Tips On How To Deal With Controlling People

Tips On How To Deal With Controlling People

If you are reading this blog post, you probably have someone in your life that exhibits controlling behavior.  Controlling people are not difficult to find.  You can find controlling people as parents, bosses, co-workers, at church, romantic relationships, or just interacting with strangers.

Controlling people can be extremely emotionally draining.  They can leave you completely confused and stressed out.  Think about the relationships you have in your life and consider the following questions.  Do they leave you feeling distressed?  Do you feel like you are being suffocated?  Do you feel like you have to tip-toe around them to avoid confrontation?  Do you find yourself always trying to do your best to please them?  If you answer yes to these questions, you may find yourself interacting with a controlling person.

The temptation may be to try and change the controlling person.  Chances are that will not work out well.  Here are some tips on how to deal with controlling people.

  1. Realize that Controlling People Feel Like Life Is Out of Control

People who use controlling behavior suffer from anxiety and fear.  The controlling behavior is an attempt to avoid a perceived threat to what is most important to themselves.  Often they are not aware of the anxiety-related compulsions they thrust on others.

William Drake gives us some insight in people who struggle with controlling behavior, “People who have anxiety-related control issues are often perceived as someone who has it all ‘under control.’ That is the persona they embody and work very hard for the world to see. They have learned that the best way to fend off anxiety is to depend only on themselves. If they want a job done, and done right, they have to do it alone, so they may always look like they’re on top of things. Inside, however, they might be anything but calm, cool, and collected. In fact, they’re most likely a ball of nerves just waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for all of their plans to fall apart.” footnote

 Knowing the reasons why a person attempts to control you will not resolve their issues, but it can help you manage your reactions more effectively.  Rather than simply reacting to the controlling behavior, recognize the person is struggling with anxiety.  This is counterintuitive because they appear to be in control and have life together.  However, the person may have experienced wounds in the past that trigger anxiety in the present.  The fear of negative consequences trigger responses to avoid a similar result.  This behavior when practices often can become automatic when stress is introduced.  Controlling behavior can become a habit that is not easily broken.

  1. Understand their Need for Control

Relational Intelligence teaches us that people have three basic needs to feel good about ourselves.  I write about these needs in Three Passions of the Soul.  They are central in understanding what is the need behind controlling behavior.  We have three passions that drive our behavior.  They are all related to being loved – the way God loves which is unconditionally.  We want to be accepted by others.  This is behind the fear of rejection.  We want to be significant in the eyes of others.  Being invisible or worthless produces anxiety that leads to working hard not to fail.  We also want to be secure and safe.  This is true physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  When we feel unsafe it produces anxiety that can trigger a desire to create a safer environment.  Since The Fall in the Garden of Eden, we have lost the knowledge of the perfect love of our creator, and we have been trying to have those needs met apart from God.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ promises us the fullness of God’s love where all those needs are fully met unconditionally.  No believer in Christ should ever feel unaccepted, insignificant or unsafe.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God!

We all struggle to appropriate the Gospel to our lives and try to achieve our soul’s needs apart from Him.  When we do this, we sometimes turn to control.  We all do it for different reasons.  The SDI 2.0 assessment helps us to understand what is most important to us.  BLUE motivation is driven by acceptance of people.  They may resort to control to try to maintain relationships or to make sure other people are cared for.  RED motivation is driven by performance so we may try to control people to achieve our goals to feel significant.  GREEN motivation is driven by a need to do the right thing because that is the safest option.  When the right decision is being resisted, we might chose to try and control others to do what we believe is right.  No one has a monopoly on control! It is not a RED or GREEN thing!

Understanding the motives behind the perceived annoying, aggravating, and possibly demeaning actions, words, and attitude of a person with a controlling personality is essential in helping others to deal with that person. If the person is your boss, they may be experiencing anxiety. They may then be dealing with that anxiety by attempting to control every detail of certain projects, or simply micro-managing you. That degree of control may even have led them to become successful in work or other scenarios. If you work on understanding the source of the controlling behavior, it could help to lessen your negative reactions toward that person.

  1. Focus on the Need Behind the Behavior

Our temptation when we experience controlling behavior of someone else is to become defensive and protect ourselves.  If you are struggling with a controlling person, try to separate the behavior from the need.  What is the need and desire of the controlling person that is triggering the controlling behavior?  Rather than react to the behavior, address the desire behind it.

Your response may be to address the source of anxiety behind the control rather than the control itself.  Assure them of your understanding of what is important to them.  If they are a believer and a follower of Christ, you may even want to share your confidence in God’s love and care over them (avoid being preachy or better than them).  Speaking the Gospel into each other’s lives with encouragement and sometime with exhortation is how we grow together in Christ.  We can all get life out of perspective at times, and we need reminders of God’s unfailing love.

  1. Be a Person of Trust

Controlling behavior and micro-management is sometimes a sign that someone doesn’t trust you to do what you say.  When you are dependent on someone doing their part and they fail, you may lose trust.  If this happens over and over again, you may become a “controlling person” in the eyes of that person.  Learning to be trustworthy is not only who we should be in Christ, but it will help alleviate anxiety in people you are relating to which will lesson the temptation to use controlling behavior.

Living with a controlling person at home or at work can be toxic and even take a toll on your mental health.  This article is not meant to replace getting professional help from a licensed counselor.  If you are struggling, you may need help from a professional and need to establish boundaries.  I trust you will live gracefully with those who are struggling with anxiety, and it pours out on you as control.  May your love given to you by the Spirit give you patience and self-control as you seek to live in peace.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.