Protective or Controlling… What’s the Difference?

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“Every time we impose our will on another, it is an act of violence.” Gandhi

Our relationships with others are constantly shifting and evolving. As an intimate relationship grows the two people grow and evolve within it. It’s natural and normal as a relationship develops that one partner may take a more dominant role than the other.  One may make more of the decisions, the other happy to go with the flow. One seeks to influence the other through communication, talking things through and coming to a mutual decision. Sometimes the balance can shift and the other may become the influencer. When both partners are comfortable and both are respected and valued equally this makes for a very happy environment. The same can be said for any relationship whether it be between friends, family members or work colleagues.

When we care for someone naturally we want to protect them, make sure they are Ok and not getting into something that could be risky or potentially hurt them. Open communication with both partners agreeing on a course of action if a situation arises is the mature and respectful way to address it. This way both are supported and feel secure. Being protective of another is an act of love.

When the behaviour is to a degree that one person is controlling the actions and freedom of choice of another then a line is crossed. This type of behaviour is unhealthy and damaging.

Do you feel uncomfortable with the level of control the other person is taking? Are your opinions and needs being honoured? Do you feel you have a choice?

Intimate partners in a healthy respectful relationship are not threatened by the presence of other people in each other’s lives. Someone who seeks to control the other generally either does feel threatened and they have deep insecurity.

If your partner for instance discourages you from seeing a friend because they “Don’t like them” are they genuinely concerned for your welfare or are they attempting to sabotage your friendship for their own ends? Is this a one off or is it a regular occurrence? If this kind of behaviour is regular take look at the pattern.

Finding yourself in a controlling relationship could mean that at some stage you have let your boundaries slip or you have not put any in place from the start. When you are at the point that you realize something is wrong it is often too late to take a stand or re-establish boundaries because the controller knows your soft spots.

Subtle Signs of abusive control

  • Insists on knowing where you are and who you’re with at all times. This may at first be disguised with claims of just wanting to know you’re OK or that they miss you, but over time may become more demanding.
  • Being critical of friends/family members you are close to.
  • Being critical of your appearance.
  • They may try to blame you for causing their behaviour.
  • No communication around joint affairs, just demands or unilateral decision making.

Not so subtle signs of abusive control

  • They may have angry outburst if you do not comply with their demands but insists that it’s because they love/care so much.
  • Guilt tripping.
  • Monitoring of your communication with others.
  • Bullying behaviour, threats of consequences. Either physical or emotional.

 

Do you feel uncomfortable with the level of control the other person is taking? Are your opinions/needs honoured? Do you have a gut feeling that something is wrong? You are probably right.

A controlling person will go to great lengths to get their own way; they will manipulate, they will be intimidating, be highly critical, and usually are skilled at debating and distorting the truth, often outright lying and, by their very nature, disrespectful and hurtful.

Hoping that the controller will change, that somehow they will see the error in their ways or that your patience and care will make a difference is pointless. Unless the controller decides that they want to change their ways they won’t. To have the insight to know that they cause hurt in others (or care) requires empathy, which is in short supply in these characters. Their idea of love is distorted to a sense of ownership of the other person.

And it is highly likely that their behaviour will worsen over time into something more insidious.

The time to take action is when you get that gut feeling that something is not quite right. Trust that feeling.  Make it known that their behaviour is not acceptable and be prepared to state what you expect from them as a partner. If they are genuinely just a little insecure this may be enough for them to see their folly and make some changes, but if the behaviour is of a more insidious nature it’s probably time to head for the door before real damage is done.

Jane Sleight-Leach

Founder of The Life 2 Project