written by: Kosjenka Muk
The need to control
Some of the tasks of responsible parents are to teach, direct, support and, in some situations, control their children. But if a person gets stuck in this role and applies this attitude to adults around them, they will create stress and conflicts for themselves and others, however good the intentions.
Some people decide to have children partly because of the need to control somebody, to shape somebody in the way they consider appropriate. For such people, a child can be the only person on which they can exercise their need to control without obstacles. You will see them following every move of their child, shouting, statistically, about three criticisms per minute. Such behavior usually hides huge fear of losing control.
We can presume that such fear has developed in chaotic and confusing childhood environment. Perhaps the person was, as a child, forced to take care of his parents or some other family member, in the age in which they were inexperienced, vulnerable and completely unprepared for such responsibilities. Perhaps they were watching parents who were obsessed with perfection and details, or were exposed to extreme traumas like abuse or war. Feeling the threat of chaos and becoming completely lost, such people will do everything to increase their sense of safety, neglecting feelings and needs of people around them as less urgently important.
Such children usually grow up into very responsible but rigid people – perfectionists. Every dissonance with their habits and rules they will perceive as a threat. They will often try to impose their beliefs and lifestyle to others. They interpret disagreement as lack of respect, but perceive their own criticism and intrusive behavior as justified. They can be inclined to obsessive-compulsive behavior, emotional blackmail and manipulation.
Very commonly, such people will treat other people as if they were children, especially people younger than them. They will not value your opinion enough to take it into consideration. They can perceive other people as weaker, less powerful, less reasonable and capable (perhaps their parents were truly like that). They can feel they have the right to break the rules they expect others to follow – just like many parents do with children. When other people disagree, they can perceive it as childish disobedience. Then they will often react with strong criticism and rage on the border of a childish fit. That is not surprising – because their fear originated in childhood.
Are you a child or an employee of somebody like that? If you grew up with such a parent, you have probably developed a feeling that whatever you do is not good enough. More important, your opinion is easy to influence and sway, it’s easy for people to convince you that you are wrong, because you have been trained not to trust your feelings and your inner voice. You might suffer from chronic guilt and chronic self-doubt. You might not be able to feel good with different opinions, habits and needs of other people. You might perceive differences as threatening. In the end, to avoid these problems, you might adopt the very behavior that caused your fear and guilt: rigidity and criticism.
In such a situation, it’s most important to learn to trust your inner voice and inner truth. It is that “gut feeling” that you often ignore and often regret ignoring. You also need to recognize when is your inner voice masked by fear, anger or hope, and distinguish one from another. A healthy feeling of inner truth is usually pleasant – some kind of warmth, peace and innocence. Perhaps your inner voice is underdeveloped because of neglect, or buried deep beneath layers of fear, guilt and false identities? It is not lost forever. You will need time and practice, but you can develop it again.
If people around you try to make you feel guilty or manipulate you, you will need to keep reminding yourself of that feeling of innocence and inner peace. That center of peace might be the only firm point to lean on when you are accused of bad intentions and bad personality because of small mistakes. When we are children, we trust adults more than ourselves, even when their behavior is exaggerated and unjust. The consequences might remain with us even through adulthood. You need to keep coming back to your peaceful center, remind yourself of them when you feel lost and not good enough. This is the first step in supporting yourself and building self-esteem.
Controlling, “parental” personalities will inevitably alienate most people, their own children in particular. They will end up frustrated, disappointed and blaming others. Recognizing their own mistakes feels like falling apart for them, because it threatens the firm and stable belief structure that appeared to enable survival and sanity in childhood. Admitting mistake might trigger literally existential fear.
Such a person can change only if they really want it, not just because of others’ demands (same as with other emotional issues), and if they work with their emotions intensely and continuously. If they don’t, they will be able to see your point of view only in case of milder version of this pattern. In most cases, your efforts will be in vain. Unfortunately, sometimes the only thing you can do is to let go and decrease or discontinue contact with that person. It’s important not to do it aggressively, but in a calm, yet firm way. Avoid reducing their motivation to take responsibility for their behavior.