Five Tips On How To Deal With Controlling People

By William Drake|Updated April 11, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Heather Cashell, LCSW

Almost everyone knows a person who has control issues. Whether it's a boss, a co-worker, a friend, a sibling, a spouse, or a lover, it can make our lives very difficult. Luckily, there are ways to deal with these people in a healthy way. With a few tips, you can learn how to manage relationships with those who experience control issues.

Learn How To Deal With People Who Are Controlling. They Don't Need To Win!

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Tip 1: Recognize the Control of Out of Control

The need to control others often comes from some deep-seated issues related to a loss of control at some earlier point life. This can create anxiety-related compulsions. Knowing the reasons behind an individual's behavior will not resolve their issues, but it can help you to handle your own reactions.

People who have anxiety-related control issues are often perceived as someone who has it all "under control." That is the persona they embody and work very hard for the world to see. They have learned that the best way to fend off anxiety is to depend only on themselves. If they want a job done, and done right, they have to do it alone, so they may always look like they're on top of things. Inside, however, they might be anything but calm, cool, and collected. In fact, they're most likely a ball of nerves just waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for all of their plans to fall apart.

Tip 2: Understanding the Need for Control

Understanding the motives behind the perceived annoying, aggravating, and possibly demeaning actions, words, and attitude of a person with a controlling personality is essential in helping others to deal with that person. If the person is your boss, they may be experiencing anxiety or a similar mental health issue. They may then be dealing with that anxiety by attempting to control every detail of certain projects, or simply micro-managing you. That degree of control may even have led them to become successful in work or other scenarios. If you work on understanding the source of the controlling behavior, it could help to lessen your negative reactions toward that person.

Sometimes, a person with a controlling personality may not have experienced organization or structure during childhood, and now feels compelled to make up for that prior deficit in the present moment. Other times, they may have experienced a loss that they feel was avoidable, and are now trying to ensure they never go through that again. They might do this by trying to exercise control over situations to the point that it is overwhelming for you. If you know that the individual is behaving this way because they are overestimating a threat, or compulsively attempting to avoid a painful trauma, then it may be easier for you to interact with them in a positive manner.

Tip 3: Look at the Need Behind the Behavior

If you're struggling with a controlling boss or a co-worker, try to isolate the behavior from the need. Ask yourself what is it that needs to be done and how you can reassure them that it will happen. If your boss gives you an assignment and hovers over you, tell them that you understand the importance of the assignment. Then restate your understanding of the deadline and the objective.

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Remember, the need to control is often related to anxiety. By restating and clarifying your understanding of the objective, the deadline, and your desire to deliver a quality product in a timely manner, you can help to alleviate their anxiety. Then they may lighten up, but you may have to do this several times before their controlling behavior is redirected elsewhere.

Tip 4: Earning Trust

There are many aspects of a job that require responsibility. If your boss or coworker sees that you are taking a task seriously, then hopefully they will realize they don't have to monitor you in other situations. In other words, you build trust. Oftentimes, it is hard for a controlling individual to trust others because they feel as though they are the only person who can complete a task the correct way. In a work environment, this can often mean the controlling person is micro-managing, instead of delegating tasks to others, leading to inefficiencies and strained relationships with co-workers. 

The same is true for a significant other. It may be difficult for your partner to open up in a romantic relationship if they have a controlling personality. If they ask you for a reasonable favor, such as picking up something from the grocery store, being reliable can help you earn their trust. That reliability, in turn, can alleviate their anxiety. By earning trust, the control-oriented person will come to rely on your word. This, of course, does not pertain to unreasonable tasks, such as predicting the significant other's arbitrary needs; but if you show your partner that you can fulfill their needs without being controlled, that can go a long way toward fostering a healthy relationship.

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Tip 5: Anticipate the Need

It may seem like a great deal of responsibility falls on your shoulders if you have a relationship with someone who has control issues. Even so, it's important to recognize and be compassionate toward the controlling person, no matter how unlikeable he or she may seem. You are not going to change that person, but you can change your reactions. You can anticipate their behavior and be proactive.

The thing about individuals with anxiety issues is that they're fairly predictable, almost ritualistic in their behavior and reactions. If we can react with compassion rather than with frustration when they act controlling, then we can, in a sense, control the situation.

As mentioned before, this does not include mindreading. Predicting a controlling person's behavior might mean understanding that the "Friday Deadline" is stressful to them. An unhealthy example would be having to know that the boss takes two sugars and one cream without him or her ever telling you. Reacting to the unhealthy behavior in particular requires a calm and assertive response.

BetterHelp Can Help

If you suffer from anxiety and fear losing control, this may be impacting your personal and professional relationships. Similarly, you might be struggling with a controlling person in your life. There is help available, and often just talking to someone about what you’re going through will be beneficial.

A growing body of research has shown that online therapy can help address many of the issues that stem from control seeking thoughts and behaviors. One study, published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, found that online therapy is a useful method of treating symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), including control issues. A particularly effective mode of online therapy when helping manage symptoms of OCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy works by reframing negative thought patterns, so that situations—that may otherwise lead to controlling behavior or thoughts—can be less triggering. Online therapy platforms are often considered a more accessible option for counseling due to the elimination of many geographic, cost, and stigma barriers.

As discussed above, online therapy can help you, or someone you know, manage feelings of loss of control. Through BetterHelp, you can match with one of thousands of licensed mental health professionals. Because there are therapists from all over the US, and beyond, you have a good chance of working with someone who has expertise in treating your exact symptoms. And unlike with traditional therapy, BetterHelp allows you to reach out to your therapist outside of session hours, not just when you have appointments. Simply send a message when you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts, have a question about something, or simply want to chat, and your therapist will get back to you as soon as possible. Read the reviews of counselors below, from those who have successfully dealt with similar concerns.

Learn How To Deal With People Who Are Controlling. They Don't Need To Win!

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Counselor Reviews

"She's been instrumental in helping me discover and unpack learned behavior I wasn't even aware of and helping me understand and establish healthy boundaries with people in my life. I can undoubtedly say that I've been feeling better about myself and more comfortable with the way I walk through the world in large part thanks to her."

"Blaire has been amazing. She's super supportive, empathetic, and kind. She has helped me gain confidence in myself and learn that it is okay to enforce healthy boundaries in my relationships."

Conclusion

Controlling people can be extremely difficult. Their behaviors or mindsets may seem silly, but they usually suffer from anxiety. A great counselor can support you while you learn how to deal with these people, so you can maintain your relationships and regain your peace of mind.

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