Cathryn's Articles for Stepmom Issues and Relationships


Stop Being Controlled by Others: Take a New Stand!
Create Freedom from the control of others! Get curious, creative and courageous

By Cathryn Bond Doyle.


It's a horrible feeling to be afraid to do or say something because of how someone else may react. When we’re not free to do what we want to (within the realm of responsible and legal behaviors) or we’re manipulated into doing something against our will, because we’re afraid of someone else’s negative reaction, we’re being controlled. When other people try to control us, it can have a negative impact on us, it hurts and makes us angry! This article is intended to offer some new ways to react when we feel controlled. As we can change our attitudes and behaviors, we CAN create the freedom we crave and deserve within our relationships.

Most controlling behaviors are motivated by fear. It’s noteworthy that fear is also the main reason we allow ourselves to be controlled by other people so, whether we’re trying to control or being controlled, fear is present for everyone involved. Recognizing this “fear factor” gives us the opportunity to create some new and healthy strategies for the next time we feel afraid and controlled. To get a deeper understanding of why people try to control situations or other people, please review the article entitled, “When we’re controlling others we’re not being loving.” In this article we’re going to focus on the other side of this common interaction and figure out what we can do differently to stop feeling controlled by others.

Controlling or not? It’s important to differentiate.

Controlling behavior has many faces and takes many forms. Before reviewing how to handle being controlled it’s important to differentiate what is and is not controlling behavior. It’s not necessarily controlling for someone to disagree with us or state what he or she wants. It can just be a healthy, honest conversation. However, sometimes we may not want to hear someone else’s opinions. We may feel entitled or expect someone to do whatever we want. If we cry, “Control” just because we don’t get our way, that’s childish. Some people need to be right all the time.

If we cry, “Control” just because someone else finds a new way to do something, that’s pride not control. If we’re angry about something else that we’re not willing to address, but cry, “Control” over an unrelated issue because we are just plain annoyed, that isn’t fair. If we find we’re doing any of these things, we can recognize it, stop immediately, apologize, forgive ourselves and look for a new way to get our needs met.

How are we controlled?

There’s a potential for being controlled whenever someone knows our fears or vulnerabilities, holds authority over us or threatens us in some way. They may use words. They may not. Sometimes we remember negative reactions from past experiences and sometimes we’re at genuine risk because they hold a want or need over us. Fears vary from person to person. Fears are not rational but when they are real for us, we’re at risk of feeling controlled and that stinks!

We’re going to focus on ways to handle situations where we don’t feel free to do as we please because someone has made it clear “there will be a price to pay.” It’s infuriating when we feel we have no choice about something. How many times have we given in, pretended to agree, ignored our needs or kept silent out of fear? This leads to resentments and nothing good, in terms of the impact on the relationship.

Fear makes us controllable.

We become vulnerable to being controlled when we do or don’t do something because we:

1. Fear losing someone’s approval.

2. Fear someone might withhold/withdraw his or her love.

3. Fear confronting a situation directly.

4. Realize someone else has the power to make decisions that impact us.

5. Feel afraid to face someone’s anger (real or threatened).

6. Fear we’ll be punished for stating our feelings or needs.

7. Fear retribution or retaliation at some unknown time in the future.

What do you mean we ALLOW ourselves to be controlled?

When we feel someone is trying to limit our freedom of choice, a natural reaction is to blame them, feel sorry for, or bargain with ourselves or spend time thinking up, “counter-controlling” maneuvers. Whenever we believe that someone else must change in order for us to be happier or safer, we feel powerless and, in a sense, give up the responsibility to change things. Blaming, self-pity and bargaining are all emotional numbing band-aids that we use in reaction to feeling controlled. However, they do not address the core issue that we’re allowing someone else’s opinions or potential actions to over-power our own present desires and wishes. Our personal fears are allowing another person or situation to have a limiting impact on us. We may not be able to change anyone else but we sure can change what WE think, feel and do.

As soon as we recognize that we’re playing a role in a controlling interaction, we’re making great progress. The moment we acknowledge we’re vulnerable to control when we’re afraid to deal with the real or imagined consequences of our actions, we become less controllable and more powerful. It’s an important and powerful first step for creating permanent change and therefore a different future.

You CAN break the cycle of control.

1. The next time you’re feeling controlled-Create a pause. Do what you have to do to stop the conversation and give yourself a moment to think? This will break any unconscious, habitual patterns from your past. Taking this step will give you a boost of energy and a dose of hope that things can be different.

