance themselves from family and friends.
Depression and Anxiety: Chronic control and the resultant feeling of powerlessness can lead to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder in extreme cases.
5. Why Do People Exhibit Controlling Behaviours?
While it doesn’t excuse the behaviour, understanding the reasons behind it can offer insights:
Insecurity: Deep-seated insecurities and feelings of inadequacy can make people grasp at control to feel better about themselves.
Past Traumas: Experiences from the past, especially in childhood or previous relationships, can lead to controlling behaviours as a defense mechanism.
Fear of Abandonment: Some controllers are terrified of being left, and their behaviours, though misguided, are attempts to keep the other person close.
6. Breaking the Chains of Control
Recognizing the problem is the first step. From there:
Seek Support: Whether it’s friends, family, or professionals, talking to someone can provide clarity.
Set Boundaries: Establishing and maintaining boundaries is crucial. Make it clear what behaviours are unacceptable.
Communication: If safe to do so, communicate your feelings to the controlling individual. They may not be aware of the effects of their actions.
Empowerment: Regaining a sense of control over one’s life can be achieved by taking small steps such as joining a class, re-establishing contact with a friend, or seeking financial independence.
Safety First: In cases where control escalates to threats or physical harm, it’s crucial to prioritize safety. Contact local authorities or organizations specializing in domestic abuse.
Controlling behaviours, whether glaring or subtle, are harmful facets of a relationship dynamic. Recognizing these patterns and taking proactive steps is vital for the well-being of the individuals involved. Remember, every individual deserves respect, autonomy, and the freedom to make choices about their own lives. Healthy relationships are built on trust, understanding, and mutual respect, not power and control.