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
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
Naturally, different leaders use different
(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
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
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
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
(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
(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
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
Problems with boundaries and being controlled?
Is control ruining your relationship? Help is
Cheryl Dusty D.Div.
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