7 Potential Causes Of Control Issues + 10 Symptoms You Might Notice

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A person who is too controlling runs the risk of derailing their personal relationships, career, and life because most people don’t want to be influenced that way.

It’s normal to want to exert some control over your life and surroundings. Few people would want to leave everything totally up to chance.

But when that desire for control extends over other people or becomes unhealthy, there is an issue.

Exerting control over other people robs them of their own individuality and ability to conduct their life in a way they see fit.

A little control over a situation or people can be a good thing, like when a leader tries to encourage their subordinates to accomplish a particular goal.

But in the context of a controlling person, they often don’t respect healthy boundaries because their need for control comes from an unhealthy place.

Why might a person have control issues?

Control is rarely the product of a single thing. This is important to note because it’s not something that can be easily unpacked or fixed by yourself.

But here are some of the potential causes for control issues.

1. They are trying to tame fear and anxiety.

A controlling person is often looking to calm some part of themselves that is experiencing fear and anxiety. Rather than a mental illness or disorder, control issues are more of a set of personality traits.

A controlling person feels that by exerting control over the external circumstances surrounding them, they will be able to calm the fearful or anxious part of their mind.

By anxiety and anxious, we aren’t necessarily talking about an anxiety disorder. Regular people can experience anxiety that influences their behavior without it falling into the realm of disordered thinking.

2. They are going through a rough patch.

A person going through a temporary rough patch may find that they are looking to create stability by micro-managing other people or areas of their lives.

By finding ways to control certain things, they may feel better able to cope with the fallout from those things they can’t control.

3. They are overwhelmed.

A parent who is trying to run their household, keep the kids on schedule, deal with a partner who may not be pulling their weight, and work their job may be far too overwhelmed to let themselves be lax.

In such a situation, having everything “under control” is simply a way to get things done. It’s easier to have systems in place and certain routines to follow so that kids get fed and bills get paid.

4. They have unaddressed mental health issues.

Control issues may stem from unaddressed mental health issues. A person who’s been through a traumatic experience may seek to exert control because the nature of their trauma made them feel vulnerable or helpless.

Abuse and neglect are imposed on the survivor by a third party, creating feelings of vulnerability or helplessness. These kinds of control issues are more of a byproduct than the core issue.

5. They are emotionally fragile.

Some people may have control issues because they feel emotionally fragile and unable to deal with adverse situations that may be harmful. Their need for control stems from creating outcomes that won’t be disruptive or disturbing for their life.

6. They have learned it from others.

A person might grow into a controlling adult because they witness and experience control firsthand during their formative childhood years.

Controlling parents, caregivers, siblings, or wider influences can teach a person that that’s how interpersonal relationships work – one person is in control while the other obeys.

These experiences needn’t even cross into the realms of abuse either. It might just be that one parent tended to make most decisions and the other went along with it. This is likely to be more common in households that could be considered more traditional where the father worked and the mother was responsible for the home and children.

It might also be the case that cultural norms dictate how things should be done or who gets to make the decisions in a family setting.

7. They are an abusive person.

Abusive people tend to adopt controlling behaviors to keep their victims within their reach. Instead of trying to smooth over a fear or anxiety, they are asserting dominance by forcing others to adhere to the way they want to do things.

They may see other people as less than themselves or be repeating cycles that they were exposed to.

What do control issues look like?

Identifying control issues can help interpret one’s own behavior or avoid people who may not have your best interests in mind. Here are some common ways that people seek to exert control.

1. Dishonesty, lying, and lying by omission.

The person is seeking to control the flow of information so that others cannot make informed decisions. They may be covering up negative parts of themselves or trying to avoid responsibility for unsavory actions.

It may be a matter of trying to coerce the listener to make a particular decision or control their perception of a situation.

2. Gaslighting.

Gaslighting goes a bit deeper than just lying. It is the practice of trying to make a person question their own sanity and perceptions.

As an example, John sets his phone down on the counter before he goes to the bathroom. Sarah takes the phone and hides it. John comes back for his phone, finds it’s not there, and Sarah tells him that he didn’t set it down there but will help him look for it.

After looking for a while, John heads off to look somewhere else, and Sarah puts the phone somewhere easy to find. Sarah then tells John that he must be really stressed out from work or might be having medical issues that he should get looked at since he’s been so forgetful lately.

This type of behavior is Sarah encouraging dependency and trying to negatively influence John’s mind and behavior.

Check our article for lots more examples of gaslighting.

3. Helicopter or over-protective parenting.

It’s normal to be concerned for your children’s well-being and growth. What isn’t normal is protecting them from the consequences of their actions or prying too hard into their lives, especially if they are adults.

An overprotective parent can do a lot of damage to their child’s ability to deal with the slings and arrows that they will experience in life, like flunking a class or losing a job.

4. Expecting perfectionism in oneself or others.

Nothing is ever perfect, no matter how much we may want it to be. A perfectionist may be dealing with their own insecurities, gassing themselves up to believe that they are something more significant than they are.

They may even just be an eccentric who actually is great at what they do and feel they need to live up to that.

But expecting perfection from other people and holding them to an impossible standard is a convenient way for perfectionists to undermine or punish others for their shortcomings.

5. Self-harm.

Self-harm can be a tool that a person uses to deal with complicated feelings that they don’t know how to manage. They may feel they are in a situation that they cannot control, have emotions running amok, or may be an abuse survivor.

It’s not a positive thing, but self-harm can feel like something they have power and control over. They are choosing what is done to their person rather than having it imposed on them.

6. Monitoring technology.

A controlling person may do things like monitoring their partner’s technology, demand access to email accounts, share social media accounts, or track them via apps on their phone. They may check call records or snoop accounts to keep tabs on their partner and gather information.

7. Determining who their partner can and cannot talk to.

No one has a right to tell you who you can and cannot talk to. A controlling person may very well try to do precisely that. They may seek to limit your exposure to friends and family members because it’s easier for them to control you and limit your ability to get help.

This doesn’t always come as an outright demand, either. It may also be masked as whining. Like, “Oh, I really don’t like your mother. Can she just not come over anymore when I’m around?”

8. Regularly insults or undermines the people around them.

Insults and snide comments are a way for a person to undermine self-esteem and worth. The long-term goal is to wear down the target enough to become dependent on earning the controller’s approval.

This may also come in the form of humiliation. “Do you think you should be eating that?” “You’re getting fat.”

9. Jealousy and accusing partners of cheating.

Jealousy and accusations are common tools that controlling abusers use with their partners.

It’s a method of forcing the partner to act in a particular way, preventing them from establishing friendships, or keeping communication avenues open. It’s a way for the abuser to keep their partner close and under their control.

10. Physical or sexual abuse.

Physical or sexual abuse is a glaring red flag that should not be ignored.

How do you heal control issues?

In many cases, a person can heal their own control issues by addressing whatever is causing them in the first place.

If it’s an untreated mental illness, treatment might provide relief and facilitate a behavioral change. If it’s the result of trauma, addressing the trauma and creating new habits can help you be healthier.

A person who feels the need to control things may experience negative emotions like anxiety, stress, depression, anger, and shame, which will also need to be addressed.

This is a problem that goes beyond what a person can reasonably accomplish with self-help. If you are someone who struggles with control issues, the best thing you can do is talk to a certified mental health professional about identifying and working on the issue.

Click here to find a counselor near you, or one who can work with you remotely.

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