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9 Signs of Emotional and Psychological Control

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Control. Have you ever experienced it at the hands of someone else? Have you ever been the victim of it? Control is a powerful word. It denotes a power to dictate, influence, maneuver, or direct something that needs controlled. If you look up the term “control” its synonyms includes words such as: sway, authority, jurisdiction, command, dominance, mastery, sovereignty, supremacy, or ascendancy. These words can certainly be intimidating, especially if you feel you are being controlled by someone else.

No one likes to be controlled but if control never existed the world would be a mess, our jobs would not be performed well, our lives would be chaotic, and we would have no order. That kind of control makes sense. But the type of control in which your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are being manipulated by another human being, so much that you suffer shame, guilt, negative self-talk, or lowered self-esteem, is a major problem.

This article will discuss 9 signs of emotional and psychological control and ways to overcome it.

Feeling controlled by someone else can be one of the worst feelings ever. Why? Because as individuals with an agency toward self-motivation and freedom, control “cramps” our ability to explore the world around us, develop and grow in our own ways, and experience our ability to make decisions and learn from them. Control can be a very ugly thing, as you know. Control can dismantle relationships (personal and professional), destroy trust, and make others defensive toward the perpetrator of control. As we all can probably agree, control must be balanced with boundaries, respect, compassion, understanding, and patience. Without these things control becomes bondage and abuse.

Sadly, many of my clients throughout the years have come to me for depression and anxiety as a result of feeling controlled by a paramour, a parent, a sibling, extended family, teachers, so-called mentors, and even thoughts and emotions. When I see control taking my clients down from the level of confidence and balance to low self-esteem and chaos, I feel for them. Even in my own professional and personal life, I have had to keep a very close eye on how others (and even myself) are treating me. “Am I being controlled in a subtle fashion?” “Am I being naive and not standing up?” These are the questions I have become accustomed to asking myself. I encourage you to as well.

Below I have listed examples of behaviors that others may display when they are trying to gain control over you. Some of these ways include but are not limited to:

