How to Cope With a Controlling Person
It is not easy to deal with a controlling person. Controlling people can be very manipulative and make you feel isolated from others. Luckily, there are many ways to deal with controlling people. In the moment, try to keep your composure and avoid reacting. Later on, set clear boundaries so the person will not push you out of your comfort zone again. Work on managing your emotions. You will need to work on caring for yourself to avoid being drained by a controlling person.
Dealing with a Difficult Encounter
Avoid reacting to bad behavior.Controlling people are often looking for a reaction. They also may not respond well to any resistance or criticism. If you, say, get aggressive or angry in return, this is likely to backfire. Instead of fighting fire with fire, try to remain calm.
- For example, your live in boyfriend starts getting on your case about not hanging your towel in the exact place he wants it after a shower, then it would be important to assert yourself and open up a dialogue about the situation. Just try not to lose your temper.
- Try saying something like, "I understand you like the towels to be hung a certain way. However, I prefer it this way because _____. I am willing to hang it there if we change _____ or I can hang it where I want and leave that space for you."
- However, you may need to calmly stand your ground if the person is trying to change an already established boundary. For instance, "We agreed to_______ last week, remember?"
Try to empathize.While you should never excuse someone else's bad behavior, sometimes it can be helpful to at least see where they're coming from. People with control issues may have underlying emotional issues. Understanding this can help you figure out how to best address the person's need for control. In the moment, try to figure out what the person is actually getting at when they attempt to assert control.
- For example, you live with your girlfriend, who tends to be very controlling. She sees that you left some wrappers out on the kitchen counter for a few minutes while you took a phone call. She says something like, "Why did you need to take that phone call before cleaning up your mess?"
- The mess is probably not really the issue here. Very often it is deeper, like a person who had a controlling parent, or anxiety, or a background that values a certain thing that a behavior represents.
- Try asking why the order of your actions was so important to her to get a better understanding of the issue and then give any information that might be necessary. The other person may not have seen something that you think is obvious.
- For example, you might say something like, “Was there a particular reason you wanted me to clean up before taking the phone call?”
- Or, "I know you don't like wrappers out. My phone rang and I took the call. I'll put it away now that I'm done."
- Avoid being defensive. If it was a minor issue that you know annoys them, consider apologizing. For example, you can say, "I'm sorry about the wrappers. I know having a clean kitchen matters to you.
Refuse to argue.Controlling people are often excited by power struggles. A controlling person will want nothing more than to rope others into an argument that's likely to go nowhere. They have a need to feel like they're winning. To avoid giving them this satisfaction, refrain from getting into a power struggle with them.
- You can also simply refuse to argue. For example, if your significant other starts to pick a fight with you, then you might say something like, “I think we need to talk about this, but I would rather discuss it when we are both feeling a little calmer. Can we talk about this tomorrow night instead?”
- In the long run, you will need to address underlying issues in your relationship and set boundaries.
Maintain your composure as best you can.The last thing you want to do with a controller is to get angry or upset. Controlling people love to push people's buttons, as they hope they can break someone down in order to get their way. Work on limiting how much you react on an emotional level. A big reaction will only egg them on.
- Try to take a deep breath when interacting with a controlling person. You can try to tune them out by thinking about something calming, like a relaxed beach setting, while they're talking to you.
- If you have to react, give noncommittal phrases that buy you some time. For example, "I'm not sure about that. Let me think about it."
Establishing Clear Boundaries
Remember you have basic rights.In any given situation, you have rights. You do not want to give up these rights because you have to interact with a difficult person. Controlling people have a way of getting inside your head and causing you to forget your basic rights as a human being. Remind yourself you deserve to be treated decently.
- Everyone has the fundamental right to be treated with respect, to be allowed to express their opinions, to say "no" without feeling guilty, and have different opinions.
- If you've been dealing with a controlling person long term, you may have forgotten you have these rights. Before interacting with someone, remind yourself of your rights. Keep them in mind when setting boundaries.
- For example, a controlling boyfriend may expect you to spend time with him instead of going out with friends. If you don't want to sit at home and watch a movie one night, a controlling boyfriend will make you feel guilty for this. As you get ready to assert your boundaries, think something like, "I have the right to say 'No' to him without feeling bad."
Tell yourself you're in charge.The first step to setting boundaries is to take back your control. You cannot control another person's negative actions but you can control how you personally react to them. You have choices in regards to how you approach boundaries.
- Oftentimes, people take a grin and bear it approach with controlling people. You may also work on avoiding the person altogether. You may, for example, simply not go to family events if you have to see your controlling father.
- Break free from these patterns. Think something like, "I'm in control of whether or not I let this happen. I refuse to be a victim." Decide you're going to make the choice to assert your independence and demand respect.
Be clear about your limits.Controlling people are always trying to push the limits of those around them. Controlling people enjoy knowing they've broken someone's barriers. Let the controlling person know where your personal limits are. Make it clear to them which behaviors you will and will not tolerate.
