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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Control by Deprivation

This is a coercive strategy used to control another person by withdrawing affection and warmth from the relationship; or as a weapon of punishment.

Have you ever been with a person who uses deprivation as a means to control you? If you aren’t sure what deprivation looks like, here is a list of examples:

  • Withdraws affection
  • Pulls away
  • Acts indifferent and detached
  • Does not respond to your social media, phone calls, or texts
  • Does not respond when spoken to; the silent treatment
  • Refuses to listen to you
  • Stonewalls
  • Acts superior, as if your judge, jury, and prosecutor
  • Withholds sex intentionally
  • Is emotionally distant
  • Sulks and/or pouts
  • Blames you for all of the above

When an abuser hurts another person by being neglectful, indifferent, and detached from the relationship, the target feels emotionally distressed and abandoned. Stress hormones are released into the blood system, replacing the yearned for oxytocin  (the bonding brain chemical.) This is a mini-trauma to the relational system of the target, which leads to a panicky  feeling, and causes separation anxiety.

If you are with a person who detaches from the relationship, acting cold and punitive, then you will most likely want to stop the behavior, which involves getting the other person to turn back towards you, giving you the coveted love you are yearning for. This is how you become hooked and controlled.

Because the abusive/controlling person at this point has the upper hand, you are easily manipulated. For one thing, you have the aforementioned brain chemistry situation occurring. In addition, you have the “lower hand;” that is, you are not inclined to manipulate someone in order to get your way.  In other words, you “fight fair.” People who aren’t controllers usually just allow others to do what they want and don’t play head games.

What should you do if you are with a person who is playing these kinds of games in the relationship?  Here is some advice:

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Look within yourself for peace rather than at the other person.
  • Don’t chase, cajole, try to talk to or change the other person.
  • Ignore the behavior and make it a non-issue in your own life.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by this person.
  • Stand strong and keep your integrity.
  • If the feelings are overwhelming, release them in a safe environment – in a journal, with a safe friend; but, whatever you do, do not release them with the controller.
  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Realize you deserve to be pursued and treated with respect.
  • Understand you cannot change the other person.
  • Walk away.
  • Don’t blame yourself.

Whatever you do, don’t reward the behavior. You will reward it by reinforcing it; that is, teaching the other person that you are willing to be controlled.  Rewarding the behavior would involve taking the bait and doing what the controller wants just to get him/her to pay attention to you. Rewarding this type of behavior could be found in the form of:

  • Trying to appease the other person
  • Trying to reason with him/her
  • Begging, pleading for attention
  • Giving in to his/her demands
  • Accepting the blame and responsibility for the manipulator’s actions (or non-actions)
  • Having a long argument or discussion about any of it

Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to get “sucked in” to the drama. Just keep your head above the fray and move on.  Remember, you cannot change another person, and it would be counter-productive to try. Yes, it is hard to just ignore someone who is ignoring you; but, honestly, that is the most effective means of managing this type of behavior.

Remind yourself that life is too short to waste it on nonsensical arguments or manipulations. Keep your mind focused on something else; visualize yourself being strong and independent; create a self-affirming mantra (I can do this. I am strong. Etc.)  in your head to repeat as the going gets rough; live well.



Control by Deprivation

APA Reference
Stines, S. (2018). Control by Deprivation. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 21, 2019, from