Mabel, a 28-year-old researcher, values freedom the most. However, in her last relationship, which lasted over 2 years, her priorities shifted without her even realizing it. She says, “I didn’t realize when I had already let go of my freedom because of the controlling behavior of my ex-partner. He was a complete control freak and I had a lot of fear inside of me.” She didn’t have the self-awareness to understand how to stop being controlled in a relationship.
Mabel is not alone. Many relationships turn controlling due to several reasons such as low self-esteem, a shift in the sense of responsibility, traumatic experiences, or harsh past experiences. In any event, it is imperative to understand that controlling relationships are neither healthy nor loving, and you should know how to deal with them.
In this article, trauma-informed counseling psychologist Anushtha Mishra (M.Sc., Counseling Psychology), who specializes in providing therapy for concerns such as trauma, relationship issues, depression, anxiety, grief, and loneliness among others, writes about what controlling behavior is, how to recognize it, and how to cope with it.
What Is Controlling Behavior?
Control comes from a need for power to dictate, influence, pull strings, or direct and it is intimidating. Controlling women or men attempt to gain complete control over others and situations. When a person feels anxious, they can adopt controlling behaviors to maintain control. Other times, it can be an act of abuse, such as asserting dominance.
Those with a “controlling personality” are mostly driven by anxiety to feel safe. The need for control might be unconscious for some people. However, anxiety can make them feel as if they need to control their surroundings and others to maintain their sense of order. By and large, controlling ways are coping mechanisms to deal with one’s fears and insecurities.
That notwithstanding, it’s vital to be careful when a partner is controlling you since it can turn into abuse as well. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abuse is the use of power and control over another person. In addition to physical abuse, it may also take the form of emotional, verbal, or financial abuse, as well as stalking inciting a profound sense of fear. These behaviors are not uncommon in intimate relationships.
Signs You Are Being Controlled In A Relationship
There are many ways in which a current partner may be exerting control over you or an ex-partner may have in the past. Many of us might think that we can spot a person with controlling behavior just by looking at them or they might stand out in a crowd. However, this is a misconception.
Controlling behavior can be subtle, but ultimately holds an immense amount of power over the partner or the person on the receiving end. Whenever you are around them, if you feel embarrassed or humiliated, it could be time to step back and think about whether they hold sway over you and to what extent. This is the first step to figuring out how to deal with controlling people. A few telltale signs of controlling behavior are as follows:
- Everything ends up being your fault
- They give you the silent treatment when things don’t work out according to them
- Dominating every conversation and interrupting you often
- Constant criticism is a norm
- They manipulate you, including gaslighting or lying often to have their way
- Intimidation is an everyday thing for them
- They try to change who you are
- They display abusive behavior, controlling your freedom and autonomy
It’s imperative to assess if you are being controlled in your relationship. This is because it is abusive at its core. Only if you can recognize these subtle signs or the obvious ones, can you know whether to communicate or walk away.
Related Reading: How To Get Out Of A Controlling Relationship – 8 Ways To Break Free
7 Expert Tips On How To Stop Being Controlled In A Relationship
How to deal with a controlling person? There are easy answers to this question. It can be difficult to deal with a controlling person and to figure out how to stop being controlled in a relationship. However, below are a few ways you can cope with it and if need be, walk away from it as well:
1. Be mindful of the signs
Denial can come easily when you are in a controlling relationship. However, it is wise to be aware and vigilant about the signs of it and see your partner for who they really are. It’s also imperative to differentiate if they are just clingy or moody, concerned about your well-being, or in charge of every aspect of your life without considering your wishes.
If these signs are present in your relationship and you’re feeling controlled by your partner, you’ll eventually have to make a decision about your future with them. It is either to participate in the pattern or to take action. The sooner you make that decision, the better.
2. Stop feeding the pattern
Another important step in figuring out how to deal with a controlling person is to stop enabling their behavior. It is overwhelming when someone tries to take control of us, leaving us feeling anxious and on the edge. It might seem like you have no say in such a situation, but most of the time, you do. Perhaps, you’re putting up with your partner’s controlling ways because that brings some sense of security or assurance.
Even though it isn’t a conscious decision most of the time to let someone take charge, you must consciously strive not to feed into this pattern of controlling or abusive behavior in a relationship. This isn’t to say that it’s your fault, it isn’t. Most of the time, both partners end up contributing to unhealthy relationship patterns – knowingly or unknowingly – and this is just an attempt for you to break out of it.