- Recognize when you can and cannot tolerate and accept. There are certain small behaviors, like having rules about where to put dirty dishes or clothing, that you may be willing to follow. However, other issues may be more difficult to tolerate.
- Think about things the person does that are beyond the point of reason. For example, you don't mind putting your phone away when you're on a date with your boyfriend. However, he expects you to have your phone off and out of sight even if the two of you are just casually hanging out around his apartment. Let him know this rule is unreasonable to you.
Express your boundaries directly.You want to make yourself very clear when setting boundaries. It may even be helpful to write your boundaries down on a piece of paper and present this to the controlling person. Make your personal boundaries as clear as you possibly can. Tell the person, on no uncertain terms, what you will and will not put up with in the future.
- Controlling people are difficult by nature. They will do everything they can to ignore or misinterpret your boundaries. Therefore, when laying out your boundaries, be as direct as you can.
- For example, say you have a very controlling boyfriend. When laying down boundaries, say something like, "I'm not going to have my phone away at all times when we're together, especially when you expect me to spend most nights at your apartment. I'm happy to turn my phone off when we're on dates or watching a movie together, but I'm not going to have my phone off all the time when we're together. That rule ends now."
Be assertive when necessary.Controlling people are unlikely to accept boundaries right away. Remember, they enjoy pushing people out of their comfort zones to get their own way. When necessary, you will have to remind controlling people of your boundaries. Be clear and assertive in the event your boundaries are violated.
- Being assertive does not mean being aggressive. It means respectfully letting someone know when they've violated a particular boundary. Keep your cool and reassert yourself when an issue arises.
- For example, your boyfriend is simply sitting in a room with you while the two of you casually watch television. You return a text from a friend and your boyfriend gets angry. He starts saying things like, "That's really rude. I'm right here."
- Do not respond in anger. Saying something like, "Knock it off. I'm trying to talk to someone" will only escalate the situation. Instead, stay calm and respond with something respectful like, "We talked about this the other day. You don't need my full attention right now, so I have a right to answer this text. Please let me finish this text message and then I'll go back to watching the show."
Keep your expectations realistic.Controlling, difficult people often do not change easily, if at all. Even after asserting your boundaries, you may find yourself in frequent power struggles. Try to keep your expectations in check. You will probably always have issues with a controlling person, so don't expect a huge change.
- You can't change another person. Even if you've tried your best to address how their behavior is harmful, a controlling person will not change unless they want to. When interacting with a controlling person, remind yourself you will probably have to restate boundaries and tune out criticism.
Remind yourself it's not personal.Controlling people usually have something going on under the surface. Underlying interpersonal issues, such as a tendency towards insecurity, often manifest in a need for control. When being confronted by a controlling person, remind yourself it's not about you. You are probably not doing anything wrong in the situation. The other person just has an intense need for control.
- If you know why the person is controlling, try to remind yourself of this in the moment. This can help you remember it isn't about you.
- For example, "I know my dad is very demanding about my career choices, but his dad was the same way. He doesn't know how to trust me to make my own decisions. It's not about me."
- Try to look at the types of requests and demands they are making. Are they always about a particular issue, such as cleanliness or punctuality? If so, the person may just have certain preferences and needs. If the problem is more widespread, they may have control issues.
Take care of yourself.This is especially important if you have to interact with a controlling person on a regular basis. For example, if you live with a controlling person or a controlling romantic partner, remind yourself self-care is necessary. When you're catering to the needs of someone who has to constantly be in control, you may neglect your own personal care.
- You have a right to care for yourself. You're allowed to give yourself time to exercise, eat right, engage in fun hobbies, and do things that make you happy.
- Work on making time for your own personal needs, even if you have to tune out criticism to do so. For example, you work early in the morning and need to get a full night's sleep. Your controlling boyfriend expects you to go to bed at the same time he does, but he stays up very late. Go to bed when you want and, if he gives you a hard time, tune it out and then remind him you need to be up in the morning.
Limit interactions.Sometimes, the easiest way to deal with a controlling person is to get away from them. Work on avoiding the person if your interactions with them have become upsetting for you. This will make your life a lot easier.
- If you live with a controlling person, try to limit your time with them to meal times and other short spurts together.
- If you work with a controlling person, try to limit your time with that person in the office. For example, you might keep your conversations to small talk and try to choose projects that do not require teaming up with this person.
- If you have a controlling family member, limit interactions with them at family events. Keep things like phone calls as brief as possible.
Walk away if necessary.If a relationship is becoming detrimental to your wellbeing, it's okay to walk away. Some people are simply too toxic to ever be willing to change. If someone continually violates your boundaries, end the relationship. Life is too short to spend around people who are hurtful and controlling.
QuestionHow do I talk to a controlling daughter in law who thinks she is right all the time?
