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Control issues can be scary, and many people are affected by controlling behaviors. These types of relationships can result in severe physical and emotional consequences for those involved. Learning about what can lead to these behaviors and how they affect people are important steps in changing these behaviors.
What Does It Mean To Be Controlling?
When someone has control issues, they exert power over other people, situations and their environment to the point that it causes damage, hurt and problems for others. A controlling person will use manipulation, threats, intimidation and other forms of abuse to influence another person or situation. Control issues can happen in any type of relationship, such as family members, significant others, intimate partners, co-workers or friends.
What Causes Control Issues?
People can develop controlling issues beginning in childhood. Controlling behaviors can develop as a coping response to distressing situations as a way to cope or as a learned response to the environment.
People with anxiety tend to feel like they do not have control over many things in their lives. When someone with anxiety exerts power and control over their environment or other people, they may feel more stable. If someone feels distressed due to uncertainty in their life, controlling their environment (and the people in it) to feel like they can predict events and what others will do can ease that discomfort.
Social learning theory suggests that controlling others is a learned behavior. People may learn this behavior from witnessing it or experiencing it within their family, friends or other social networks. Some people may learn that they get what they want from controlling others. Other social forces, such as music, TV, media and sports, may also teach controlling behaviors.
People who have certain personality disorders may be more likely to engage in controlling behaviors. Some of these personality disorders are borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
Some traits in these personality disorders that may encourage the development of control issues are:
- Difficulty in controlling emotions
- Need for approval from others
- Fears of abandonment and rejection
- Fear of control from others
Types of Controlling Behaviors
When someone has control issues, they may try to exert control in a variety of different ways. Each of these types of controlling behaviors and tactics results in harmful and distressing consequences. They can even result in severe injuries, sicknesses and death.
People may develop certain behaviors as a way to gain a sense of control over their lives. Some examples include:
- Disordered eating
- Excessive exercising
- Self-harming behaviors
- Excessive cleaning, organizing and rearranging of things
Controlling people can use manipulative tactics to directly exert control over other people. They may exert control over others to get what they want or make what they want happen. It can occur subtly and increase to more overt and dangerous behaviors over time. Some examples include:
- Forcing or pressuring someone to engage in sexual activity
- Making threats to cause harm to someone
- Making threats to leave the relationship
- Making threats to commit suicide
- Calling someone names and using insults
- Placing blame on someone else for problems
- Threatening to take children away from someone
- Making decisions without seeking input or acknowledgment of input from another
Controlling Your Environment
People may try to control and exert power over their environment and situation. By doing so, they likely feel more secure because they have manipulated the environment around them to suit their needs. Some examples include:
- Monitoring another person’s social media, email and other forms of electronic messaging
- Restricting a person’s access to financial resources, assets and information
- Placing limits on someone’s interactions with friends and family
- Directing what another may watch on television, read, see on the internet, etc.
Is Control a Type of Abuse?
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence or abuse, as “willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.” While this definition specifically refers to an intimate type of relationship, the abuse can also occur in any relationship. Some common examples include:
- From a parent to child
- A child to a parent
- In academic settings
People experience domestic violence and abusive relationships across a range of severity and frequency, but it always involves someone trying to take power and control over someone else. It can occur using acts of:
- Physical violence
- Psychological violence
- Sexual violence
- Emotional abuse
When someone tries to control someone else, they are engaging in a form of abuse against another. That person is using manipulation tactics to try to influence someone to do something they might not want to do. That other person likely feels coerced. They may feel like they have no other choice but to give in to the controlling behavior. This controlling and abusive behavior can continue after someone leaves the relationship with the controlling person, as they may exert more tactics to try to regain control of the relationship.
Controlling behaviors can cause much harm and damage to the other person (or people) in the relationship, resulting in physical, emotional and psychological injuries to people. Sometimes, controlling behaviors can even result in death. People involved in a controlling relationship may feel:
- Isolated from others
When To Get Help for Controlling Behavior
The need for help with controlling behavior is present as soon as the controlling behaviors begin, as they can quickly escalate and become very dangerous. Getting help right away can prevent the situation from escalating to a more dangerous situation. However, it is never too late to get help for controlling behaviors.
People with controlling behavior can learn to change their behaviors. Through treatment, people can successfully learn to understand the triggers for the control issues, identify the causes, learn healthy and adaptive coping skills, learn new behaviors and learn new communication skills.
Some common forms of therapy to help treat control issues are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Learn how to change and restructure thought patterns that lead to controlling behaviors.
- Mindfulness-based interventions: Learn to focus on the present moment instead of reacting to the past or fears of the future.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): Learn skills to help regulate emotions and change the controlling behavior.
If you think you are dealing with control issues, please reach out for help. The Nobu app offers a variety of options that can offer support and assistance. You can access free mental health support, including learning coping skills, journaling prompts and goal setting. You can also connect to a mental health professional to address the controlling behavior during online therapy sessions. The app is available for download on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store.
Take Control Of Your Mental Health
- Antai, D. “Controlling Behavior, Power Relations Within Intimate Relationships and Intimate Partner Physical and Sexual Violence Against Women in Nigeria.” BMC Public Health, June 29, 2011. Accessed August 12, 2022.
- National Coalition To End Domestic Violence. “Learn More.” Accessed August 12, 2022.
- National Coalition To End Domestic Violence. “Dynamics of Abuse.” Accessed August 12, 2022.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Healthy Relationships.” Accessed August 10, 2022.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Power and Control.” Accessed August 10, 2022.
- Rakovec-Felser, Z.” Domestic Violence and Abuse in Intimate Relationship from Public Health Perspective.” Health Psychology Research, October 2014. Accessed August 12, 2022.
- Rapee, Ronald M., et al. “Measurement of Perceived Control Over Anxiety-Related Events.” Behavior Therapy, Spring 1996. Accessed August 10, 2022.
- Shkurko, T. “Socio-psychological Analysis of Controlling Personality.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2013. Accessed August 11, 2022.
- The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. “What Causes Relationship Abuse.” 2022. Accessed August 12, 2022.