by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
In spite of the fact that as humans we need intimate relationships to thrive and live fully, it's worthwhile to note that relationships are often a major source of frustration and pain.
It may be important for you to develop healthier strategies to avoid getting fatigued, burned out or developing physical or emotional symptoms if you are in a relationship with A Controlling Person. Let's call this person our beloved ACP.
Almost anyone in a family, workplace or any kind of group or 'system' can emerge as A Controlling Person. Often it's a partner, parent in-law, co-worker, boss or even a child who takes on that role in a family or group.
ACP claims to know what's best for you. He often starts sentences with Do you know what you need? and then proceeds to tell you, piling on unsolicited advice about sensitive issues like your weight, how you feel, what you want to do, or who you are. These comments can range from insensitive to irritating and abusive.
What can be most baffling is that ACP usually doesn't see himself or herself as controlling or insensitive, and seems completely unaware about the feelings and body language responses of others. He sees himself as only helpful and right.
ACP is often a perfectionist. He or she may feel, If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. He may be very hard on himself too, such as hitting the gym every day at 5 am, demanding a strict dietary regime, following a rigid set of self-imposed rules, being a clean-o-holic, germ-o-phobe, neat freak, moral police force, workaholic, etc.
Extreme cases of ACP may be classified as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, where a person is rigidly concerned with details, lists, rules and dominating others.
What to do? Start to teach ACP how to treat you. If you are struggling with an overly controlling loved one, here are some strategies to try.
1. Listen. Implement active listening phrases in the relationship such as I'm listening and Continue please to make sure everyone understands each other. (Remember, listening does not equal agreement, obeying or caving.)
2. Re-Direct. If you don't want to talk about something say, 'Thank you for sharing your opinion on that, I'll think about what you said, now I would like to change the subject."
3. Be honest. If something is insulting or doesn't feel good, say so in a polite way, talking about Yourself. This will help you keep from getting angry and resentful. For example, That really doesn't feel too good at all. If you're frustrated say so. I'm getting frustrated that I've asked to change the subject and we keep going back to that subject.
4. Be generous with praise and appreciation. This helps everyone stay motivated. A simple Thank You works wonders to get started.
4. Take space. If you are doing a good job on 1 to 4 above, and yet continue to feel belittled or criticized, it's perfectly okay to take space for a while rather than get into never-ending conflicts and arguments about the same subject.
Try something like, I want to be in a relationship that helps me feel good about myself... that's not really happening right now. I want to be in a relationship where I feel good and enjoy the present moments.
5. Hold good thoughts about ACP. Think about all the things you love and appreciate about that person when he's not around. And don't be afraid to say so next time you see him.
6. Schedule a session. Therapy can be very helpful in re-establishing healthier relationships with the controlling person in your life. We have lots of experience and will be happy to help you be more understood in your relationships. cb
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