Recognizing Controlling People

Reading Level: Very Impassioned

How do we recognize controlling people to stop the infringement of personal boundaries?

This is in response to a reader’s question. People with compliant personalities ( basically a personality that feels guilty for standing up for itself) are often “run over” in life by people with controlling personalities. Often the compliant person doesn’t even realize why he, or she, struggles with so much guilt and resentment, guilt for not wanting to do what the controller says and resentment for giving in and doing what is against his own conscience or goals. Since a compliant personality feels compelled by guilt to give in to the aggression or manipulation of the controller, he doesn’t always even realize that the other person is creating these problems. Other times a compliant does realize it, but just doesn’t have the emotional strength to stand up to the person. A compliant person must learn to deal with his or her own weaknesses and the lack of determination to stand up for his boundaries; he must determine to be true to the person that he is and how he wants to live his life, making his own decisions and taking responsibility for them. I needed to give you that background on the compliant personality to understand the relationship between a controller and a compliant. However, since the reader question was on identifying controllers, that will be the focus today. My definitions of the 2 types of controlling people and other illustrations are taken from Cloud and Townsend’s “Boundaries” book, pp. 54-55. Full book information is at the end of the post.

Controllers are people who cannot hear a “No” answer.

The example Cloud and Townsend use is of the phrase common to sales training, “No” means “Maybe” and “Maybe” means “Yes.” This attitude can make an effective salesman, but it is quite harmful to personal relationships. The primary problem of a controller who refuses to accept another person telling him, “No,” is that he is refusing to take responsibility for his own life. He is continually controlling others in various ways to convince them to take care of responsibilities in life that he should be taking care of himself.

An Aggressive Controller refuses to listen to other people’s boundaries.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term “boundary,” a boundary is like a fence for your life with a gate to let good in and keep harmful out. You set physical boundaries to protect your body from other people harming it, but you also set boundaries to keep people from harming your overall life, such as being able to make your own decision for your career or free time or even whom you will marry. You set boundaries by choosing to work for a certain amount of pay instead of for free. A compliant person gives in to the forcefulness of the Aggressive Controller so that he doesn’t follow through with the decisions that are true to his own beliefs, character, or goals. An Aggressive Controller may be verbally or physically abusive to coerce people to carry responsibilities he himself should carry or to even force others to live out his/her desires, such as in choosing a career or certain person to marry. Most often, though, an Aggressive Controller just bowls people over and is completely oblivious to the other people’s boundaries, desires, and needs.


A Manipulative Controller tries to persuade people out of their boundaries.

This is the type of person who will continue to talk through the situation until compliant becomes so uncomfortable or guilty that he gives in and says, “Yes,” to the controller’s desires, even though the decision violates the compliant’s own goals or conscience. The Manipulative Controller can be very clever but for deceitful purposes. Or, the Manipulative Controller will manipulate the circumstances to get his way. An example of this is the person who procrastinates with a work assignment, then, due to the urgency of the time deadline, calls on a compliant friend, knowing the friend will give up his valuable free time or family time or even an event to bail him out by doing work he should have done himself. Or, a Manipulative Controller may plan an outing but never follow through with the arrangements, knowing that as the deadline gets closer, a compliant spouse will feel the weight of the responsibility to not disappoint the family and make the arrangements that the controller should have done.

Both communication and boundaries are necessary for healing such relationships.

Since controllers usually are completely oblivious to violating another’s boundaries or will deny the desire to control, the controller will only take responsibility for himself and accept other’s limits once the complaint explains the need for healing in the relationship by specific changes. A compliant will need the emotional support of non-controlling friends and family to go through such a confrontation and re-establish his or her boundaries (By confrontation, I’m not referring to being confrontational in an angry way. The subject should be approached matter of factly.). After explaining how you will not continue to make up for the controller’s lack of responsibility anymore, even if under a deadline, you must absolutely follow through with the boundaries of not fulfilling the other person’s responsibilities anymore, even if the controller doesn’t get his work project done on time or causes the family to miss an event. It will take such mistakes on the part of the controller, it will take feeling these losses, before he realizes that you are serious about not bailing him out. Then, as the controller then gets tired of incurring the wrath of his boss or feeling the disappointments of missed events, he should begin taking responsibility for himself and stop violating your boundaries.

The responsibility for change lies with the compliant first.

The key points to the resolution here are that the controller will violate your boundaries as long as you allow him or her to by not speaking up and making your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No. Nor will he/she see any need to change as long as you keep giving in and doing what he or she should be doing for himself or herself. The change starts with you because your compliant behavior is what allows the controller to continue in a lack of responsibility. By bailing him out, you have prevented him from experiencing the natural law of suffering the consequences of his irresponsible behavior. Once he or she experiences natural consequences for irresponsibility, these consequences become the motivation for change.

Related Article: Handling Controlling Behavior by Realizing Your Compliant Personality

“Boundaries: When to Say, “Yes,” When to Say, “No,” to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It is an average reading level and the book gives real life relationship examples throughout to make it easy for you to identify your personality type, weaknesses, personality types of friends, family, co-workers, etc. I believe it was on the NY Best Sellers List for several years. The ISBN on the softcover version is 0-310-24745-4.

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One Response to “Recognizing Controlling People”

  1. Loans, Gifts, And Boundaries: How Loans And Gifts Create Bondage And Why Boundaries Are Important | Enemy of Debt Says:

    […] found the excerpt below on a blog that was answering a reader’s question about setting boundaries by using resources from the book, “Boundaries: When […]

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