Why Do People Try to Control Others? Part One

men's black Derby Bowler hatAs I descended the hill into the parking lot of the retreat center, I noticed a man with a clipboard standing on the left edge of the gravel drive. His black Derby Bowler hat accentuated his dark eyes. He stared me down, indicating that I was to stop and lower my window. Without any greeting, he asked, “What time is it?” “Ten to seven,” I confidently answered. I was proud of myself for arriving on time, so I thought since I had driven over a hundred miles through some heavy traffic to get to the site. With his daunting stare, he said, “You are ten minutes early. You aren’t supposed to arrive until 7:00. Turn around, leave here, and return at seven.” I raised my window, turned around, and drove back up the entry drive to park in a nearby neighborhood. I was steaming inside as I glared out my windshield, feeling humiliated and angry. This was my initial step in awakening to a painful awareness about control.

The guy’s behavior indeed appeared to be controlling. But as I learned later, the weekend event was designed to awaken and motivate men to address our lives’ destructive failings, patterns, and wounds. Everything about the weekend, including the parking attendant, prompted participants to look within themselves and how they respond to various situations.

For me, the weekend began with realizing that I was not in control because what gnawed at me and aroused my anger was that I wanted to have control.

Whereas the man in the Derby Bowler hat was instructed to have control, I was insistent on being in control.

Controlling behavior will damage any relationship: marriage, siblings, coworkers, neighbors, and anywhere you find two or more people.

Controlling behavior is the attempt to control how others act, how they think, how they feel, how they respond, how they live, how they use their money, and more. Controlling behavior violates the boundaries of healthy relationships.

As a fruit of the Spirit, self-control is something to seek. Attempting to control others is something to surrender.

Most of us can identify someone who is controlling. Determining our tendency to control others is more challenging. This blog aims to help us recognize our controlling behavior. In my next blog, I recommend how we might overcome our attempt and pattern to control.

Recognizing our controlling behavior

Control grows out of fear. Whether your family of origin was a stable environment or a traumatic experience, fear can be born in both settings.

Some people are raised in a chaotic, unpredictable, or abusive home. Many grow up attempting to seize control in their fearful effort to prevent turmoil and abuse from ever occurring again.

I grew up in a stable home. Comfort was my experience, and it also became my expectation. I feared any form of difficulty. As I got older, I resorted to control in hopes of protecting myself from potential hardship or conflict.

In both settings, the attempt to control grew out of fear. Often, our controlling behavior becomes our way of life.

Whether your family of origin was a stable environment or a traumatic experience, fear can be born in both settings.

We are oblivious to our controlling behavior unless we ask ourselves some hard questions. Do some self-examination by asking yourself these questions. Don’t rush through them. After going through them, revisit them at a later time.

  • Do I insist that things be done my way?
  • Do I sulk to get my spouse, or anyone, to give in and agree with me or do what I want them to do?
  • Have I ever asked my spouse, or anyone, if they view me as controlling?
  • Do I ever ask for input from others regarding an idea or project I have in mind?
  • How do I respond when others give unsolicited input into one of my ideas or projects?
  • Am I agitated when things don’t go my way? Do I fear losing influence? How do I behave towards others during those times? Do I attempt to control their actions and decisions?
  • Do I keep requesting or insisting that others (e.g., spouse, children, partner, co-worker) spend more time with me?
  • What happens to me internally when a project is not being done the “right way,” that is, according to my preferences? Do I then move in to take over (control) the project?
  • Do I cast an image of myself, hoping to control how others think of me?
  • When I have a conflict, do I insist the other person listen to and agree with me? Or do I go away sulking, hoping they will feel bad at some point, and give in?
  • Do I harshly resist following rules that don’t make sense to you?
  • Do I react angrily when you think others are trying to control you?

Behind each of these controlling behaviors, there is a fear. Can you identify that fear?

Perhaps you admit that you are controlling, but you believe it has worked for you. If so, would others in your network of relationships say it has worked for them being on the receiving end? If you don’t care what they think, what does that say about you?

  • Controlling behavior can become abusive. Control is abusive when it is:
    Intimidating. Intimidation uses threats, demeaning words, blaming, physical gestures such as a pointed finger or fist, yelling and screaming, etc
  • Dominating. Domination uses power over someone. This can occur sexually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As I suggested earlier, take time tomorrow to revisit the questions I’ve posed.

As I drove back up that hill at the end of the men’s weekend, I was entering a new phase in personal development. I was beginning my new journey of surrendering control. I had a taste of freedom. And I liked the guy in the Derby Bowler hat.

My next blog will offer input into overcoming our controlling behavior. Watch for it sometime in June.

Add Your Comment