M.A, Clinical Mental Health CounselingM.A, Clinical Mental Health CounselingExpert AnswerSomeone who likes to be right can be difficult to deal with. The best way is to consider their answers then present your own in addition to validating theirs. For example, “Hmmm, you make a good point. I’d also add that I’ve heard you can also tackle this task by …”Thanks!
QuestionHow can I cope with a friend who is very controlling?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe best solution would be to walk away. If you can't bring yourself to do this, then consider having a conversation with your friend about her controlling behavior. In either case, do not allow this friend to bring you down; stay strong and resilient.Thanks!
QuestionWhen my friends fight, one person gets upset and leaves, but the controlling person tells me not to go after her or she will get mad at me. I don't want to be friend with the controlling one anymore, but I don't want to look like a loner either. What do I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerCalmly tell the controling friend that you are not taking sides in this fight; however, you don't like watching people be upset, so you are going to go talk to your other friend and try to calm her down. Just calmly assert yourself and don't treat her anger as a force to be feared. She needs to learn that she can't control you.Thanks!
QuestionMy husband is very controlling - he doesn't allow me to work. Tomorrow I have an interview and he is not happy; he has been giving me the silent treatment since last week. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYour husband has no right to prevent you from working. Focus on pursuing your goals and don't let his attempt to control you get in the way. Consider divorce, because it's generally not worth it to be stuck in a marriage with a person like this. Or ask to go to therapy together so you can both gain some outside perspective on your relationship. Other than that, try to follow the guidelines here.Thanks!
QuestionAs the leader of a Bible study, how do I deal with a member that is constantly reminding me that we need to "move along"?Top AnswererIt may be helpful to give an agenda with a time framework so everyone involved is clear on time allowances. Giving this person the "authority" to give a 5-minute warning when time is winding down may funnel this behavior into something more appropriate. Of course, make it clear that these are estimates, and that you may decide to spend more or less time on an agenda item. This can make roles more clear, alleviate this person's anxiety, and make expectations clear.Thanks!
QuestionWhat should I do with a long time friend who only contacts me and talks to me when she wants? She says she will call, but does not. She promised to visit after my surgery, but has not after several weeks.Top AnswererIt sounds like she is no longer a true friend. This relationship may be now more of an acquaintance situation than the friendship it was years ago. Let this friendship go. You do not have to be mean or angry, just recognize it for what it is.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do I do about a controlling mother-in-law?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerBe firm and stand your ground. People who try to control other people's lives are fearful. They try to micro-manage everything in their world in hopes that by doing so, nothing bad will ever happen. Try to understand her fear, and assure her you know what you're doing. Eventually, she'll see that she can't control you.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can I do if my child is trying to control me?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYour child may be testing you for control. A little testing is important, but if your child is taking charge, then you need to be firm and provide a consequence. For example, you could say: "If you continue to make this demand, I will not listen to you until you rephrase the request politely."Thanks!
QuestionMy husband is a paranoid person - he completely doesn't trust me. It has been 13 years of marriage now and I thought he would change, but he has only gotten worse - he does not allow me even to have friends. I feel I am like his slave rather than a wife. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNever assume that someone is going to change. Remember this for the future. You should not have been okay with marrying someone who doesn't trust you or tries to control you, and you should not be okay with continuing such a relationship. Get divorced.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can I do to avoid my partner when he is trying to get my attention by doing things to make me angry, such as make annoying sounds and doing things wrong?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAllow yourself to feel angry. You may think you need to cover “negative feelings” with positive ones, but you don’t. You’re entitled to feel whatever you need to feel. Then, make a conscious choice to sit with the feeling. Decide that you’re not going to do anything until the feeling has less of a grip on you. Next, feel the anger in your body. Is your neck tense? Is your chest burning? Is your throat tightening? Are your legs twitching? Recognize the sensations in your body and breathe into those areas to clear the blockages that are keeping you feeling stuck.Thanks!
How do I cope with a controlling person if it is a coworker?
My controlling brother lives with mom and does not want anyone coming in to help her but me?
- Don't let someone else tell you how to manage or spend your own money, unless you have hired someone to manage it. In a marriage, both partners should be deciding equally how money is allocated, and this is always negotiable.
- The longer you wait to set boundaries, the harder it will be. If you start giving in to the other person's demands, you may be setting a precedent that will be hard to break.
- Stay focused on positive things, as this will help you cope.
- Most of these manners in response to handling a controlling person are reverse control and passive aggressiveness. It is better to submit to the wishes of others without diagnosing the person. Each request should be individually determined reasonable or not. It's not unreasonable for your friend to ask you to stop using your cell phone for unimportant things while you are together. But, texting a friend back while you are trying to watch a movie would be rude and completely unnecessary.
- Controlling and/or manipulative relationships can be managed sometimes; however, if you're not successful in resisting control, or if the individual is extremely strong-willed and persistent, these relationships can be very destructive to your other relationships with family and friends.
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