In my workshops and counseling sessions, I am on a quest to help people discover why they struggle as they do with errant emotions and relationship turmoil. In one case after another, individuals come to realize that the attempt to be in control is at the heart of their problems. The methods people use to find control vary greatly among the individuals, yet vying for control stands out as one of the primary reasons people have problems.
I am guessing that you can point out ways that you feel controlled by others in your world. Perhaps you sense that others have an agenda for your life and they have made it their job to fit you onto that agenda. But is the reverse ever true? Do you ever find yourself trying to make people think and act as you want? Or perhaps I should just ask how you go about trying to control others, knowing that indeed you do.
Some controlling behaviors are very obvious. They would include: being bossy, imposing opinions, refusing accountability, griping, criticizing, acting intimidating, arguing forcefully, being insistent.
Other controlling behaviors are less overwhelming yet they too are readily identifiable. They would include: interrupting others, being stubborn, insisting on sameness in routines, constant checking, being finicky or perfectionistic, talking too much, acting defensively, having to be in charge.
Still other controlling behaviors are more subtle, though nonetheless, they too can create problems. They would include: chronic tardiness, procrastination, laziness, silent withdrawal, half-hearted efforts, tuning out, being a poor listener, evasiveness, promising something then deliberately not doing it, giving hateful glares.
Are you aware of the controlling behaviors that are most common to you? As you can tell, there is no shortage of ways this trait can be manifested. If you have ever felt like your relationships are too strongly defined by power struggles or irritabilities, it is a virtual certainty that you will be tempted to go into some form of controlling behavior.
As you are prompted to identify your controlling tendencies, there is another awareness for you to consider. Most controlling behavior can bring victories of a sort over the short term, but over the longer passage of time you will inevitably find that the effort to control leads to relationship disaster. Simply put, control is an illusion. It doesn’t work. Not only will you find that others resist your efforts to control them, they will engage in a battle with you for counter control.
The best analogy I can offer is to have you consider the mindset of a dog that lives cooped inside the backyard fence day after day. It may be a beautifully landscaped yard and you could even give the dog a T-bone steak each day. Yet, as long as the dog remains inside the fence, one thought dominates his mind: “Get me out of here!” When the gate finally swings open, the dog won’t walk, but he’ll bolt in a mad dash. Once outside the fence, he can be quite indiscriminate regarding where he goes or what he does.
Humans can nurse similar feelings. When others sense that you are attempting to fence them in with an unwavering insistence upon correctness, they will want relief, preferably sooner than later. Built into human nature is the desire to be free, to have choices in life. When the privilege of freedom is denied as the battle over control ensues, the emotions accompanying that battle are usually ugly.
People who understand the futility of controllong behaviors do not necessarily give up traits like firmness or decisiveness. As they remain true to their convictions, however, they do so in a non-coersive manner. They can explain their thoughts with a calm, not insistent, tone of voice. They allow others the privilege to think about their reply. They are not shocked when others think differently, so they take time to hear others just as they wish to be heard.
People often protest that if they give up their controlling ways, there is too high of a likelihood that chaos or irresponsibility would erupt. Yet, if they would accept the challenge to hold onto their opinions and preferences while also allowing others to choose their own path, they would eventually learn that the opposite is true. People like knowing that you respect them enough that you would allow them to be what they are. In fact, most people like being respected so much that they will be more likely to cooperate with the persons who choose to lay down their controlling agenda.
Isn’t that what the controlling person is trying to achieve all along?