People With Control Issues

Many of us experience a need to control others. We want others to see things and do things our way. Shostrom (1968) described several types of manipulators:

1.The dictator: wants to control others by orders, i.e. by virtue of his/her authority, position, status, or rank. Such a person believes he/she knows what is right and what you should do.

2.The weakling: controls or defies authority by using his/her weakness, sometimes in powerful ways, such as "Oh, I forgot," "I didn't understand," "I just can't do it," or "I'm so nervous." This is passive-aggressiveness.

3.The calculator: sees the world as a contest of wits. He/she is constantly plotting, conning, pressuring, persuading, selling, seducing, or trying to outwit others.

4.The clinging vine: wants to be cared for, dependent, submissive, and faithful. As a helpless, grateful, cuddly child, he/she gets others to do a lot for him/her.

5.The bully: uses his/her anger, toughness, viciousness, and threats to intimidate others and get his/her way. The "tough guy" and "the bitch" are common characters.

What can you do about being manipulated?

First, recognize what is happening. Second, stand up for your rights. Think and decide for yourself assert yourself. Build your self-esteem so that you are not overly dependent on others.

What if you are the manipulator?

Controllers or manipulators use five basic methods of persuading or influencing others (Kipnis & Schmidt, 1985):

(1) Carefully stating the reasons and logic for changing, (2) assertively reminding and urging someone to change,

(3) soliciting others to support your proposals, (

4) going over someone's head to get support from "higher ups," and

(5) working out a deal so you get part of what you want.

Naturally, different leaders use different methods:

(1) the "steam rollers" go for broke and aggressively use all the methods--they won't take no for an answer, and may even threaten, shout, and demand,

(2) the "rational ones" rely only on hard facts, logical analysis, careful plans, and compromise,

(3) the "pleasers" actively persuade others but mostly "politic," focusing on offering "pay offs," flattery, and personal charm, and

(4) the "onlookers" mostly stay out of the controversy.

In a second study, Schmidt and Kipnis (1987) found that the "steam rollers" got the lowest job evaluations, contrary to what is taught by some Business Schools. Male "steam rollers" were disliked even more than female "steam rollers," contrary to the common notion that pushy women are the most resented. Sexism does occur, however, when you ask, "Who got the best job evaluations?" "Rational" men and "Pleaser" or "Onlooker" women! Conclusion: men's ideas and women's quiet pleasantness are valued, not women's ideas nor men's pleasant passivity.

Note what methods you use to influence people in different situations. Consider the possible advantages of using the rational approach. Nasty aggressive tactics put others down while soft tactics may put you down. Practice relating to others as intelligent, reasonable equals and in a manner whereby both of you can be winners.

Unconscious controlling of others

The manipulations described above involve conscious, overt control (requesting, persuading, buying off, threatening) or conscious-to-the-controller but hidden-to-the-victim control (deception).

Beier and Valens (1975) concentrate on a third kind of control--unaware control.

Neither controller nor controlee realize the purpose or goal (like in "games"). The authors say unconscious control is the most common, powerful, and effective control. Many forms of unaware control are learned by young children: cuteness, weakness, illness, fear, anger, sadness, goodness, giving, love, etc. These acts and feelings can all be used to subtly influence others.

There is obviously no quick, conscious defense against this control, because we don't know what is happening or how. Is there any defense at all? Yes, learn how to detect the subtle control, then extinguish it by preventing the payoffs. It can be done.

Here are the steps, suggested by Beier and Valens, for avoiding "unaware control."

(1) Become as unemotional as possible so you can observe the interaction (with the controlling person) as objectively as possible.

(2) Observe the effects, i.e. note the results of your interactions, and assume that whatever happens (especially repeatedly) was the unconsciously intended outcome. If you got mad...or felt guilty...or gave them a loan, assume that was the other person's unconscious intent. Don't be mislead by the person's words or "logic," don't try to figure out what made you respond the way you did, just note what pay offs the other person's actions and/or feelings lead to.

(3) Disengage from the relationship--stop responding in your usual, controlled-by-other-person way. Be understanding, not angry. Listen, but don't rescue him/her. Become passive resistant to the controller then, observe his/her reaction to your non-response.

(4) Next is the key step: now, instead of giving the old manipulated response or no response, give a new surprising response that does not go along with what the manipulator expects (and unconsciously wants) but does not threaten him/her either.

Example: suppose a person (child, spouse, boss) gets attention and status by being nasty and yelling. You could start responding differently by simply saying, "It's good to express your feelings." You give no argument, you show no fear of his/her long verbal abuse, and you make no concessions and don't cater to his/her whims.

(5) Give him/her space--just let the other person find a new and better way to interact with you. You should not try to become a controller of the other person and tell him/her what to do instead, be free to experiment with different styles of interacting with this person.

Problems with boundaries and being controlled? Is control ruining your relationship? Help is available!!

Cheryl Dusty D.Div.


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