9 Signs You Are Being Emotionally Controlled & How To Stop It
Have you ever experienced it at the hands of someone close to you? What about with a spouse, colleague, a boss, a friend, or a family member? Sometimes you may even be controlled by a neighbor!
Control is a powerful word. It is a powerful force within the human race. It denotes a power to dictate, influence, maneuver, or direct.
If you look up the term “control,” it is synonymous with intimidating words including: sway, authority, jurisdiction, command, dominance, mastery, sovereignty, supremacy, or ascendancy. These words are certainly intimidating to say the least, especially if you feel you are being controlled by someone unnecessarily.
This article will discuss nine signs of emotional and psychological control and ways to overcome it.
No one likes to be controlled. It usurps our ability to act using free will, experience the world as we see it, and choose our values, beliefs, and actions without interference. On the flip side, if control never existed the world would be a mess, our jobs would not be performed as well, our lives would be chaotic, and we would lose the order we are accustomed to. This kind of control makes sense. We need this kind of control in our daily lives.
The type of control in which your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are being manipulated by another person can steal every ounce of who you are. The manipulation is so overpowering that you can begin to suffer shame, guilt, negative self-talk, or lowered self-esteem – at no fault of your own. If you see a continual pattern of this behavior, you are in an unhealthy and one-sided relationship.
Feeling controlled by someone can be one of the worst feelings. We’re 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 dismantle relationships (personal and professional), destroy trust, and make others defensive and resentful toward the perpetrator of control. As we all can probably agree, control must be balanced with boundaries, respect, compassion, understanding, and patience. Wouldn’t you feel better if your boss, spouse, or parent would balance control with patience, boundaries, and respect? Without these things, control becomes bondage and abuse.
When I see control taking my clients down from a level of confidence and balance to low self-esteem and chaos, I feel for them. It often isn’t easy to point out the control, stand up to it, and say “no more.”
I’m of the firm belief that control is spiritual, as well. It is a power that dominates us far beyond logistics and intelligence. That’s why in domestic violence situations (or even employee-employer relationships) the victim struggles to do exactly what they (and others) know they should do. Fear of abandonment or standing up for oneself is often a key factor in these situations. Fear may be present related to one or more of the following:
- Loss of friendship or camaraderie
- Loss of opportunity or employment
- Development of a complicated or inaccurate social status/reputation
- Argument or confrontation
- Temporary feelings of discomfort
- Loss of essentials/basics for living
I once counseled a family in a rural area that had been extremely abused by the grandmother and mother. The frightening reality was that the grandmother came across as very caring and understanding, until you told her to give you space. She and her stepdaughter abused the family for years. The kids were “servants” and the adults were “masters.” If any of the children reported anything to anyone outside of the home, the children would lose their snacks, their play time, their new school clothes, etc. They lost what it meant to be a child just because they needed someone to talk to.
It’s important to be able to identify control and abuse. It can come to you in a sweet way, a dominant way, a bribing way, etc.
Below I have listed examples of behaviors that others may display when they are trying to gain control over you:
- Keeping track of you: Unfortunately, there are people who will try their hardest to keep “track of you.” What I mean by this is the 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 at 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 an 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 such as this, I encourage you to be very careful when it comes to how much you let this person into your world. It’s okay to have boundaries. You can’t 100% trust a person who didn’t like you at first and now wants to connect. Take baby steps or no steps at all. And that’s ok.
- They befriend you only when it’s convenient for them: Have you known a person who treats you really poorly 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 realized they misjudged me. But there’s always that small group of people who are not misjudging you. They just don’t like you. And that isn’t necessarily your fault!
- What to do: You can’t fully trust someone who switches from kind to mean; mean to kind. We all have mood swings but I’m not referring to mood swings here. Keep up firm boundaries and be careful with what you tell them. Keep your life private. Do you really need to be an open book?
- 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+ who struggled a great deal with their former spouses, family members, or friends controlling them through Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Emoticons can be a nice 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 and their interactions with you. 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. Texting back and forth about emotional topics is also not a good idea. Do it the mature way (i.e., face-to-face or phone).
- They smile with you and interact positively but you get 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. Keep in mind that you could also just be misjudging them, too.
- 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?
- They loan you something or put you in “charge” but then micromanage you: This is tough. The person may let you borrow some material possession, or money, or put you “in charge” of something and then give you absolutely no space. You’ll want to question if there is a foundation of trust and respect within the relationship.
- What to do: If you feel the person isn’t trusting you, willing to let you borrow things, or seems as if they don’t care about your feelings, question the relationship. Consider why the person is this way and ask yourself if bringing up your feelings is going to help anything at all. 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 – that you don’t appreciate their attempts at controlling you.
- You are being monitored like a child: Some people “monitor” those they love and care about for reasons that may be justifiable. In a loving 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. 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 avoid being 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’re likely to experience more controlling behaviors by the person in the future.
- You are micromanaged or “given” an identity: 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 so, micro-managers are frustrating to say the least. What about people who push their interests onto you in hopes of “transforming” you?
- 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. When it comes to your identity, just be who you are.
- You are bombarded with expectations, rules, or wants by the controller: I have experienced this in multiple cases throughout my life 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 better self-control. Minimize the person’s expectations, rules, or wants and keep in mind that you are only human. Do what you can but avoid feeling responsible for pleasing them. That’s not your job. And if you feel you need to “please” them, consider whether or not the relationship is healthy and worth it.
- Staunch religious or moral/ethical standards are used to guilt-trip you: It is a wonderful thing to see God in operation in your life. It is great to desire God’s principles, values, truths, and desires in your life. But a person who uses these virtues against you to make you feel bad is attempting to control you. A true and loving God would never guilt-trip you. The God I know is steadfast in His precepts but never condescending or harmful.
- 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 that and move on. It’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?
As always, I wish you well.
Fairbank, R. (2017). The blood-brain barrier: Controlling behaviors. Retrieved 9/22/2017 from, http://www.uh.edu/nsm/feature/graduate-students/controlling-behavior/.
Reuell, P. (2012). Controlling behaviors, remotely. Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 9/22/2017 from, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/09/controlling-behavior-remotely/.
Some references are embedded in the article.
This article was originally published 12/7/016 but was been updated to reflect comprehensiveness and accuracy.
Hill, T. (2018). 9 Signs You Are Being Emotionally Controlled & How To Stop It. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2017/09/5385/