By Nancy Virden (c)2021
The young recently divorced man said to me, “My wife was controlling, but her family says I am.” How are we to know the difference?
A pastor sent out a letter to his flock, of which I was a part, saying, “There is no reason unless you are ill to miss church.” Was he right?
A man interupts meetings, impairing the accomplishment of a group’s purpose. Eventually, the leader has to take a rather hard stand. The man says, “You are controlling and do not know it!” In case he is right, she asks friends and family. People who know her well say she is not controlling. Does leadership mean satisfying everyone in a group?
Was anyone in the above scenarios truly exhibiting controlling behavior?
7 signs to look for
We do not know by the above brief descriptions who was a controlling person. What looks controlling may be a bad mood, bad day, excess stress, leadership, or even bravery. Here are several signs to look for to decipher who may be trying to control your life.
- Intolerance of boundaries. A controlling person will be intolerant of your clearly expressed personal boundaries and regularly cross them, often followed by some sort of punishment if you dare insist. This may involve scolding, the silent treatment, nasty sarcasm, threats, or even abuse. Maybe the controller will falsely accuse you or gather support against you. If you draw clear boundaries and someone keeps crossing them, it may be time to ask, do I want this relationship?
- Offering no choice. This can be a lie; it is certainly deceit. To ask you for your preference and follow up with punishment if the controller does not like your decision, is a mind-game with severe consequences. Essentially the controller is tearing you down piece by piece. It is important to recognize you are not who this person says. You have the right from God to make decisions without fear of displeasing someone else.
- Legalism, threats, abuse, manipulations, lies. All these are signs someone is trying to exert power and control beyond their rightful role. Does a pastor actually have the authority to declare what the one in our example did? I think of the religious men in Jesus’ parable who would not stop to help a dying man because of their church (temple) duties. This pastor’s poorly worded letter (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt) does not automatically prove him controlling. However, a developed pattern of this and how he handles absentees will decide the whole truth.
- Disrespect for authority. You have heard of teenagers saying, “I didn’t ask for permission because I knew you would say no.” These teens are fighting to be in charge by sneaking privileges they do not have. Controllers do the same, except they never grow up. They do not want your opinion; they resent not being in charge themselves. They do not seem to know or care that leaders are privy to more details and possibly have more experience. If a rule or process exists, controllers demand an explanation they approve.
- Arguing. A controlling person may tend to argue. This could come as snide remarks, forceful (even rude) insistence, heated fights, talking over people, under the breath remarks, and more. If they can start an argument just to prove you wrong and themselves right, they will. This is not about people who enjoy healthy, mutual, respectful discussions and even passionate debate. In my experience, controllers do not accept challenges to their opinions very well or at all.
- Demanding/Nagging. This is probably the most easily recognizable sign of controlling behavior. However, for demandingness or nagging to exist it must be in opposition to what you decide or want. If for instance, you freely agree to complete a task within a timeframe and do not, no one is unreasonable to insist that you finish the task pronto. However, if your family plans to go to Disneyworld and a grandparent will not cease insisting you take her to Mount Rushmore instead, that may be controlling demandingness and nagging. Watch for long-term patterns.
- Casting blame. The controlling person in a relationship may not be the one you suspect. Is it you? Are you making it difficult for someone to complete their tasks? Are you in a constant fight against this person’s will? Adults are only in charge of their respective lives. When those lines blur consistently, someone may be controlling. As in the case of the young man and his ex-bride, it is but further attempts at control to blame the non-controlling person who takes a stand for rightful boundaries.
Boundaries are what you place around yourself to limit what you will allow in your life, not to stop someone else’s behavior. We cannot decide anyone else’s choices for them. Is someone trying to control you? Decide what you can do to put distance and safety between yourself and that person. Do not respond in kind.
Everyone has traits of being controlling because we do enjoy having our way. Healthy people do not make it a habit or exhaust the people around them.
Today’s Helpful Word
Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from human oppression, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine on your servant and teach me your decrees. – Prayer
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