How to Deal with Controlling People in Your Life

Controlling people command, coerce, and manipulate, often achieving their ultimate aim. Find out how to get rid of their influence in your daily life.
How to Deal with Controlling People in Your Life
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

A boss who needs to supervise every detail of your work, a partner who makes all the decisions for you both, a friend who pressures you to do what they want …. Controlling people can be present in many areas of your life. Furthermore, dealing with them is often emotionally draining. If you believe that you have some people like this in your environment, we’ll show you what to do to break free from their influence.

Firstly, it’s necessary to know that the need for control is common to all of us. However, when it interferes with the freedom and performance of other people, it becomes pathological and harmful.

As a matter of fact, behind a controlling person is an insecure human being. Indeed, despite the facade of apparent confidence and determination, in reality, they’re extremely fearful. They’re afraid of rejection, of not being needed, and of losing the love and attention of others.

Therefore, control arises in them as a mechanism. They use it to direct others in order to try and ensure themselves of their continued affection and presence in their lives. However, how do you manage relationships with these types of people?

Identify controlling people

One of the main problems when dealing with controlling people is the difficulty in identifying who they are. In fact, although this may sound like a simple task, these people are usually socially adept, attractive, and persuasive people. Furthermore, their control and manipulation techniques are often subtle and disguised as good intentions.

Some of the characteristics to take into account are the following:

  • They don’t respect the needs and desires of others. In fact, they only seek to satisfy their own needs. Thanks to this objective, they’re unable to see, hear or understand the rest of us.
  • They tend to take command and take charge of all decisions and responsibilities, even if they prove to be beyond their capabilities.
  • They’re rigid and possess a low tolerance for frustration. They’re unable to negotiate or be flexible in their plans. In fact, if they have to change, they feel extremely uncomfortable and may even react with anger.
  • They adopt paternalistic attitudes and often use emotional manipulation in their relationships. In this way, they make the other person believe that they know exactly what they need and they, therefore, must listen to them.
  • They seek to generate a feeling of loyalty that leads the other person to constantly have to give in to their requests. To do this, they appeal to the emotional bond or make the other party feel guilty in order to control their lives.
  • They try to socially isolate the other party, This is so that the only influence the other person receives is theirs.

Don’t wear yourself out trying to reason with them

If you find that another person is trying to manipulate or coerce you, or is taking their need for control to the extreme, you may be tempted to tell them and make them see reason. However, these well-intentioned attempts rarely have any effect.

The controlling person won’t recognize what’s happening. Furthermore, they won’t be open to listening to your point of view or be willing to put it into practice.

Remember that control is a necessity for these people. They feel that if they lose it they’re in danger. Consequently, they don’t want to reason, but simply want you to adapt to their requirements. They’ll find countless excuses and arguments to support their behavior and make you feel out of place. Therefore, choose your battles well and don’t waste your energy on a useless debate.

Be assertive

You’re unlikely to be able to change the mind of a controlling person. For this reason, your best tool will be assertiveness. Indeed, it’s important that you’re clear about your point of view, your arguments, and your decisions and that you stick to them. You don’t need to excuse or justify yourself, simply express what you think, feel and want with respect and clarity, and act accordingly.

These people are usually extremely insistent. They’ll persevere to make you fulfill their wishes, and will often be annoyed if you don’t, especially if you used to give in to their requests before. However, make sure you stay put until the dynamics of the relationship change.

Set limits

Controlling people may not act in the same way in all their relationships. As a matter of fact, the closer and more intimate the relationship, the more their need for control increases. Therefore, it may be necessary to set limits and keep your distance.

In the same way, a controlling person will act in a different way if they’re your friend than if they’re your partner. Therefore, in each case, think about what element of their control you’re willing to accept or otherwise.

In some cases, you’ll have to sever the relationship. However, if this isn’t possible, try to maintain a degree of closeness or emotional distance that you feel comfortable with.

Couple having a serious conversation

Work out what attracts you to controlling people

If you walk away from a controlling person, it’s likely that they’ll stop meddling in your affairs and telling you what to do and how to behave, simply because they’ll no longer be a part of your life. However, it’s important that you review the situation that led you to bond with and stay in a relationship with someone like that.

Low self-esteem, the need to please others, or fear of conflict maybe some of them. In fact, if you detect any of these patterns in yourself, be sure to work on them so that you don’t repeat this dynamic with another person in the future. Furthermore, it’s not enough to just get away from that controlling person. You also need to distance yourself from the part of you that led to it happening.

Ultimately, maintaining a close bond with a controlling person can be dangerous for your emotional health. For this reason, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. When this isn’t possible (either because that individual is part of your family or your work environment) you must keep your temper, understand what’s happening, and be firm. In this way, you’ll avoid falling into the trap of constant conflict. In addition, by detecting any future attempts by people to control you, you’ll be able to act with total awareness and knowledge of what’s happening.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Evans, P. (2003). Controlling people: How to recognize, understand, and deal with people who try to control you. Simon and Schuster.
  • Molino, D. P. (2004). Necesidad de control: análisis conceptual y propuesta experimental. Revista Profesional Española de Terapia Cognitivo-Conductual2, 70-91.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.