Controlling Behavior: How Do You Try to Control?

by Margaret Paul Ph.D.


Visualization: How do you try to control?

Controlling Behavior: The Result of our Fears

We have all learned many ways to try to have control over getting love and avoiding pain to feel safe. It’s vitally important that you are very compassionate toward the controlling part of you. Please suspend judgment as you go over the following list of controlling behaviors.

Judging your controlling wounded self is another way to control and will keep you stuck and unaware of your controlling behavior- and you can’t heal what you are not aware of.

The wounded self is the part of us that operates under the false belief that we can control how others feel about us. We have each learned both overt and covert ways of trying to have this control, and we spend much energy trying to get others to love us and care for us, instead of spending that same energy in learning to love and care for ourselves, and sharing our love with others. Our wounded self falsely believes that our feelings of worth and safety come from others loving us, rather than from connecting with a spiritual source of unconditional love and bringing that love to ourselves.

As you read over this list of some of the ways we control, be very gentle with yourself. All of us have learned to be controlling and all of us have the choice to be compassionate with ourselves so we can learn, rather than judge ourselves, which cuts off our learning. Often we try to control others in the ways our parents tried to control us or each other, or in ways we learned in childhood from other children or from TV. Until we learn to connect with our higher source of love and wisdom and give to ourselves what we are trying to get from others, and until we learn how to manage the underlying painful core feelings of loneliness, heartbreak, grief and helplessness over others and outcomes, we will continue to try to control others in many different ways. (Please print this out and check the ones that apply to you).


•Getting angry

•Criticizing, judging




•Saying “Tsk, tsk” and shaking my head

•Getting annoyed, irritated, short, curt


• Blaming

• Pouting, sulking

• Becoming ill

• Drama

• Being sneaky/deceptive

• Lying or withholding the truth

• Therapizing, analyzing

• Dismissing

• Moralizing

• Nagging, bitching

• Lecturing, giving advise

• Arguing

• Debating

• Explaining, convincing, selling

• Becoming self-righteous

• Complaining

• Justifying

• Interrogating

• Denying

• Talking others out of their feelings by telling them they are wrong

• Asking leading questions to which only one answer is acceptable

• Bribery

• Scowling

• Hitting

• Changing the subject

• Using sarcasm

• Raising my eyebrows

• Whining

• Shrugging my shoulders

• Making comparisons

• Throwing things

• Interrupting

• Telling my feelings as an accusation that the other is causing them

• Silent angry withdrawal

• Acting like a know-it-all

• Interpreting

• Pushing others into therapy

• The silent treatment

• Disapproving looks

• Disapproving sighs

• Blaming tears

• “Poor me” tears

• Temper tantrums

• Put-downs

• A superior attitude

• Half-truths

• Being an overly “nice guy” or “nice girl.”

• Giving gifts with strings attached

• Being emotionally or financially indispensable

• Teaching, point things out without being asked

• Flattery or giving false compliments

• Giving in, giving myself up, going along

• Care-taking – giving to get

• Not asking for what I want, putting aside what I want

• Agreeing with others points of view

• People pleasing

• Incessant talking

• Rescuing

• Censoring what I say about what I want and feel

• Second-guessing and anticipating what others want

• Putting myself down

• Turning things around on the other person when I’m confronted with something

• Using threats of:

* Financial withdrawal

* Emotional withdrawal

* Sexual withdrawal

* Exposure to others

* Abandonment

* Illness

* Violence

* Suicide

* Alcohol or drug abuse

Our controlling behavior eventually results in creating whatever it is we are trying to prevent. We control to get love and avoid pain, yet by controlling rather than loving ourselves and others, we create the very pain we are trying to avoid.

Controlling Feelings and/or Behavior

I’ve found that there are two major areas in which we may try to control others:

• Behaviors

• Feelings

Sometimes we try to control what people do, and other times we may try to control how they feel about us and react to us.

Let’s take the example of Christopher and Pam. Christopher tends to focus on what Pam does – how she spends her time and who she spends it with, how much money she spends, how well she keeps the house, and how she looks. When Pam doesn’t behave in the way Christopher thinks she “should”, he becomes angry, judgmental and withdrawn. In Christopher’s mind, he will feel loved and safe when Pam behaves the way he wants her to behave, and he feels justified in attempting to control her when she is out of line. Love for Christopher means someone doing what he wants, and he wants control over this. Pam, on the other hand, tends to focus on Christopher’s reactions to her. Pam wants control over Christopher being warm, accepting and understanding. When Christopher is judgmental and withdrawn, Pam feels unsafe and tries to control Christopher with her niceness and care-taking. Pam gives herself up and tries to do what Christopher wants in order to control his feelings about her and his reactions toward her. Eventually, when Christopher does not give her the acceptance she desire, she gets angry, but niceness and care-taking are her first choices. Love for Pam means someone being accepting of her and she wants control over this.

It’s easy to see Christopher’s controlling behavior. His anger, judgmentalness and withdrawal are quite obvious. It’s harder to see that Pam is actually just as controlling as Christopher – not about what he does, but about how he feels and reacts. It took me a long time to recognize my own controlling behavior, because I’ve never been controlling of what people do. I’ve always given my family and friends great latitude to be themselves and do whatever they want regarding what makes them happy.

Eventually I realized that my control was always around how people feel and respond. I wanted people to be open, caring, and compassionate with me so that I would not have to feel lonely with them and helpless over them. It was a huge awakening for me when I realized how many controlling things I did to try to get others to be loving with me. Accepting my lack of control over how others choose to treat me has been extremely freeing. Now, if someone is unloving to me, I’m no longer compliant in an effort to get them to be loving. Now I just go to my higher self and find out what it means to take care of myself in the face of their unloving behavior, accepting that I have no control over how another chooses to be. Accepting that I can’t control others’ feelings or behavior has freed me to take loving care of myself.

Control as a Cry for Connection

How do you respond when you feel that your partner is trying to control you?

How does your partner respond to your response?

Do you end up feeling connected with each other?

Take a moment right now to tune inside and see what is really happening when you protect yourself with your controlling behavior.

• Do you feel alone and lonely?

• Do you feel empty inside, desperate to feel some love within?

• Do you long to connect with your partner, but you become protected and controlling when fearing or experiencing disconnection with him or her?

What if you saw your own controlling behavior and the controlling behavior of your partner as a cry for connection? Would this make it easier for you to have compassion for yourself and your partner?

What if you stayed connected with yourself and compassionately felt the deeper feelings of loneliness, heartache, heartbreak, helplessness and grief if your partner disconnects from you with protective, controlling behavior? What if you were connected with yourself enough so that you did not scare yourself with losing your partner to the point of becoming protected and controlling in response to your own fears? What if you recognized how much we all love to feel connected with each other, and stayed connected with yourself so that you could keep your heart open to your own feelings and the feelings of your partner? What do you think would happen with your relationship?

It’s not easy to reach this point of non-reactivity and taking loving care of yourself. It takes much Inner Bonding practice to heal enough to respond as a loving adult rather than from your wounded self.

Today’s Loving Action: Acknowledge your main forms of control

Today, notice the many different ways you might try to control. If you are in doubt, ask your partner or a good friend or relative. While it’s often hard to see our own forms of control, it’s often easy to see others’ forms of control. Asking someone close to you with a true intent to learn how they see you trying to control can be very helpful regarding your awareness – provided you don’t judge yourself for your controlling behavior. Be very compassionate with yourself regarding your controlling behavior – it might be the only way your wounded self knows how to try to connect, or how to feel safe from rejection or engulfment.

Read Part One of this article here.

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