2. Figure out what you feel afraid of or worry about. Is this a real fear? What could really happen? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Ask yourself, “Am I being my wise adult Self or is my inner child running things for me at this moment?” Get to the bottom of your fear. For example: Is your husband really going to stop loving you if you work late one night a week? Can you handle being ignored while he pouts for a while or not?

3. Can you figure out what the controlling person is afraid of? Are they jealous? Afraid of losing you? Afraid something will happen to you? Are they afraid of your independence? As couples uncover the things that trigger each other’s fears and then activate the need to control, they also begin to create safety for each other within the relationship. This is very healing for the relationship. As either of you begin to observe or act in a controlling way, the other one can pause and rather than reacting to the control itself, stop the cycle by talking about the fear.

For example: “You’re beginning to scare me with your shouting. You sound harsh and/or impatient, is this you being afraid? How can I help you?” This can be effective because it stops the reaction to fear and puts attention on creating safety in a loving way.

4. Make a “Go-No Go” Decision. Based on what you have learned about the situation, make a choice to move forward, facing your fears and creating a new plan OR decide to “pass on the issue” and do something else with your time and energy. Some things are not worth the effort. For example: Even though you originally wanted Italian, agreeing to go for Mexican isn’t being controlled and isn’t something to feel badly about. If you can gain agreement to go for Italian next time, this feels more like a happy compromise.

5. Create acceptable options so you have real choices to make or offer to another. The more choices you have any time you are making a decision, the more powerful and the less controlled you’ll feel. Once you decide you are not going to drop an issue or cower in fear, you need a new plan. How many ways can you create what you want? How can you soothe as many of your fears as possible without losing your dignity WHILE still accomplishing what you want? For example: “I recognize that you feel uncomfortable about me traveling with my new boss so how about if you meet us for lunch sometime before the trip so you’ll see for yourself that you have nothing to worry about. I bet this will set your mind at ease so I can go to the conference with your full support. What to you think of this idea?”

Since you know that the source of control is fear, finding ways to eliminate or comfort the source of fear, will eliminate much of the need to control. You may not have the perfect solution but taking the time to offer two, three or four options shows someone how much you care and that has its own benefits for the relationship.

6. When you’re clear about your feelings and your choices, express yourself, when appropriate. Help yourself by preparing and practicing for this conversation. YOU choose the timing. Share your feelings when the mood is calm and you are feeling strong. Saying what you’re feeling can be instantly effective if someone is unaware of his or her impact.

7. If someone is trying to use guilt to control your behavior, try saying this calmly, “You’re not trying to make me feel guilty are you?” When you verbalize your feelings and your fears, the light of awareness often diffuses the power the person has over you or makes their attempts to control obviously ridiculous. For example: “Honey, are you implying that if I don’t make love with you right now, you’re going to be angry at me? I know you are disappointed but what if we do X, Y or Z now and we’ll make love another time.”

Some people scare us with implications and unspoken threats. This is passive aggression. It takes real courage to stand up to this kind of control. When people react to hearing your feelings with intensified anger or punishment, this can be their next round of defense or it can be abusive. Protect yourself and assess each situation. Remember, this process is not intended to address abusive people, just scared people who use domination and control over others to numb their own fears.

Please note: Sometimes you don’t need to say anything to anyone because your fears are in your own imagination. This is when supportive and comforting self-talk can change everything.

Sometimes you just gotta’,“go for it!”

Sometimes you may feel controlled by your own fears. It’s your fears that keep you from doing something you’d like to do. This kind of fear can be the most limiting and controlling of all. It’s an inner terrorism that plagues people to varying degrees. If you determine that this is the case for your situation, find ways to give yourself as much comfort and support as you can, create 3-5 choices so you have some options, then take a deep breath, make a choice and do something! This is not about being perfect. This is a time to be courageous. Even with the small things, bit-by-bit, it’s empowering. When you choose to take courageous action, the joy and euphoria that follows is fantastic! It can be life changing.

Getting free of control!

Each time we figure out how to help ourselves create the life we want, we become happier and more confident. We begin to teach people how to treat us in healthier, more loving ways. Not everyone is willing to stop controlling us, but as we get more clarity on what we’re afraid of and what our loved ones fear, we can apply our natural caretaking and nurturing instincts to resolve each situation. It’s energizing to create more safety for each other. Getting creative, standing up to our fears and looking for ways to comfort our fears feels much better than giving in or trying to out-maneuver the controlling people in our lives. It can be the beginning of a new way of being free to live your life the way you want. Give yourself a chance to feel that freedom.

©2002 Cathryn Bond Doyle. All rights reserved.
Stepmoms on a Mission®
PO Box 7, Medford NJ 08055
609.206.2009
Cathryn@smoms.org