  1. Keeping track of you: Unfortunately, there are people who will try their hardest to keep “track of you.” What I mean by this is a person who keeps in contact with you only to keep lines of communication open for their own benefit. For example, Bob (a long-time colleague who never liked you) may try to text, email, or find you online or other social media platforms to see how far you have gotten in your life. His interactions with you may be sporadic and he may not even attempt to contact you more than 1-3x a year. This kind of person may have intent to use you or manipulate you. It’s important for me to add that they may even “cyber-stalk” you.
    • What to do: In situations like this, I encourage you to be very careful in how much you let this person into your world. You can never trust a person who didn’t like you and now wants to connect.  Take baby steps or no steps at all.
  2. They befriend you only when it’s convenient for them: Have you known a person who treats you really bad and doesn’t give you the vibe that they like you, but then one day they begin to smile with you, laugh with you, and embrace you? Be careful.  It is true some people can grow more accustomed to you and begin to like you. I’ve had people in my life reject me one minute and then accept me the next because they misjudged me. But there’s always that small group of people who are not misjudging you. They just don’t like you.
    • What to do: Again, you can’t fully trust someone who switches from kind to mean, mean to kind. Keep up firm boundaries and be careful with what you tell them. Keep your life private because some people may try to use your personal information against you. You’d be surprised at how”skillful” some people can be in evil works.
  3. They text/email/instant message you with multiple emoticons: This may sound immature and more common to adolescents. But not necessarily. I’ve met with adult clients in their mid 40s and up who struggled a great deal with their former spouses, family members, or friends controlling them through Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social media sites. Emoticons can be a great way to express your emotions and get a point across; however, there are others who will “abuse” the emoticons as a way to control how you see them. For example, a heated conversation my be occurring with someone via Facebook and to “control” you the person may litter the entire message with smiley faces, winks, hearts, etc. It throws you off. It can be misleading.
    • What to do: Look beyond the emotional control. Don’t respond to the emoticons unless you feel ok doing so or unless you are well aware of their “game.” I encourage you to also stay away from arguments via social media. Messages have a high possibility of getting mixed or confused via social media.
  4. They smile with you and interact positively but you feel a negative vibe: Women can be very guilty of this as men typically don’t act this way. But if you are interacting with someone who smiles with you, has a positive tone of voice, has positive body language (i.e., leaning toward you, touching you, listening, etc) but you don’t buy it 100%, keep your eyes open.
    • What to do: If you sense that someone isn’t being 100% honest with you or may be trying to deceive you, tread lightly. Don’t get caught up in what you hope happens. Be wise in what you share with them about your life and keep firm boundaries until you feel you are able to trust them. Also question why you suspect the person isn’t being honest with you. Are you envious or angry with the person? Do you struggle with trust? Has this person wronged you in the past?
  5. They loan you something but then micromanage you: This is tough. The person may lone you a material possession or money and then stay on you until you return it. A personable friend/spouse can lone you something and make you feel as if they trust you enough that you’ll return it. There is a foundation of trust and respect within the relationship. If you feel the person isn’t trusting you, willing to lone things to you, or seems as if they don’t want to help you, question the relationship.
    • What to do: Consider why the person is this way and ask yourself if bringing up your feelings is necessary. Some people simply don’t trust you and have a need for control. If you feel uneasy with this, bring it up and explain, without being argumentative, you don’t appreciate their attempts at controlling you. After this, avoid asking to borrow anything else.
  6. You are being monitored like a child: Some people “monitor” those they love and care about. In a love relationship, for example, a husband may monitor his wife when she leaves the house to go shopping. He may call or text her to know of her whereabouts because he cares or is displaying his feelings for her. However, if someone attempts to control where you are, how long you are away, and what you’re doing to a point where you feel suffocated, demeaned, or humiliated, you’ve got a problem you shouldn’t ignore.
    • What to do: Talk to the person about how they are making you feel and try to be less judgmental, angry, or frustrated when discussing it. The last thing you want to do is ignite a fire unnecessarily. Be calm and express how you feel. If you continue to see a pattern of this behavior, consider whether the relationship is worth it and if you could possibly experience more controlling behaviors by the person in the future.
  7. You are micromanaged: No one likes to be micromanaged because the act itself can imply that you are not capable. However, the truth of micromanagement is that the person who is doing it is only doing it because they have anxiety, insecurities, or a need for control. Micromanagement doesn’t always have something to do with you. Even still, micro-managers are frustrating to say the least.
    • What to do: Make it clear that you do not appreciate being micromanaged. You can do this in a variety of ways such as being subliminal (i.e., taking control without permission, answering the micro-manager in a way that displays your ability to take care of your responsibilities, staying on top of your responsibilities, etc). Once micro-managers see that you are in control and not them, they will (in some cases) back off.
  8. You are bombarded with expectations, rules, or wants by the controller: I have experienced this in multiple cases throughout my lifetime and I can honestly say, this can feel like the worst type of control. Any encounter with this type of person can feel like a job. You also may feel let down time and time again by this person because all of your encounters are negative due to their need to control you in some way. For example, a person like this may see you shopping and instead of coming over to you to talk or say hi, they come over to you with a judgmental attitude, a barrage of questions, or may even ask you for a favor.
    • What to do: Avoid them until you are ready (or strong enough) to take their controlling behavior without getting angry. If you get angry or show any signs of anger, the controller will only flip things on you and blame you. Distance yourself little by little until you feel you are gaining control. Minimize the person’s expectations, rules, or wants and keep in mind you are only human. Do what you can but avoid feeling responsible for pleasing them. That’s not your job.
  9. They use religion or moral/ethical standards to guilt trip you: It is a wonderful thing to “find God” and desire to understand His principles, values, and desires for us as humans. It is a wonderful thing to know (and eventually digest) the “Good News” that says we, as humans, can evolve into better people because of faith and a “new birth.” It is also wonderful if you hold firmly to your personal beliefs around being ethical and moral. But a person who uses these things against you to make you feel bad is attempting to control you.
    • What to do: Keep the truth in the forefront of your mind. Don’t let this type of person guilt trip you. Now, there is a thing called a “conscience” and if you are feeling guilty about something own it because that’s the only way to grow. But if you have nothing to be guilty about, don’t let this person guilt-trip you.

What has been your experience with a controlling person? Did you find it easy to control your own emotions with this person?

As always, I wish you well

9 Signs of Emotional and Psychological Control

Támara Hill, MS, LPC

Támara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC, is a licensed therapist and certified trauma professional, in private practice, who specializes in working with children and adolescents who suffer from mood disorders, trauma, and disruptive behavioral disorders. She also provides international consultations and works with some young and older adults struggling with grief & loss or life transitions. Hill strives to help clients to realize and actualize their strengths in their home environments and in their relationships within the community. She credits her career passion to a “divine calling” and is internationally recognized for corresponding literary works as well as appearances on radio and other media platforms. She is an author, family consultant, and founder of and Anchored Child & Family Counseling. Visit her at Anchored-In-Knowledge or Twitter and Youtube Youtube If you are interested in scheduling a telehealth family consultation, feel free to let me know.

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APA Reference
Hill, T. (2017). 9 Signs of Emotional and Psychological Control. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Feb 2017
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