Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Dear Neil: Why would my boyfriend feel the need to control me? I am faithful and have never strayed, but am still not trusted. I am asked to explain who I talk to, and what we talk about. I am criticized a lot, and my mistakes are frequently pointed out. If I balk at all of this, he gets furious with me. In fact, he’s frequently angry with me. Exactly what is control, and why would someone feel the need to control so much?
Feeling Imprisoned in Houston
Dear Feeling Imprisoned: The controller in a relationship is the partner who withholds approval. Why would a person feel the need to control another? There is a basic assumption made on the part of a controller. It goes something like this: “If you are free to interact with others, you will discover someone better than me—and then you will dump me.” Underlying that assumption lies another one: “I am really a terrible (or unappealing) person, and if you discover this about me, you’ll reject me.”
Suppose someone who has a fairly good self-image and is confident meets a person with a very poor self-image and a strong sense of inadequacy. The insecure person thinks “My partner just doesn’t see my faults yet, and I have to make sure s/he doesn’t see them.” So the inadequate person may become very critical of the confident person. The goal will be to plant seeds of self-doubt: “I don’t want my partner to feel any more adequate than I feel, so s/he never leave me.” That is why when a person with poor self-esteem is criticized, their defense is frequently more powerful and their counterattack more vicious.
So if a controller’s partner needs to be taken down a notch, the controller may reach into his/her mental toolshed and choose an insult. If the partner is getting too confident, it may be necessary to use criticism, to focus on faults, to highlight mistakes, in order to get the partner’s level of self-doubt back up to where it needs to be for proper control to be maintained. If the partner becomes overtly rebellious, verbal aggression or even physical abuse may be needed.
One way to measure a person’s level of inadequacy is to measure that person’s level of jealousy. Jealousy is a form of possessiveness, and possessiveness is not about love—it’s about insecurity. Jealousy is an under-the-table admission of worthlessness.
The controlled person may be victimized by the controller, but it cannot happen without the active participation of the controlled person, who tacitly accepts being controlled by the other.
In controlling relationships, it’s not about two people negotiating with each other and finding accommodating solutions to disagreements. I am not talking about normal day-to-day accommodations. That does not involve giving yourself away. I am talking about surrendering control over your life to another person.
Control can surface in a number of ways, but typically it surfaces as anger. The controlled person is constantly making personal compromises, surrendering rights and power—to keep the peace, to avoid conflict, to avoid rejection.
I will continue this discussion in next week’s column.
Source: Stop Controlling Me! by Richard Stenack (New Harbinger)