Home  >  My Life  >  Relationships

Controlling People: 32 Common Traits, Signs and Ways to Deal with Them

Controlling people can be very dangerous. It doesn’t matter what your relationship is with them, here are the signs of controlling behavior and what you can do about it.

controlling people

A lot of people are in abusive relationships. No one likes to feel like a caged animal with controlling people. But sadly, that is the reality for many people in the world.

The scariest part of it, however, is that some of those who are the victims of controlling people don’t even realize the situation that they are in. They have been beaten down so much that it’s normal to them. It’s their reality, and so they don’t even question it. But it’s NOT normal.

What is controlling behavior?

Controlling behavior is when one person requires, expects, or compels other people to do what they demand – even at the other person’s expense. This only serves the needs of the controller. They target a person and dominate them in a self-serving, unhealthy way.

A controlling person is someone who tries to maintain control, decision-making power, or authority over other people and situations. It can include anything from directly telling someone what they can and cannot do to more subtle techniques such as gaslighting or guilt-tripping.

This abusive behavior can come from anyone in your life – they are everywhere. It doesn’t matter who it is, the fact is that controlling people can make your life incredibly difficult, to say the least.

[Read: Controlling relationship – 42 signs and ways to control without bullying]

Usually, when we think about controlling people, we think in terms of controlling spouses or intimate partners. This behavior can be very traumatic in these kinds of relationships, but anyone can harm you, whether they are a man or a woman.

Controlling people usually try to control others to whom they are the closest to.

Although it’s not always the case, people try to control others who are shy, introverted, naïve, or submissive because these are the kinds of people who are easier to manipulate. Their actions of trying to control their environment may cause negative impacts on those people around them.

Being controlled, manipulated, or used by another person can be very harmful to a person’s overall well-being. Sometimes, the way that people control others is very subtle, so the other person doesn’t notice it as much.

But after a while, they will finally realize that they’re trapped in the controlling person’s web and they find it difficult to get out. [Read: Narcissistic supply – How to control a narcissist and cut their power]

The causes of controlling behavior and where does it come from?

Usually, their need for control comes from the fact that they don’t feel good or secure enough in themselves. Because of this, they have to feel “better” about themselves by controlling others.

So, controlling behavior is an expression of anxiety and fear of the unknown. Sometimes, it can be a fear of what is going to happen, but sometimes it’s simply not knowing what is going to happen.

People who have control issues or a fear of the unknown often don’t trust themselves or feel secure enough to meet challenges from other people or in life. So, to feel secure in themselves, they exercise their will in any way they can. [Read: Being raised by narcissists – 18 harmful ways it affects your life]

A lot of people who grew up in troubled families usually have controlling tendencies. For example, maybe one or both of their parents were an alcoholic or drug addicts. This would give a child zero sense of comfort or control over their environment. Or, they could have experienced physical, mental, or emotional abuse as a child, and so they developed a personality disorder and are repeating the behavior they saw.

The biggest characteristics, signs and examples of controlling behavior

Interestingly enough, controlling people are very skilled at what they do. In other words, they slowly, but surely, turn up their repressive behavior.

When it happens slowly, the victims don’t notice the change in behavior quite as easily and may not be aware of what’s going on.

But if you are wondering if you have one of these people who are controlling in your life, keep reading. Here are all the glaring characteristics of controlling and abusive people. [Read: 15 questions to handle a controlling personality instantly]

1. Constant criticism

One huge characteristic of controlling people is that they constantly overly critical and belittle other people. Why? Because they want to beat you down.

If you feel small and powerless from constant criticism, then you won’t be able to fight back. That’s just what controlling people want.

2. Their love and acceptance are conditional

If you’re hearing things like, “If you cook me dinner and it’s ready on time… ” then the person is implying that if you don’t do what they want, then they won’t love or accept you.

But the irony is that even when you do comply, they still don’t love and accept you. Not because of YOU, but because they are literally incapable of loving another person *including themselves*. [Read: 25 signs of covert narcissism – A special kind of mind game]

3. They isolate you

Another thing controlling people do is they make sure that you don’t associate with your friends, family, or people close to you anymore *or a lot less often*.

Again, this happens slowly. If it were sudden, then you would notice they are taking control of your interpersonal relationships and probably fight back.

But as time goes on, controlling people just want you to be with them – and only them. The reason for this is because if you told your loved ones the way that person is behaving towards you, then it might blow their cover.

