Mandy Kloppers

How to deal with a controlling person

There are things you can do to cope with a controlling partner/boss/parent etc. It is important for you to stand your ground in an understanding and non-confrontational manner. Send a clear message that you will not be forced into doing anything you do not feel right about and keep repeating that message. Be careful of giving in to a controlling person’s unreasonable demands as this empowers them and will in all likelihood reinforce their behaviour and increase their demands over time.

How to deal with a controlling person:

Stay detached

A controlling person wants you to submit to their wishes. See their behaviour for what it is. You do not have to submit to anything that you find unfair or unreasonable. Try not to get too emotionally involved. Have a quiet word with yourself to remind yourself that they may demand certain behaviour from you but it is still up to you whether you agree to it or not.

Understand their behaviour

One effective way to de-personalize is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, even for just a moment. For example, consider the person you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: “It must not be easy…”. Controlling people act out of insecurity and vulnerability in most cases. If you look at the “why?” you will be more tolerant and less emotionally affected.

Know your personal rights

A crucial idea to keep in mind when you’re dealing with a controlling and difficult person is to know your rights, and recognize when they’re being violated.

As long as you do not harm others, you have the right to stand-up for yourself and defend your rights. On the other hand, if you bring harm to others, you may forfeit these rights. Following are some of our fundamental human rights:

You have the right to be treated with respect.

You have the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants.

You have the right to set your own priorities.

You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.

You have the right to get what you pay for.

You have the right to have opinions different than others.

You have the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally.

You have the right to create your own happy and healthy life.

These Fundamental Human Rights represent your boundaries.

Of course, our society is full of people who do not respect these rights. Aggressive, intimidating, and controlling individuals, in particular, want to deprive you of your rights so they can control and take advantage of you. But you have the power and moral authority to declare that it is you, not the controller, who’s in charge of your life. Focus on these rights, and allow them to keep your cause just and strong.

Put the focus back on them

A common pattern with aggressive, intimidating, and controlling people is that they like to place attention on you to make you feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Typically, they’re quick to point out there’s something not right with you or the way you do things. The focus is consistently on “what’s wrong,” instead of “how to solve the problem.”

This type of communication is often intended to dominate and manipulate, rather than to sincerely take care of issues. If you react by being on the defensive, you simply fall into the trap of being scrutinized, thereby giving the aggressor more power while she or he picks on you with impunity. A simple and powerful way to change this dynamic is to put the spotlight back on the difficult person, and the easiest way to do so is to ask questions. For example:

“How would you feel if I was asking the same of you?”

“If you really think about it, do you feel this is a reasonable request?”

If the controlling person absolutely won’t budge, it becomes a battle if wills and this is a dead-end form of discussion. When this happens, simply say “By the way…” and initiate a new subject. When you do so, you’re taking charge of the flow of communication, and setting a more constructive tone.

Use humour

Humor is a powerful communication tool. I once heard of a good example: A friend said “Hello, how are you?” to a colleague of theirs. When the egotistical co-worker ignored her greeting completely, my friend didn’t feel offended. Instead, she smiled good-naturedly and quipped: “That good, huh?” This broke the ice and the two of them started a friendly conversation. Brilliant. This is a great example of defusion.

When appropriately used, humor can shine light on the truth, disarm difficult behavior, and show that you have superior composure.

Set boundaries

Remind yourself of your personal rights and let the other person know when they have stepped over the line. It doesn’t have to be done in an angry manner. Being assertive is your right. Example:

“I have heard what you want but I am unable to give you that”.

“I can see what you want but it is not something I feel is right for me.”

“I feel uncomfortable when you ask me to (insert behaviour/request from controlling person here)”.

Controlling people desire a sense of control and they can feel very vulnerable and insecure, especially when it comes to other people, who are less easy to control. Be nice but be assertive. Stay true to yourself and to what feels right for you.

Mandy X