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Do You Have a Controlling Personality?

This anxiety-driven defense destroys relationships.

Do you feel betrayed when others don’t do what you want? Do you wrestle with trusting people? Have a history of combative relationships?

If you answered yes, it’s possible you have a controlling personality. That’s right: You may be the cause of your biggest interpersonal headaches. But don’t worry, everyone has some controlling traits. Let’s take a look where they come from and how you can better manage them.

Why We Try to Control Others

The wish to control others is driven by high levels of internal anxiety. Rather than address those deep-seated fears at their source, controlling people project them onto their relationships, generating emotional pandemonium and instability by making others responsible for their discomfort.

In this way, the impulse to control serves a protective function against feelings of vulnerability, which controlling people associate with powerlessness. This is why they are often vigilant against appearing weak.

All of this makes sustaining intimacy with controlling people challenging, because their behavior causes:

  1. Escalating conflicts
  2. Decreasing trust
  3. Ongoing bickering

The Good and Bad News

People with controlling tendencies are frequently successful in their careers. They manage people, meet goals, and are relentlessly goal-driven. In business, they may rise to the top by working hard and surrounding themselves with employees who do their bidding without questioning them.

However, the personal life of a controlling person tends to be a mess. Friendships are volatile, intimacy runs hot and cold, and their relationships are always on trial.

How Do You Develop a Controlling Personality?

Certain parenting styles tend to foster a controlling personality. At the core of these parent-child relationships is a profound lack of attunement. For example:

  • Love was conditional and achievement based. As children, controlling people didn’t feel loved until they performed or met their parent’s needs.
  • Tasks were valued over relationships. The message was that what you produced was more important than who you are.
  • Nurturing was unreliable and inconsistent. Children learned to be wary of relying on or trusting others. As a result, they become fiercely independent adults, but frequently suffer bouts of intense loneliness.

Driven to Control

Rather than foster cooperation, folks with controlling personalities demand compliance. When denied, they can become punishing and vindictive.

Since they experience relying on others as dangerous, they develop unhealthy defenses against dependency, such as passive-aggressive behavior (guilting, shaming, or withdrawing) and bullying tactics (threats and ultimatums).

Additionally, when conflicts arise, the controlling person may turn paranoid or ruthlessly distort reality to maintain the feeling of being in control.

Controlling Language

Let’s take a look at how the controlling person communicates and how it undermines relationships. As you read these statement, pay close attention to the feelings they induce in you.

Controlling statements:

  • "I need you to do this now.”
  • "I didn't ask for your opinion.”
  • "Don't interrupt me.”

These “I-statements” aren’t requests; they’re orders. Orders and imperatives escalate conflict and fuel resistance. Notice that each statement lacks consideration, empathy, and respect. Here are the same statements with the controlling aspect removed.

Cooperative Statements:

  • "I feel anxious about this. How can we get it done together?”
  • "I appreciate your opinion. Let’s explore the best solution.”
  • "I know you’re excited. Let me finish speaking, and then I’d like to hear your ideas.”

The difference between the controlling and cooperative statements is simple: The controlling statements don’t value the relationship, while the cooperative statements do. Cooperative statements are built on shared expectations and mutual respect, making people feel recognized and valued. Controlling statements make people feel inhibited and resentful.

3 Solutions for the Controlling Personality

If you suspect you have controlling tendencies, here are some tips to consider.

1. Soften Your Approach.

Watch out for whether you're making demands or threats. Explore the situation without blame. Take responsibility for your feelings.

2. Foster Cooperation.

Strive to find common ground. Give and take. Welcome input, and work collaboratively.

3. Tend to Your Anxiety.

Spend time exploring the source of your anxiety without acting on it or projecting it on others. Most likely, it springs from your history, particularly any trauma related to intimacy or emotional neglect.

Strive to identify what triggers your wish to control others. Contain the impulse, soothe your anxiety, and you’ll find that your relationships will improve dramatically.

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