It will let other people know of their bad behavior and/or controlling ways. And controlling people don’t ever want that to happen. [Read: 23 subtle signs of a controlling boyfriend]

4. They keep score

Just like it’s a basketball game, they will mentally take note of every “nice” thing they have ever done for you, even small ones. And they will make you pay for it. Even if your score is a lot higher than theirs, they’ll underplay and never admit it.

That’s because the scorecard is imaginary. It’s all in their heads. It’s their own fantasy, so they can make up whatever the heck they want.

And since it’s not actually written down, you probably won’t challenge them on it. It’s a sneaky tactic that works quite well in gaining control over another person.

5. Guilt is their primary tool for motivation

Guilt is one of the most powerful persuasive tools on earth. No one likes to feel guilty, so if and when we do, we will comply with others’ wishes just so we can rid ourselves of feeling that awful emotion.

The terrible part is that controlling people are often aware of this. They may not know it consciously, but they certainly know guilt is an effective way of controlling people – that’s why they do it.

So, if someone is constantly causing you to feel guilty, then it’s a strategy to control you. [Read: Guilt-free ways to handle guilt trippers in your life]

6. They violate your privacy

Does it look like someone rummaged through your purse? Or maybe you swore that you had an unread text or email, but now it’s marked as read? Well, maybe that’s because someone has already looked at it.

Nothing is private with controlling people. They feel entitled to know everything because when they do, they can use knowledge and information to further control others. So, that’s why they’re always snooping around, and you have no privacy.

7. They accuse you of lying

You will hear things like, “You’re cheating on me!” or “I know you did that… ” because they are trying to catch you in a lie. And even if they know you’re not lying, they want you to think that they think you are. [Read: 15 Ways a pathological liar hurts and confuses you with their lies]

See what’s going on here? It’s all a mind game. When they get inside your mind and start to manipulate it, then you start to question yourself – and reality. They create immense self-doubt within you. And when that happens, you lose control of your own life and they win.

8. They won’t let you be alone

Everyone likes their alone time once in a while, but manipulative people won’t let you have that. Sure, they won’t let you be with other people either, but they will allow you to be with them, and only them.

This is a power move – it’s not because they value your company. This manipulative tactic is intimately tied with isolating you from family, friends and all the supportive people in your life.

They want you to only be available 24 hours a day for them, and not have any enjoyable “me-time.” [Read: How to stop being manipulated in a relationship]

9. They say you’re worthless without them

Manipulative people may try to control you by making you think that you need them. They have to do that, because if you think you could live without them, then you would not choose to stay. And that’s certainly not what controlling people want.

In order to keep you around, they have to cut you down further by saying that you are nothing without them. And guess what? It’s brainwashing at its best. After hearing that for so long, you actually become used to it that you start to believe it.

10. They have no empathy

Feelings? What feelings? Controlling people don’t acknowledge that other people have feelings, nor do they want to change their behavior. Do you know why? Because if they did, then they would have to face the reality of the pain that they are inflicting on them.

Overly controlling people live in their own fantasy world. And in that imaginary place, their victims have no feelings. Therefore, that’s why they are treated like objects. [Read: How to handle controlling behavior in a relationship]

11. They are demanding

Because controlling people want to control everything, their motto is “It’s my way or the highway!” They demand that other people around them do what they tell them to do. In other words, they bark out orders like they are a king and expect people to just do as they’re told.

Controlling people don’t care about other people’s needs, and that’s why they are so demanding. It doesn’t occur to them to ask someone else’s opinions and personal choices on any matter, because they really don’t care.

They just want to be a bully and push people around until they get their way toward what they want.

12. They show no respect

Trying to control other people shows that they have no respect for the person they want to control. Instead, they are trying to violate the other person’s needs and desires, which is incredibly disrespectful. [Read: 17 Signs of disrespect in a relationship that reveal a lack of love]

Whether it is through their words or actions, controlling people do not treat people well. They act as if others are “beneath them” and lesser of a person. But here’s a secret you should know… they do this because they don’t respect themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t treat other people that way or at least be willing to change.

13. They start drama

It’s no surprise that when someone tries to control another person that there might be some resistance. No one likes to be controlled. So, if there is any pushback from the person or people they are trying to control, there is going to be a whole lot of drama as a result.