3. Build a support system
If you are with someone who is controlling in a relationship, you must have found it incredibly difficult to stay connected to people you were closest to – your friends, family, your inner circle. Your controlling partner might not like you talking to them or might not approve of them. However, it is always a good idea to gather your support system and let them know what you are struggling with.
If the relationship gets abusive and you realize this, you’ve already taken the first step toward getting help and knowing how to stop being controlled in a relationship. Tell someone you trust. Once you’ve confided in them, they might be able to put you in touch with a crisis hotline, legal-aid service, a shelter, or a haven.
Related Reading: The 7 Fundamentals Of Support In A Relationship
4. Create boundaries
It’s difficult to stand up to a controlling partner and do what is best for you. However, you deserve to be treated fairly. Set boundaries since it is an excellent way of regaining that agency over yourself that you might have lost in the process. It’s critical to create a boundary where you decide what you will and won’t tolerate. A few examples of what boundaries may look like are,
- Having your own identity and letting go of codependency
- Instead of holding onto resentment, express your concerns
- When your partner communicates disrespectfully with you, leave the situation
- Ability to prioritize personal space for self-care
5. Communicate those boundaries to your partner
When you have determined what is negotiable for you and what isn’t, it’s time to communicate this honestly and openly with your partner. No matter what the state of your relationship is, communication is key to making it better.
It may seem scary to assert yourself and express your feelings. It can help to seek help from your support system. If your partner is willing to accept and respect your proposed boundaries, that’s a win-win. However, if they don’t or try to manipulate you again, it’s time for you to decide if you want to carry on like this or call it quits.
Related Reading: Expert Talks About 9 Must-Try Couples Communication Exercises
6. Take time to process what’s happening
It is also vital that you take a break or some time off to sit back and acknowledge what’s happening with you and in your relationship. This time off can help you clear your headspace and give you more clarity as to what you want to do moving forward.
Take baby steps when it comes to understanding how to stop controlling behavior. It’s critical not to rush the process of getting rid of their controlling tendencies. Take time for yourself and your own needs to feel all the emotions. Also, remember to not beat yourself up; you’re dealing with something enormously difficult, be kind to yourself.
7. Make yourself a priority again
Start taking care of yourself – the one person who should matter most to you. The only way to break free from the controlling ways of your partner is to improve your relationship with yourself. Here are some ways you can focus on yourself:
- Spend time with yourself
- Make sure you get enough sleep
- Spend time outside
- Eat well
- Some days, you might not feel like getting out of bed. Listen to your body
- Find a new hobby
- Hang out with your friends
In short, do the things you want. Also, do things that you stopped yourself from doing simply because your controlling partner hated them. Make yourself a priority.
- People who are controlling attempt to influence others and situations
- Controlling behavior can be very subtle and yet hold so much power over the person at the receiving end
- A few ways to deal with a controlling partner are by recognizing the signs, stopping feeding the pattern, creating your support system and boundaries, effective communication, and making self-care a priority
A controlling partner can give you a hard time and might leave you isolated and confused, and may make you feel guilty. The self-esteem of the person who is at the receiving end of all the control can take a huge hit. Try reminding yourself that you can choose to walk away or not be complicit in this pattern. Learn how to stop being controlled in a relationship with the tips mentioned above. If you need help figuring out how to deal with a controlling person and protect yourself from them, Bonobology’s panel of experienced therapists is here to guide you through the process and remind you of how you deserve so much better.
The first step is always acknowledging that you are in a relationship with a controlling partner. Once you have accepted this, the road to dealing with them gets a whole lot easier. You then evaluate your relationship and decide for yourself if you want to stay and be controlled, negotiate, or walk away. Try communicating this to your partner but if their manipulative nature is prominent, you don’t owe them a conversation about it either.
There are a lot of signs that you are being controlled in a relationship. Understanding how you feel in a relationship is the first and foremost step. If you feel isolated and guilty most of the time, it is a clear indication that you are being controlled. Then look at their behavior. Are they tracking every move of yours, are your wishes never considered, and are you often left to do what they want exactly how they want? Assessing these points can give you an idea of if your sense of feeling controlled in your relationship is accurate.