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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

How to Recognize a Controller and Take Back Your Life

Controlling people can be very taxing to be around after a while. This is because you spend so much of your energy, when with this person, trying to exert your own sense of agency or autonomy, and trying to ward off oppression. This can be very draining.  You may find yourself falling in to the role of a helpless child, needing guidance and advice all the time in order to make decisions.

Here are some common traits found in people that are controlling (Note, controllers can be either male or female, I used the pronoun “he” for simplicity):

  • At the beginning of the relationship he acts really “In” to you, which causes you to feel seen and wanted.Over time, you begin to wonder what happened to Mr. Wonderful. Where is he? What happened to all the love and affection that was being thrown your way? What happened was that you were being groomed and now that you’ve been sufficiently “sucked in” you are now entering the next phase of the relationship – no more Mr. Nice Guy.
  • Over time, the affection and compliments disappear, being replaced by disappointments and demands.This phase of the relationship is very disappointing. You come to start questioning your relationship, your value, and what you did wrong to cause the breach.
  • As the relationship progresses you begin to feel that you are losing your voice and your independence.Controllers rarely listen to others and over time, after being in a relationship with a controller, you start feeling incompetent and incapable of being a healthy adult. The controller has devalued your input to the relationship for so long, that the lack of validation begins to takes its toll on you and your self-worth begins to erode.
  • The controlling person believes that he is always right.It is really quite annoying to be around someone who believes he’s always right. After a while, you just want to scream. You learn to shut up and keep you opinions to yourself because the other person has demonstrated to you that he is not interested in anything you have to say.
  • He needs you to be there under his terms and conditions.You may be so compliant and flexible that everything the controlling person wants from you is given to him. He has trained you, over time, that there really is no point in not allowing him to define the terms and conditions. After all, you’re flexible, and it’s just not worth the fight to go against him.
  • Controllers impose arbitrary rules on your life. There are as many rules as there are individuals imposing them. Each controller is unique and what he wants to control in you is just as individual. Perhaps your controller wants to tell you how to dress or what to eat. Perhaps he wants to tell you who you can be friends with. And, on top of wanting to tell you the rules in your life, he always assures you that it’s for your own good because he loves you so much.
  • Controllers believe they know what is best for you and everyone else all the time. Just because someone believes something is so, doesn’t make it so. Controlling people do not know what is best for others. Don’t buy in to this lie.
  • Controlling people have a specific moral code that you should live by.
    Controlling people use terms defining, “Normal,” and “All,” with great conviction.
  • They use the words, “You should,” or, “You should have,” all the time.
    This is annoying at best. No one likes to be oppressed with “shoulds” and “oughts.”
  • They are rigid and unbendable.
    While many people struggle with setting boundaries, controllers don’t struggle at all, and do not have any problem setting firm boundaries about what you can and cannot do when around them.
  • They blame problems in the relationship on you.
    Controllers lack personal accountability and responsibility. With a controller, all of the problems in the relationship are your fault. You might as well get used to it right now so that you eliminate future frustration caused by trying to either deflect the blame, or change yourself in order to find happiness in the relationship.
  • Controllers want to be number one in your life.
    If you place others – your mom, your kids, your boss, anyone ahead of the list in terms of priority in your life, the controller will be insulted indeed. He will insist that you make him more of a priority and tell you under no uncertain terms how selfish you are for not doing so. How ironic.

If you are in a relationship with someone who displays the preceding list of characteristics, then most likely you are being harmed mentally and emotionally. After a while, if you spend a significant portion of life with a controlling person, you will begin to lose yourself. You will expend your emotional energy feeling confused, anxious, depressed, and powerless. You will lose trust in your own sense of competence.  This is not a healthy way to live.

If you are in this type of relationship, learn to break free from the grip of control any other person has over you. Set yourself free. Be good to yourself and learn again how to trust your intuition.

Here are some suggestions for how to help yourself if you are in a relationship with a controlling person:

  1. Trust yourself. Remind yourself of the Shakespeare quote, “To thine own self be true.” At the end of the day, regardless of who is in your life, you have the personal responsibility of taking care of yourself. You do this by looking within, and paying attention to your own thoughts, feelings, and intuition.
  2. Be good to yourself. That is, do what’s best for you, regardless of the fallout from your controller. If you want to go for a walk instead of watching TV with your controller, then go for a walk. Keep your dignity and self-respect by having good manners and keeping your voice and body language calm when addressing the controller who will most likely get angry with you for not doing what he wants.
  3. Learn to be alone. You take your own power back when you can learn to rely on yourself for emotional wellness. Yes, relationships are very important for human beings in order to thrive and enjoy life; but unhealthy relationships should never be your source of sustenance. You are well-served by taking the other person out of the equation when it comes to personal fulfillment. That way the controlling person loses his grip of influence on you.
How to Recognize a Controller and Take Back Your Life

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2018). How to Recognize a Controller and Take Back Your Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2019, from