Even if the other person doesn’t push back, they will start drama on their own. They will use gaslighting and manipulation to start a lot of yelling, screaming, and sometimes, even physical aggression. Relationships with controlling people are like living in a soap opera. [Read: How to ignore someone you don’t like without a stressful drama]

14. They manipulate people

There are a lot of manipulation techniques that a controlling person might use on others.

For example, their desire for control will cause them to lie, gaslight, not tell the whole story, be moody, punish, love-bomb, deny, spin the truth, play the victim or move the goalposts. And these are just a few examples.

The reason they try to manipulate others is that they need to get their way. And they try to get other people to feel guilty or like a bad person if they don’t comply with their wishes. Unfortunately, they are successful at manipulating others quite often.

15. They physically try to control you

If a controlling person is a larger human being, then they will definitely throw their physical power around trying to dominate other people. They will hit, slap, choke or just physically block you from doing something in hopes that you will lose your cool. [Read: Narcissistic abuse – 16 subtle signs a narcissist is abusing you]

Even if they aren’t a large person, they can still show their abusiveness and try to control by hitting, slapping, kicking, biting, or anything else they can get away with. Usually, the person being controlled doesn’t fight back, and that’s exactly why they do it.

16. They don’t want to take accountability

The term “personal responsibility” does not exist in their vocabulary. They never, ever take a good look at themselves and their flaws. Either they are incapable of doing that, or they refuse to do it because they know they won’t like what they see.

Everything they do is “someone else’s fault.” They blame their words and actions on other people. Their mindset is, “You made me do it!” But in reality, they are in control of their actions, they just won’t admit it. [Read: How to stop being toxic – 19 steps to not be bitter or blame others]

17. They threaten you with ultimatums

Giving other people an ultimatum is a sign of desperation. It might not sound like it is, but it’s true. The controlling person is so desperate to get what they want, that they say things that sound very extreme.

For example, people with controlling behavior make statements like, “If you don’t do X, I’ll leave you” or “If you continue doing X, I will make your life so difficult that you’ll wish you were dead.”

Ultimatums are threats that the controller thinks will scare the other person into complying with their demands.

18. They want things their way

This is the cornerstone of a controlling person. The only reason they try to control someone is to get their way. They want what they want, and they want it now. The end. No compromise or negotiating. [Read: Selfish people – 20 ways to spot and stop them from hurting you]

Believe it or not, however, one of the causes of controlling behavior is insecurity. They feel like they need to control other people to feel good about themselves and to feel “okay.” That’s why they demand that other people kiss their feet and become their slaves.

19. They constant “check in”

It’s normal to check in with people to love to see how they’re doing. But if someone has an overwhelming way of checking in on someone then that is a control tactic. 

For example, if someone is out to dinner with friends and their partner keeps texting them asking where they are and who they are with, they are being a controlling partner. [Read: Controlling vs. caring – A thin line controlling people love to cross]

20. They pick stupid fights

Conflict is inevitable when you are in a healthy relationship. However, they should be over something meaningful and should be worked through as a team by both people. They shouldn’t be stupid.

But a controlling person will pick fights out of nowhere. They are attempting to get attention, even if it is negative attention. The reason they do this could be because of insecure attachment or abandonment issues. There is a fear of the other person being out in the world and not knowing if they’ll come back.

21. They control money and spending

Financial control is one of the fastest ways to control someone and make them dependent on another person. The person might not let their spouse get a job so they don’t have their own money. [Read: The 10 biggest and most obvious sign of a controlling person]

Or, it could just consist of dictating what they can and cannot buy and just giving them an “allowance” like a child.

When someone has their own money, they are independent. And a controlling person doesn’t want that. They want others to be dependent on them because they are much easier to control that way.

22. They gaslight people

Gaslighting is when someone makes a person question their own experience and judgment by denying or deflecting onto them. This is a master technique of manipulation.

At its core, gaslighting is about maintaining power and self-preservation. They have a strong need to be “right” and make their partner “wrong,” regardless of what the truth actually is. [Read: Gaslighting – what it is, how it works, and 22 signs to spot it ASAP]

23. They do things to make you indebted to them

Sometimes the controllers will do nice things for others, but the only reason they do this is so the other person will owe them. They only do this for their own gain and selfish needs.

Once they do the nice thing for the other person, then they will probably keep bringing it up whenever they want control. They will constantly remind the other person that they are indebted to them and hang it over their head. In other words, they imply that they will collect on the debt at any given moment.

