Sometimes People Who Can't Control Themselves Try to Control Everyone Else

Sometimes People Who Can't Control Themselves Try to Control Everyone Else
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

That way, they can build a more positive, powerful image of themselves. But this need leads, little by little, to excessive demands and the construction of a rigid, suffocating relationship that completely negates the other person’s emotional integrity.

If we really think about it, it’s scary how the human brain is able to use the most sophisticated tools when it’s in need. Not everyone does it the same way, of course.

But the need to control everything and everyone around us is nothing more than a defense mechanism. We use it to confront something that at we see as a “threat.”

Having low self-esteem, huge insecurity, a negative self-image, and an inability to process emotions like anger, sadness, or frustration: these often form a lethal cocktail where psychological uncertainty desperately looks for a quick fix.

Faced with their inability to control and deal with all these things, the person focuses their energy on others. I’ll control you and everyone else so you’ll fit into to my black-and-white world.”

They’re behaviors you’ve probably seen in certain relationships and even at work.

For example, say an incompetent boss tries to control all her employees. She want them to play into her company politics, abusing her authority. But this gives the organization a dysfunctional, unproductive dynamic.

the need to control and manipulate

The Need to Control and a Lack of Emotional Autonomy

The need to control manifests itself in infinite different contexts, moments, and situations. We see it in the insecure mother or father who controls their child. They don’t want the child to leave the home’s “bubble” and instead stay with them all the time.

It’s also common in friendships where one person applies controlling, manipulative, or insulting behaviors. They’re friends who demand everything from us: time, emotional support, and of course, obedience. 

We might have someone with these characteristics in our close social circles. Scratch the surface and see under this covering of demands, threats, and obsessions. What’s hiding there is a lack of emotional autonomy.

Because of this deficiency, they don’t just turn into “controllers,” but also into “takers.” That is, sometimes people who are insecure, have low self-esteem, and can’t process their emotions try to “feed themselves” through one or more “givers.” 

And as if that weren’t enough, there’s another aspect that’s just as interesting as it is telling. There was a study in 2009 by the psychiatrists Friese and Hoffman on the topic.

They discovered that people with little ability to self-regulate end up looking for “everything or nothing” relationships.

That is, their impulsiveness, their hunger to be “fed,” doesn’t accept excuses. And they’ll be even less capable of seeing or empathizing with other people’s needs. 

When a controlling person wants something, they don’t ask, they demand. They’re also looking for instant gratification, unconditional attention, and “givers.” These people will be willing and ready to orbit their egocentric universe.

a girl in a fantasy world riding an insect with wings

What If I’m the One with a Need to Control Others?

We haven’t been saying “you” much in this article. But sometimes it takes a first-person reflection. We have to determine whether we’re actually the ones with a need to control people.

We might be doing unconsciously. And this behavior might appear overnight without us fully realizing it.

Occasionally, the trigger comes from financial problems, being abandoned by our significant other, or even the loss of a loved one. They’re significant moments when the emptiness becomes tangible and suffocating. 

Moments where fear grips us and we can’t tolerate uncertainty anymore. Our brains start to anticipate bad things. Everything seems like it’s slipping out of our hands.

Then, almost without noticing we start to demand things from people that might be beyond their responsibilities. We fall into emotional abuse without even realizing it.

a little girl holding a tiger mask up to her face

What should I do?

What can we do in this case? Here are a few things to think about…

  • Understand that controlling other people won’t improve your current situation. Dominating the people we love is denying their freedom — and it’s also unproductive. But, what is useful is learning to control ourselves. That’s because the real problem isn’t always outside, it’s within ourselves.
  • Also understand that we can’t control the future or what may happen. But the present is within our grasp, what’s happening right now. It’s our exclusive responsibility.
  • Living is admitting there are more uncertainties than there are certainties. It’s understanding that not everything can be under our control, and we need to be able to handle the unexpected. To do that, nothing works better than investing in our willpower. And understanding and processing our own emotions

Wrapping up, clearly few things are as necessary for our personal growth as developing good self-control. In the end, it’s important to have the right amount of emotional autonomy and control over our emotions.

In fact, anyone who does so will be moving forward with more peace and integrity. They’ll do it by respecting themselves and everyone else.

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