One source of confusion and conflict between people is when one person tries to control another, using subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle methods. When they are in the presence of the controlling person, the one being controlled feels lost, devalued, and disconnected from their own decision-making processes. This situation may become so uncomfortable that the person being controlled may rebel against the controller. This individual may even decide to abandon the relationship altogether – which prompts the controller to use ever more oppressive control techniques. When this happens, the controller responds to a feeling of rejection. The controller uses control techniques, in fact, to avoid feeling abandoned. They just want to be close, and they usually have no idea that their behavior is perceived as controlling.
Control between people is healthy to an extent. Structure helps to prevent chaos and provides clear expectations regarding what kinds of behavior are acceptable in any interaction. In this sense, we all use some degree of control when we deal with other people. We might, for instance, make it clear to others where our personal boundaries lie (that is, how far can you go with me and what is unacceptable to me). Our personal boundaries are usually conveyed non-verbally. People can pick up – based on our cues and responses to situations – on what we do to maintain our own sense of self. When this information fails to be conveyed non-verbally, we may even have to speak up and state it clearly with words. This level of control can be defined as healthy. It allows for good, clear interactions between people.
There is a certain point where control crosses the line from healthy to destructive. We often don’t know when that line has been crossed. Consider the following examples:
- “I hate to mow the lawn.” “No, you don’t. Just look at how much time you spend outdoors and how nice the lawn looks when it has been cut.”
- “I’m thinking about quitting my job.” “I can never trust you.”
- “Could you wear something a little less revealing? I don’t want men at the party looking at you.”
- “No, you can’t go play golf. You need to spend your weekends with me. I’ll have nothing to do.”
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