24. They are unreasonably jealous

Jealous behavior might seem that it is coming from love, but many times it isn’t. It can be used as a control tactic too.

Jealousy can range from extreme to harmless. But when it becomes extreme, that’s when you know they may be controlling you. [Read: How to recognize the signs of jealousy in someone and guide them out]

For example, maybe they don’t want their partner to post certain pictures online or dress a certain way. They claim it’s because they don’t want other people hitting on them. But it’s really for selfish reasons of control.

25. They are narcissistic

When someone tries to control everything and everyone, this is a form of narcissistic behavior. Narcissists are usually disappointed with how their life isn’t perfect, and so they try to control it as much as possible.

They want to demand to be in control because they have a sense of entitlement. It seems logical to them in their own minds that they should be in control of others. [Read: Covert narcissist – what it is, 34 signs, and how to see the games they play]

How to deal with a controlling person

Usually, controllers prey upon really nice, kind people. That’s because they usually don’t fight back as much, which is a curse for the nice people. There is a difference between being “nice” and “too nice.” Being too nice will lead you to being taken advantage of and a human doormat.

Sadly, a lot of people who are victims of controlling people often feel shame for allowing themselves to be controlled. They might even have damaged self-esteem, difficulty taking action, fear of the controller, depression, anxiety, and many other problems.

But if you have a controlling person in your life, you don’t have to put up with it. There are steps you can take to make your life better. Here are some things you can do. [Read: How to spot a narcissist instantly and save yourself a world of pain]

1. Be honest with yourself

Acknowledge the fact that you are in a situation where you are being controlled. You can’t change what you don’t recognize, so the first step is to admit to yourself that it’s happening.

Just like an alcoholic can’t get help if they don’t realize they have a problem, you can’t help yourself if you don’t admit it either. [Read: How to recognize and stop selfish people from hurting you]

2. Stand up for yourself

This is a tricky one if the controlling person is also physically abusive *which is NEVER acceptable*. But standing up to someone whenever you find yourself in a controlling situation will throw them off. They won’t know what to do.

Love yourself enough to call them on their mental game. You can say something like, “Your behavior makes me feel like I’m not valued in this relationship.”

3. Set boundaries

Personal boundaries protect your personal or mental space, just like fences protect someone’s property and land. They are physical and emotional limits of appropriate behavior between people. Additionally, they help define where one person ends and the other begins.

When you don’t have clear boundaries, you open yourself up to being abused. It’s important to have limits as to what you will and will not tolerate. This helps you have higher self-esteem, self-control, and a better sense of well-being. [Read: How to set boundaries in relationship – 19 rules for healthy love]

4. Don’t debate with them

You might be tempted to argue and debate with a controlling person, especially when you’re upset. After all, it makes logical sense to try to get them to see your point of view. But here’s something to remember – they don’t care. They couldn’t care less about how you feel or what your needs are.

So, you can debate with them if you want, but you’ll never get anywhere. They are so illogical that anything you say will fall on deaf ears. It will just frustrate you, and it will feel like you are just spinning your wheels – because you are.

5. Avoid them as much as possible

Depending on the relationship you have with this person, it’s best to avoid them as much as you can. Sure, if it’s your spouse or your boss, it will be more difficult.

But even if it’s your boss, you can always get another job. And you can even divorce your spouse if you have to. [Read: How to ignore people and avoid getting into a conversation with them]

Your mental and emotional well-being is very important. You can’t sacrifice your happiness for them. So, it’s best to stay away and limit your interactions with them. That way, they won’t have a chance to make your life miserable.

6. Get away from them permanently

If at all possible, remove yourself from the relationship. This is more difficult if it’s a family member, but if it’s someone in your life that you can distance yourself from, then do it. You need to get as far away from them as possible. And stay away too. [Read: Emotional manipulation – 14 ways people mess with your mind]

7. Get help

There are many people and organizations that can help you. Whether it’s a good friend, family member, therapist, or shelter, you need to find people to help you. Sometimes it gets so bad that you can’t do it alone. So, don’t hesitate to reach out. There are always loving people there to assist you.

[Read: The subtle signs you’re being manipulated by your lover]

As you can see, controlling people can be destructive in your life. Some control may be subtle, while others are more obvious. But either way, recognize these signs and love yourself enough to put a stop to it.

Liked what you just read? Follow us on Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest and we promise, we’ll be your lucky charm to a beautiful love life.

Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...