The Consequences of Controlling Others
BY ANITA MARTIN
How do you respond when someone tries to control you? The typical response is to withdraw, confront, or ignore controlling behavior. And yet, some may unknowingly treat their partners, children, colleagues, or friends this way. I believe confusion exists between helping and controlling others in our lives. It may be intentional or unintentional. Usually, a time will come when people stop accepting this type of behavior, because it challenges their autonomy. Control says, "I make better decisions about your life than you do." Although we may rarely say this, our loved ones may feel and perceive that message.
What does helping others really mean? I think of helping as supporting others, so they can make choices for themselves. For example, if a friend asks for advice, sometimes he or she may want you to tell them how to handle a situation. However, what has happened is you’ve shared how you might handle a similar set of circumstances in your life. But your friend’s life, choices, concerns belong only to him. Instead, you may consider asking your friend questions that help them understand the nature of their problem, their needs, and identify realistic choices.
Why is control concerning? Controlling messages and behaviors seize personal power, autonomy, responsibility, and freedom. Loss of personal power challenges an individual’s sense of capability and confidence. It may question his or her internal competence to make career, relationship, or other personal choices. As ownership of an individual’s life is disputed either directly or indirectly, he or she may become less empowered to make personal decisions.
One purpose of healthy relationships is to offer a safe environment for self-exploration and growth. In the context of a loving partnership, those involved can test the limits of self-identity, strengths, challenges, and work toward new goals. But, personal growth is achieved individually. The pace of your partner’s development and changes occur as he or she is ready to confront them. It is unrealistic to assume growth will occur according to your timetable. Still, in frustration, you may say and do things that are hurtful to your loved ones. If this is the case, the most productive action step may be to discuss your respective concerns and form a course of action. How can you work together to achieve desired change? How might you support your partner in his or her growth efforts?
If you’ve unintentionally hurt your partner, you can:
1. Apologize Take time with your loved one. Accept responsibility for your own behavior. Tell him or her you realize you have behaved this way in the past, are aware of how it may have been felt or understood and commit to learning new communication skills.
2. Forgive Yourself Refuse to become lost in your own self-criticism and guilt. Notice your mistakes, apologize, take positive steps to change, and move on.
3. Follow Up Have an uninterrupted conversation with your partner. Ask how he or she may feel about your behavior changes. Are your interactions improving? Does he or she feel more supported and less controlled?
4. Couple’s Therapy Couple’s counseling can address specific concerns of both you and your loved one. Your relationship is worth the time, effort, and financial investment. And, it reinforces the relationship’s priority to both of you.
For each of us to have the healthiest relationships possible, we must retain individual ownership of our lives, choices, and futures.